Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Hello Abu Dhabi!

Five years ago today we said hello..........

To lots and lots of sand. It really is everywhere, and creeps in through teeny tiny cracks. There are days when it fills the air and eclipses everything. Moving here, I learned the air can be orange.

To more family time. Despite busy work schedules, we still find time for occasional family lunches, and surprise afternoon lattes with our kids. Next year the youngest will be back in the US for college aka university(Brit term) with her brother, and I'm so thankful for the time Abu Dhabi has given me with them. Our life in the US was more of a rat race. My husband and I spent all day at work, and the kids usually spent their afternoons and evenings at football and soccer practice. It didn't leave a lot of time for just sitting and enjoying each others company.
To the word inshallah and it's many meanings. There's "inshallah the repair man will be on time", which to me means don't hold your breath. God may will him to take his time. Then there's "inshallah you'll feel well soon". The later of the two I've come to see as comforting. God willing I will start feeling better, and my friends are sincere when they say it.

To crazy fast luxury sports cars I had never heard of, lots of random speed bumps, round abouts without rules, people playing real life Frogger, and the occasional car-b-que some days all within the span of a mile. I pray in the car a lot here, and have even been known to do a quick sign of the cross. My husband laughs and reminds me that we're not Catholic.

To religious tolerance and acceptance like I've never seen. As a Christian not only is it ok for me to practice my faith here, but my Muslim friends and neighbors go out of their way to wish me a Merry Christmas and Happy Easter. Malls, hotels, and businesses here are decked out at Christmas, and some of my Muslim friends even celebrate Christmas. Yes, Muslims love Jesus too.

To hoarding "American food". It is completely normal to buy every single can of soup a store has all because you or a friend has been looking for it for months. I recently had a friend post in a ladies chat group that she was looking for a particular cereal for her son she could no longer find in Dubai. I think she probably had enough for a year within a week from women in Abu Dhabi that went on alert. It was like she put out a bat signal for Apple Jacks.
To friends that quickly become like family. They fill your table at holidays and birthdays, and make you laugh till you want to cry. When you get sick they drop everything to drag you to a hospital, and bring you "survival bags" whenever you find yourself stuck in one.

To slaughtering the English language to make people understand you, and sounding like you were raised in London rather than the South. Some how now I can go from sounding like my North Carolina and Virginia relatives with a southern drawl and twang to Mr. Belvidere and Mary Poppins in 2.2 seconds. It's a source of amusement for my husband and kids, and I get joked on quite a bit.

To lots of great food that usually comes with spectacular views. I confess, we dine out more here, but there always seems to be a new restaurant popping up that needs to be tried. I've become more of a foodie now for sure.

To sitting in gas station lines for over 30 minutes as the people around you lay on their horns as if it makes the gas pump faster. The poor ADNOC attendants will probably all need hearing aids one day, and I'm sure they probably have nightmares about blaring horns.

To amazing vacations that last way longer than they ever did in the US. This past summer we spent a month roaming around France, and I kept having to ask myself how we were still going to have jobs when we returned. Oddly enough, we still had vacation time to use up after being gone for a month. I know Europeans won't understand, but this just does not happen in the US.
To sharing this place with friends and family that come to visit. I always say it's only after people come here that they can actually understand what life here is like. I always love seeing people take in this place and all of it's beauty and quirkiness for the first time.

Five years ago we said hello to Abu Dhabi.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Five Years Ago.......

Five years ago today I said goodbye..........

To my Mom who spent a day helping me pack suitcases perfectly while fighting back tears and constantly hugging me. I'm pretty sure she told me she loved me just about every minute.

To my sister who was probably both happy and sad that I would not be close enough to properly boss her around still. I think I've done a pretty good job so far.

To my Grandfather, my biggest fan and greatest source of encouragement. His approval made the leap easier.

To my in-laws that worked and devoted tons of time to helping me prepare for the move while my husband was in Abu Dhabi. Their basements, closets, and attics still store lots of our belongings.

To my nieces and nephew I adore. Their big hugs are always something I look forward to when going back to the US.

To family members I love dearly and spent my whole life living near. My husband jokes that I'm related to everyone in the "757". Shout out to all my cousins. Love you guys!

To my best friend, the Thelma to my Louise, that I've known since childhood and was lucky enough to work in the same office with. Lunches have never been the same.

To my job and employers that are like extended family. Not many people have their boss perform for their 30th birthday, or keep track of the heights of their kids on an office wall. I was lucky.

To countless friends that I could count on to help out when needed, or fill my house for summer pool/lake parties and house concerts.

To Virginia, my beautiful home, with lush green forests, majestic mountains, and a tranquil coastline all within a few hours of each other. I miss camping along the rushing Tye River with morning hikes up Crabtree Falls, and date nights spent having dinner along the boardwalk in Virginia Beach.


Five years ago I said goodbye to life as I knew it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.....A Bird's-Eye View

A friend captured this picture of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque recently. The SZGM is to me by far, the most beautiful building in Abu Dhabi. As long as I've lived here, I'm still taken aback by its beauty daily

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Missing My Mom

In October, I lost my beautiful mother to COPD. I can't begin to explain the depth of the loss I feel, and I won't try. Instead, I thought I'd share some pictures of Mom's visit to Abu Dhabi from 2012. As my sister and I were going through my Mom's belongings after the funeral, it made me smile to see all of her UAE treasures she had around her house from her trip. I remember I had to give her extra luggage when she left for everything she bought. I joked that my Mom was probably the only person to visit here and buy so much that she even had decor for her kitchen and bathrooms to take home with her.

This summer when I was in the US for vacation she talked about making another visit to the UAE. Oh, how wish she could have.

I remember being so happy to have her in my house I didn't want to let her go.

At the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Mom and the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

Mom and what I like to call the "Silver Surfers" at Dubai Mall

Dhow cruise around Dubai Marina at night.

Atlantis on the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai's large man made island shaped like a palm tree.

Beach BBQ at Traders Hotel in Abu Dhabi.

Catching an Abu Dhabi Film Festival premiere at Emirates Palace.

Emirates Palace

Mom and Tyler at Le Boulanger, my favorite outdoor cafe.

More Emirates Palace

Mom with some of the future plans for Saadiyat Island.

Taking a Personal Rapid Transit, a driverless car, to lunch at Masdar City.

Inside the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Mom inside the SZGM.

A favorite of mine. Love and miss this woman so much.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Blu Skies

I’m about to let you in on a little secret that many in the United Arab Emirates don’t know about. It’s something I discovered on my very first visit to the UAE several years ago. Tucked away amongst the hotels on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island is an absolutely gorgeous hotel with breathtaking views, attentive staff, and fabulous food.
The Radisson Blu on Yas Island always brings a smile to my face, because it is where I fell in love with Abu Dhabi. I remember waking up my first morning in the emirate, and looking out from my balcony at the Radisson Blu in sheer amazement at the beautiful crystal clear Arabian Gulf, the beautifully manicured grounds of the hotel and the adjacent Yas Links Golf Course. As a matter of fact, it’s a picture taken from the balcony that morning that I share with people when I want to show off the place I now call home.
My favorite picture of Abu Dhabi taken from the Radisson Blu on Yas Island

Besides spectacular views, Radisson Blu on Yas Island boasts extremely comfortable and luxurious rooms with beds fit for a queen. The staff is extremely hospitable, and the customer service goes beyond that of many 5 star hotels. There are warm welcomes and smiling faces to greet you at every turn it seems.
As if the beautiful landscape and gracious staff aren’t enough to entice you to stay at Radisson Blu, they have absolutely amazing food. Whether it’s cheeseburgers and fries ordered from room service after midnight (I did this my first night, and my husband and I still talk about this meal), or the oh so fabulously delish Italian food offered at Filini, Radisson Blu’s dining choices are sure to please any palate. I highly recommend the PaccheriallaSiciliana at Filini, it’s a paccheri pasta with eggplant, smoked ricotta, and basil, it is one of my all time favorite pasta dishes.It will be love at first bite, trust me.
PaccheriallaSiciliana and Ravioli Gamberi 
Oh, and did I mention the spa? For the weary traveler or just someone that needs a relaxing escape from reality, the tranquil spa at Radisson Blu on Yas Island offers a variety of treatments to help you relieve stress and feel refreshed.  Or perhaps laying by the pool is how you like to unwind. Radisson Blu has your relaxation needs covered.
Are you thinking about booking a trip to Abu Dhabi, or perhaps a staycation here in the emirate? This fabulous hotel is close to all of Abu Dhabi’s attractions including Yas Marina Circuit F1 track, Ferrari World, and the new YasWaterworld. For a limited time guest can save 20% on bookings at Radisson BluYas Island in Abu Dhabi, and other select destinations including our neighbor to the north, Dubai. The Radisson Blu at Deira Creek in Dubai is also a splendid hotel with wonderful views of Deira Creek and it’s many dhow boats.
Book a stay with Radisson Blu, and I assure you an experience like no other. Make sure to sign up as a Club Carlson member and take advantage of future Radisson Blu offers around the world. I’ve stayed at several Radisson Blu hotels including properties in Milan and Salzburg and they all adhere to the same high level of customer service I’ve come to expect from this exceptional chain.
 I have been compensated for this article, but as a Club Carlson Member and Radisson Blu fan all experiences, thoughts, and opinions are my own.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Raha International School - An Excellent Choice

In May our son, Andrew, sported a cap and gown down the aisle and was recognized at Raha International School's Graduation or Celebration as they called it. A few days ago, we actually received his final results from the International Baccalaureate for his Diploma Program exams he took for all of his subjects in early May. These exams are what determines if a student actually receives the coveted IB diploma and truly graduates. Yes, it's a little "cart before the horse", but lots of things are different when you're an expat kid.
Prior to moving to the UAE, I did extensive research on schools and the various curricula for our two teenagers. With university in sight, I knew the educational choices we made for them would be paramount to any other made during our move.

In my research I found that the International Baccalaureate fit our children perfectly, as both were excelling in all of their subjects at the private school they had attended in the US for many years. I have never been a fan of curricula that teach to a test like the Virginia Standards of Learning offered in public schools in our home state. To each his own, but I prefer my children learn to be free thinkers and learn to apply the knowledge they gain in the classroom to become global citizens. To me this is far more important than being able to mark A,B, or C on a multiple choice test. The IB curriculum may not fit every child, but the learner profile can be found here for those interested.
In 2010 when we made our move, Raha International School was the only all IB school in Abu Dhabi catering to all 12 grade levels. I'll be honest when I say there are no perfect schools in Abu Dhabi, they are all run as businesses and this can lead to some hiccups from time to time. Still, I can not say enough positive things about our experience at Raha.

The value of Raha and the IB education have become extremely evident this past week as we received my son's final marks. He indeed passed and has officially earned an International Baccalaureate Diploma, but that is not all he has earned. You see his scores on his final exams translate to credit hours at universities in the United States. In fact, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University aka Virginia Tech, which he will be attending in the fall, these exam scores have earned him a year's worth of credits at the university and he hasn't even started taking classes there yet. Not only has the IB reduced the time it will take him to earn a bachelor's degree, it has saved us thousands of US dollars in tuition. The later of the two my son keeps pointing out to us.

For my husband and I, it's nice to see choices we made as new expats years ago were the right ones. You can do tons of research, but sometimes you just never know until you see them played out. We are both extremely proud of Andrew, and we look forward to him being just as successful at Virginia Tech as he has been at Raha. He currently plans to stick with his Arabic language studies, so that he can return to Abu Dhabi to work after earning a degree in business.

He left for the US in June, and was only gone for about a week before he was telling me how much he missed the UAE. It's nice to know he loves this country he now calls his second home, again some reassurance that we made the right choice by moving here.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Me vs. Salmonella

Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi

Due to some really bad luck and a weak immune system, I spent last week in Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi fighting a really bad case of Salmonella Typhimurium. This girl isn't a fan of hospitals, so waiting until I lost several pounds and needed what the doctors termed "IV resuscitation and rehydration" bought me a week long stay.

Before you start feeling bad for me having to endure a week in the hospital, this post is not about sympathy or pity. It's about my experience at Burjeel Hospital.

You see, since moving here one of my biggest fears has been having to be hospitalized. My family and I have had some less than desirable experiences with medical professionals here over the past few years, and the thought of having to stay in a medical facility for more than a day quite frankly scared me. I can honestly say Burjeel has laid my fears to rest.

First of all, let me say just stepping into Burjeel the germaphobe in me relaxes a bit. Yes, you can laugh at the fact that a self confessed germaphobe got Salmonella (I assure you it didn't come from my house though). Burjeel's facilities are immaculate, and their housekeeping staff is on hand cleaning throughout the day. When you're being admitted due to a bacterial infection this really means a lot.

Next, and the part that shocked me and my visitors is it's really hard to call Burjeel a hospital. As I was wheeled into my room, it was like entering a hotel suite not a hospital room. Yes, there was a hospital bed, but there was also a sitting area complete with sofa, coffee table, chair, and fridge. There was also a separate regular bed for guest and a changing area and wardrobe along with a large private bathroom. Oh, and I can't leave out the balcony! Although it had a safety lock, I had a balcony that ran the entire length of my room with an amazing view of Abu Dhabi and Reem Island. Friends joked that they were going to book their next staycation at Burjeel.

It wasn't just the amenities in the room that gave Burjeel a hotel like feel. My guest were able to order room service and have it delivered to my room on linen covered rolling tables complete with origami folded napkins. I didn't get to eat any of it, but my visitors all said the food was quite delicious and not what you would expect from a hospital restaurant. I was able to eat a bit of the the food prescribed for me my last 2 days there and it was not your typical hospital food. Even my bland diet wasn't bad. I should also mention, there's a lady that comes around with afternoon tea or coffee like clockwork everyday. Sadly, the state of my insides did not permit this coffee/tea lover to have any though.

Burjeel was plush and comfortable as hospitals go, but none of that would mean anything if the staff wasn't competent. Though extremely leery at first, the doctors and nursing staff put my mind to rest and I was able to relax and let them take care of me knowing they were all looking out for my best interest. The awesome nursing team on the 4th floor all went out of their way to try to make sure I was comfortable. Their round the clock care was the best nursing I have seen in Abu Dhabi.

My doctor, Dr. Hassan, was also top notch. My husband was in the US on business while I was in the hospital, and I joked that he must have been paying Dr. Hassan or telling him how hardheaded I can be. I'm not a fan of hospitals, so if I could have had it my way I would have been released way earlier than I probably should have been. I asked Dr. Hassan daily when could I leave, and he held fast to goals he had set for me with fluid and food intake before even considering my release. Looking back now and reviewing my lab reports I know I was very sick, and I'm so thankful Dr. Hassan stood his ground and kept me in the hospital where I needed to be.

I'm currently out of the hospital and still recovering on medication at home. I have conquered my fear of being hospitalized here, and might even not wait so long before seeking medical attention next time. Although, I pray there isn't a next time. Salmonella is serious stuff folks, especially if you have a weak immune system. This germaphobe will be even more cautious in the future.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Girl Time at The Galleria

Have you been to The Galleria at Maryah Island?  This weekend my daughter and I had the pleasure of visiting as The Galleria wrapped up its Spring Festival, an entertaining month filled with art, music, and films for audiences of all ages.

I don't think I have been in a more breathtaking "theater", as The Galleria had the Abu Dhabi skyline as its backdrop for its movie screenings. That's right, my daughter and I got to lay underneath the beautiful night sky on big comfy loungers and take in the Cherien Dabis film, Amreeka. Amreeka is about a Palestinian family that finds themselves plucked out of Bethlehem and dropped into American society. Great movie, and I especially recommend it to any expats here in the Middle East. It's an interesting look at the flip side of the coin.
The Galleria's theater with a view.

Al fresco dining at Emporio Armani Caffè
Prior to getting all cozy and enjoying the film, we enjoyed some retail therapy. With labels ranging from Gucci to Dior, and my daughter's favorite, Alexander McQueen, The Galleria will bring out the inner Carrie Bradshaw in any woman. I behaved myself for the most part, but I've put together an impressive birthday wishlist.

Perfect spot for a quiet dinner.
I can't leave out another magnificent part of our evening at The Galleria.....dinner! My lovely dinner date and I enjoyed a quiet dinner at Emporio Armani Caffè. As the name would suggest, Emporio Armani Caffè was created by the man himself, Mr. Giorgio Armani, and it serves a variety of Milanese fare. A perfect dinner choice for two girls that just so happen to love Milan.

Sorry, but as always, I have to share when I have a fabulous meal. For starters we shared the Vellutata di Zuchinne, a zucchini cream soup with Robiola cheese and croutons. Zucchini is one of my favorite vegetables, and as I enjoyed every spoonful of this soup I felt slighted that I hadn't experienced it before now.
Vellutata di Zuchinne

We also enjoyed an Insalata di Tonno, perfectly grilled sesame and black pepper crusted tuna served over a bed of mixed greens with cherry tomatoes and eggplant. The flavorful warm tuna mixed with the robust flavors of the cold mixed salad form a perfect duet.

Insalata di Tonno

For our main course, we both were feeling carnivorous and opted for some of Armani's beef dishes. My daughter had the Tagliata di Manzo, a melt in your mouth beef tenderloin, that she claimed was "pure Heaven". Served atop a bed of plump perfectly cooked asparagus, she said she could not dare let a piece go to waste despite feeling quite full.
Tagliata di Manzo

I opted for a tender slow roasted veal shank, the Ossobuco. Served with a medley of some of my favorite roasted vegetables including squash and zucchini along with creamy mashed potatoes, the Ossobuco was one big delicious serving of comfort food. This dish reminds me of one my mother would have spent hours cooking while filling the house with delightful aromas.

We could have stopped at the main course, but my daughter's eyes lit up when she saw a warm chocolate fondant served with pistachio ice cream on the dolci menu. Suddenly, she got her second wind and had to have this Tortino al Cioccolato with a warm cup of hot chocolate. Based on the fact that she did not leave a single crumb behind, I would say she quite enjoyed it.
Tortino al Cioccolato

I believe it is safe to say that The Galleria and Emporio Armani Caffè get two thumbs up in not only my book, but my daughter's as well. She spent the entire night posting her "story" to her friends on Snapchat. As a mom of teenagers it's always nice to know you have successfully entertained them, and it would seem our evening at The Galleria was a smash hit.

The Galleria at Maryah Island
Thursday: 10am - 12am
Friday: 12 Noon - 12am
Saturday – Wednesday: 10am - 10pm

Weekdays: 10am - 10pm
Weekends: 10am - 12am

The Emporio Armani Caffè
Telephone: 02 676 6995

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Bedouin Affair

I was going through my pictures this week for other posts and came across my pictures from Valentine's Day. This year I took on the task of planning our Valentine's Day dinner, since the hubby did it last year. Knowing I could not compete with or even top his performance that made all of our male friends mad for making them look bad, I decided to go with a more simple affair.

I went with a Bedouin style Valentine's Day surprise, and chose the Kite Beach on Yas Island as the backdrop. The beach is about 10 minutes from our house, and gets its name from the hoards of kite surfers that you'll find there during the day every day of the week. We both love Abu Dhabi, so I thought enjoying the emirate's uniqueness and beauty would be a perfect way to spend Valentine's Day. I should also mention, it was wayyyyyy cheaper than Emirates Palace. Enjoy the pics!

Yes, they even have cleaners on the beach here.