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

First Impressions

Dubai is big! Seven lane highways (that is 7 in each direction), veritable forests of skyscrapers and a huge aquarium complete with diving members of the public in the shopping mall. Dubai is either side of a creek, the airport is to the north but most of the modern city is to the south west of the creek along the beach.

Getting through immigration took over an hour, long slow moving queues but no issues for a UK citizen; cursory questions about why you are there and where you are staying, passport flicked through and stamped. Then it was off to meet Kevin's colleague Johan for a drive around. First to the Palm to visit another Norwegian and view his apartment. The trunk of the Palm is formed by two rows of  concrete apartment blocks with a major road through the middle. Villas make up the Palm fronds and a huge hotel complex stands at the apex. We were quite taken by the pools in the gardens below the apartment blocks, views of the islands and the direct access to the beach but it seems there are few everyday shops here and the only way off is by car.

Huge Acrylic Tank Wall
Next stop Dubai Marina, our first forest of skyscrapers; towers of glass clustered around canals and pontoons, building is still going on apace here. There is a yacht club here, however most of the boats we saw were of the large motor kind. Not so certain I'd want a view of another tower block directly across from my apartment nor the construction noise. We've also been warned that in the boom years wealthy property speculators bought up hundreds of flats which they now can not resell or rent out, and therefore don't pay their maintenance bills so some blocks are poorly maintained.

Just a little further on is the more mature Jumirah Beach Residence (JBR). This is Villamoura with tower blocks! Low level buildings in the Arabic style are home to shops and cafes just across the road from hotels lining the beach. Behind the shops are huge ochre blocks of high rise apartments. Lots of trees and bougainvillea make this area very attractive but the traffic along the single road parallel with the sea was one long crawl.

A few kilometres inland is Arabian Ranches, several thousand identikit villas arranged in huge loops each backing onto a canal. Johan and his wife showed us around their lovely home. It was larger than the Amwaj Floating City villas in Bharain but lacking in access to the water, no swimming or boating in the freshwater canals. A great place if you've got a family or want peace and quiet but few amenities beyond golf courses and communal pools. Though if you like riding it is close to the gorgeous, upmarket Polo Club where we had lunch. Back towards the sea but just inland from JBR is the Emirates housing area: Lakes, Springs, Meadows complete with golf course views and, except for Springs, huge price tags. This is where the millionaires have their villas. Springs is another extensive development of identical villas and made it onto my short list of potential places to live, the others are Dubai Marina and JBR. If we come here we'd had to choose with care to avoid construction, traffic jams and lack of amenities.
Divers Feeding

The hotel - well I'll take some pictures later this week and you can judge for yourself! Trendy but impractical is how I'd sum it up. In the evening Kevin took me to the Dubai Mall, not to see the shops but to view the beautiful fountain show and to eat in one of the restaurants in Souk Al Bahar next door. The acrylic aquarium wall (see picture above) is the largest single stretch of the material in the world, it holds back 10 million litres of water full of fish and sharks plus a few divers! We joined the crowds taking pictures. This is the area for world records, the mall it self, the aquarium wall and outside, the Burj Khalifa which at 828m is the worlds tallest building. At night on the other side of the lake to the Mall it is an amazing sight rising into the blackness of the sky. One or two stars twinkled seemingly just above its summit. But for oohs and ahhs then the half hourly evening fountain displays are a must not miss; music, lights and explosive jets of water swaying seductively in time to Sarah Brightmans voice and an ochestral accompaniment - breathtaking! (Pictures below - I stopped taking them to watch so you won't see the most spectactular parts unless you come in person!)

Circles of water...

...are joined by lines and lights

The water sways seductively