I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Entries in UAE (5)


Collecting Emirates


Four out of seven in two days.




The unmistakeable skyline of Dubai was shimmering in the mist this morning.  Having been here before and not being enthusiastic purchasers of designer-goods, we opted for a short ride to Sharjah this morning.




Apart from this rather grand roundabout with several official buildings around it (and the Quran on a large pedestal in the centre), Sharjah seemed to us to be a rather shabbier version of Dubai.  A little soulless, with huge apartment blocks and none of the sparkle and confidence associated with its neighbour, we were unsure how our morning would be filled.




Half an hour at the heritage centre was quite interesting, with some nicely laid out room settings.  First question from me was, what’s the “hat” doing there?  Answer: it’s a food cover.




A gentleman’s trunk with his wardrobe laid out inside




and that of a lady, beautifully decorated inside and out.




But we hadn’t been there long before our guide was shooing us right along to the souk next door.  Of course, we’ve spent so long in Thailand, Sri Lanka and India, these things don’t really hold much interest for us and we were soon champing at the bit, tired of saying “no thank you” and ready to move right along.




There was, however, some delicious aromas coming from this sweet factory!




Rather less sweet than those coming from our next stop – the fish market. 




Actually the fish was very fresh and smelled good.  There was a huge quantity of every fish imaginable too and our first query was, will it all be sold?  Who knows?




Some wonderful colours and I’m snapping away, much to the amusement of one of our friends, who is curious to know what on earth I’ll do with so many fishy photos!




Leaving the fish market behind, we can’t quite believe that we’re to spend an hour in another souk – a gold souk this time.  We wander up and down aimlessly, hoping that a Starbucks will appear miraculously but sadly, it doesn’t.




Our favourite memory to take away with us from Sharjah will be the glorious scent of this Neem tree.  Something akin to the scent of lilac, it was a lovely fresh note on a hot and sticky morning.




This afternoon, I took advantage of the shuttle bus to the Dubai Mall and found it quite an interesting experience.  I was happy just to stroll around in the cool air, to watch families and children enjoy the attractions




This huge aquarium was provoking a lot of attention – sorry about the reflections from the sweet shop on the opposite side.




But how strange, to suddenly find myself in Waitrose!!  Weird.




Though it was glitzy and full of everything one might dream about, I’d had enough really and decided I’d return to the ship on the next shuttle.




As I did, I spotted this shop along there with all the other designer storefronts.  UK friends will understand why it made me smile!


Writing this, I can sense a weariness which may be because we’ve just packed our suitcases for our flight home tomorrow morning.  27 days and more than 2000 photographs later, we’re really more than ready for home.  It’s been a truly fantastic trip; most certainly one of the best, we both agree.  But, as always, we’ll settle for an elegant sufficiency!


To Oman and back


Today’s early morning picture is of Fujairah, which was there in the mist as we drew our curtains this morning.




The tugs were getting into position to manage our safe arrival as we were enjoying our breakfast, preparing for the day ahead and getting ready to meet our friends for an 8.15am start on our “mountain 4WD safari”.

Just as we were about to leave, however, we heard that we were going to need our passports and that before we could leave the ship, they needed stamping by the UAE authorities.  That was going to take two hours, so we settled back into our suite and I finished my book (The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar – brilliant novel set in Mumbai)




In the meantime, a buzz was going round…had we heard the news?  Well, we hadn’t, but soon did.




At around 11 am, we met our driver Nishan, who was going to drive us up into the mountains, leading the convoy of ten vehicles.  A charming fellow, he did his best to manage the tricky balance of chatting with us and answering our many questions with concentrating on what was quite a challenging drive.  When he produced the map and explained where we were headed, all became clear – we were to drive up into Oman, over the border and of course, the customs would be inspecting our passports.




We drove through the northern coastal suburbs of Fujairah, into the next Emirate of Sharjah and then on through the small and less well known Emirate of Ras-al-Khaimah, back into Sharjah again and finally, crossing the border into Oman.




We followed the coast road along the Gulf of Oman, where the fishermen were bringing in today’s catch of sardines.  We stopped to take a closer look




The nets had been our there for a couple of days and they were now being hauled in and emptied into the back of several pickup trucks, to be driven to a place where they could be laid out in the sun to dry.




The small silver fish glistened in the sunshine




The fishermen brought in one net after another.




We carried on northwards, eventually turning off the metalled road and onto a gravel track through bleak and desolate countryside.  With the temperature reaching the mid-thirties, the acacia trees were about the only living thing we could see.

Apart from goats.  These little creatures were to be seen everywhere in this, the most inhospitable terrain.




Eventually, we began the climb up a dry river bed, following the route uphill amidst a changing landscape which was a geologist’s dream.




Higher we climbed, eventually taking a steeper and more precipitous track to the summit of a mountain whose name I didn’t get.  All around us were the most fantastic geological formations and patterns of strata.  We stood drinking ice cold water, admiring this amazing landscape and wondering if we could hope to capture it with our little digital cameras. 




I’m not sure we did, really.  But the pictures in our mind’s eye will be more    representative of this, the fascinating remains of thousands of years of wear and tear by wind and a bit of water – and once we’re home we will investigate more about this strange area of Oman.




We continued to take photos




if only to try to capture the experience of getting up here.




because sooner rather than later, it was time to return and make our way steadily back down the same precarious route.




This hot, dry place was altogether different from anywhere we’d been before and captured our imagination completely.




Even so, it was good to return to civilisation again, via this old mosque – the oldest in the Emirates.  It was nearly 5pm when we finally got back to the ship, saying our farewells to Nishan, who had to return to Dubai – another two hours drive – making it an exceptionally long day for him.

Of course, that meant we missed our Trivia today.  Ho hum!


In the Souk


Mooching through the souks of Dubai and Muscat was far more fun than we'd anticipated. Expecting to be hassled at every step, we imagined that a brief dip into the dark alleys would be more than enough. As it was, there was no pressure, no tugs at our elbow or much more than a "wanna pashmina, Madam?" from the occasional stallholder. Indeed, most of the sellers were so laid back and relaxed, we were able to absorb the atmosphere of the place at our own pace.


In Dubai, it was the "spice souk" which held our interest. The gold was yellow, overwhelming and not at all to our taste (or pocket); it was the scents and sights of the rather quieter area just around the corner which drew us in.

Bags of dried rosebuds, bay leaves, sunflower petals, lavender and chillies, together with heaps of frankincense, sandalwood and sulphur made a colourful sight on both sides of the aisles. Stepping inside the shops, there were jars of vanilla, sugary aniseeds, dried lemons and curry mixes. Good natured greetings made buying fun - we didn't feel inclined to haggle too aggressively when prices were so low and we brought a little bag of goodies back with us.

Just around the corner were a few more colourful stalls, with cotton tops, pashminas and twinkly slippers.

I'm not sure that these pointy toed dazzlers would be quite right in a Cotswold lane, but couldn't resist the colours of these beauties alongside.

As for other products in the shop windows...well, the mind boggles! (no purchases here, needless to say!)

In Muscat, Oman, the following day, the souk beckoned us once more because of course, we wished we had bought just one more pashmina, one more cotton top or that pair of shoes we saw but forgot about till we saw a woman wearing them at dinner that night. This souk was better geared to attract the magpie in me and though some items were very similar to things we'd seen in Dubai, many things were peculiar to Oman.

Here there were a myriad of patterned kummar hats, worn by the men to top off their outfit of dishdasha and sometimes covered with a tightly knotted turban. All different patterns, densely embroidered and folded in a specific way, there were walls full of them, folded flat.

Much silver here, many daggers - the khanjar is a symbol of Oman - but these things are not for us and we moved swiftly on to more interesting displays.

Finally, this magpie's sweetie shop - where women restricted to wearing black from head to toe might indulge themselves with a little brightness, even if it is only for their ankles and wrists.

So, quite an interesting collection from today's souk - a couple of pashminas, some silver braid, silver thread and a pair of pretty shoes.

And Mark? Well, he was relaxed!



Into the Desert

Mid afternoon, we turned up for our "adventure" early as usual. It bore rewards however, for not only were we assigned seats in the first convoy of vehicles, in car #1 indeed, but we were in the care of Dinar, driver in chief and leader of the pack! There were three convoys of ten vehicles taking different routes but meeting up later for drinks and supper.

We set off down an unassuming motorway, like all areas of Dubai there was some building work going on everywhere we looked. 20km down the road, we took an exit slip road and voila! no road!

First thing to do was to let air out of the tyres - 50%. We all scrambled out to have our first step onto the sand and to marvel at the sights around us.

I could not believe the patterns created by the wind on the soft sand and the shapes and soft curves of the dunes, stretching off as far as the eye could see. This was a magical place.

The fun was just starting however, for no sooner had we set off on the sand, driving surface as slippy as ice, than Dinar gave a little chuckle and whoops! over the dune we shot - WOW!

We slid sideways down some, drove along the side of others at 45 degrees, bounced up and down and giggled like children as we did so. We stopped to look at others in the convoy, watching with amazement as they took the route we had just created, sometimes hovering on the brink of the top of the dune and creating an almightly sand cloud behind them as they slithered down the other side.

We stopped at a camel farm to take pictures but really wanted to play some more - and Dinar was only too happy to oblige!

After another hour (seemed like ten minutes) we met the rest of the convoy for drinks "at the Sunset Bar" - a carpet on the desert - and drank champagne as the sun went down. Absolutely amazing.

But there was one more surprise. Over the dunes, about ten minutes away, a "village" had been set up and as the darkness fell, we left the cars and walked down into a spot lit by oil lamps, with carpets and music playing.

A barbecue had been set up and there was supper on offer, wine to drink and activities to try - camel rides, hubblebubble pipes, dressing up (!) and henna painting.

After supper, the belly dancers came on and put on a fantastic show and surprisingly, unbelievably and thankfully, we didn't get to make fools of ourselves by having to join in!!


Dubai Morning

We didn't really know what to expect from the place, even though we'd attended a lecture earlier in the week and seen slides of some of these amazing buildings which are appearing here. So opening the curtain this morning to find a kind of Emerald City in the mists on the horizon, we looked forward to getting into this amazing city to see what's what.

Arriving in port is always exciting and there was a buzz of anticipation during breakfast time. We'd booked an orientation tour and jumped on a coach with about 30 of our shipmates and set off with Samir, our guide, along what must be the fastest-changing roadside collection of skyscrapers in the world. All the superlatives were here - the fastest built skyscraper, the tallest, the most expensive, the highest number of cranes in the world, alongside banners advertising the sale of apartments in one or other "sold out in 1 hour"!

First stop was the Burj al Arab hotel - 7 stars and not for the likes of us. We simply stopped by the promenade and took photos. Onto a mosque and more photo opportunities - losing one of the bunch along the way. Seems as though this particular elderly gentleman has a habit of wandering off and "has history" - in spite of a lengthy search he was nowhere to be found and we left without him!

Next stop, the Dubai Museum - a really interesting collection of life size sets of shops and scenes from everyday life. Dimly lit, it gave a really good impression of how things were before the transformation into the 21st century city began and we thought it great.

Not everyone felt the same though: "Jim, Jim...it's dark in here, I can't see anything!! I don't like it..." Oh, for heaven's sake!

Final stop was the souks - the spice souk and then the gold souk. Once again, a few souls made unintentional bids for escape by not listening to instructions - I think this was the most tiresome aspect of the morning and once or twice, Mark had to do a little rounding up of little grey haired old ladies who then followed his every step to make sure they didn't get left behind again!

Did we buy? No gold jewellery, that's for sure. But we were pleased to grab a bag of cashews, a box of sandalwood incense, some sweet aniseeds and a pot of sweet curry masala. Oh, and 10g of saffron, too. We prefer the edible gold!

Next adventure - wadi bashing as we head out into the desert this afternoon in a 4WD. We're headed for a bedouin camp and fun is promised...