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