Saturday, 27 February 2010

Dust

Well for something that was billed as an unusual weather feature the dust haze is definitely hanging around. Judging from the weather forecast it'll be here well into the week too; Wednesday is billed as "DUST HAZE THICK AT FIRST WITH RISING SAND IN PLACES DURING THE DAY" according to the local Met Office (Piccie is from space during similar weather in 2007).

Drove south to look at the desert today... mostly a super new road (think UK motorway without any traffic) not on our map. We tried the old road to Dur where the ferries leave for the Hawar Islands but it stopped abruptly at the expanding desalination plant. In the haze we failed to find the rest of it so gave up and continued via the new one down to Durrat Al Bahrain, 13 new islands being created at the southern tip of Bahrain. It's billed as urban living, island style with villas, marina and a golf course. This is a mammoth construction project costing billions of dollars. There are a few completed villas so far, mostly white rock and gray dust and security wouldn't let us access the road leading to the islands. Planned for completion last year this is still very much work in progress, much like the Amwaj Islands located at the other end of the Kingdom, north of the airport, Durrat will probably be a brilliant place once its completed.

At Amwaj the housing is mostly built but the shopping mall and other facilities are apparently way behind schedule. Both locations look like given a few more years they could be fantastic places to live with villas complexes surrounded by shallow blue lagoons and each home opening onto their own beach or pontoon. Just needs a few shops & restuarants so we decided not to rent at Amwaj... yet.

We still haven't got into the swing of life here, partly because we are hotel-bound. Eating lunch around 1pm and then trying to go window shopping just doesn't work. Everything commercial shuts between 1pm and 4pm re-opening just as we feel that hot and dusty, its time for a snooze followed by a pre-supper shower. You can't have a late, lazy weekend breakfast in the hotel either. We resorted to brunching on "biriyani" Turkish style today - a large plate of rice topped by grilled meat or fish accompanied by a mountain of chopped salad, a vast pitta bread plus a dish of hoummous. Cost under £7.00 for two but I really need some proper veggies and don't think I can face eating any more rice for days, even Kevin is ordering salad! Roll on having our own apartment and being able to cook for ourselves.

Meals are very carb oriented - last night king size portions respectively of Singapore noodles and rice accompanied our meat and fish selections.
And the night before wasn't much of an improvement.... we'll be rolly-polly's soon if this keeps up. As Bahrain is very much a multi-cultural society food is hugely varied but it adds to the adventure. A local grill serves a mix of Indian and Oriental (their word not mine) food so you can have spring rolls and curry. Its all good quality and we haven't been disappointed yet. Most of the cheap cafes offer a cosmopolitan mix of Mediterranean meza, grilled meat and curry. In the more up-market restaurants you can find a good steak or Thai food whilst our hotel reputedly has a Michelin star chef serving classic French dishes.

POETF Day

Traffic is dreadful, took 30 mins to drive from one side of the highway to the other at the Pearl roundabout lunchtime. Thursday is the Saudi "Saturday" and they all come to Bahrain to do the things they are not permitted to do back home, mostly in the largest 4x4s you can buy. Which reminds me; we saw a Hummer in a 2nd floor shop window in one of the local Malls today!

Petrol here is cheap, prices you can only dream of in Europe. It cost 4.50 BD for a glass of house Sauvignon Blanc last night with dinner (check out The Meat & Wine Co for a great steak also located at Montecasino J'Buorg & Westfield London). Later filling up the car with unleaded cost the princely sum of 2.70BD. And we found out why there was no water in the windscreen washer - garage chappy kindly added water from his kettle and got his feet wet! So another kettle full was applied to the windscreen to rinse away yesterday's dust.


Flat hunting is hopefully over. The choice came down to a spacious apartment on 37th floor of a new block "Silver Pearl", one of three (www.abrajallulu.com) next to the Pearl round about or a good sized 5 month old apartment in a serviced block at the end of a road/building site in Juffair. Both have seaviews, shared pool, squashcourt & gym facilities.


The Belvedere (
http://www.optimalbahrain.com/vtour.aspx?id=9 ) is walking distance from the local shops but v v close to the American base while the Pearl is between 2 or 3 of the best malls in town but no pedestrian ways and dreadful traffic jams most of the time (see picture for view of it from our hotel room). Hard choice but the Belvedere won out with Kevin expecting to have the car from frequent trips to Saudi if/when his visa comes through, leaving me on foot as there is no way I'm riding a bike with the local driving etiquette or rather lack of it. I love the way that as soon as the lights turn green everyone except the front car sounds their horn!

Just got to wait now for confirmation from the landlord via the agency that we are sucessful in our application. Fingers crossed....

Work In Progress

Weird weather which the locals claim is "not usual" (now where have we heard that before) - woke up to a foggy day, hot & dry but foggy. After a while realised it was not moist air but dust, apparently from Saudi as its windy. Spent this afternoon flat hunting, firstly in Juffair which is a building site on a massive scale - acres of reclaimed land, see picture. And as per usual with new builds there is no infrastructure... no shops, restaurants and at times no roads! Wouldn't advise anyone to buy property here as its likely that any view would shortly be through the windows of an adjacent block. So then headed for Adliya (say it as Add-Le-ah) which is older and infinitely more lively as this is the district with all the eateries. However you have to balance this against traffic noise.

Flats here are fully furnished (everything down to the duvets) or semi-furnished (nothing except white goods). Many of the former are also serviced (the landlord owns the whole block) meaning that a maid comes in 2 or 3 times a week and in some places they offer a laundry service. Most have pools and gyms, usually on the roof, occasionally a BBQ cum garden terrace. In one case all this plus a large pool complete with Koi. In every block the gym was empty and looked little used which says something about all our intentions to keep fit. However we've seen one we liked, large and airy with a balcony & near the top of a building so less traffic noise but over the planned budget. More flat viewings tomorrow and Saturday.


Coming up is a long weekend. The weekend here is Friday and Saturday. This week Sunday is a religious day (I think the birth of Mohammed) so everything will be shut according to the notice on a local bank ATM today (does that include ATMs I wonder?). However Kevin may have to go to Saudi where the weekend is Thursday & Friday, that is if he gets his visa. Having spent the morning at the Saudi Embassy with all the paperwork issued in Saudi to his employer, he came away without it. They need his CPR (the Bahraini identity paper) but he can't get that as Dell don't have sufficient Bahraini employees at present! Don't you just love officialdom. However the good news is you can rent a fully furnished flat here with just a passport as all utility bills including satelite TV & internet access are paid by the landlord.

First Impressions of Bahrain

Lovely lunch at Al Abraaj in Adliya - heaps and heaps of mezza followed by a main course for less than 10 BD including refreshing smoothies made from lemon & mint. You have got to try it when/if the weather gets hotter where you are! The main course seemed to have a distinct British influence - grilled chicken smothered in an unidentifiable (yet tasty) white sauce served with Birds Eye mixed veg and lukewarm deep fried boiled potatoes trying to imitate roasties. Still it was very edible. Kevin had a Kofta served on a large hot pitta covered in tomato and yoghurt managing a sort of meat feast pizza effect!

Afterwards hired a car - 18 BD per day (multiply by 1.75 for GBP) for the next couple of weeks. It was a shiney white Yaris just after lunch, now its sort of dusty gray like everywhere here. Drove south to see some desert and the sea - desert and beach are same grey sand with tufts of shrub, sea was windy but flat. Can't decide whether the haze is sand in the air due to the wind or the output of the oil refinery. Any idea why oil pipes don't have smooth curves but sharp, numbered bends?

Lots of people (or rather men) riding lovely horses near the coast but a dirth of sailing boats at both Bahrain Yacht Club and the Bahrain Sailing Club. The former appears more of a social centre with a private beach, several bars and a restaurant plus a small marina which seemed to be home to a collection of motor boats plus a few small yachts. The latter looked like a sailing school with lots of lasers & hobbies for hire plus BBQ facilities on the beach. Can't join either' til we get our residents permit though. South of the sailing centre, the beach at Al-Jazayer has street lights even though there are none along the road!!

Bahrain is very very flat! Building everywhere (the cranes on the skyline beat even the Spanish coast viewed from the sea) and roads don't follow the routes depicted on the maps so finding places is interesting. Everyone is very friendly, one lady even stopped her car this morning and asked if she could give us a lift somewhere when we were trying to make sense of our map!

Back in the hotel for a snooze as lack of sleep last night is catching up. Then we'll head out to explore some more & find our supper. Got very humid as sun set but the breeze is cooling, we may even need a jumper.