Monday, 26 November 2012

Days in Dubai

Swift-footed time... just a couple more days here and then we go back to Kusadasi. There, I read on the internet, the temperatures are in the upper 'teens; ah, farewell to the glorious balmy air of the Emirates!
This evening David and I walked through the Jumeira Beach Hotel and out the back to where the sea laps upon the golden sand (no kidding). The sun was setting and we climbed one of the man-made structures at the end of a short causeway. Sorry no photos, will have to see if the same effect is achieved tomorrow evening...
It was glorious. The sun a bright red ball sank behind the distant Palm and the cranes and the misty mini skyscrapers. Gradually the sky turned soft pink. We saw a dugout canoe with ten paddlers (Europeans apparently keeping fit) quite impressively paddling in time...
Looking the other direction from the sunset we see Burj Arabi and the towers of the downtown business centre, also misty in the distance. The slender spires of many minarets illuminated from within, pierce the darkening sky. A violet light
I think about Dubai: it strikes me as sprawling and tangled, full of spaghetti crossovers, the incessant traffic zooming and hooting along the many highways, rushing to somewhere, busy, hurrying, the air polluted with carbon and commerce.
But there are the cultural oases. A couple of days ago Judy and I went to a good concert given by the Dubai Chamber Orchestra. Programme contained Haydn's cello concerto No. 2 in D (astonishing digital acrobatics required!) and a beautiful piece by the Polish composer Henryk Gorecki; finished with Prokofiev's symphony number 1 opus 25. Most enjoyable.
One can forget the ubiquitous sand and the artificial greens and the chaos of traffic and construction work, and the waste of energy and food, and the consumerism run riot...
Here in Umm Suqeim 3, the district where Judy lives, the ocean is nearby. Close to the open sea, the land gains context.
It often makes me think of Lego Land: the houses so similar, so cleanly plastered, the tall towers so shiny with their countless gleaming windows, the many cars lovingly washed daily, everything seeming so new...

Sunday, 25 November 2012

A night in Muscat

The hotel lived up to its Lonely Planet promise... And only one cockroach.
Very spacious rooms and a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
And how about this for environmental awareness??
Having unpacked and sorted out our early morning departure for the next day, we set off to look for somewhere to eat. An abundanceon offer! We found a Pakistani-run restaurant seving the most delicious dal for me and grilled fish with rice for David and what the waiter told me was Tandoori bread. Water to wash our food down, and to finish a wondrous sweet dessert somewhat resembling halva. All for three euros.
While we ate the men streamed out of the mosque across the road and into the restaurant. A mixture of Pakistanis, Indians and Omanis (I go by their clothing...)
Then back into the dark and to our hotel for an early night (after grateful hot shower in our room).
We like Muscat!
This was out spacious room...
Tomorrow back to Dubai.

Jebel Shams and meeting Omanis

It's not just the overwhelming grandeur of the rocky heights that impressed us about Jebel Shams. We met lots of people there and heard (and told) colourful stories about adventures in many places.

Muneer and Majid
They were both qualified travel guides, very articulate, most kind and helpful. Both of them multi-lingual (I was very impressed by their French and English). They were "local boys", knew a lot about the area round Jebel Shams; I realized what a pity it is that we are staying for so short a time. There is much to see (David regrets, among other things, missing the turtles who lay their eggs in the sandy beaches further south in Oman.) Maybe we'll come back...

Here is Muneer with me outside the dining room at Jebel Shams.

We met some other (like us, retired) couples: one evening Pam and John, two mathematicians from Oxford (we worked out they had been up just after me) who told us some if their stories, fascinating (including a visit to Libya a while back...) and on the morning we were leaving had a long chat with Alain and Betty from Hyeres, also boat people...
I always wonder if we'll ever meet again, but it's possible...

We left around lunch time and Majid came in the car down the steep roads with us to be dropped outside his home in the wadi below.
Here he is with his house in the background. He told us his family was the Baluchi tribe, originally (long ago I gather) from Pakistan.
So we reached Nizwa, arriving several hours before the bus left for Muscat. An impressive Indian said his friend was just going to drive to Muscat and asked if we'd like to have a lift. Well, yes, we would...
We waited while they went to fetch the friend's car.
He turned out to be a young man born in Oman of Indian parents. So although he'd spent all his life in Oman, he didn't get Omani nationality. This seems the general rule in the Gulf states (like, Nathan was born in Dubai but no way could he become an Emirati).
His name is Maroof Khatri. He drove us (excellent driving!) from Nizwa to the bus staion in Muscat (near where he lived). On the way he told David (who sat beside him in the front of the car) about his schooling, his work, what it was like living in Oman, his ideas about finding a wife (we judged him to be in his late twenties) and how his mother was all alone since his father (who had smoked too much, he recounted!) had died.
A most instructive journey.
Dusk was beginning to gather as we stepped out of his car and made our way up the marble steps into the Sun City Hotel, where we'd booked for the night (all too brief, morning rise of 5 a.m. to catch the bus back to Dubai).

More tales from Oman

We reached Muscat in the dark. The outside air was warm when we climbed off the coach (I love this part of the world at this time of the year!) The coach we travelled on from Dubai (Deira) to Muscat had stopped in Oman to pick up a young woman, carrying her baby under her arm, two bulging bags, and two suitcases on wheels...She sank down exhausted onto the seat behind David and me. I offered to hold her baby for her while she recovered. The baby was very smiley; in fact, I never heard him cry the whole time we were with her. She told me his name was Altan, meaning gold. She came from Kazachstan; the baby's father, it later emerged, was Nigerian. I never learnt her whole story, but what she told was enough to raise many questions for me: where had she met her husband, why had she wanted to marry hime, how long ago was it, why had she decided to become pregnant? She told me they had been travelling in Arab lands for about three years, presently in Oman where she had a resident's permit valid until ealry 2013. The baby had been born in Muscat in May (I saw his birth certificate, complete with Omani stamp; half in Arabic and half in Russian). She said her husband (who was apparently studying at an Omani university) had hidden her passport and that of his son, so she was now waiting for a new one to be issued via her Embassy. I phoned her embassy in the morning and they knew her story. I also phoned the Netherlands embassy to see if there was any place equivalent to Shelter, where she could take refuge until her passport arrived from Kazachstan. There wasn't, and since she isn't a Dutch national, her only recourse was through her own country's embassy. She was clearly afraid her husband would find her. But there seemed to be nowhere she could go. We paid for her night in the hotel, and then (alas, faute de mieux!) left to keep our appointment; we had to catch a bus to Nizwa, where we would be met by a driver who would take us up to Jebel Shams resort (about an hour's drive from Nizwa). So I left Sulu with her baby in the hotel. Happily, it was run by a kind and wise Indian. He and I know so many stories like Sulu's. Young mothers, women of all ages, whose husbands beat them. I sat in the bus to Nizwa, pondering about the extra mile... and sad unfinished stories.

At Jebel Shams resort
Nowhere like it in the world. At first we couldn't locate our driver in Nizwa. But a very kind local Omani listened to the instruction on my mobile phone and led me at a spanking pace from the bus stop where David and I had been dropped, to the large carpark beside Nizwa's Friday Suq. And there we found our four-by-four. By then the sun was setting. I am so relieved we drove up to Jebel Shams in the dark. I was pretty scared when we drove down in the daylight, two days later. It was quite a long way, the road zig-zagging higher and higher, the air growing chiller. Finally we reached the sandy plateau where the resort is built.
It consists of small one-storey chalets and tents, has a swimming pool and a dining room. Paved paths facilitate movement across the sand (!). There is a children's playground area. And despite the cattle grid, the over-friendly goats trip across (who's that crossing over MY bridge?...) and leave their droppings discreetly on the crazy-paving pathways.
There is a row of chalets, with windows facing west. To watch the glory of the sunset. Westwards lies the desert.

In the picture above you see David reading about travels in Afghanistan, while waiting in Jebel Shams...
There are many possibilities for adenturous expeditions while staying here. David and I chose to do the so-called Balcony Walk. Alone and unaided. It was quite an experience... sheer drops from the narrow stony path; not always clear which track to follow -- but fortunately very clear stripes in the colours of the Omani flag, painted onto the rocks to guide us. And scary as it was at times, it was worth every heartbeat! Most of the time very quiet, the occasional crow's cawing, or the wind in the trees below. Then silent once more. Only our footsteps crunching on the rocky path.
It took us about two-and-a-half hours to reach the abandoned houses and the terraces where formerly people had cultiavted subsistence crops. We sat down to enjoy our lunch -- and lo! from afar the goats appeared. Billy, Nanny and Kiddyo. They were extremely friendly.

But we did manage to shoo them away. And set off to retrace our steps. This time I looked in the other direction (that is, to my right and away from the sheer drop..) and steadfastly watched David's ankles pacing onwards through the sandy dust...
We reached the landmarks we had passed on our outbound journey -- the small cairns marking the halfway point, the covered wooden table and benches.

And here I am, somewhat painful feet, but elated!
What is it about the rocky mountains, memories of where I was born, maybe? More following...

Birthday for my grandson

I remember the day he was born; hardly seems long ago. Now he is three years old, able to converse with me about the Gruffalo, Super Worm and other heroes... He has a tremendous sense of the absurd, and is altogether (most of the time) a delightful companion.

His mummy (my daughter) organized a wonderful children's party for some other three-year-old friends and the fun began with Isaak and Nathan in the paddling pool, before guests arrived.
Being Dubai, it was not surprisinly a multi-ethnic gathering of children and parents. Judy made a splendid birthday cake (chocoltae of course), cut it into a rocket shape and adorned it with Nathan's name. We all sang Happy Birthday and wished him a long life in de gloria: this is the Dutch addition which I am never quite sure how to interpret... "Long may he live in glory" ??

Nathan was amazingly calm about this momentous day and walked round smiling contentedly and saying to himself "Happy birthday Nathan". The gold-medal-winning present was from Rose, who comes from the Philippines, and has looked after the boys for the past three years. She (brilliantly) gave Nathan an aeroplane that lights up and makes a whirring noise. Joy of any small boy's heart.
Most astonishing of all, throughout the day there was hardly any howling or screaming; of course, from time to time parental intevention was required. But on the whole, Maria Montessori would have been pleased.
Birthday Boy contemplates his red balloon...

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Oman days and sunsets...

Oman: too much to tell in one blog, and we are planning to see Rigoletto here in Dubai this evening, concert performance by Italian group... So here just a foretaste. Five days not nearly long enough, especially to appreciate the rugged splendours of the Omani mountiains.
Our Muscat adventure is a chapter in itself. Encounter with runaway wife plus her six-month-old baby ... to come later.
Then we went to the pre-booked resort at Jebel Shams (over 2,000 feet up in the rocky rugged mountians south ot Nizwa). Splendid views, excellent food, very helpful staff (multi-lingual!).
The Balcony Walk looked like this:

Many breath-taking views. David and I did the Balcony Walk, about two-and-a-half hours each way; hard on the feet and leg muscles (I noticed this the following day!) But altogether stunning.
Some happy moments with the local goats (over-friendly!) Here they come to say 'hi' to David:

And then back to our one-roomed chalet to contemplate the glories of the setting sun, seen from a high point. Lasted nearly an hour.
More about the resort tomorrow.

Back to Dubai, after a night in Muscat and a delicious meal in a Pakistani restaurant, costing only three euros (in Omani reales).
Stayed in the highly recommended Sun City Hotel; only one cockroach in the bathroom. And a great awareness of global problems:

More stories to come about the mountains, and unhappy marriages, and the welcoming Omanis.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Thoughts from Dubai ... second round

My blog is into its second year, and we are once again in Dubai.
But thinking of a few days in Oman too this time. After all, what is there to do in Dubai once you've visited the Mall of the Emirates a few times, and eaten fresh fish baked on the beach... (slight joke intended there).
We of course have our wonderful grandsons to provide non-stop entertainment. Their energy is astounding. I am also much impressed by the elder, who now attends school fulltime (aged five) and is learning four langauges: his native English and Dutch, then French and Arabic. And of course we speak Italian together, which he loves. Sono la nonna... I say, which produces great giggles.
More tomorrow, even the muezzin has retired for the day.

Friday, 9 November 2012

One year's blogging...

Almost a year ago, to be precise on 11 November 2011, a friend who was spending a few days aboard Stroemhella with David and me, asked me why I didn't write a blog... Since I am not totally internet-educated, I hummed a little... but Kasia took me through the ropes, we thought up a fine alliterative title: Wendie's Widening World... and I was all set.
Thank you Kasia! She feautures in the first picture I attached to my first blog.
That was in Rome, where we overwintered in Porta di Roma, Ostia.

We left at the beginning of April, and journeyed down the west coast of Italy, along the sole, across to Corfu (Kerkira) past many gem-like Greek islands, and then, after my summer break in Amsterdam and Italy (Como and Venice, later the Marche, Perugia, Follonica, Lucca and other delights) I returned to Stroemhella via Istanbul, where I arrived on 30 September 2012.

September saw us sailing (well, often chugging!) down the west coast of Turkey as far as Yelicavak, then north again to reach Kusadasi, where we shall spend the winter.
Here a resent pic of the windy evening in Kusadasi marina:
And here a recent one of me, self-portrait on the boat. Happy to be exploring the world, either on land or sea... provided the sea sections don't last too long!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

the stormy winds do blow...

It's autumn on the Aegean and the wind is singing through the rigging and moaning round the masts and the dapper Stroemhella, albeit roped securely in her moorings, is swinging and rolling. Just a little scary, as I am alone on the boat for a few days while David visits Amsterdam chiefly for the dentist...
This is the first time I've slept, cooked and generally lived alone on the boat. There is plenty of room! I'm really quite enjoying it, can make my own day's schedule, plan at my own pace. Am also getting things ready to pack, probably on Saturday, for our trip to Dubai. Thank goodness for the internet, it keeps me happily in touch with family and friends. Just had a short interlude with Judy and the boys getting ready for bed. And will shortly try to skype friends in Torino, where it's the sixth birthday of the younger daughter of our neighbours there, on via Giuseppe Verdi.
Creak, groan from the fenders between our boat and the one lying beside us. The sun is setting. Looks like a wild night is approaching...

Tonight it's much greyer than in the above photo, and the sea is far from calm.

This is what it looked like yesterday...

A watercolour palette!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Kusadasi conversations...

Today I collected my Turkish resident's permit, allowing me to leave and re-enter the country and live aboard Stroemhella, without having to count the weeks I've already been here (kinda complicated ...). So now David and I can pop off to Amsterdam, Dubai or Torino like free-flying birds...

We visited a ceramics 'factory' in the old part of the town and had a fascinating talk with (?) the owner, who was delighted when I recognized some of the tiny boxes he had on display in the shop. They are hand-painted on bone, showing minute detailed scenes and figures, and when you open the lid there is a tiny tray within, which also lifts up. A secret place for rings or earrings, or maybe a lock of hair. When I was in Iran a few years ago and visited Isfahan, I watched the craftsmen painting boxes like these. Work of immense beauty, tiny treasures.  So we talked about the lovely places we knew in Iran, Shiraz, Persepolis, Yazd, Esfahan, Tabriz... and the beautiful objects and fabrics produced there... the craftsmanship passed on through the centuries. Our Turkish friend travelled there for his work, selling his ceramics, buying Persian art works. Commerce knows no boundaries, connects people, defies political regimes.
He enjoyed chatting with us, offered us a glass of (delicious) apple tea, then wanted to show us the video of what he told us the day that changed his life. Share happiness, why not! It was a delightful video (we watched it on his laptop) showing the scene when he got engaged to be married, aboard a yacht in Kusadasi harbour. He told us how he had kept it a secret from his beloved, and arranged with her office, where she works as a lawyer, for her to have the day off. Her surprise was apparent (I must add here, he went down on one knee on the deck, and asked her to marry him... his father, standing in the shop  beside us, added "Very romantic!") and the young lady wept and they hugged and kissed and indeed happiness abounded. He told us that was three years ago and he has no regrets.
Nice stories...
We're leaving Kusadasi in a few days (but will return) to visit the family in Dubai. Here a picture of the most ravishing sunset -- colours for real! -- which we witnessed a couple of days ago.

We meet other pensioners (retired folk like us!) spending sunny days on ther boats -- our yachts are clustered round pontoons I and J. Last night we had a couple 'round' for supper, Edi and Almouth, who have just completed a circumnavigation lasting about 15 years, in their cosy yacht Single Malt. Kusadasi to Kusadasi and oceans and continents in between, with periodic sojourns on land. Wonderful stories, such interesting people. Later our next-door-boat neighbour Georg, joined us and we had great talks about the world and commerce and nations and political leaders and poetry (that was my contribution) and global warming and the production of plastic and how to excape pollution... Well, meaty stuff!
Then after the guests have gone and the dishes are washed and stored away and the lights are turned out, we sit awhile in the sweet night, quiet in the back cockpit, only the soft lapping of the water on the boats' sides, and the soft warm air enfolds us, and we know what it is to be blessed.
Good to be here in Kusadasi.