Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Serviced Apartment Living

Dressed For Christmas
Serviced apartments are not as much of a cushy life as you might think. Our temporary residence in Dubai claims to be "hotel apartments" and our last home in Bahrain "serviced apartments". The main difference seems to be that in a hotel they "service" the apartment most days whereas in Bahrain it was twice a week. Living for month or more in a serviced apartment as opposed to holidaying at Butlins for a couple of weeks means you don't spend your days exploring or lounging on the beach and aren't eating out every night so you'd expect them to be equipped to meet different needs... not necessarily:

On the plus side its easy to move into a fully furnished servicd apartment with just a suitcase of clothes but don't expect everything to be a home from home. The modern boxy sofa in Dubai has so little padding in its seat that after a short period of lounging the frame starts to wheedle its way into your consciousness. In the bedroom when both of us sit up in bed the frame and mattress slide across the tiled floor creating an ever-widening gap between the base and the headboard. Another place we can't lounge in comfort!
Spot the Mysteriously Missing Pillow

There is a reason why hotels have fitted carpets, they deaden noise. Here in the dusty, dry climate, the passion for tiled floors and a few rugs makes cleaning easy. But it also means that every movement of dining chairs and other furniture in flats around us or late evening homecomers in the main corridor echoes through the surrounding flats, I miss the multiple doors we had in Bahrain that meant that only two flats shared a lobby. It also has to be said that the double glazing in the Dubai building is a poor noise insulator so we sleep to the hum of traffic on the nearby motorway and are woken by construction work commencing before 7am.

Decent Sized Kitchen
As previously mentioned provided kitchen equipment may not match your needs or be up to scratch. The Belvedere in Bahrain provided a comprehensive set of fairly new saucepans whereas the MiNC offering is tired with non-stick peeling off  and sizes more suited to catering for a family of ten than the four people the apartment accomodates. Both places offered blunt knives and in Dubai I've had to ask for a replacement clothes airer to ensure we didn't end up with rust marks on everything. In Bahrain I purchased one as the washer drier rapidly became the enemy in the kitchen.T-towels, dish cloths and other kitchen sundires are not provided and the crockery may not suit your habits - cereal/soup bowls and mugs being a key short coming for a European. On the funny side five of the six spoons supplied as desert spoons are the size of a UK tablespoon! Don't think I'd want to fill my suitcase with mugs, bowls and a potato peeler though.

Bathroom: Style Won Over Practicality
Anyone who has stayed in a hotel in recent years has become used to instructions to hang up your towels to reuse or leave them on the floor/in the bath to request new ones. The aim of saving laundry costs is dressed up as the guest being more eco friendly. Not a chance here, most days the bedding and towels are changed and mysteriously one of the pillows vanished during one bed change! In both places only one thin pillow per head was supplied but at least in Dubai they have happily supplied additional ones. The Bahrainis provided one set of bed linen per bed and, as the "enemy in the kitchen" was too small,  residents used the self-service laundry to wash and dry them as required.

I joked on Facebook earlier this week about how many men does it take to service an apartment... the answer here is three and the job they do is purely superficial. The bathrooms, and there are two and half of them (the half being a guest loo) sport glass washbasins on glass stands with stainless steel supports, not ideal for easy cleaning and showing up every last bit of dust, rust and soap splashes. Corners of the kitchen and bathroom floors are filling up with dirt the daily mopping never reaches, whilst elsewhere net curtains, essential as most windows are overlooked by nearby apartments, don't look as if they ever been laundered, their headings are nearer black than cream. Come back the lovely young man at the Belverdere who was scupulous in his efforts and left our apartment spick and span twice a week even if he never hoovered under the heavy beds!  

Long term living also requires you make your own entertainment in the evening, we packed a set of playing cards for Dubai as based on our Bahrain experience we rightly guessed that the TV fodder wouldn't be up to much. Most TV services in the Middle East are distributed by satellite with apartment blocks like ours paying for a limited set of services. Hence our Dubai apartment has a lengthy list of stations but the actual available choice is limited to a few news channels like BBC World and Al Jezeera plus Dubai One and some movie channels. After a Brit style curry at the Brick Lane cafe last night we watched "Ella Enchanted" as the provided network connection isn't up to streaming of programmes via a UK VPN, an option open to us in Bahrain.
Living Room

Second Bedroom Has A Balcony

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Dubai Christmas

Beach in Fujairah
Our first Christmas in the Middle East is over and for a variety of reasons it was very different to a UK one. Starting with the weather;: no snow, plenty of sunshine though it did rain as we drove over the mountains on the way back from Fujairah but not as hot as Joberg where I'd been the week before. Secondly packing up and moving to the UAE just a few days before ensured that it was just the two of us so we had to entertain ourselves with a picnic on the beach, a visit to the Friday Market, Masafi (open seven days a week!) and a lovely traditional turkey dinner in the evening at the Rivington Grill though we didn't manage to secure an outside table with views of Dubai's Dancing Fountains.

Christmas for obvious reasons is not celebrated by the majority of Arabs though many but not all shops, hotels and restuarants have some low key decoration like an artificial tree with a few baubles. For someone from the UK so used to seeing lights and decorations covering every surface and lamp-post from late October onwards it's a refreshing change. Our temporary residence, the Al Barsha Hotel Apartments, has a token tree in the entrance hall and I managed to buy a set of three red blown glass minature trees to stand beside the TV in our living room. In my brief tour round the Dubai Mall I failed to find tinsel or garlands but all the remaining Christmas decorations were already reduced in price just a few days before the main event! Four gold tree shaped place holders now grace the dining table and a skating penguin musical snow scene (from M&S) sits on the coffee table. The latter is tacky but fun - wind it up, give it a shake and the be-scarfed penguin rotates round his small pond to a wonky rendition of Jingle Bells as snow and silver stars fall around him.

In an organised moment before I left Bahrain for two weeks in Joberg in early December, I had managed to write some Christmas cards and Kevin put them in the post shortly afterwards. However we were too busy purchasing food supplies, mugs and other bits to manage to get each other any presents. When you move countries and end up in self-catering accomodation you need basics like salt and pepper as well as the makings of a few meals. Our first home-cooked meal was a little oddly flavoured as I had salt & pepper plus some tex-mex spice powder, onions and garlic but no stock cubes! And as with our Bahrain flat one person's idea of what a kitchen needs is not necessarily yours. The knives are blunt, there is one medium sized saucepan and two enormous ones more suited to cooking for ten, one medium and one small frying pan. So far all meals have been cooked in the small saucepan and the larger frying pan as everything else is not suited to the quantities for two.  The bowls provided are rice bowls so breakfasts were a challenge until we managed to find some suitable for a helping of cereal and milk. Our other purchases so far have been mugs, glasses, dish clothes and cling film, we accidently brought a t-towel with us as it was in use before we left! I have discovered that you can pile spinach on a dinner plate add a knob of butter, invert a second plate on the top and successfully zap it for a couple of minutes!

The Plaza JBR
Back to all things Christmas; Boxing Day fell on a Sunday so Kevin was back at work and I spent the day organising some more flat viewings - we had seen one in the JBR on Christmas Day but the ex-pat Brit landlady wouldn't budge on payment terms and wanted AED 150K in one cheque. The flat was nicely furnished and clean, unlike some. I opened a fridge door in one Dubai Marina apartment and cockroaches scattered - yuk!

A word of explanation about rental terms in Dubai - before the recession bit, rents were paid mostly annually or possibly bi-annually with the tenant handing over actual cheques (when was the last time you wrote one of those?) for all the payments prior to taking up residence. Then there were more prospective tenants than property. Now, although good property still moves fast, the tenant is more able to dictate the terms. On top of the rent there is a 5% agency fee and usually utility charges (called DEWA after the acronym of the supply company) plus a satellite TV/broadband subscription. And the agents are extremely lazy when compared to the marketing and management efforts put in by the UK agencies we use, few adverts have interior pictures, most cannot show you round a portfolio of properties instead relying on phone calls to other agents to get keys etc etc.

Interior of Apartment in Arto, The Greens
Despite this we have managed to secure a two bed flat in The Greens. It is directly from the owner so can pay by bank transfer bi-monthly, no agency fees and they have agreed to keep their DEWA and OSN (a sateliite/broadband provider) agreements going until we can get our own in place which was very kind of them. Our moving date is dependant on their plans as he is off to college in Cape Town whilst she and their baby daughter are moving not far away to her parents home in a nearby development but we hope to be in by mid-January. The Greens is convenient for Kevin's office as there is a bridge over the Sheikh Zaiyed road (the main multi-lane artery through new Dubai from the creek to the port and beyond). It's a mature community with low rise buildings clustered round gardens containing swimming pools, gyms, BBQ areas, grass and trees. The tree-lined streets are quiet and there are shops and restuarants too. The apartment is on the first floor and has a huge balcony (or is it a terrace when its that big?) all down one side complete with dinning table and BBQ so we are looking forward to moving in and having a bit of an outdoor life style until it gets too hot next summer.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Travel Plans

Well finally after what can now be recalled as some rather funny moments there is a plan with dates for our relocation in place. Kevin arrives back in Bahrain on Friday from his working week in Kuwait & Roumania. I arrive from Jo'berg on Sunday night (actually officially I suppose 01:45 is Monday morning) then on Tuesday Gulf Agencies arrive to pack our personal effects for shipping and on Wednesday we head for the airport and another adventure in Dubai.

Paul, Eileen, Kevin & Susie
Calpe, Feb 2002
A serviced apartment has been booked close to the Emirates Mall (a little bit of shopping apres skiing anyone?) for a month. During that time we will celebrate Christmas, welcome our friends Paul & Eileen who are flying out to spend the New Year with us, and find somewhere to live. Thanks to Kevin's efforts when he was there last week we now have a Dubai bank account and his residency/work permit is in progress. I though, it seems, may have to return to the UK as our marriage certificate needs to be seen by the UAE embassy in the country where my passport was issued! If I do I will also renew my passport as it expires in June... gosh it hardly seems like it is almost ten years since we were setting off on our Mediterranean sailing voyage.

And those funny moments: realising that the relocation company didn't know where Bahrain was and that the agent they appointed to handle our move was never going to be up and about at the same time as anyone in the Middle East due to time zone differences! Then, being informed we needed counselling about our tax situation; what situation... it's simple we are non-resident Brits so pay no tax except on any income from our UK properties. Apparently the agent thought we were Americans moving to the Middle East for the first time... doh!

Looking forward to sharing with you the next chapter of our ex-pat lives.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Introducing Lillian Frances JvN

Our new grand daughter arrived on 30 Nov to proud parents Maddy & Marais in Roodepoorte, S Africa. As Kevin is working in Dubai and beyond for two weeks, I headed off to see the new baby:

Lily, born 30 Nov 2010

My New Buggy

Proud Mummy

Maddy & Lily

New Outfit

Monday, 29 November 2010

A Greek Trip

Just back from a few days in Greece. Kevin was working most of the time but I was able to play tourist for a few days. The highlight was a walking tour organised by Athens Walking Tours. Three hours in the company of one of the most interesting and informative guides. Voula shared not only her enthusiam for Ancient Greece but also insights into Greek daily life today and more recent Greek history. I hadn't for example realised that Prince Otto of Germany was appointed King of Greece by Britain, Russia and Germany in 1833, the Greek's first king! When he was overthrown some thirty years later the Greeks offered their thone to a Dane and their family continued as the Royal Family of Greece until the 1970's.

In the evenings we ate in some great tavernas: "To Kafeneio" which had a wonderful log fire and is a bit off the beaten track, patronised by young Greeks rather than tourists, but still in Plaka. You may have seen this place in a Jamie Oliver tv programme on mezedes, but it is unspoiled by 15 minutes of fame. We ate there twice it was so good and got to taste their new wine which was wonderful! Our second find was a taverna simply named "Taberna" but known as "Dimitris and Grigoris" behind the Hotel Caravel. The menu had a selection of favourites and some more unusual dishes - a great lemony sauce on the stuffed vine leaves but the grilled peppers were mouth numbingly hot, lips and tongues were tingling for sometime afterwards.

And finally, in a basement bar "Bakaliarakia o Damigos" not far from Sytagmou Square specialising in cod as the name suggests, we devoured a lovely meat dish after a selection of freshly prepared mezedes. Their olives were very tasty too. Here the wine was served in aluminium jugs filled from huge barrels mounted above the diners heads and the staff were extremely friendly. Again no tourists, in fact we saw very few visitors anywhere, The weather was good, sunny but not too hot so I'd recommend Athens in November and if you want to locate these tavernas yourselves look them up on Trip Advisor.

More of our pictures of Athens in the Autumn here

Sunday, 21 November 2010


Tadpole at half tide yesterday... it's the ideal desert island - just us and the birds.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Cruising on a Small Boat

One Man and His Boat
It's the Eid holidays here so we are just back from three days on board on Shawa'al, more camping than cruising but fun none the less.

There are two Eid holiday periods, the first one Eid Al Fitr is at the end of Ramadan. This was back in September when we were in Texas and Kevin missed out on the days off so this time he took the whole week as holiday. Eid Al Adha marks the Hajj when Muslims celebrate God intervening to provide Abraham an alternative to sacrificing his son. Abraham's alternative sacrifice was a lamb and driving to the yacht club past the animal pens near the abbatoir we saw crowds of cars earlier in the week; 4x4s and pickups waiting to purchase their "lambs", most of them looked like the usual imported tatty sheep, more mutton than lamb. Traditionally each family eats one third, gives a third to friends, relatives or neighbours and a futher third to the poor and needy. This Eid also provides several days of public holidays mid week so most people add Sunday and Thursday to take the whole week off. It's a bit like Christmas in the UK with everyone in party mode and most businesses and many shops shut.

In preparation for our Eid holiday, on Monday Kevin with help from the two YC sailing instructors took Shawa'al's mast down so we could replace the windex. I washed out a huge amount of desert sand from it and the boom so everything runs so much better now, no struggling to heave up the main or pull down the jib halyard. I love small scale boating when it comes to tasks like this!

On Tuesday we sailed (or rather motored using the outboard and a whole can of fuel) the 30 miles or so south to the Hawar Islands where we tied up to the hotel pontoon. Enroute we'd worked out how to reset the GPS from "car mode" where it was searching for the nearest road back to nautical mode with bearings to waypoints. We also dug out the manual for the instruments and changed the damping on the depth so it wasn't constantly flicking from number to number though we still have to assume it was actually calculating the depth correctly for now. However the log wouldn't adjust to record a speed anywhere near the GPS SOG even allowing for the small amount of tidal stream. One for another day as going along at 2 knots when we patently aren't seems odd. 
Dom The Circumnavigator and Donald

Most of the main island of Hawar is a military base and there is little to see on foot so it's fairly pointless leaving the hotel grounds. A notice at the entrance informs you not to take cameras outside of the hotel grounds too. That evening the five of us from the three boats who had made the trip took advantage of the hotel's Eid BBQ buffet supper. At 15BD a head for a buffet style meal plus v v expensive beers it was not a cheap night out. The event was complete with a DJ and appearances from Micky Mouse, Donald Duck and Tom & Jerry.

On the plus side the hotel staff were very welcoming, sending their watersports manager down to see if we needed anything shortly after we arrived and didn't charge us for using their pontoon or the loos in reception! But they did charge Dom from Tradewind almost £1.80 per carrier bag of ice. It's Golden Tulip Hotel that in the brochures looks like a desert island paradise - not so certain I'd want more than a weekend there though, bit remote and very expensive.

Desert Island Rubbish
Cormorants Feeding on Mashtan Reef
From Hawar, D'Artgnan sailed home to Sitra whilst Shawa'al and Tradewind headed just 12nm or so north to Mashtan a tiny island/sand bar at the bottom of a V shaped reef. It was great to sail after the previous day's calm but disappointing that the island is a complete tip covered in rubbish left by other boaters - plastic bottles, plastic plates even a plastic table cloth plus old carpets, bits of wood and general picnic detritus. Kevin & I picked our way through it to snorkel inside the reef but didn't linger on the shore for long. The snorkling however was good. In water you could sit in, fish were swimming all round us through the eel grass. Later we cooked on board the rafted boats - one gas ring per boat so rice and chicken stew was easy! Dom has a cockpit table so we sat down to dinner on his boat.

Afterwards Dom got in the shallow water, picked up his anchor and dragged Tradewind across the reef  for about 30 metres or so to avoid any mast clashes in the night. You can't do that with the average 40 footer in the Solent! Then, shortly after the sun set (about 5pm!!) all three of us retired to bed as we'd brought nothing to do in the pitch dark! A few hours later a couple of motorboats arrived and played loud music until their generator stopped around 2am - unsocial to say the least. Woken by the sun streaming into the forepeak, at dawn we were up and away for the long beat north against the prevailing winds. Sailing small boats around the reefs in the warm sunshine is no great hardship though! Both boats arrived at the yacht club in time for a late lunch on Thursday afternoon.

After a lazy day, Friday night was latin music at the yacht club in celebration of the holiday weekend. A local band played a mix of latin and arabic tunes on the beach stage whilst club members, friends and relatives had supper, chatted and drank. A lovely evening with friends.

All in all a fun Eid holiday - we are both now totally acclimatised to sailing in shorts and t-shirts and life on the beach!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

A Unique Sailing Achievement

The Ritz-Carlton hotel has a very posh marina called the Royal Marina, the small basin is lined with neat green hedges and all but two of the boats are moderately sized gin-palaces. How do I know it's posh...well I wasn't allowed to park my Toyota Corolla inside yesterday but had to leave it on some adjacent waste land! I was there as the crew for one of the two sailing boats, "Tradewind" heading for another beach resort Hamila on the west coast of Bahrain. The adventure? Well an opportunity to sail under the Saudi Causeway doesn't happen very often.

Skipper Dominic and I set off around 11 once the food (cooked chicken, a couple of rounds of sandwiches and a bowl of carrot sticks) and water was stowed in the coolbox together with a supply of ice and some lemons. The wind was from the northwest and Tradewind's initial route was north to clear the land reclamation going n a few miles to the west of us just along from the Bahrain Fort. Huge machines were busy creating yet another island. We saw a tug pushing a barge that dwarfed heading across us towards Muharraq from the reclamation works and had a unique view of airplanes heading for Europe just after take off from the airport.This short adventure was for Dom part of a much larger one, a circumnavigation of mainland Bahrain over the Eid holiday. He had already spent the previous weekend sailing from the Yacht Club to Amwaj, then yesterday he and two crew had sailed to the Ritz-Carlton where berthing costs 100BD a night, thats around 180 pounds sterling! Fortunately the marina manager though Dom's unique epic voyage a good enough reason not to charge him!  

Saturday's passage was to take us round the reefs that the nearby reclamation was exploiting, out as far as a red and white pole 4 or 5 nm north of the mailnand but not as far north as the next reef. Then turn slightly south of west to another pole marking the western corner of the reef and from there aim for the island that houses the border posts in the "middle of the causeway" before shaping a course through the bridge. It was lovely sailing hard on the wind with a reef and the No 2 genoa to start with, heading north away from the land. Once near the first post we tacked bearing away to head more south. The wind freed us off, we shook out the reef and eventually changed head sails for Tradewind's huge genoa. The conditions matched the boat's name! We were bowling along enjoying ourselves at 4 knots or more over the ground (a handheld GPS was our only source of data!) until the wind seemed to drop and our speed slowed to a crawl.  A casual glance over the stern sometime later explained all - Tradewind had a fish pot attached to the rudder. It was soon removed and normal speed resumed. Chart and GPS in hand we picked off the various poles and the bridge started to appear in the haze.

Checking the GPS

Bahrain - Saudi Arabia Border crossing

Bridge Approaches


Causeway snaking away towards Bahrain
Passing under the bridge was not too difficult at all. It was close to low water and the usual boiling melee of sea squeezing through the narrow gap between the islands and reefs was relatively calm. We had enough wind to push us through at four or five knots despite the tide against us. Lots of pictures were taken as the setting sun made the bridge pillars glow.We drank a celebratory G&T or two.

The next challenge was rounding the island to the south of the bridge and finding our destination in the gathering gloom. We headed off to the south east almost dead downwind picking our way as close to the land as we dared so as to minimise the distance travelled, our destination was on the mainland a little to the north. We were aiming for the marina channel that had been cut through the coral from further south. Tradewind touched the bottom once or twice as we crossed the reef but with the keel and rudder right up we reached the point where according to chart and the GPS the channel turned a sharp right angle east towards the unlit marina enterance and promptly ran around, firmly!

A small motorised dory passed us heading out to sea. It's track was some twenty yards or so north of us. By now the sails were down and the outboard engine on. A quick reverse and we headed towards the path the dory appeared to have taken. Posts appeared in the gloom and the rest of the trip into the marina was without incident. Dominic called Lola, his wife and she with their lovely dog Jingo drove the short distance from their home to collect us both. In the dark the beach resort looked a pretty place surrounded by clipped shrubs. There was one other tiny sailing boat moored up opposite. The tiny marina had a mix of floating and fixed pontoons. Tradewind was loosely tied to a fixed one just under the security post, a little Philippino man came out in his vest and trousers to watch us tie up. No cleets just a couple of rusty rings and some soggy fenders on the rough wooden landing stage. The tidal range in Bahrain is small (less than 1 metre most of the time) but significant when the overall depth is shallow. We could, even in the dark, see the bottom where we were moored. Rudder and keel were left up.

It might have been only eight hours on the water but it felt like a BIG achievement. Dom and I can both now boast to have done something few others have done, sail under the Saudi Causeway!
Sunset, Saturday 12 November 2010

Monday, 1 November 2010

Regatta Time

Regatta Breakfast at BYC
Not much time to post over the last week or so as it was the BYC's Autumn regatta at the weekend and early on Thursday our first guests to stay with us here in Bahrain, Kevins parents, arrived.

I seem to have been standing in the wrong place when they were looking for a volunteer to organise the Autumn Regatta. For a variety of reasons not worth mentioning here, no one had done much to plan the regatta as I discovered when I returned from the USA in September. The Cruiser Fleet Captain then resigned and I, as the recently appointed Cruiser Fleet Race Officer, somehow found myself organising an event I'd never previously attended, in a club I've been a member of for only a few months. Anyway it went without a hitch although there could have been a tad more wind on Saturday and I'd recommend you don't try leaving it until Wednesday afternoon to order trophies for an event starting on Friday morning. Wednesday I was more than a little stressed but the lovely man in Castelsports is a hero working late to get me trophy printing proofs to approve that night.

With the help of one of the Bahraini members I was put in touch with both of the local English language papers and Bahrain Radio. The main paper GDN ran an ad and an advertorial piece (300 words written by your truely) on the Monday before and a small ad on the front page on the day before. On the first day we got 17 boats on the water, an assortment of IRC and Club Handicap yachts plus some Beach Multihulls (mostly Hobies), about 40 competing crew all told. The club's Sailing Instructors aided by the UK's Naval Attache ran the committee boat for all three races.

Kevin & I's river sailing skills were put to good use in the light winds. The two of us sailed her just like an overgrown Enterprise with a spinnaker, it was hard work and I have a full complement of boat bites on legs and arms to show for my efforts. Having worked out the results afterwards and run the daily prize giving (a bottle of wine for the class winners of each race) I was pleased that Shawa'al the smallest and potentially slowest boat in her class had managed to win three bottles of white wine for sweeping the board in Club Handicap!

When everyone had gone home after the Halloween themed party (DJ on the beach stage, haunted house in the conservatory), I headed home with my laptop and phone. I'd already recorded one radio interview for Bahrain Radio but there were the days results to despatch to the sports editors. I collapsed exhausted into bed pleased that everyone had had a great day, I was too tired to even open one of our prize bottles.

Day two, Saturday, dawned flat calm with little wind in the forecast. The Officer of the Day Ben and myself choose to go the optimistic route of believing the the forecast with the most wind (well you do don't you?). Ben's experience of the week's weather so far was that the wind would build during the morning. I was though a little puzzled by the white fluffy stuff appearing in blobs over head, haven't seen any of that for months here! Was the weather about to undergo a serious change? No it turned out successive days have been hot and sunny.

The AP went up just before the Skippers Briefing at 9am and hung like a wet rag along side the drooping RYA flag on the pole by the swimming pool. Briefing over Kevin, I and the recently arrived outlaw's sat in the club's conservatory eating a late breakfast and joy of joys, watching the ripples in the flag grow stronger. By 11 it became clear we'd have enough beeze to race today's planned triangular course (yesterday's were windward/leeward ones) and by 11:40 the IRC & Club Handicap boats had started and the multihulls were gently sailing up and down the line as they patiently waited for their starting signal.  Looking back I think I may have caused some sort of revolution running two five minute start sequences back to back but after all the races everyone seems to have cottoned on to what the flags mean and what order they go up in. Will they remember in six months time for the next regatta?

The first leg was painfully slow, and could hardly be called "racing". Kevin had messed up the start as a big windshift left us the wrong side of the outer distance mark but at last we were on course side and sailing. Three laps later we had been lapped by both the leading boats in our class, all of the IRC fleet and the multihulls but little Shawa'al was still ahead of the remaining four (larger) boats in her class. With one last lap to go Ben came over in the rib to inform us the time limit was imminent. We'd calculated we needed a finish to win the regatta so we stubbornly kept on going, the wind had risen just a little and the boat was making ground against the tide. If it held up we might be able to complete the short course in the last fifteen remaining minutes. Nope, approaching the last gybe mark we heard the horn, times up. Shortly afterwards racing was abandoned for the day, the glassy smooth water testament to the lack of beeze.

Once the boat was tidied up and the big genoa folded away I was back at my laptop calculating results. The IRC and multihull winners were clear but three boats in Club Handicap had 10 points. That meant Shawa'al with her three firsts on Friday was victorious even though we scored a DNF today. One of the large circular crystal plaques I'd rushed around getting done last week was coming home with us, a permanent reminder of all our efforts both on and off the water. Then it was time to shepherd sailors from around the beach bar into some sort of order to get photos taken by Bahrain Confidential magazine and the GDN photographer too.

Being Halloween a pumpkin carving challenge on the beach came next, with various teams competing to create the best looking hollowed out watermelon! Yes watermelon - huge green melons with succulent pink flesh are grown in Saudi and much cheaper than imported pumpkins. 

After all that mess and fun the prizegiving. Bottles of wine for Saturday's class winners then third, second and first place trophies for each of the three classes overall. Finally, Dom was awarded a "Conspicous Seamanship" prize for catching the gybe mark around his rudder on the penulitmate lap and having to dive over to free it! All the crews on the prize winning boats received "gold" medals to reward them for their part in their skipper's success too. And I must record my thanks to Joanne and Ben C for the lovely flowers, our apartment smells wonderful.

Then it was time to go home but not to rest...another hour or so's communing with the sports editors to ensure they'd got the overall results and an overview of the days sailing. I was pleased to see two good write ups on Sunday morning of the regatta and amused that neither journalist had been anywhere near the water all weekend!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Election Update

Saturday's elections here passed with little trouble. Although there was a very obvious police presence, riot protected 4x4s parked, lights flashing on many roadsides on both Friday and Saturday. King Hamad has thanked the Bahraini's for their "national enthusiasm" and "discipline".

The results are all over today's English-language paper the Gulf Daily News - most of the local news articles are related to the election and its outcomes. Not every candidate received a clear 50% of the vote so there will be a second round next weekend in some constituencies. Nine parliamentary seats and 17 municipal ones remain up for grabs.

There will definitely be one female MP Latifa Al Gaoud as she was unopposed in her bid to retain her existing seat but with at least one woman candidate in the second round there could be a historic second female MP after next weeks votes are counted.

On turn out - it is reckoned that 67% of the electorate voted, only slightly higher that the UK 2010 election turnout of 65%. And the posters adn billboards have to be removed within two weeks otherwise the candidate will risk a fine... not certain whether the penalty is 100BHD total (about £180) or 100BHD per poster.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Girlie Things

Warning: Guys this is not really a post for you, though feel free to read on!

We girlies all know that a good fitting bra is a thing of wonder... your assets feel comfortable and your clothes look good. In recent years one or two UK TV fashion programmes have made it their mission to ensure that every female in the land knows how to get underwear that fits. And for those of us who are well endowed shall we say, department stores have finally woken up to their internet competition (I love and started stocking pretty pieces in a variety of shapes and colours rather than simply racks of boring black, white or flesh (what a name for something that looks dead!) heavy duty lace or padded cups. The ladies in the lingerie department in Bentalls (Kingston Upon Thames, UK) are lovely, patiently putting up with my attempts to find something to fit under an oddly shaped cocktail dress neckline.

So off I go to Bahrain... here I revel in finding M&S, BHS and Debenhams plus La Senza and a host of other high street lingerie retailers that haven't ever reached the UK. No problem then trying to purchase a smooth garment to wear under fitted white t-shirts? Wrong. First it's a matter of size. Most places seem to think that the maximum size any female chest can be is a 38D.  In fact am I alone in thinking that clothes retailers stock as if women larger than size 14 don't exist? A smattering of slightly larger chest sizes with chunky embroidery have made it into the UK high streets favourites mainly as long as you don't mind non-wired, white, black or pillar box red. (I recall buying a scarlet-something that was over 40 inches in M&S as a joke present for a certain Irish friend's 50th :-)). As for cup sizes bigger than D or DD forget it. I look at the pretty blue polka dots or pink flowery things and sigh, even as a teenager plain white or black was all M&S could supply me with.

Yesterday finding myself in Seef Mall for the first time since my extended summer break, I thought I'd try again in my hunt for the perfect little something to wear under a white t-shirt, no-padding (definitely not needed), no chunky embroidery (smooth and seamless please), a snug fit for my embonpoint 34 or 36 F or FF  (depending on the brand). I promptly lost all hope when one retailer (Bendon) on finding nothing bigger than a D on their racks, advised to try on a couple of chest sizes up. "Madam we suggest you try a 38D, the extra inches round will give you the fit" Doh!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Election Time

Bahrain goes to the polls later this month for both municipal and parliamentary elections. As ex-pats who don't own property we are not permitted to vote. However interest piqued by the posters going up all over town with huge mug shots of the candidates I decided to find out what's what.

Democracy is young on this island with the first elections in 2002, anouther round in 2006 and now four years later the Bahraini's are about to have their third voting experience. There was an earlier short lived attempt at democracy in 1973 but that body was dissolved two years later. I won't dwell on politics just mechanics in this blog, virtually everything is conducted in Arabic so I have no idea who is standing for what, only what they look like. I will say though that just like anywhere else in the world the candiates through their poster images try to portray themselves as genial neighbours.

There are five municipal councils known as governates in Bahrain; Northern, Southern, Capital, Central and Muharraq. To stand for election to these or to parliament you must be over thirty and to vote you must be over twenty. Parliament has two houses much like the UK model where only the lower house is elected and the upper house is made of appointed senior, experienced members of society. In theory the upper house is meant to only advise but in practise they apparently have legislative powers too. Voters first had to verify themselves to get on the electoral list either in person or electronically, just over 300,000 inidividuals were approved. This was done in August. It is possible to oppose someones entry in the electoral roll here and 206 such appeals were dealt with!

Then during September, the candidates submitted their applications to stand for election in the respective bodies, some were unopposed so automatically took their seats. This seemingly smooth and rapid process has not been without its troubles as press headlines during September showed (London, Jerusalem, Bahrain). The Election Committee issued a press release stating that despite unrest due to the "dismantling of a terrorist plot" the elections were on track. Election day itself is October 23 with a second round of parliamentary elections seven days later. It may be viewed as an imperfect democracy by some but at least the people of Bahrain have an opportunity to vote and it will be interesting to see what percentage of them do so compared with the lacklustre poll turnouts in some western countries. 

Almost Perfect Sailing...

Life is returning to the outdoors with a vengence. As mentioned earlier its getting cooler with temperatures a more acceptable 35 degrees or so, a predominately north-west or northerly wind seems to have set in. This moderate breeze brings a welcome chilling effect across a wet body so every effort is being made to get wet! On Monday morning Inge and I hired two Pico's from the yacht club and set out without any real destination in mind. We reached across to the red porthand mark opposite the entrance to the marina then back slightly more north to the coastguard base and as the wind freed us off more, north again to the tiny island resort of Al Dar. A deft raising of dagger boards saw us across the buoyed rope marking their swimming area and on to the sandy beach, surprising perhaps one of the workers who wandered across and offered us water (we'd brought our own). It'a monday morning of pleasure we intend to repeat!

This weekend I've had my first BBQ of the season, at Inge & Fred's in the Floating City, Amwaj where it was lovely to be able to sit outside once more, the hot humid evenings of September well behind us. Amwaj is a little isolated located as it is north of Muharraq and Manama, but their lovely villa with a saltwater canal at the bottom of the tiny garden is a gorgeous setting for entertaining.

Then yesterday, a sailing trip to Bird Island (last visited on that fateful stormy trip in early May) aboard D'Artagnan with Skipper Ben and Mar. Once there we girls had a lovely swim off the boat and it was great to be able to laze around in the cockpit cooling as we dried. Though we thought we might have lost Mar at one point, she'd snorkled her way to the island and was sitting on the sand hidden behind another boat at anchor! Thanks for a great day out Ben! The sailing could not have been better (except perhaps by being in a boat of my own) - downwind to South Pole then a reach across to the island. A few hours later as a the sun set in a mass of orange dust haze we reached back to the pole and then beat in gusty conditions north to the YC through a stream of dhows heading out to fish. As in the Solent the wind had only a short fetch so the sea was relatively flat, novice sailor Mar had a wide smile on her face as she helmed. Warm breeze, glorious sunset, great sailing - a perfect end to the day.

Plans are being made for longer sailing trips to Hawar 30 nm or so south of the yacht club or if you have a small enough airdraft, possibly right around Bahrain over the forthcoming Eid Al Adha holiday in November. To get under the Saudi Causeway bridge you need less than 15 metres height from the waterline to the top of the mast. Shawa'al may be fine but with our first visitors arriving a week or so before we probably will limit ourselves to trips around the bay or possibly as far north as Amwaj.

If you are wondering where hubby is this weekend - he's speaking at a conference in wet and windy Rhodes suffering the consequences of forgetting to take a coat!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Autumn in the Desert

Bahrain's daytime temperatures are finally dropping to a more comfortable 35 - 37 degrees centigrade after a summer of record heat. In June we had the hottest June temperature recorded and on a Tuesday in mid July the peak temperature of 47.4C equalled the hottest day in Bahrain's recorded history. The last time temperatures in Bahrain reached that was in July 2000 and, before that, all the way back in 1902. Coincidently the day after, I left the island for the damp of a UK summer, returning to the heat only in mid September.
HW Juffair - 8:30 am Oct 2010
With the cooling beezes and lower humidity outdoor life can begin again. Sailing becomes comfortable; racing is fun in a cooling breeze not a slog under the blazing sun, cruises to various local reefs to swim and socialise become an atttractive proposition. On land BBQs and camping in the desert are delights to look forward to.

Being just after the Autumn Equinox, the spring tides are much higher than usual and it has been amusing to see that land recently reclaimed from the sea in Juffair has been partially flooded most mornings. The tidal differences here are not huge when compared to say the English Channel or the Severn Estuary but, given the low level of the island itself, are significant. Currently a few days after the full moon, high water predictions are for around 2.6m and low water just 0.4m a difference of over 2.5m (about the same as the Solent at Neaps) whereas often the difference is only a single metre.

A moderate north westerly wind has been blowing almost continually for the past few weeks piling these higher tides onto the northern shore of Juffair surrounding the boats on the beach. You can see in the picture above that sea water has also emerged up through the most newly reclaimed ground further along to form sizeable puddles, an unusual sight in a land where it hasn't rained since the spring. To see just how much land has been reclaimed over the summer compare the view above with the one below from March:

Land reclamation progress:
Compare shoreline in this photo taken in March 2010 with now

Monday, 4 October 2010

Getting About (or how to acquire seven different maps for free but still need a taxi)

So you arrive in Dubai and discover your hotel is close to the brand spanking new Metro system - brilliant! Well not quite, but more of that later. First challenge was finding out about fares, locations and times - a quick web search throws up  This has lots of facts about the new system and a great up to date map showing which stations are open but nothing practical like fares and timetables. A bit more searching uncovered the Roads and Transports Authority - bingo everything you need to know about the different levels of travel card Silver, Gold and Red and a journey planner too.

If you've travelled in London then Silver is familiar, like the Oyster card you top it up, get slightly reduced fares and it works on the buses as well as the Metro. Gold simply gives you access to better Metro seating for slightly higher cost. Red is recommended for tourists but having read the small print it only works on the Metro and has full price fares so Silver would be my card of choice, especially if you intend to visit Dubai more than once as its valid for 5 years.

Not all the stations are open including the nearest one to the Radisson Internet City. This is Nakheel, named for one of the major property developers in Dubai, responsible for the Palm Islands (Nakheel means palm) and the Dubai World projects amongst other. Asking at hotel reception (and acquiring an alternative "better" map to the one they gave me yesterday in the process) I was told it was possible to walk to Dubai Marina station  but not to Dubai Internet City. Later on my way back I discovered why; the road disappears into an underpass leaving anyone on foot stranded! I set off for the former, the distinctive armadillo shape of the elevated stations is not too difficult to spot even in the forest of tower blocks is it? Except I found myself the wrong side of a wrought iron fence to Nakheel. Taxi! Ten dirhams later I was at an open metro station. The silver card costs twenty dirhams (about £3.40)  and gives you an initial 14 dirhams credit for travel, after that anything you top up will be credited for travel. Just a few dirhams will take you anywhere within a zone.

The driverless train was clean (no food or drink are allowed, fine about £20) and very new. Until it reached the Emirates Mall station there were few passengers. By the time we reached central Dubai 15 or 20 minutes later it was standing room only. A man in a white dishdahsa checked my ticket by placing it on a handheld which beeped briefly and he handed it back with a smile.

Somewhere the train dived underground presumably heading down to tunnel under the creek. And when I emerged into the sunshine at street level I was right by the Burjuman shopping mall. Lunch called and my latest discovery "Dome" was beckoning just inside. Homemade veggie lasagne with salad, french bread & a Sprite cost 33.50 dirhams (under six pounds). My goal was the Bastakia, a historical distrct of Dubai, but which direction? The Metro's own map showed detailed streets up to 400 m or so around the station with little dots marking points in interest like leisure facilities, major buildings etc but no identifying names for these. My maps didn't have the Metro on it but did show the district. After asking both the shopping centre information and the tourist info desks (maps 3 - 5) the answer from both was unanimous; "Get a taxi". Outside no taxi's in sight but the Big Bus Tour Co gave me their map (no. 6)!.

By now it was hot and the souk probably shut until nightfall so I changed plans, retracing my steps a bit to hunt down Waitrose in the Dubai Mall instead. Here the Metro station was predictably, some distance from the Mall so I spent another ten dirhams on a taxi fare. I later discovered this is the minumum charge. 

Starting to head back to my hotel a couple of hours later clutching my bottle of pink grapefruit hi-juice squash like an addict (I haven't  had any since July), I discovered  (acquiring map 7 in the process) the number 13 bus. This can be boarded unerneath the mall and circumnavigates the whole complex giving wonderful views of the Burj Khalifa as it tours the surrounding building sites, ending up at the Metro station. And I paid the fare using my new silver card! Another few stops on the Metro and a minimum fare taxi ride brought me to the hotel door, this last leg was the bit where I found it's impossible to be a pedestrian in Dubai, forced by an multi-lane underpass to hail a taxi for a two minute ride.

I have definitely cracked travelling here. Its not on foot but I will need some time to work out which of the maps of the city I picked up along the way I should use when I get off the train!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Trendy Interior Decor Dubai Style

Bedroom Art - note the jeans pocket!

Our room here at the Radisson Internet City is more than a little bemusing starting with the light switches (see picture further down) and progressing rapidly into the bathroom. Here the sink is a large ceramic rectangle with a shallow dip in the middle, the central "plug" is directly below the wall mounted tap. Whether up or down the curved plug acts just like a spoon under a kitchen tap to ensure that the unwary get a thorough soaking!

As for those taps I can't fathom them; over the sink both turn anticlockwise for "on". Do that in the shower and you are likely to scald or freeze yourself as they turn opposite ways to each other! And, in case you manage to figure that out with your eyes shut to avoid getting soap in them, there is an additional middle tap which redirects the water from the ceiling wateringcan-style rose to a handheld jet mounted above easy reach that directs the scalding water so it bounces horizontally into your ear!

As for the rest of the decor and "features".. the pictures speak for themselves!

Towel Rail for Giants - the only place provided to hang them

Fish Tank feature in corner of shower or how to wake your sleeping partner

Just how complex can you make a light switch?
This is one of two such arrays

What's wrong with a cardboard doorknob hanger?

And finally...Bathroom Art above the loo of course