Thursday, February 27, 2014

livin' the high life

the view down my street- SZB
After 2.5 months of living in a hotel/apartment (and enjoying the daily housekeeping, breakfast, pool towels, etc.), I've finally moved into my Dubai digs for real. I have a 2 bedroom apartment on the
14th floor of the 54 story tall Manazel al Safa building. My building is located on Sheik Zayed Blvd (SZB)- the main 10 lane highway through the middle of the city and the road that you take to Abu Dhabi. The metro parallels SZB and I'm between the stop for an area called Business Bay and the Dubai Mall stop. I'm living amongst superlatives. The mall is the world's largest (based on total area) and houses the Dubai Aquarium which boasts the world's largest acrylic panel for viewing the big tank (who knew Guinness would certify such
the acrylic panel! colored bit are reflections of the candy store sign
random things?) right across from the world's largest candy store, Candylicious. The mall is also connected to the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. I've now got with me the world's cutest globe trotting cat (Guinness has yet to certify him, but I know it's so) after he did a stint at my sister's, my parents', my aunt's and my colleague's homes, not to mention the layover at the pet hotel in Frankfurt. Shipping a cat around the world may put me in the ranks of the world's most frivolous, but having him here is pretty great.
I'm second building from the left.

I took a walk around my new neighborhood last night. I used the metro station pedestrian overpass to cross the highway out in front to see what's across the street. There are a few luxury car showrooms, a men's thawb/ thobe shop and tailor (also called dish dashes or kanduras, they are the sharp white robes commonly worn by Arabic men), a hotel and a Baskin Robbins and Dunkin Donuts. That side of the street has some tallish buildings (maybe 10-20 stories) but nothing like my side of the street. Over here though, I noticed something kind of crazy: between these big, sleek towers, there's sand lots. Along the smaller access road running parallel to SZB there are some sidewalks, but then between one building and the next, unlike in NYC or Chicago, for example, there's empty space and non-paved space. I even noticed a couple of scraggly trees just hangin' in there like they did when this was a patch of desert, between two buildings next to mine. I park, usually, in a sandy empty lot between my building and the next because my spot in the parking garage is on the 10th floor and all that spiraling up and down is a pain and makes me queasy.

My apartment is pretty empty- though I'm planning to do something about that this weekend- and has
from the front door looking into the living/dining room
amazing views. I realized the other day that I've never actually lived higher than the 2nd floor anywhere. I'll share a few apartment pictures but will hold off and post a more complete tour of the place after I get some more furniture.
butternut and i on the couch reflected

bedroom 2- the fishbowl!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

life is a highway

I've been driving in Dubai for nearly 2 months now and I'm getting somewhat comfortable with the roundabouts and aggressive speeders who suddenly appear in my rearview mirror flashing headlights like mad. I remain unable to get my bearings, however. I'm totally reliant on Roger (my GPS, named by Andrea.) He delivers directions in a crisp British accent and directs me to "Take slip road right." This translates to "take the off ramp" in American English. It seems that I'm frequently taking slip roads as most roads here are highways or turn into highways at a moment's notice. For example, my apartment (I really will move in there someday insha'allah) is on Sheik Zayed Boulevard (SZB) which is a little 12 lane superhighway flanked by 50 story skyscrapers, at least that's what is is in my hood- it's also the highway to Abu Dhabi, flanked by a lot of empty desert with occasional camels to spice up the view. Try to imagine if say State St. in Chicago or Wall St in NYC were 6 lanes each way. it makes for a strange downtown. the above ground metro runs along SZB too and there are pedestrian bridges over the street at Metro stops but that's a walker's only chance of crossing the street and the other side of the street is probably a half mile away. There are also frontage roads on either side so a taxi can stop in front of my building, for example. In the old part of the city (and remember, in Dubai, old means 30-50 years ago) things are more walkable, and in many of the newer neighborhoods too, I guess. except when they're not. My cat is staying in Deira which is in an older part of town along the "creek" (I'd call it a river personally) and for the most part, the streets there are just 2-4 lanes though repeatedly, I've missed a turn trying to get there or back to my hotel from there and I wind up being swept along as a 4 lane city street starts gaining lanes and the shops drop back and then suddenly the speed limit is 80 and then 100 kph. and I'm having to take slip road right to loop around and correct.

the flock and the skyline
Sometimes Roger doesn't seem to be able to find what I'm looking for. every day on the way to/from work i drive by a lagoon with flamingos but the access to the bird blind that gets you close to the flock is on another highway. I can see it but had no idea how to get to it. I've tried aimlessly driving around where i think you might access it to no avail and plugging all manner of things into Roger in hopes that wildlife, bird, sanctuary, viewing, blind... something might yield directions but nope. but one day, I was probably lost, I drove by the access ramp to one of the blinds! I marked the spot in Roger as we zipped by and then one evening the following week pointed Roger toward it only to learn that the blinds are only open 9am - 4pm Saturday - Thursday. so finally today, a Saturday, I made it back to the blinds- yay flamingos!

There's a driving school near my apartment hotel and so daily- especially on the weekends- there are dozens of student drivers looping the roundabouts and getting on and off the highway. they drive a fleet of matching innocuous white Ford sedans with an arched sign over the roof "Belhasa Driving School" Not sure why, but seeing them always cheers me up. They seem very hopeful these baby Dubai drivers... As an American, I'm lucky, I could just fill in the paperwork and take an eye test and get a license based on having one in the US. That's not how it works for people from lots of places who know how to drive. They have to take an expensive series of classes.

this one's just right
I did a bit Goldilocks-ing around my vehicle. the first quick rental from the desk at the apartment hotel was too small (and ugly), the next temporary loaner that my leasing people set me up with was too big (a small bus, practically) and now I'm driving the wine red Honda CRV that I should have for the next 2 years. one of my coworkers, seeing the picture of it all shiny and new (it had 45 km on the odometer when i got it) said, "you need to hire someone to wash it everyday." I thought she was kidding. The thing is, here, she wasn't. I did eventually set something like that up pretty easily (not every day, but 2x per week.).