Monday, April 30, 2007

Dubai - city of excess

So folks I'm alive and well in Dubai on the next stage of the Spratt adventure.

Just three days here in this boiling city constructed from desert sands and so much to see and do - or is there.

I arrived (three hours late) last night and made my way by taxi to Queen's Hotel in the Deira (old town) district. Busy. Lively. Noisy. Bright Lights. Cheap shops. Bit dirty. Bit squallid. It reminded me slightly of parts of Bangkok. I liked it.

My taxi driver was rather aghast that I was staying in this place - where traffic clogs the streets and few taxis venture.

But he found the Queen's hotel for me on Al Sabkha street, which is near the gold souk and spice souk.

It is fine. There are lifts (a bonus when staying on the 4th and top floor), very cold air-conditioning, hot water, a clean bathroom with toiletries, a TV with movie channels, a fridge and a lock on the door.

The bed is hard as fricking nails, a poor replacement for my wonderful bed at home (I really DO love my bed) which made it hard to sleep last night, despite my tiredness from the 3.45am wake-up call in the morning. That and the planes which passed overhead several times as I was drifting off...

This morning I was awoken by the call to prayer from the nearby mosque - a haunting sound - but soon drifted off again. Breakfast was fine and then I proceeded to find out about the desert safari tours at the front desk.

A nice chap came to talk to me about them and suggested a city tour - something I had considered before. I decided to book one for 10.30am and went to get changed. I then ummed and aahed - i do like just to wander ang get a feel for a place, discover little shops and alleyways and preferably not get mugged. A city tour was a luxury surely...

Then reception rang to see if I was ready and so I felt my choice had been made. Luckily it was a good one. Dubai is really rather huge and there is not a very good transport system. You think London is bad... no underground, the a/c buses don't run this side of the creek but taxis are fairly cheap and common.

My tour was a private affair - just me and my guide Shafii in his white Toyota Corolla. We drove past the Gold Souk, along the creekside to the Deira Shopping Mall - the oldest in the city - and full of gems such as Debenhams, New Look, H&M and Top Shop. And all really rather cheap...

Still, this was sightseeing, not shopping and it felt rather odd to be wandering around the mall with this chap - but I can always go back :)

Then we crossed the creek to Bur Dubai. Here, we stopped and I visited the musuem - all about the development of the city from the nomad tribes as well as information about their water, natural resources (oil, pearls, gold), about oases (plural of Oasis), and old weaponry and boats etc.

Then it was down to the waterside and to a public beach - which, like so many things here, is under development. It is crazy hot here - must be about 40C and too hot to do much outside. We then went to a beach you could pretty much drive your car onto which is next to Burj Al Arab - that really famous 7* hotel on the waters edge. The water is picture perfect aquamarine colour - and just off the shore, they are creating another beach to which boats will ferry across sunworshippers.

We drove past Wild Wadi waterpark and to a nearby mall - done in a traditional sort-of a style with an attached 5* hotel complete with waterways and little boats cruising its guests along past palm trees and numerous restaurants.

Then it was to the famous Mall of the Emirates - a huge building with a glass dome - rather like Paddington station I thought - and with its piece de resitance - the real ski slope with chair lifts,an ice slide, frozen sculptures and climbing wall. Really, really odd.

After a drive through the business district (where they are building the world's tallest tower), we headed back to the my hotel.

It left me feeling that Dubai is a sprawling mass of villas, skyscrapers, beaches and old, dirty, bustling part with no real centre or connection. From the mind-blowingly deccadent (Burj Al Arab with its underwater restaurant and tennis court cum helipad and the ski centre) to the area I'm in which - although I haven't explored much - seems rather Asian in its higgedly piggedly ghettoness to the ancient Arabic constructions which still exist.

There are mass projects here - to build the three palm-shaped sets of islands (visible from the moon) and the world map islands (fake private islands for the rich, famous and money-minded business people), the world's tallest skyscraper (Burj Dubai tower), the business bay - which hopes to rival Tokyo and New York for business, a resort-style city with marinas, golf course, houses etc, Dubailand - intended to be the largest theme park on the planet, the largest shopping mall in the world, a marina 11km long, an overground/underground metro... the list goes on.

It is very interesting but also really odd and really fake. I do rather like the organic way 'normal' places are built. Or is this just the modern way to do it?

The only downside to today was the very pleasant Shafii who decided I was wonderful (naturally), funny and beautiful and that, despite my claims to have a boyfriend and his fiancee in Pakistan, really tried his very hardest to be my friend. Mostly, he was funny, knowledgable and professional but occasionally he was a little sleazy and made me feel uncomfortable - not by any agression or physicality, but just asking if I liked him, by kissing my hand and saying how nice I am.

Not sure what the rest of my stay holds but I came to the internet with the intention of getting the phone number of a friend of a friend who I hope to meet up with at some point soon.

Anyway, this was supposed to be a short message...

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

And so to Oz...(via Dubai)

And so, the end is near and as I face the final curtain that is the 7 hour flight to Dubai, I really bloody don't want to go.

Mainly, however, because I can't be fagged to pack my backpack and head for the hills.

I've had an awesome, awesome time back in Blighty though.

Last weekend I saw some of my best friends in London for Lizzie's birthday. An awesome theme (Superheroes and stars) got us all dressing up and in the mood for a bit of wine-fuelled catching up.

You know you have fantastic friends when you just fall back into conversation with them as easily as if you'd been speaking to them the previous day.

And catching up with Leah and Polly, two school friends who I haven't seen for yonks, was also like that. A picnic on a scorching hot day in a gated park in west London soon got us up-to-speed as we ever were on the comings and goings.

I met my brother Jonathan in town on Sunday and we watched a bit of the London marathon, wandered over the Thames and along south bank watching the budgie man (really, really weird) and having a drink at the Tate Modern.

After checking out his bachelor pad in Islington, we met Sally Seex for a flipping great curry at Rooburoo's on Chapel Market.

Then it was back to Gloucestershire.

The weather has been stunning during nearly all of my stay - warm, sunny, sometimes a bit fresh and sometimes as hot as a summer's day. It has meant drinks in pub gardens, tea in mum's courtyard and lazing around on the banks of the Thames in Oxford.

Craig and I popped to Oxford for the day on Wednesday and spent a perfect day just wandering and drinking coffee, having lunch at Europe's oldest coffee house, and sitting in Christchurch meadow in the sun.

We went to see Beth in her house in Jerico for a glass of vino and then headed to my brother Kieran's beautiful Cotswold stone cottage in Charlbury, a village north of the town.

After a spot of top nosh and a beer, we headed to a local pub with his friend Kate to watch a very, very serious musician do his all-American country, bluesy, I-don't-know-what guitar playing. Managing to get quite a few stares and a shush from the audience for my loud talking, we created a bit of a scene by not really being that interested in him.

Last night, I went to my friend Claire's for some wine and dinner with our friend Kate and then we went out for (a lot of) drinks and a dance in Cheltenham - missed most of the people I was supposed to catch up with but did see Craig and his mate Dan and had a great night.

The rest of the week has been filled by drinking tea with my sisters, thinking about packing and not doing it, thinking about renewing my travel insurance and not doing it, researching and booking hotels in Dubai (I now know more about the bloody hotels than the city) and generally having fun.

I can't wait for Perth, I really can't and to experience the weirdness that is Dubai for three days. But I'm really very, very sad to go. And I still haven't found my camera memory card. grrr.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Sunny England??!!

Would you believe it? It is actually warm, sunny and wonderful right now in England.

With temperatures pushing 25C on some days, there has barely been a dull moment in the sky for me to escape to update the blog.

Coming home for my dad's 70th birthday has been a wonderful treat. Fantastic to see my nieces, sisters, parents and brothers and sisters as well as all my friends.

It has been one of the few occasions when all six of my siblings, plus parents and kids, have been together in a very, very long time - and I think possibly the first time we have all been pissed together since Duncan's wedding in 1998.

There have been walks on the Malverns with my good friend Fur, numerous barbecues, gossiping over tea with my sisters, wine drinking with friends, lazy luncheons and reunions which have been both very pleasant and very painful.

And while I am muchly looking forward to the Return to Oz, and to see my darling Danielle, I haven't been quite ready to leave yet.

England is truly beautiful in the sunshine and, while Gloucester itself remains an ugly (though regenerating - they say) city, the Cotswolds make me proud to come home.

Painswick, the Queen of the Cotswolds, is just two miles from my parents home and is a quaint village of ancient Cotswold stone houses, windy lanes and a spired church which commands a stunning view over the vales below - not far from a place called Paradise.

When there are homes here which still have lead-lined windows, old wooden doors with huge knockers (boom boom) and even the old stocks by the churchyard - it is no wonder I find the modernity of Australian cities so strange and alien. In England, there is history around every corner - and an 800 year old tree in our field.

But I have postponed my flight almost a week, not because of an 800 year old tree, but to give me more time with my loved ones.

I have also shortened my trip to Dubai from six days to three - money concerns have dictated this rather than love affairs, fears of kidnap (worries held by my mother) or need to get back to Danielle.

So Perth is next on the Oz agenda - and for England, it is London. A weekend of catching up with uni friends for a superhero costume party, seeing my brother for his birthday and catching up with other various people.

It is also, so my parents believe, extra time to do the grocery run, cook up a bit of dinner, tidy my room, and not-go-out-in-a-skirt-that-short, and what-are-you-doing-seeing-that-boy-again and are-you-really-going-out-again-tonight? time.

Perhaps before I go, the weather will turn horrid and I look forward to the windy city with increasing joy. But right now, there is nothing prettier than England, and the Cotswolds, in Spring.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

The surprise, the wedding, the ex

SO I am back in England - for two weeks only.

It has been a carefully planned surprise for my dad's 70th birthday and has involved much secrecy, mild deception and nerves - particularly on the part of my mother.

Still after 25 hours of flight from Melbourne via Dubai to London Heathrow, my dad was suitably surprised as I walked through the exit gates.

Mum had told him that my cousin would be returning early from Toyko and my aunt had telephoned to ask him to pick her up - as they were flying to Spain that very day. Being a generous soul, he agreed. But he admits cursing Miranda's name as he waited for the delayed flight in the arrivals hall.

Only for it to be me causing all the bother and arriving the day before the long Easter weekend.

His face completely dropped from the arranged smile to absolute shock. His mouth was open, he looked around him as if thinking, "Er why am I here? who am I? What's going on? Have I gone mad?"

Naturally, I talked ten to the dozen the whole way home and was greated my two shrieking banshees (my sisters) and four very shocked nieces - who had also been in the dark about my arrival.

A boozy dinner of spag bol and meringue on the patio followed. It was almost as if I had never been away.

Luckily for me, the weather is beautiful here - warm (for April), sunny and spring-like. There are a neighbouring farmer's lambs in our fields, primroses on the banks off our wood and the last of the daffofils. The Magnolia tree outside my bedroom window is still in (browning) blossom and the trees are beginning to bud.

I sank into my lovely lovely double bed with its soft soft mattress which I cunningly wrestled from the 'divorce' last year.

Ah and onto that, I know at least several people are keen to hear the gory details of meeting up with Craig. Emboldened by Steven's recent podcast mentionning Fleur, I can't be bothered to encode this.

He picked me up on Friday around noon, after chatting to my family and being scrutinised and criticsed (in 'bantering' form - oh dear) by them. But he coped very well (he has had to put up with my sisters' rather cruel sense of humour on many previous occasions).

I was being taken for lunch but we didn't know where - we drove around the stunning Cotswolds for a time before ending up at The Bell at Sapperton - a gastro pub popular with second homers in the area. After a drink there, we proceeded to the more homely Daneway pub down the road (where we used to walk when I was a child) and attempted to order a bite to eat before the 2pm cut off.

As is usually the way with us, we missed it and had to make do with a drink in the sunshine, surrouned by the stunning countryside. It was friendly, easy, comfortable, lovely and a little emotional. But, he has a girlfriend and doesn't really need me coming back for two weeks and going off again and messing him aorund. I haven't seen him since but I am sure I shall soon.

On a more serious note, I have rediscovered many of England's most pleasing pleasures such as Marmite (oh, how I've missed you - Vegemite sucks in comparison) and sherbert lemon. The latter I had never forgotten that I like a lot but I realised I liked it more than I remembered. I know I should eat lots of it while I'm back (it is it's purpose after all and wants me to eat it) but, rather like my Easter choclate, I fear it will become a nasty habit that I can't kick and that I will have withdrawal symptoms when I go back to Australia without vast supplies. So I am eshweing it for a more healthy lifestyle... Oh my waistline how you have grown already...

My friend Laura was married on Saturday to her childhood sweetheart Shane. I have known Laura since our days fetching and carrying as slaves at Bowden Hall Hotel and from a few weeks dating her brother when I was 16.

The wedding was held at Tortworth Court in South Gloucestershire - a stately manor home. Laura looked stunning in a ruffled, princess -style dress. She looked like a bridal model with her tiny waist, long dark hair, tanned skin and good looks. I would upload some pictures but somewhere in transit I have lost the USB cable which connects my camera to computers. Which is bloody annoying.

Sally, one of my oldest friends, and fellow Bowden Hall ex-employee joined me at the wedding and we a good giggle catching up, running barefoot through the gardens and dancing on the Cotswold stone wall at the bottom of a hill while we waited for the evening do to start. This was much to the amusement of the groom who caught us being very silly.

Mind you, most people at the wedding saw us dancing in the evening - why be serious on the dancefloor?!

Anyway it was a beautiful wedding with the breakfast in the Orangery - a glasshouse building - an effective chocolate and cream theme and yummy cake. It as funny to see all the elements Laura has been emailing me about for months come together - the cake, the dress, the shoes, the tiara, the invitations and so on.

Mr and Mrs Forsythe are now in the Maldives - the lucky pair.

Anyway I have rambled on enough... again soon.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Ah the autumn....

So Autumn really has hit Melbourne. But no golden leaves creating havoc on all the pavements. No misty mornings and drizzle.

But yes there is rain. Yes I have been very cold and needing jumpers, coats and scarves. Of course, the days when I worked 13 hour days it was sunny and warm which brought everyone to the beach and to our cafe. The result? Two days of utter mayhem at work. But it's all good fun of course...

On Friday, Jenni and I bundled into our housemates' truck and went with them to Phillip Island. The island itself is pretty dull on a cold and windy day - there was a hurricane south of Australia and Melbourne caught the edge with some fantastic gales. All rather thrilling when you're on clifftops.

It felt a bit like a British holiday - even more so when we visited Cowes, which is actually twinned with Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

We fuelled up on McCafe coffee on the way and ventured across the bridge to the island - which is a few hours drive from St Kilda. Once we got there we realised there wasn't a hell of a lot to do. We passed a few 'sights' - a beach and Swan Lake (cue much humming of Tchaikovsky) where there was a distinct lack of both lake and swans. Bloody drought.

Then we went to the, er, Nobbies. Two big rocks just off the coast and where we had hoped to see seals - however Seal Rock is actually 1.5km offshore. So we didn't. We did, however, have a very blustery walk along the cliffs to see a blowhole and a lot of waves pounding the rocks below.

Freezing cold, we hopped back into the car and went in search of warmth and ended up at Penguin Parade visitor centre for a look around and a very dodgy sandwich. We bought our tickets for the evening and headed to Cowes for a warming coffee, a shop at Coles, more food and a wander around the few shops.

At around 5.30pm we headed back to the Penguin Parade. We prepared ourselves mentally and physically for the cold challenge ahead and then walked down to the beach with a few hundred other freezing souls.

There were rows of concrete steps to sit on and an area of sand cordonned off around them. Jenny and I wrapped ourselves in blankets and we all huddled together. A ranger explained the Little Penguins which we had come to see were floating about 100m offshore waiting for the sky to darken.

After about an hour of sitting with numb bums and everything else, the first few penguins emerged from the water. They ducked and dived back in again and spent ages scouring the area to see if it was safe enough to waddle up the sands and up the grassy banks to their nesting boxes. It took a while for this to happen and a small group would collect at the edge of the surf only for one to turn back or be knocked over and then they would all leg it back into the waves.

After about half an hour we had seen several groups of Little Penguins (which used to be called Fairy penguins) come home. so we left the beach and went up to the boardwalks which ran back to the visitor centre. Here we could watch them finding their nests and calling to each other and waddling up to 1km back to their homes. It is moulting season at the moment and apparently they feed themselves up for this period and some were so fat they could hardly move.

They were tiny (the smallest species in the world) - about 40cm high - and so cute. They have disappeared from all but this one beach on Phillip Island and along a lot of the coastline of Australia. apparently there is a colony under Manly Wharf as well.

Jennny and I have attempted to go out a few nights but been too tired and I have been spending time with people from work too. Last night Jenny and I attempted to go to Neighbours night.

This failed. This failed mainly because we didn't pre-buy or reserve tickets and so queued for ages and ended up sitting in the public area of the Elephant and Wheelbarrow pub with Pip and Amy from work. Libby Kennedy, Darcy and Paul Robinson were the stars for the night.

After a bit, we decided to head to Amello's (my work) because we could get free drinks there and sat and ate all the staff pizza and drank nice,free wine. Jenny and I left at 10.30pm to go and see Dr Karl's band play at the pub and I know that I went there. I know that I saw Dr Karl because I have several short movie clips on my camera of him banging a tambourine.

However the night is a complete blank after Amello's (sorry dad) but I have a bump on my head, no credit on my phone and woke up with all my clothes on, contact lenses in having got a taxi home and wandering off without paying for it. Luckily Matt paid the driver who was banging on our house door. I was already asleep and snoring - alledgedly.

Not to yourselves kids - never ever let your drink leave your sight at dodgy British pubs in St Kilda...

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