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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pet Hotel

While I believe in animal rights, sometimes treating pets as more than animals can reach absurd proportions. Here is an interesting article from a week or two that talks about a luxury hotel for pets. While the price for the "Junior Suite" at 115 Dh ($40) isn't outrageous, rooms go up to 395 Dh (About $110) per night. Also, it does seem silly to provide dogs and cats with gourmet meals and plasma screen TVs in the rooms along with "movie time." I'm guessing most pets don't know the difference.

This article brings to mind an article from the parody newspaper called "the Onion" entitled, "Study: U.S. Pets' Healthcare better than Rwandan humans.'"

Sunday, September 18, 2011


See Kim Kardashian's milkshakes for yourself at the Dubai Mall.
The big news for Milkshake fans is that Kim Kardashian will be coming to Dubai next month to open up her store in Dubai Mall named Millions of Milkshakes. If this announcement doesn't get that Milkshake song from about 8 years ago in your head, then the article title in the Gulf News, "Her Milkshake Brings Dubai to the Mall," will.

Ms. Kardashian's reality show will follow her to record her reactions to her first time in Dubai. Apart from her celebrity, she describes her excitement over traveling to the Middle East for the first time and future business ventures that she would be open to such as acting in a Bollywood movie or open a Dash store in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. We can only hope.

Friday, September 16, 2011

National I.D. Deadlines

Once again, the government offices in the UAE have put the hammer down and are giving the final, final deadlines for which everyone must have their Emirates I.D.  If you remember, the UAE government has previously stated that everyone must have their Emirates I.D. by the end of 2009. Then it was changed to January of 2011 After having gone through the process in May of 2010, I knew there was no way that they would get it done.

The deadlines according to this article are as follows:

The northern Emirates have until December of 2011. Sharjah has until February 2012. Abu Dhabi has until April, 2012. Dubai has until June 2012. Anyone who does not have their id by that time will be fined 20 Dh (about $7) a day. We'll see how final these final deadlines are.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Horror Story 2: Escape from Dubai

The alleged finger-giver.
Some people may remember the story I talked about from last May in which a visiting surgeon from England upset an Emirati driver and was accused of giving him the middle finger. (For my version of the story, click here.) Well it seems he was given his passport back and told he could go back to his job in England as long as he promised to come back for the trial for allegedly giving the middle finger to another diver. If you read the original article in the Independent, it's pretty doubtful that he even did it.

Well, the court date has come and the good doctor has, (surprise, surprise) decided that it is not in his best interest for him to come back to face trial for this, knowing that there is no way that the court will believe his word over the word of an Emirati. You can read the article in the National for full details. (Thanks to Neil for pointing out the article in his blog.) He seems like a good man that was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I feel that the UAE does itself a great disservice when they allow their citizens to make (likely) false accusations over trivial matters. Not only have they lost a doctor who was considering a post here, they have done a lot of harm to the reputation of the UAE as a desirable place to travel or do business.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Currency Collection

Our friend Said with his currency collection.
A few months ago, one of the security guards where we park our car showed our kids his currency collection. He has always been nice to our kids and has a friendly smile for us so my wife gave him some Japanese money for his collection.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a reporter at the National asking if we know him, if we gave him money, and questions along those lines. As it turned out, they did an article about him and we were the only people still in Abu Dhabi that the newspaper was able to contact. It was nice to read the article and learn about the extent of his hobby. (For the article, click, here.) Unfortunately, he no longer works at the same place, but he was nice enough to save a copy of the newspaper for us. I was able to pass along a few more bits of currency from my travels. I know that this isn't big news, but it's nice to see how much his hobby means to him and that we were able to help him with it a little.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Amman and Jerash

Finding the hotel took a bit of work. Having forgone the expertise of a taxi driver the moment I decided to rent a car, I was on my own in finding my hotel. Luckily for me, my passenger did a good job of finding the area I wanted to go on my map of Amman. I was able to get close and find a place to park near a bus station. Since it was in the middle of the city and no one was parked there, I had a feeling that I didn't want to leave the car there for long. I was able to park and call the hotel to get directions. As it turned out, I was only about half a mile away so I walked to the hotel, checked in and has someone come with me to guide me to the hotel down the one-way streets. I was able to park my car right in front of the little family-run hotel because it wasn't the type of place where the guests show up with rental cars.

The older fellow that helped show me the driving directions asked if he could come to Jerash with me the next day and thinking that I could use a little local knowledge, said sure. It was nice to have the company, but as it turned out, he was Canadian originally from Iraq so didn't know the roads very well. This became apparent when he he wanted to stop literally every mile to ask directions. It was nice to have someone who could speak Arabic to ask directions, but I'm not exaggerating. Every mile. Even when I was pretty sure that the major road that someone had told us to take two minutes prior was going the right way, he had to stop and ask directions. And he refused to look at the map.

I forgave him once we arrived at the Roman ruins of Jerash. He was good company and I was impressed with how well he kept up with all the walking around I did, considering he was 70 years old. I was less impressed with his ability to take photos of me in front of  ruins without centering on me. After a while I would tell him no thanks when he offered to get a photo of me and would just do the self photos. I did enjoy his company, but on the ride back, once I got close to the hotel and his asking for directions wasn't working out (he would ask directions then mistakenly tell me to go the wrong way), I pulled over, got out the map and despite his protests, found the hotel while refusing to ask for directions.
A photo of me taken by my friend with some amazing stuff directly above and behind me and out of the frame of the picture.

How do you say in English? A rotunda.

Can you believe how historical this looks?

Pretty ominous with the clouds in the background, huh?

This must be some sort of theater.

The hippodrome where they used to race chariots.
That night I went out walking in the neighborhood shopping streets and smoked a shisha pipe near my hotel directly across the street from an old Roman theater. It was a nice way to spend my last night in Jordan. With the Eid al Fitr holiday going on, everyone was dressed up, out on the streets, and in a festive mood. It was a terrific atmosphere.

Relaxing at a cafe near the hotel with a Roman theater behind me.
The next day I packed up, checked out of the hotel, and made my way to a beach resort on the Dead Sea. I had planned on going to Mount Nebo where Moses saw the burning bush, but without my passenger to ask directions every mile, got lost. In getting lost, though, I saw some of the most incredible scenery and drove down the curviest mountain roads to the Dead Sea seaside.

Once there, I went in to the resort soaked in the salty water and alternated between the salty sea and the chlorine infused pools. I dug up some mud with some other people and spread this mud on myself like the others.I did this not for the softer skin that it was supposed to give me, but because how often do you really have an excuse to rub mud on yourself without everyone around you thinking you're crazy.

I thought I'd check out the spot where Jesus was baptized. Unfortunately, that was closed for the day so I just headed for the airport. I returned the rental car, gifting the person who cleans the car the sunglasses that I left in the drinks holder. Without further ado, so ended my wonderful trip to Jordan.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Jordan Road Trip

The morning I picked up the rental car from a local five-star hotel, I felt a great feeling of freedom. I could drive where I wanted without worrying about paying a taxi driver. Also, I could stay at a place as long or as short a time without feeling like I was on the clock. In the end, the car rental was about as much as a driver would have been and I lost the benefit of local knowledge, but I also gained solitude without having local knowledge crammed down my throat.

I headed to Aqaba, Jordan down on the Red Sea just over the Saudi Arabian border. The roads to Aqaba were well marked and on the way, I saw signs for Wadi Rum, a place I had been told that I should also make a point of visiting. The driving was pretty easy with few cars to compete with. I had to stop at a checkpoint. I can always appreciate a guard with a sense of humor and got a kick out of being told that I was on my way to Syria. The guard just gave me a friendly smile when I gave him a confused look and waved me on my way.

I found a diving place that had been recommended to me and made my way down to the Red Sea to look at some wildlife. Because it must have been low tide, the coral was just below the surface and the water only to my knees. What was meant to be a swim among the coral ended up being a wade. I was able to get some reasonable pictures and after about half an hour decided to move on.

This is the Red Sea which is a very deep blue.

Here are some coral during low tide that I was able to wade among.

I made my way back to Wadi Rum and signed up for a two-hour tour. I had been told that there was nothing like it in the world with the sands and the cliffs and that I shouldn't miss it. My conclusion: Meh. It was definitely scenic. I will concede that I didn't get the full effect because the lighting during sunset is supposed to be beautiful and the solitude of camping overnight is supposed to be the amazing part of it, but having camped in the desert and having seen the beautiful cliffs of Musundam, I felt I got what I wanted out of my two hours. I was supposed to pay about $65 for the tour, but because a French woman who was there came with me, we each had to pay about $50. The problem was that the two hour tour is supposed to include a lot of getting out and exploring. With our tour being in the middle of the hot day, we didn't feel like exploring very much. This meant for an unhappy French woman who was a bit upset when our tour was looking to be only an hour. To be fair, the guide explained this to us and she didn't have the English to understand, so I could see both sides. The upshot was that we got a bit more sightseeing because of her complaining.

This is a scene from Wadi Rum.
Here is a natural bridge that was an extra on my two-hour tour because of a complaining French woman. (Thanks!)

On the way back, I decided to go up a little road that led to the top of a mountain and what I thought was a nice view. It turned out to be some guy's driveway. As I was turning my car around to head back down the windy road, the guy living there came out and invited me for juice and apples from his orchard. The next thin I knew I was sitting with him, his wife, and their very limited English. After a while, their son and nephew came walking up the hill to act as an interpreter. They then gave me some mint tea but with it being the last hour of Ramadan, meant that the whole pot of mint tea was for me. After a bit, I made my exit, impressed by the hospitality of strangers and made my way back to Petra with a belly full of tea and a bag full of apples.

That night I went to Petra by night which was the canyon and the Treasury lit by candlelight. I booked an extra night specifically so I could see it (it is only available Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights from 8:30) so was really looking forward to it. It was kind of neat and I felt worth the $20 that I had to pay for it, if just for the ambiance. Some local guys played some music and read a passage about the ancient city while drinking more mint tea and a dog begging food from me and the people nearby. I don't know if it would be for everyone, but I thought it wasn't too bad. My camera didn't have much to say about it, though.

This is the best that my camera could do with Petra by night. The Treasury is lit by candle light here.

The next day as I was checking out of the hotel, the other guest who was staying there happened to mention that he was on his way to Amman to catch an 8:00 pm flight and with that I offered him a winding ride through the countryside and recruited a navigator. He was very helpful in reading the maps and amiable in stopping at random castles to have a look around. It was nice to have the company of a fellow traveler and to have someone who was willing to wander around looking a scenery. I think he got a little nervous over my driving down the windy roads headed to the Dead Sea, but he never complained. Well only in a Canadian sort of way, but not actually visibly.

When we did get to the Dead Sea, we were able to climb down from a place off the road and do some floating. The water had an oily quality to it that I'm assuming was from all the salt. We were warned not to get any in our eyes or mouth and of course I got some in my mouth. Even though it was only a tiny bit, it kind of burned my lips and had a terrible taste. Sure enough, it is impossible to sink and was even difficult to keep my legs under me. Floating on the water was a unique sensation with which the novelty wore off after about 20 minutes.

This is a random castle that I came upon while wandering in the Jordanian countryside.

This is a portion of Kerak Castle. Highly recommended.

Here I am admiring the beautiful scenery.

Me floating in the Dead Sea with Israel faintly visible in the background.

After the Dead Sea, I took my navigator to the airport to catch his flight, but not before having him find the general area of my hotel on the map of Amman. While navigating the unfamiliar roads and driving at the same time was a challenge, with stopping to look at the map every two minutes or so, I was able to get in the general vicinity of the hotel I had booked in the city center and get directions from there. Even the hotel staff were surprised that I had made a booking there and were curious as to how I had heard of the hotel (booking.com). Checking into the one star-hotel I had reserved online in the city center of an impoverished country then began the third and final stage of my travels in Jordan.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Petra Jordan

I arrived in Jordan on Saturday morning and got a pre-arranged taxi from the airport in Amman, Jordan down to the hotel I booked just outside the gates of the old city in Petra. The ride was about 2 or 3 hours and cost about $100. I thought that was fair for the price, but realized that taxis were going to dig into my budget a bit much. To add to it, the taxi driver spent about half of the ride down to the hotel planning my next few day's itinerary for me. I was non committal, just anxious to get down to Petra so I could check out the ancient city.

Once I got down to the city, I found that it cost about $80 for a one day pass and about $90 for two days. Even though it was a bit pricey, I figured that I might as well go for the two days. Once inside, I was harassed by people trying to sell me horse rides, donkey rides, carriage rides, and a number of other souvenirs. I get a bit tired of all that pretty quickly so that combined with the hour listening to a pushy taxi driver and little sleep the night before, put me in a negative mood.

In the end, I took a donkey ride up to the Monastery, one of the highest structures and felt that was well worth the $12 for the ride up to the point where I gave the kid whose donkey I rode a little extra money. I thought the old city was tremendous and over the next two days, had a great time exploring the place. Here are a few of the highlights.

The Treasury.

The Monastery.

A whole bunch of buildings carved into mountains.

The Gardens. Right there, just in the middle of nowhere.

This donkey just wants to be left alone to enjoy the ruins in peace.
Go up those steps on a donkey? That's just crazy.
 If I had to do it again, I would have rented a car from the airport and driven myself to the hotel. Also, the donkey ride to the top was well worth the 10 Jordanian dinar I paid. The second day was good once I learned how to shoo away the people selling things. The city, while expensive was definitely worth the price of entrance.

In the end, I found Petra near the gate of the old city to be the worst of the pushy vibe.  Once I rented a car and gout out into the countryside on my own, I found a different story...