Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Burj

The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world and it’s here in Dubai.  It’s conveniently located next to the biggest shopping mall in the middle east.  I haven’t taken the elevator up yet but I will before I go.  If you want a great look at it, check this video out;

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Wild Drivers of the UAE

In most places of the world, the drivers have been tamed, locked behind traffic signals and penned between white lines but not here in the UAE.  Here they run wild and free.  Here is a simple guide that should allow you to identify the five most common varieties of wild driver for better enjoyment of this last open frontier.

The Dozing Roadrunner

This wild driver can be best identified by it’s slow, meandering pace interspersed with tremendous burst of speed and agility.  It can almost always be found three lanes from its intended turn.  If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of it as it dramatically swerves, without signaling, across the three lanes to make the turn.  The best way to spot this charmer is to watch out for other drivers suddenly braking or sharply veering into other lanes.  High traffic periods are the optimum time to view the Dozing Roadrunner.

The Social Butterfly

There are actually two breeds of this driver.  The first breed, the Common Social Butterfly, always travels in packs and can be seen with its head turned fully around to the back of the vehicle in order to better communicate with members of the pack.  The best way to spot this driver is to keep your eyes peeled for its waving arms and wildly turning head.  Other ways to identify this driver are by a low riding bumper (due to all the passengers) or by the slow-fast-slow-fast pace it moves at.  It’s best to be cautious with this driver as they routinely stop, without warning, on the side of the road to forage for new pack members.

The second breed, the Modern Social Butterfly, has been influenced by technology and will often decorate itself with small electronic devices.   While common, this driver is almost impossible to identify until it suddenly slows to half its original speed and begins wandering across several lanes.  It is suspected that this type of driver may suffer from hearing deficiencies as honking and shouting seem to have no effect on its behavior.  It’s is not recommended that you attempt to remain in close proximately to this driver.

The Rampaging Bull

Of all the wild drivers of the UAE, this is perhaps the most dangerous and the most remarkable.  Commonly found in large, white SUVs with blacked out windows, this driver travels at tremendous speeds and considers other drivers and intersections to be merely tests of its superior agility.  You shouldn’t have any trouble locating a Rampaging Bull driver as the flashing high beams in your rearview mirror will help them stand out against the other other drivers.  Friday evenings seem to be a prime time to spot these wonders but there have been reports of these drivers careening through round-a-bouts, decimating everything in their paths so close contact is not recommended, especially for pedestrians.

The Slippery Eel

This fun loving driver has no identifying marks but is easily recognized by its inability to be behind others.  It will go to amazing lengths to get-to-the-front.  They have been observed driving over curbs, rapidly switching back and forth between several lanes, cutting through parking lots and driving along shoulders.   I personality watched one of these shocking creatures wedge itself into the side of dump truck while trying to squeeze ahead.  They are well armored against shame or abuse from other drivers and, with the exception of the Rampaging Bull, almost nothing can stop them.  

The Drifting Jellyfish

One of the most common drivers here in the UAE, the Drifting Jellyfish goes where the wind takes it.  It is not concerned with silly painted lines, speed limits or obstacles on the road such as you.   It is truly and magnificently free!  This driver can often be found drifting along slowly in the fast lane but may also be seen straddling more than one lane at a time.  The ridged head piece that prevents it from looking to the side or in mirrors may cause it to be startled easily by another driver getting too close.  The best way to see a Drifting Jellyfish is to be in a hurry to get somewhere.

The Hydra

The behavior of this driver may behave like any of the other other wild drivers in the UAE but it is uniquely characterized by the multiple heads and arms of its unseat-belted children sticking out the windows and sunroof.  This driver believes that if one of the children’s heads is lost, another will grow in its place.  If it is extremely hot and the windows are closed, another great way to spot this driver is to look for a baby on the dashboard.   A truer example of natural selection can not be found anywhere else in the country.  

Due to growth of speed bumps and increased traffic cameras, the wild driver’s habitat has been reduced and some efforts have been made to domesticate them but, so far, they have been resilient and have kept their freedom. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Just got back from a week long vacation in Malta.  If you like relaxation, history and charm, I’d say Malta should go on your list.  I really enjoyed myself.  European style mixed with island life makes a great combination.  If you don’t know where Malta is, it’s about 90Klms from Sicily and 200klms from Tunisia.

Map picture

My absolute favorite thing about Malta was this;

Malta 164

For 6.50 I could take any bus on the two main islands anywhere for one whole week.  The buses were convenient, all the drivers were nice and I got to see everything I wanted to see.

My second favorite thing about Malta was that there was a gorgeous view around every corner.

Malta 004

Malta 119

Malta 177

Malta 024

I’m a history buff and this place has the oldest known man-made structures ever found as well as an insanely varied amount of different ‘owners’ who all left their mark.

Let’s start at about 6000 years ago when Neolithic people were building temples and hypogeums (catacombs) on the islands.

Malta 008

Malta 108

Malta 115

Think about it….we hadn’t invented written language yet and these people were building huge structures and moving giant blocks of stone around.  These are older than Stonehenge by a 1000 years and older than the pyramids by 2000 years.

They were also into the arts.

Malta 007

Malta 021

Malta 028

And made some very sweet pieces like ‘The Sleeping Lady’ shown in the Museum of Anthropology which I heartily recommend.  This was found in a hypogeum, along with about the remains of 7000 people,  and is thought to represent an ancestor, a goddess or a representation of someone dying…let’s face it, they have no idea what it is but it’s very detailed and very lovely.

Malta 031

Unfortunately, due to the lack of written language thing, we know nothing about these people or what happened to them.  They disappeared about 4000 years ago.

There is a period of time where settlers came over from what would become Sicily and then came the Phoenicians who sailed over from the east of the Mediterranean.  The Romans were the next occupants and you can see their remains scattered around the islands like they are all over Europe.  The islands were inhabited by Christians from Europe and Muslims from North Africa for about a thousand years but after that, things got rough as the Christians and the Muslims of the Ottoman empire used Malta as a battle zone.  In one particular battle, the Ottomans carried off 5000 Maltese captives as slaves.

Finally the Knights of St. John , who had been kicked out of Italy, made a deal with the Spanish that, for the price of one Maltese falcon per year, they could ‘rent’ Malta.  Sadly, the falcons are extinct now but the knights left a lasting mark. 

They immediately began fortifying the islands against attacks and building the capital city, Valletta.

Malta 046

Malta 048

Malta 054

I spent a great day walking around the fortifications and through underground tunnels all over Valletta.  There are great museums, sidewalk cafes and churches and it’s a fantastic place.

One of my favorite stops was a tour of a Knight’s house built in the 1500s.  A knight had to be of the nobility and the house is still owned by a Baron who happens to be a knight.

Malta 071

The Baron and his wife were invited and attended Queen Elizabeth’s coronation.

Malta 072

Ono of their ancestors commissioned a painting of angels hiding their eyes from the bright lights created by electricity when electricity was first brought into the house.

Malta 073

And of course, there were Maltese crosses everywhere as the symbol of the Knights.  This symbol is recreated on every tourist item you might want to buy and is a modern day symbol of Malta but it’s origin is a bit clouded.  It’s related to the bible but no one can agree exactly what in the bible.

Malta 070

I also took a ferry over to Gozo which is the second largest island of the three.  This was a very picturesque place dotted with tiny hilltop villages dominated by huge churches. About 30,000 people live on the island and it seemed pretty sleepy.

Malta 102

The ferry ride was great too as we passed by Comino, the third and smallest island.

Malta 081

I also took a harbor cruise in Valletta so I got a close up look at the fortifications and modern day workings.

Malta 148

Malta 143

They’re still building boats and their harbor is the holding place for the UN’s emergency stock of grain for Africa.

Malta 153

Obviously lots of rich folks around.  The tour guide said that a lot of Europeans move their boats to Malta for the winter.

Malta 160

Wouldn’t mind living in one of those apartments.

My last day, I hopped on a bus and went to the medieval, walled city of Mdina which was the historical capital. 

Malta 194

As you can see, the weather was brilliant and I got off the bus for a meander around the fields. 

In the bible, there is a story of St. Peter getting shipwrecked in 60AD.  He is supposed to have stayed just outside of Mdina in grotto (cave) so there’s a shrine now that you can visit and many pilgrims come to pray. 

Malta 178

Near the shrine are the remains of catacombs that were used 2000 years ago.

Malta 184

As well as WWll shelters.  Each family would pay to have a small room dug out of the rock and they would hide there as the planes flew overhead.  It was common to have paintings or carvings of saints for protection.

Malta 056

The War Museum in Valletta was pretty informative and really showed how the Maltese suffered during WWll.  They were a British colony situated just a 100Klms from Italy so they got bombed almost daily for years.  When war broke out, they had exactly four planes on the island and not much else to defend themselves.  The British eventually supplied more anti-aircraft guns and planes and the Italians learned to mess with the Maltese at their own risk but it wasn’t easy for the thousands without homes for years.

Of Faith, Hope, Charity, and one reserve plane, Faith is the only surviving plane and she lost her wings in an explosion.

Malta 060

There were more things to do in Malta that I didn’t have a chance to do so I can see myself returning one day.  I also met quite a few ex-pats that had retired there and were very pleased.  Something to think about.