Monday, 30 April 2007

Your Brain is Green

Of all the brain types, yours has the most balance.

You are able to see all sides to most problems and are a good problem solver.

You need time to work out your thoughts, but you don't get stuck in bad thinking patterns.

You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future, philosophy, and relationships (both personal and intellectual).

Friday, 27 April 2007

DUBAI - The United Arab Emirates

Dubai was fantastic. Excellent, memorable, exotic, hot. I had a fabulous week there, although I was glad to get home to my lovely family who I missed deeply. (Erm, I can hear them all down stairs arguing! But yes, I guess I even missed that!)

I don't know where to start writing about it all. I could do a day by day account of where I went and what I did, but I think I will just talk about it randomly, as things come to me.

Well, Dubai is part of the United Arab Emirates, situated between Saudi Arabia and Oman, and across the water from Iran. The Persian Gulf is the sea along its shores. Only 20% of the residents of Dubai are Arabs, the other 80% are made up of ex-pats from all across the globe. The city really is still being built and is to some extent a massive building site. The main language spoken in Dubai is English although many languages can be heard. All the street signs and menu's etc are written in both English and Arabic, so it really is an easy place to tour around. I didn't have much idea at all of what to expect before I left.

My flight to Dubai went via Paris, from Dublin. The flight from Dublin to Paris took 1 1/2 hours, and then from Paris to Dubai was a further 7 hours. It is possible to get direct flights but these cost a lot more. I flew over night and arrived in Dubai at 8 am on Wednesday morning (3 hours ahead of UK time).

The weather was gorgeous for the entire week - not a single drop of rain, so no humidity. I didn't find it too hot the majority of the time. I think the temperature ranged from about 32 C up to 46C on one of the hotter days (when I actually did have to get a taxi to the villa and sleep off my headache!) Anyone thinking of travelling to Dubai, just remember, don't go in the summer when it gets to over 50C and even the locals don't venture outside!

I'm gonna just post some photos and write a bit about them rather than going through a day by day run down of what I did.... You can view all of my photos in my flickr account by clicking here. (there are 3 pages of photos so don't forget to click through the pages to see them all) Also, the photos posted below can be seen full size by clicking on them.

This is me at the entrance to the Irish Village! Since Dubai is so multi-cultural it is possible to eat any type of food from any country. We had a few nice meals here. I must have put on a stone in weight!

Talking of food, this is me with one of the waiters at the Meridian Hotel. They were having a South African evening and all of the waiting staff looked like something out of a Tarzan film! For the cost of about £20 we could eat and drink as much as we wanted. There was an African band playing, and authentic African food. I was lucky enough to sample crocodile steak, crocodile salad, stir fried ostrich and BBQ'd wart hog! Being a natural coward, I decided to pass on the big black worm salad (basically massive black marinated caterpillars - think of those witchety grubs on 'I'm a celebrity get me out of here', just black !!!!)

This photo was taken on the same evening at the African dinner. These two Arab men offered me some chewing gum as they were walking past! "For you" they said. So I said thanks and asked if I could take their photo. At this point I hadn't seen many people in authentic Arabic clothing and I wanted to show my kids what they looked like. So they said yes, and posed for me. Later that night to my horror and amusement they had called a cab and were expecting me to go somewhere with them!!! Well, I laughed my guts out. I had no idea that accepting chewing gum meant so much more to an Arab man that it does to a Caucasian woman. LOL! That night (Thursday night - the start of the weekend in Dubai) I was propositioned by no less than 8 men, including the 2 Arabs, 2 Jordanians, 2 Syrians and 2 Iraqis! Wow, so popular! One Jordanian dentist even offered very kindly to give me a thorough dental examination with his tongue!!! Well, I almost wet myself laughing and he was not impressed.

Here are my Dubai friends D & W who kindly took me out for that evening. I think they are trying to avoid my camera in this shot.

D is working in Dubai on business and has a lovely villa there with a swimming pool. During the day if I was home I had the place to myself, including the pool!

(Yes, that is me in the pool - jealous yet?)

I did so much while I was there, including the open top bus tour (mandatory tourist adventure for any city holiday!) One of the highlights was definitely the beaches. In particular Jameirah Beach Park.

This is Jameirah Beach Park from the air (no I didn't take this photo myself, lol)

I spent 2 full days on the beach, sitting under the shade of a palm tree. This was my view on day one, of another palm and the sea in the distance. The sky looks quite dull in this photo because I think it was full of sand!

As I looked the the left or right of where I was sitting on the beach I could see palm trees and the odd little hut, plus a few sun bathers.

OK, so it was quite tough to get photos of myself on the beach, but just to prove I was there here is a photo of me - the whitest legs in Dubai.

I must say that I really enjoyed those two days on the beach. Just lying there relaxing, with nothing to do - no dinner to make, or children to bath, or Cd's to sell. It was just heaven. I even managed to swim in the Persian Gulf a good few times, the water was lovely and warm. It was so clear that I could see blue jelly fish (no one seemed worried about them so I presumed they weren't poisonous!), star fish, and shoals of little fish swimming around in the shallow waters!

On one of his days off work D took me to some of the city's huge shopping malls. These malls are like nothing that I've ever seen in the UK. They are more like palaces. Because of the heat most of the shops are inside big air conditioned malls. Two of the malls we visited were out of this world. The first one (I forget its name) had different levels decorated as various countries (china, India, Tunisia etc). One of these area was lit and decorated to be permanently dusk - with twinkling stars in the ceiling, dim street lamps - it really felt like shopping at sunset! Here is a little photo of it (click to see larger)

Every area of that mall was decorated like a palace. I just had to take a photo of this starbucks cafe where we had a cup of coffee. Just look at the ceiling! I felt like I was inside the Taj Mahal or something! Have you ever seen a Starbucks like this one???? Everything in Dubai is the best in the world. Anything you could look at would be the tallest in the world, or the oldest, or the widest, narrowest, longest, shortest, in the world. Anything that they build has to be the best. You simply must click on this starbucks photo to see it full size. It blew my mind!

The second mall was called the Mall of the Emirates, and this one had an indoor ski slope with REAL snow! Honestly, I stood in my summer clothes in this huge mall looking through a huge glass window at people in ski clothes with hats and woolly scarves! The adults were skiing and the children were throwing snow balls and tobogganing. Only in Dubai!

D took this photo of me in the mall toystore. Even the toy store is larger than life. This truly has to be the biggest teddy bear on the planet! I was chuffed that 3 Arabs walked into my photo as well, to make it truly middle eastern.

Whilst shopping in one of these malls we found a shop selling the clothes that the local Arabic muslim people wear. A very helpful lady told me that they sell a lot of them to tourists and both D and I went a little crazy thinking that they would make good souvenirs. So I bought Dan a full Arab outfit (long white robe with red and white tea towel type head scarf!) and bought myself the muslim lady's Abaia! When we got back to the villa and I tried it on D almost wet himself laughing.

I do have a photo of Dan in his outfit but I don't yet has his consent to put it on the blog. Give me time though ;)

This is how the local muslim women dress when they leave the house. Whilst walking round the malls there would be many women dressed like this, and they were exactly the same as the western women. They did not walk three steps behind their husbands or anything like that. The muslim families out shopping in their beautiful traditional clothes were just like everyone else - friendly, polite, walking hand in hand with their children. In their own homes the women take these coverings off and wear jeans and a t-shirt like the rest of us.

The other day that I really enjoyed from my trip was the day that I travelled to the Old Souk and Gold Souk area's of Dubai. These areas consisted of hundreds of little streets filled with souks selling all sorts of wares. I spent hours walking around these streets (this was the hottest day when I ended up feeling quite ill). Every street I walked down the sellers would call "madam, madam, look what I have for you", or "Madam, shop here please". At the start I found it quite intimidating being there all alone, but I soon discovered that all the sellers were friendly and pleasant, and I quite enjoyed myself. It didn't take me long to realise that the price I was quoted at the start was not nearly the price that they would sell at. I looked at some postcards and asked "how much". "Two durhams each" was the reply. So I looked for a bit, then walked away and heard "but for you madam just one durham each", and then finally "but I will sell you 6 for five durhams". LOL. I had the best time shopping in some of the belly dance shops and came home with 12 new shimmy belts (6 for me and 6 for Mum).

This is the front of one of the belly dance souks in the old souk area (note the Arab costume on the left - which is identical to the one I bought Dan).
And here am I in the belly dance shop where I spent quite some time. I'm sporting a pink shimmy belt in this photo - on the other photo in flickr you can see all the belts out on the table. The man on the right who looks like he's from Albert Square insisted on undoing the knot in this belt with his teeth!!!
Here is a photo from one of the antique shops selling everything that your heart could desire.
This man is filling little bottles up with different coloured Arabian sands. Somehow he manages to draw camels in the sand and write the word 'Dubai'.
Well, I took many more photos but I can't possibly put them all on my blog. I had a great time - relaxing, exciting, adventurous, scary, fun. And at the end of it I was so glad to get home to my beautiful family. Dan, being his usual romantic self, was waiting for me at the airport (all dressed up) with a boquet of flowers. I, on the other hand, had developed a stinking cold on the flight home and looked like I'd been dragged a hedge backwards. I did so much more than I've written about here, but writing this so far has been like a project. Things will come back to me over the next few days and I may come back to write more about it. But all in all it was a great adventure, one that I will never forget, and I am extremely grateful to my friends in Dubai for putting me up, or putting up with me - THANKS GUYS. I had a lovely time and have many precious memories. And let me just say a HUGE thank you to Dan as well for making me go, and for keeping things ticking over here in my absence.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Belly dancing photos, and more...

I have just emptied the camera memory card to take on my trip and I found some interesting photos from the last week or so, so I though I'd stick them on here for everyones enjoyment.

Barney & Annabelle played animals and dinosaurs in the upstairs landing and then Annabelle must have set her camera to take a photo of them both. I thought this was so cute, they look so friendly and happy playing together!
If only it was like that all the time!

The carnage of packing for a trip to the middle east!

Mum came round last week with her three new belly dancing outfits. We had a hilarious time up in my bedroom trying the costumes on and dancing round the room! The kids enjoyed it as much as we did and everyone gave their opinions on which outfit suited us best. Mum will be wearing the black and copper outfit for our performance in June and I will be wearing the purple one. (Unless of course I purchase something new in Dubai!)

Mum in the copper outfit, with my coin shimmy belt which matched perfectly, and then in the shocking pink number (which I aptly looked shocking in!)

I liked the purple and the copper outfits, but then I do just always look fab in anything I throw on! These costumes are for our tribal fusion gypsy dance, and so they are gypsy in style and will be worn with coin bras! (I know! The horror!!!!) which we have to make. Egyptian belly dance costumes vary depending on the style of the dance.

Midnight caller!

Last night the phone rang at 2.30am. Needless to say my heart skipped a beat as I thought something terrible must have happened to someone. It was the guy who works in our shop. The same guy who is covering for me in the shop while I go to Dubai (tomorrow!) for eight days. He was in a drunken stupor, asking to speak to Dan. I explained that Dan was fast asleep and he would have to speak to me. So he drunkenly explained that he will not be working in the shop any more and that we would have to find someone else to cover for my holiday. I was not amused. I talked to him for 5 minutes and listened to him whining on about lots of things (all of which basically boiled down to a drink problem). In the end I just told him to phone me back in the morning and I had to put the phone down in the end. Then I lay there all night worrying about who could possibly cover the shop for me. There actually isn't anyone that can do it. The only option we have is for Steve to run the shop with the kids with him all day (not ideal) or to shut it for eight days (also not ideal considering the cost of my trip and the money we need to take). Dan has gone round to speak with this guy this morning but I don't hold out much hope. I really don't actually want to give him the work if he is that unreliable. Oh dear, what to do. I leave tomorrow afternoon. I'm working in the shop today and am all packed and ready to leave. This has taken the edge off of the excitement somewhat though.

Edit - I am now happy to say that this person phoned me this morning and apologised profusely. He was mortified and embarrassed and is going to work the week, although he know that I will not put up with it again. So hes gonna be on his best behaviour. Phew!

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Have I ever worked this hard in one day?

Probably not. I only have 3 days until I leave for my little trip to Dubai. Since I have been working full time in the shop we realised this morning that I haven't had a second to do all the things that need to be done before I leave. So today Dan worked in the shop and I spent the morning buying things that I needed for the trip - suntan lotion, a sun hat, sun glasses, after sun lotion and so on. Then this afternoon I planted out the entire vegetable garden, a job which last year took me two weeks. The problem is that I should have done it a few weeks back, but because I've been working in the shop I just haven't had time. And if I left it till I got back it would be too late to get a good crop. So today I worked my little (!?!?!) butt off in the garden. I dug, weeded, seeded. I planted in 5 varieties of potato (not an easy job in land made of clay). I sowed seeds for 5 varieties of lettuce, 2 varieties of radish, spinach, beetroot, onions, spring onions, sunflowers, and lots more. My hands are raw from cuts and scrapes, and encrusted in seemingly irremovable dirt! No, not a pretty site.

But I am very excited about my trip. Today in Dubai it was 38 C in the shade (!!!!!!!!!) so I am a little worried about what I have let myself in for. I will be leaving from Dublin airport at 7.30pm on Tuesday evening, flying throughout the night, stopping at Paris, and arriving in Dubai at 8am (their time) on Wednesday morning (5am our time). Hopefully I will get some sleep on the night. Our friend is picking me up from the airport and showing me around their villa, then going off to work and leaving me to unwind and relax. My plan is to relax a lot! I will not get a tan because it is far too hot for me to come out of the shade, but that's ok.

If I have access to a computer I will post a blog post or two whilst I am away. Oooohhhh, I'm so excited! But right now, I need to have a bath, eat, and sort through the bin bag of 'summer clothes' (ahem, we don't actually use them in this country so my range is very small) that Dan just got out of the loft for me.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Don't miss me too much!

Woo hoo. It's official! I'm going to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates next week! Yes I am. I'm going on my own, without any kids! Even without my darling hubbie. But it's going to be so good. I am staying with some family friends out there who have an apartment with a swimming pool, near to the beaches and the city. My plan is to chill out big time. Will write more about it later. Wooooohoooo, sunshine here I come!

Monday, 9 April 2007

A weekend away

Dan decided that we all needed a break, so this Easter he took us to Londonderry to stay in a very posh hotel for two nights! It was so nice to get away and we all had the best time. We made no plans at all, we just got in the car and went. But we had great adventures, beautiful weather, and some lovely family bonding time. There is a slideshow of all the photos which you can see if you wish by clicking here. We took so many lovely photos and I just want to put them all on my blog!

Well, our trip started on Friday. In an effort to be as relaxed as possible we got up late, didn't pack until it was almost time to leave, and just mozied out of the house whenever we were ready. The drive to Derry took about 4 hours because we stopped a few times to eat, stretch our legs and admire the view. Some of the scenery along the Glenshane Pass was breath taking, so we stopped to explore it a little. Here are some photos of that. You can click on them to see the bigger photos.

All 3 kids were great on the journey down. When we got out of the car they climbed trees, jumped across streams and burnt off energy, ready for the rest of the journey. We had to stop at a garage to buy duck tape to tape up one of our windows which is falling down all the time, and is going to cost £110 to fix! (I'm happy enough with a duck taped window for that price).

When we arrived at the hotel I was surprised at how posh it was! Dan had managed to get a really good deal for the two nights. I don't know how he managed that at Easter, but we were paying substantially less than most of the people there. And the place was full to capacity. As expected the kids rushed into our room to check it out. They ran into the bathroom, opened all the drawers, exclaimed in delight at there being a TV, and bounced on all the beds. The room was very nice. The favourite spot in the room turned out to be the window where many moments were spent gazing out over Derry City.

On the Friday night we mostly chilled out in the hotel room. Dan brought back some pizzas, which was better than going out for a meal as little Barney didn't have to sit still. We did take a trip to the hotel swimming pool, jacuzzi and steam room, and were provided with lovely matching swimming hats! Yes, I had to wear one too but there was no way any one was getting that on camera.

Saturday turned out to be a great day, despite our lack of arrangements. We all piled into the car and had a vague notion of heading towards Donegal. We ended up driving along the Lough Swilly coastline and through the mountains of Inishowen. We made various stops along the way at beaches and in mountains, all of which the kids loved. Dan was particularly inspired by the mountain scenery (anyone who reads this blog regularly will know he has a passion for mountains, LOL). Barney was a different child on the beaches. The incessant talker we all know and love turned into a quiet, focused child, who was basically in a world of his own. He was so taken with the beaches that he couldn't even answer questions, as his mind was so deeply engrossed in his surroundings! It made Dan and I laugh, but was lovely to see.

Dan and Barney were the only ones brave enough to paddle in the freezing Irish sea! Even Jimmie thought the water was too cold for that. At the end of the day the back seat of our car was completely caked in sand. Even now I keep finding little mounds of sand around the house, where someone has emptied another sock or shoe.

In between beach stops we drove through the Inishowen mountainous countryside. The scenery here was awesome, although it never looks as good in a photo. We stopped and got out for a walk. As soon as the car doors opened Jimmie and Barney raced up the mountain, Jimmie in the distance with little Barney hot on his heels. We had to run after Barney and I found a smaller mountain to climb with him whilst Daddy and the big kids hiked up the bigger one. Barney and I amused ourselves with our little mountain, and stumbled across some mountain sheep. Jimmie came back down the mountain with the skull and bones of a dead mountain sheep! These items are now taking pride of place in our home. Boys, you gotta love em.

After heading off in the car again we stumbled across a museum, in the middle of no-where! The Guns of Dunree Military Museum, to be exact. The boys (especially Dan) loved all the big canons and guns, and the views from the fort were spectacular.

(In this last two photos you can see our Dan going back to his childhood! The first photo, with the big red gun, he is making horrendous machine gun fire noises, and shooting down passing sea gulls. In the second image (with his arms in the air!) he is proclaiming himself King of all Ireland! LOL, it' so great to see him really relax!)

When we got back to the hotel the kids all said that the weekend so far had been better than they had expected. We'd enjoyed fresh air, scenery and quality family time, and everyone was happy.

Sunday was out last day but we still made the most of it. Dan took the kids back down to the hotel pool whilst I packed our bags to checkout. We couldn't stay in Derry without a walk around the Derry City Walls. So that's exactly what we did. Derry is a walled city. The walls were built in 1613 to defend the city from English and Scottish settlers.

We didn't walk around the entire circuit but we did enjoy a 30 minute stroll.

The walls looked out over the entire city, and were fortified with old canons. I'd like to do the whole walk one day, without the kids maybe.

Here are two photos of Derry taken from the walls. I think it is the bogside? Not sure. Anyway, if you open the larger images you can see the typical Irish murals on the houses, and some of the Irish flags flying. Many of the murals in Northern Ireland have been changed from paramilitary images to historical paintings now, celebrating Irish culture instead of promoting sectarianism. (I've just noticed the pub in the first photo is called Bogside Inn, so it must be the bogside. The bogside is the area where the poorer Catholic families lived after the end of the potato famine - so I read on one of the City Wall signs!)
After our trot around the walls we headed home in the car, stopping at Dungannon Park for a picnic of fruit (we all needed a detox by this point!) and a walk around the lake there.
I still have to do my Easter blog post! I'll get round to it soon. But thats more than enough for now.