Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Grand Mosque

I had to go up to Abu Dhabi yesterday for an education conference so I took a little side trip to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the city.  It's been on my mind since I arrived because it's such an impressive sight as you drive into Abu Dhabi.  It's the largest mosque in the country and the eighth largest in the world.  It's so big that 40,000 worshippers can squeeze in on the big holidays.

It has four tall minarets and 82 domes.  The minarets are really tall at 85 meters and they are in each of the four corners of the complex.

Apparently, the design is a mixture of Arab and Moorish design as the minarets are Arab and the doors and arches are Moorish.

The materials used for this were all imported and are finely crafted.  Each of the 96 columns surrounding the main courtyard is covered with white marble and inlaid with mother of pearl flower designs.

The entire complex is surrounded by pools.

The floor of the courtyard is also inlaid with marble.

Inside is even more amazing. You have to take off your shoes and women must cover their hair, arms and legs. I was prepared for this so I had my head scarf in my bag but you can borrow an abaya and Shayla there too. The first entry hall has huge marble flowers placed all along the walls and around the ornate windows.

As you walk into the main prayer hall (for men to pray) you're walking on the largest handmade carpet in the world and hovering above you are seven huge chandeliers from Germany that incorporate millions of Swarovski crystals.

Every inch of the inside is scrolled, carved or painted upon.

On one wall there are flowers with the 99 names or attributes of Allah  and on several walls there were the prayer times and names.

There are five different prayers in each day and they're all at different times (there are differences between different sects of Islam on the prayers).  The first is Fajr and it's supposed to be said at 10 or 15 minutes before sunrise.  The last is Isha and it's after sunset.  In the UAE you can hear the called to prayer from every mosque and it's actually sung by the the Imam at that mosque.  Luckily, the one by my house is a good singer but I have heard some that are a little off-tune or have a bad sound system.

Interesting things I learned about the prayer while visiting the Grand Mosque; every person must be clean and in a clean place to pray.  This means that they all wash their hands, feet, mouth, nose and hair (just wetting the ends of the hair is okay) before praying.  This is called wadhu in Arabic and if there isn't any water, you can use sand/dirt. The women's washing area was gorgeous.

Children under 7 don't pray and women can't pray when they're menstruating or just after giving birth.  Women also pray in a different area than men in this mosque but in some mosques, the women pray at the back with the children between them and the men.  Also, if you miss a prayer, you can make it up later.

A beautiful tribute to art and culture and, in a country where everyone has food, education and homes, I didn't mind the money spent on such a magnificent extravagance.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Spring break

I'm very excited because I've just booked tickets for Prague for the spring break in April.  I know it's early but doing it so early saved me a ton of money.  On the advice of friends who had been before, I'm staying in the historic 'old town' which seems to walking distance from everything....I'm going to do my happy vacation dance now.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

National Day 2012

Well it's UAE's 41st national day this coming week and the festivities have begun.  It's not as extravagant as last year but we do have a four day weekend to celebrate which is pretty nice. 

Al Ain has been getting itself all prettied up.  This is Al Ain Fort which is now a museum.  These forts were actually used as recently as the 1950s when Saudi Arabia was making big land grabs in the region and Sheikh Sayed (the father of the UAE) held him off with a combination of troops, who were station at these types of forts, and negotiations.  At one point, the Saudis offered Sheikh Sayed $42 million dollars for one small area but were turned down. 

As an interesting sidenote to the conflict with the Saudis, there are still undefined borders here and things seem to shift in the sand.  Some friends of mine were camping the dunes last long weekend and were told to move by the UAE border patrol as the Saudis had spotted them and wanted them further back from the border.  My friends have no idea how they were spotted so there may be some technology in use.

As well as copious amounts of lights and banners, there have also been fireworks and will be more around town before the week is out.  These ones went on for at least five minutes and had lots of the national colours of red and green.

Our college had it's own celebrations yesterday.  They started out with music and dancing done by an all male group. 

My students were involved in representing two of the seven Emirates in a booth.  They prepared food, tea, gifts, face painting and this great edible map of the UAE.

Which was enjoyed by everyone...especially the kids.


I dressed up again for the occasion which my students thought was hilarious and they spent a lot of time taking photos of me and with me.  I can't show any of the photos with my students here because that's not allowed (as I've mention in previous blog posts).

My friend Gerry also had a birthday this week so we all went out for a really good Indian dinner.

I hope she got her wish.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Blue Souq

This past weekend I went on a couple of road trips because it was a long weekend celebrating the Hijri or Muslim New Year.  It's actually the time when Mohammed emmigrated from Mecca to Medina and marks the beginning of the new year.  It's 1424 now!

I took my aging jeep up to Dubai and went for Tim Horton's and a bit of a shopping trip.  What I really wanted to know was whether the jeep could handle the 120 to 140 speed limit.  It was no problem with the six cyllinders.

I also went to Sharjiah which is another Emirate in these United Arab Emirates....for a quick geography lesson; there are seven Emriates.  The biggest is Abu Dhabi (the yellow one), which is where I live.  They also have most of the money these days as Dubai has over extended itself with wild building projects.

Sharjiah is next to Dubai but it's a bit of an odd place.  It's become a commuting suburb for Dubai's workers but it's getting alot of it's funding from Saudi Arabia so it's very conservative.  No alcohol, no women's images in shops and other weird things like that. 

Anyways, I went to the Blue Souq (market) which is famous as an importer for Persian merchandise.

I bought some beautiful Turkish bowls, a scarf, a traditional housedress and a stuffed camel for a Christmas gift.  There were tons of antique shops and rug stores but I have no idea what's real and what's fake so I avoided those places.

After shopping, we went over to the extravagant Wafi shopping mall for lunch.  The whole thing is designed around an Egyptian theme.

A very nice day driving through three of the seven emirates.

More Birthday fun

I got a lovely surprise when I showed up for my friend Sharon's birthday (We celebrated our birthdays together in Nepal last year) and the birthday party was for both of us.  It was a great time organized by her lovely husband Serge.

Lots of people came and they have a great party house with huge rooms.

I got a ton of great gifts from everyone and now I have flowers and candles all over my apartment. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My birthday

I had a nice birthday with friends.  Yummy Indian

My friend Mary gave me a fantastic bouquet of flowers which are not easy to find in this part of the world. 


There was a delicious selection of cheese cakes from friends but I also made a black forest cake to bring into work.  Needless to say, I've had a lot of cake this week.  Now I'm going to a birthday party this weekend and there will be more cake...I guess I'll have to force myself to have some.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Eid al-Adha

This past weekend was a four-day weekend for us here in the UAE.  Other Muslim countries got a week or two but I guess the government doesn't want any slackers here so we only had two days.  Even with only two days, it was a nice break. 

The holiday is called Eid al-Adha and is meant to celebrate Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son for God. If you remember the story, the son was replaced, at the last moment, by a goat and that's what they sacrifice here.  I've seen lots of sad, floppy eared goats being driven around in the backs of trucks in the past week.  Apparently, a lot of families still kill the goats in the home even though it's supposed to be illegal.

I did not kill a goat at home.  I went on a hike in Oman.  It was just across the border and in the mountains.   Going across the border was easy.  We just drove up, showed our passports and drove line up or any questions at all. 

We drove for about twenty minutes and arrived at an old fort in Wadi Madha  (wadi means valley). 

There was a beautiful oasis to walk through with pomegranates, grapes, bananas, mangos and dates. 

We also came upon some workers and you can see that things haven't changed much in the last thousand years for them.  We also walked by their prayer site and found their rugs, beads and hats hanging in the trees.

We also walked through a cemetary.  That was interesting because I learned that they don't care about their dead as they feel that once you die, your body doesn't matter.  The cemetary was just a jumbled pile of rocks.  There was also a small abandoned village from pre 1970s when everyone moved into cities as oil was discovered.  It was very obvious that they were living pretty hard lives.

The one thing that really surprised me was the open water in the wadi...of course, that would have been why people settled there in the first place but everything is so barren that it's easy to forget that there is water here.

A look back as we were leaving.  Sally, who organized the walk for us, designed it so we could finish up with this very picturesque view.

We also stopped at an Omani gas station to fill up because the gas is only $.18 per litre compared with $.24 in the UAE....hehehehehe!!!

I spent the rest of day at a luxurious buffet luncheon stuffing my self with goodies so, a good day all around. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

I had another great Chaine dinner this past weekend and I finally joined as well.  It's not terribly expensive at $120 to join and another $120 per year in membership fees.  Each dinner is approximately $80 but this latest one was certainly worth it.

It was a selection of dishes from all the restaurants at the Danat hotel.  We started with champagne flavored by fruit and delicious hors d'Ĺ“uvres and then once seated had an appetizer of sushi from the Japanese restaurant at the hotel.  Having lived in Asia for so many years, I have to say that this particular course was good but not overly impressive.  Next came the marinated mushroom salad accompanied by a nice dry pino grigio.  This was a great mixture of tastes and the presentation was quite pretty.

Next came out the honey roasted pumpkin soup with chicken and lemongrass.  It was served in hollowed out pumpkins which was adorable and I was scraping the bottom of the pumpkin to get every last drop...very tasty.  We had a tandoori smoked salmon wrapped around a shrimp and placed ontop of a seafood tartlet for the fish course and I now want to go to the Indian restaurant because that course was also delicious. 

The poolside bar supplied us with kiwi sorbet in frozen martini glasses and this was the best sorbet I've had so far at the Chaine dinners.

Our main course of beef tenderloin, topped with veal was also fantastic but we were starting to get full at this point and had gone through four different wines.

Luckily I'm built nice and roomy so I could continue onto the dessert and coffee.

To finish off the meal, they brought out a chocolate sculpture with petit fours.  Sadly, we had to admit defeat and just nibble a little. 

It was great dinner and I'm looking forward to the next one in November although, I may have to stop eating the week of these dinners just so I don't explode.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


Had a pretty busy weekend.  I started out by getting my very first car wash here in the UAE.  A lot of people on campus pay the gardeners $25 a month and have their cars washed a few times a's very dusty here.  But this semester, they've laid off most of the gardeners and I haven't been able to track one down to start this great service.  So, off I went to the gas station.  It was quite the experience.  I went through the autowash and then I was told to drive to a bay where no less than six men jumped on my car with cloths and started buffing away like mad.  I was politely asked to leave the vehicle and they all jumped inside with cloths and vacuums.  This took about ten minutes in total and my car was totally cleaned.  All for the price of $7.  Of course the next day after playing majjong, I came outside to find that we were having the UAE equivalant of it raining after washing your car; a huge dust storm.  The jeep's all dusty again now but I'm going to take a walk around the campus today and find one of those gardeners.

It was also my friend Trevor's birthday so we went out for Italian at Casa Roma's in the Hilton for dinner.  Fantastic beef tenderloin!!!

The food was excellent and they even brought out a nice chocolate cake for Trevor.

On Saturday, Trevor and I went to Dubai to the GITEX which is a giant technology conference.  We saw displays on all kinds of new stuff.  I was very impressed with the 3D LG TVs

It was like I was in Rome again

We both bought tablets...I've spent the morning setting mine up and having fun.  It's soooo much better than the ipad and it will be great for traveling.   No more heavy netbook to lug around. 

After GITEX, we drove to Jamie Oliver's Italian for dinner....the food was quite good but ridiculously overpriced.  They also had a Jamie-look-alike running around wearing the same clothes and with the same hairstyle...I'm guessing it's so customers feel like they've actually gone to Jamie's but as cute as that was, I won't go back because of the price.  The chocolate brownie with raspberries and hazelnut icecream was a nice finish.

Finished up with a stop in at Ikea where I got a lovely summer duvet to snuggle under. 

Good weekend!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


The other day I noticed that the courtyard had been rather neglected over the summer...waiting for the good winter weather and I've got my Kingsford all ready to go for  :)