Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Green Community, Ibn Batutta and Souk Madinat

We had a busy day and we didn’t do typical “tourist” activities with our guests today.  First thing in the morning, we drove out to the Green Community and walked around the water walkway and through the park.  This is the community where we stayed for the first 10 days when we came to Dubai, and our guests were interested to see it.  It is truly beautiful, and, having been away from it for a while, I appreciate it more.  I’m happy that we live by the beach, but the lifestyle would certainly be pleasant in the Green Community….except of course when you need to leave the Green Community because it is ­so far away from everything else in Dubai.

Next we went to Ibn Battuta Mall.  We walked around all of the many different areas and I was once again wowed by the drama of the decorations in the mall.  It is way over the top and I think our guests were impressed.

Then, back home for lunch and naps.  After that, our guests and my older son spent a couple of hours at the beach.

This evening we went out to Souk Madinat and saw the beautiful views of Burj Al Arab.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

RAK again

Yesterday we went on a one-day road trip.  We went to Ras Al Khaimah again, but on a slightly different route. 

We drove down E311 (a big, busy road) all the way to RAK, through Sharjah and Ajman and past Umm Al Quwain.  On the way there were a few camel sightings, and we saw goats in the middle of this huge road!  The goats were in a small herd of all colours, milling around in the centre-dividing portion of the freeway.

Once we hit RAK, we started to look for the “nice” and “touristy” part.  It is a nice looking small city with lots of tall buildings and grand houses, but also lots of skuzzy strip malls and falling-apart houses.  Our first stop ended up being at Manar Mall, where we ate our picnic lunch and had a pit stop.  Behind the mall was a delightful little park with a salt-water inlet surrounded by a grassy lawn and a promenade.

After lunch we drove up to Rams to see the areas noted scenery, mountains and the sea.  The mountains were a bit hazy, but still spectacular.  The sea is a startling shade of blue and the mountains and sea are divided by a small strip of red-gold desert sand.  The scenery was beautiful here, and we drove along the Rams road almost until the Oman border.  Then I did one of those highway U-turns that they love in UAE.

We drove back to RAK and into the old town area.  This is, without a doubt, the “touristy” area.  It is a slummy, falling apart set of homes and shops along a beautiful beach.  Last time we were in RAK, we could not find the “nice” and “touristy” party.  What I discovered yesterday is that the “touristy” part is simply not “nice.”  It is the broken down area and we had discovered it on our first trip to RAK.  This time the beach was pristine, whereas last time it was covered with garbage.

Then we drove into the newer, wealthy area of town, where there are huge homes on grand lots near the sea.  Many were under construction.   Wandering around the neighborhood were three apparently wild Brahma bulls – what a strange sight!

We drove back to Dubai on E11 and we took a bit of a detour on a small highway.  On our detour, we saw a whole bunch of resting camels, some of them babies.  There were also shantytowns and single trailer/tent homes.  We also stopped to feed the baby in the parking lot of Aquaventure Water Park (different than the water park we saw last time).  This water park looked amazing!

On the way home there was a highway diversion that sent us driving through the middle of Ajman – as our guidebook said, there really is not much to see there!  We also took a diversion through Sharjah, because I took the wrong freeway exit.  We had a short wait at a really neat round-about, with a statue of the Qur’an in the middle and grand museums on each side.

The traffic was not too bad until we got back into Dubai, and even then it was tolerable.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Jumeirah and (More) Chores

We spent the morning in Jumeirah today.  We shopped for groceries at Choithrams and went to Jumeirah Town Centre to pick up our treasures from Café Ceramique.  Then we paid school fees and looked again at the (gorgeous) school that my son has accepted a space at.

Next we took a drive around the crescent of the Palm Jumeirah, past the Atlantis Hotel to the very end of the crescent.  It is really something else to be on a perfectly shaped man-made island.  The Atlantis Hotel is very flashy with a huge waterpark.  We did not go inside….we will someday.

For this afternoon I had scheduled 3 sets of servicemen to arrive at 2:00 pm.  The first set came at 1:30, while we were still out driving around the Palm.  The second set, the handymen, arrived at 3:10 and did a great job.  At 5:00 when my husband came home from work, the third set (the furniture rental movers) had still not arrived.  They called with an excuse at 6:00, but he told them that they must come today.  Then he and our guest moved almost all of the rental furniture out into the hallway.  At 7:00 they still had not arrived.  My husband called at 7:30 and there was no answer….then we saw their trucks.

The movers came upstairs and collected all of the rental furniture within about an hour (they were gone by 9:00), and after that we settled in and started unpacking our stuff.

Since coming here, this type of service has become something I expect.  Whether it is delivery of home goods (I have waited entire days for no delivery) or paperwork (like school registration), every service person will have an answer that is firm and confident, and different from the last person you spoke to.  You cannot trust any information that you get on the internet or from telephoning an office or organization, and if you go in person with all of the documents as stated on the internet, you will inevitably be short some paperwork and have to return.  

There are also no real street addresses here, so it is incredibly difficult for people to find each other, so this always adds problems when I try to find a service or the service tries to find me.  When you need a government service, the “address” will be something like this:  take the second interchange on Sheik Zayed road and it is across from the clock tower.

Another major problem as that people will say “yes” or agree to provide a service that they have no intention of providing.  As an example, when I tried to get our fridge delivered (after it was “lost” for 2 weeks), the fridge company wanted me to stay home for an entire day to wait (i.e. “we’ll come on Tuesday”).  Obviously this is not acceptable, so my husband (who was setting up the delivery), asked what time they would come.  They didn’t really answer, so he said “will you come at 10 o’clock?” and they said “yes.”  The allotted time came and went and there was no fridge, so at 10:30 I called the store to see where the delivery was.  Surprisingly, they told me that the delivery people did not start work until noon.  I told them about my 10 o’clock delivery and they told me it was not possible, the delivery people were not at work yet.

So, I called the store again, and the second call they told me my delivery was scheduled for the evening.  I had a “tantrum” at the person on the phone, and the person told me that they could see I had already called before and I had been told noon, so why was I calling back? (what???) I called the store a couple more times around noon and the delivery showed up at 12:30 – I asked the delivery man (who could speak English, in case you are wondering if language is the problem) why he agreed to deliver at 10, and he said “yes, I deliver at 10.”  I told him it was 12:30 and he just shrugged……typical Dubai service.

Birthday Party

Yesterday afternoon we hosted a 4th birthday party for our older son at the playground near our house.  It was lots of fun!

We took down cake, balloons, watermelon, juice and treats and we invited everyone playing at the park to join in.  A couple of my friends brought their kids, but everything else was just on the fly.  Our attendees included holidaymakers from Sweden, some kids with their nannies and some local mums and kids.

We spent the morning at the beach, and it was an all-round good day.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Souks and Mickey's Amazing Adventure

Today, we finally visited the Souks in Diera in the old part of Dubai. 

It was our older son’s fourth birthday today, so we started the day with gifts and a big breakfast. 

Then we took the train to Union station and walked to the souks.  We walked through the electronics souk and the covered souk.  The electronics souk is like a collection of small shops in the bottoms of skyscrapers along a few streets.  The covered souk is dramatic – it consists of streets lined with small stalls and it is covered with a temporary looking ceiling (although you are still outdoors).  The temperature was much cooler in the covered souk than the other souks.  In the covered souk, the stalls sold clothing and souvenir goods.

The last souk we walked through was the gold souk- which was endless jewelry shops in a very small area.  The displays in the windows are so crowded, that it is difficult to tell what jewelry you are looking at.

We had a birthday supper and then we went to the Mall of Emirates to see a live stage show called Mickey’s Amazing Adventure.  This was a (free) stage show in the middle of the mall with signing and dancing and Disney characters and songs.  The crowd was massive and dense - I could not believe how many people came to see the show!  The show was very well done – I can think of one Disney-song loving friend in Calgary who would have to go back a few times!

Abu Dhabi

We had a really great trip to Abu Dhabi yesterday.  We went to Abu Dhabi to see the FIA GT1 World Championship Battle of the Brands at Yas Marina Circuit.  This race did not start until 3:00 and since we were going to Abu Dhabi for the race, we decided to tour the city as well.

We left for Abu Dhabi at about 9:20 in the morning and we were at Yas Marina circuit just after 10:00 am.  We bought tickets for the race and then left to drive further into Abu Dhabi.  Tickets were pretty cheap – about $14 Canadian each. 

Once in Abu Dhabi, we drove along the Corniche (and some members of our group walked).  We drove up to Marina Mall next for a pit stop and lunch stop.  We stocked up on snacks and groceries at Carrefour for the rest of our day trip.  Then we tried to go into the Palace Hotel, but it was closed for entry until after the weekend.  We got a few pictures of the Hotel, but it was unfortunate that we could not go inside.

We drove to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and took a tour.  It is an unbelievable mosque with amazing architecture, design and use of materials.  There are many items in the mosque that are the biggest in the world of their kind.  The ladies in our party had to don traditional dress for the tour – which is always interesting.

Then we left for Yas Island to go to the races.  We could hear the races as we drove up.  Once we had driven through the gate, we got typical “Dubai” instructions (even though we were in Abu Dhabi, it is just a term of endearment that we use for bad instructions) to go to the “Gold Parking”.  Two different parking attendants told us these instructions, but, of course, when we got to the Gold Parking, we were in the wrong place.  We finally found where we were supposed to park and then took a shuttle to the races.  The races were qualifying rounds to determine the starting spots for the main races the next day.

The cars were incredibly loud as we walked up.  We went to the gates, where security once again gave us “Dubai instructions” to find general admission.  We wandered a bit and eventually found where we were meant to go.  We all had to wear earplugs and the children needed soundproofing muffs.  We watched the races and they were very exciting – the cars whipped by and as they passed they would be so loud.

At the same time as the races, there was a stage show and fair outside, which we also checked out.  We drove home late in the evening after a very full day.

Utter Chaos

Utter chaos is the only way to describe our home at this point.  We have received our sea shipment and our temporary (ugly) curtains, and we still have our rental furniture.  We also have our first guests.  So, our house looks like an episode of “Hoarders”….sigh…it’s only for a few more days.

We had a birthday party for my son (he turned 4!) in the midst of this chaos today…. he had a really cute Ariel cake.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Car Wash Guys

When you park your car in a shopping parking lot at a mall or a grocery store in Dubai, there are car wash guys, who offer to wash your car.  They have a small tank of water that they wheel around the parking lot and wash vehicles.  The charge seems to be 10 AED (about $2.80 Canadian), but I'm not sure if a tip is expected as well.

When you leave the store, your car is nice and clean.

I have a lot of questions about this service, because I am a natural skeptic.  I wonder if there is enough water in the tank to do a proper job and what kind of pressure/tools are used.  Is it a proper wash or just a quick rinse?

A lot of people must use the service because at the shopping centres each have one cart and two car wash guys per row.

Moving Day 1

So….moving day #1 is over.  It was a crazy day.  We started the day with a walk just to fit in some outside time.  Our goal was to drop off some dry-cleaning.  During our walk, I got a phone call from the curtain company – they wanted to come at 11 am to install temporary curtains.  I agreed to this.  Then, the lifeguard at one of our pools gave my son a giant pool float shaped like a sea-doo.  So, now I am walking along with a wad of shirts to be dry-cleaned and a giant pool toy.

The first drycleaner that we went to was still closed, so we walked to another, which was also closed.  We had a bit of time before 10 am (the earliest the movers would come), so we went for coffee and cookies (cappuccino, of course, no-one drinks drip coffee here).  We went home with all of our junk and started to wait.

We waited and waited for the movers.  I hate waiting!  Eventually the doorbell rang and it was the curtain people.  They were incredibly considerate and tidy – they brought a shop vac and one man vacuumed while the other drilled.  They also put up with my four-year old watching them drilling.

As the curtain guys were finishing up, the doorbell rang again and it was the movers.  There were three movers, and they started to bring stuff in from their truck.  After the third load, I had to leave to take my older son to a school assessment (kind of like a test and interview for school).  We were gone for about 1 hour and 45 minutes.  When we came back, the moving truck was gone, all of our stuff was in the apartment and there were 15 men unpacking and moving our stuff around!

Tomorrow they will finish up, but unfortunately our first guests arrive in a couple of hours….should be interesting.

Seeing our furniture in this apartment is a bit surreal.  It does not feel like a vacation anymore. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Furniture Arrival

I got a call late this morning about our sea shipment.  It arrived early!  It was supposed to arrive on March 22 and take a week to clear customs.  Instead it arrived on the 20th and will clear customs by noon on the 23rd.  So, the shipping company had an offer.  We were offered two options - we could take the shipment on the 23rd and 24th, or, we could wait about a week.  Obviously, I went go for the earlier date.

There are two problems with this.  The first is that our first stay-over visitors are set to arrive at midnight on the 23rd.  So, they will arrive in the middle of the move-in – awkward!  The second problem is that the rental furniture cannot be moved out before the 28th, so we will have about 4 days living with 2 extra people and an entire extra household worth of furniture in our apartment.  This will be interesting…and not ideal.  The apartment seems very small right now.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pottery Painting Outing

As a special treat today I took the kids to a pottery-painting coffee shop.  The general idea is that you paint a piece of pottery while having coffee and treats or a light lunch.  This is a bad idea – food and painting don’t mix on the same table, but it was a fun day – nonetheless. 

My older son painted a mug and I painted a plate.  His favorite colour is pink, so he picked pink and some green colours.  I picked a bunch of greens and oranges – I’m not much for creating visual art so I did not have high hopes.  It was much harder to paint something that looked decent than I thought.  I tried to paint a flower – I’m sure when I pick up the plate it will look like an orange blob.

My son painted all parts of his mug – inside and out.  He mixed and blended and concentrated really hard.  His mug looked shocking when it was completed, I am curious to see how it will look once it is glazed.

Just as an aside - I was surprised at the cost of our outing today - for lunch and the 2 pieces of pottery, the bill was the equivalent of $42 Canadian.  I thought this was a great deal!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Worst Trip to the Mall Ever!

This is the story of what was hands-down my worst trip to the mall ever.

Today started off a bad day – my husband was away in Saudi Arabia and my four year old would not co-operate with my agenda, so I punished him by taking away his privileges.  I was also nervous about driving for the first time in Dubai. 

We left for the mall as a grouchy group.  The drive there was uneventful and I picked a parking space far away from everyone else, which was easy because we were almost the first people to park at the mall this morning.  We started to walk into the mall, and I recorded the area of the mall parking lot on my grocery list and tucked it into my bag for later reference.

We had a couple of errands to do at the mall, but the trip was really about me trying to drive for the first time.  I bought a sun hat and then we went to a bookstore and we forgot our shopping trolley.  Of course, we didn’t notice that we forgot the shopping cart until we were a ways down the mall.  We went back to retrieve it and it was still there – whew!

Next, we went to the bank to use the bank machine.  There were 2 machines, one with a short line and one with a long line.  We stood in the short line, and when we got to the machine, it was not a cash-dispensing machine, but a cheque-depositing machine.  So we got to move into the other line, which was then even longer.  We waited 10 minutes in the new line and then the machine would not dispense any money because my pin would not work.  I had been trying to get my pin issues resolved with the bank for weeks – but it has been a maze of annoying telephone calls, Internet visits and bank visits.

So, we walked to another bank machine and got cash.  Then we went to the grocery store and bought diapers.  Now I was starving.  I didn’t want to eat at the mall today because it is a “treat” for our four year old and he had lost his privileges this morning for being uncooperative.  But, I was starving, so we went to the food court for pizza.

The baby, who had slept to this point, decided to wake up and I had to feed him before we had our lunch.  We ended up spending over an hour at the food court between feeding, changing and pizza lunch.

Then it was time to go.  Perfect timing because we could get home right in time for naps.  We picked up our parcels from the parcel check at Carrefour and headed for the car park.  I needed to use the washroom, but I decided to wait until we got home because it is such a pain to go at the mall.

I had written down “gate 2, floor 2” on my grocery list because that was the mall gate we parked at.  By this I mean that the giant sign on the door that we entered through said “gate 2” on it.  I consulted the mall directory and all of the car parks were labeled with letters, for example “car park gate A” – hmmmm this did not line up with my note.  So, I asked a security guard about “gate 2.”  He seemed to know exactly what I was talking about and gave me very specific directions which I followed to the letter and arrived at “gate 1”….oh well, at least it was a numbered gate.  So, I asked the gate 1 security guard where gate 2 was and he directed me appropriately.  Of course, inside the mall it is called “car park H” and outside it is called “gate 2”, but why would it be consistent?

So, now that we were in the right place, I knew we parked on the second level.  We took the elevator to the second level with all of our packages and made our way into the car park.  I checked the sign and it indeed said “gate 2” from the outside, so I knew we were in business. 
My little entourage at this point consisted of: me pushing the baby buggy (our small “mall” stroller with the difficult-to-shift wheels and narrow profile) while holding multiple bags threaded on my arms; the baby in the stroller screaming his head off because he wanted to be carried; and my four year old begrudgingly pulling the shopping trolley (the same one that he fought with his friend to pull last Sunday).  We made our way toward the spot where I had parked, going up and down curbs in the most awkward way possible.  But when we got there, my truck was not in the spot.  Weird…

I knew which way I parked (I have an obsession with parking “left” whenever I can – by this I mean swinging left when I park), so we walked down the left facing aisles – still no truck.  But I’m smart (at least that’s what I thought at this point), so I started to press the panic button on my key chain to sound off the car alarm so that I could find the car.  I could hear the horn honking, but I couldn’t see where it was.  We started to wander, but eventually the car horn stopped honking.  I tried to depress the panic button again, but the alarm just wouldn’t go off.

At this point I was started to get worried.  The car seemed to be lost.  I started to walk up and down every aisle from gate 1 to gate 3, and I couldn’t find the car.  Remember, it was me and my entourage wandering around looking for the car.  The baby was at this point high hysterics and I could not carry him.  My four year old was growing increasingly sulkier about having to pull the trolley.  I pressed the panic button again, and the horn went off – halleluiah!  I just needed to find out where the honking was coming from.  So we wandered toward the sound, but no joy.  Eventually the horn stopped beeping, so I pushed the panic button again, but the alarm didn’t go off.  All I could think was “this is soooo weird – what’s going on?”

We walked up and down all of the aisles again – to this point we had spent about 45 minutes wandering around everyone was getting very testy.  We did a quick walk around the back area of the lot and still no truck.

So, I decided (55 minutes after we started looking), that I should just calm down and start over again.  We walked back to the mall door that said “gate 2” and then I figured it out – although we were on the second level, the floors are numbered so that the third floor is labeled floor “2” – this is quite common in Dubai and something I had noticed before.  Now I felt stupid, but I knew what to do.

We piled into the “gate 2” elevator and went to floor 2.  The baby finally calmed down in the elevator – things were looking up!  We got out and I went to where I parked the truck.  But it wasn’t there!  What!!! Where could it be?  I tried my panic button, but it did not sound any alarm.  I decided to go right back to the gate – why make the same mistake twice?

At this point I was trying to think of alternative strategies for finding the car.  Maybe the mall has security tapes, or the car wash guys would know where it was?  (more on the car wash guys another day…)  Or, maybe it was stolen – but this was unlikely with so many luxury cars around, our truck is rather plain.

I got the kids back to the gate and saw the sign that said “gate 1.”  I looked around and noticed that there were fewer gates on this parking level, so they were all shifted over by one number…arghhh!  So, we walked to gate 2 and there was our truck, right where I parked it! Glory be!  We piled in, and, of course, the baby fell asleep as soon as he was buckled in.  It had taken about 1 hour and 15 minutes to find the car, and I could have cried when we found it.

I set up the GPS and we started to leave the parking lot.  It showed 5 minutes to get to our apartment.  We would have late naps, but it would all work out fine.  I drove out of the car park and started down the road per the GPS instructions.   I took a ramp to the freeway but then could not change lanes quickly enough to get onto the freeway.  This was OK, because the GPS could “recalculate” – which it did.  I missed the next “recalculated” turn because I was once again in the wrong lane and then I took the wrong exit in a traffic circle for the same reason.  I found myself on a different freeway going in the wrong direction.  I had to drive 9 km out of the way, but eventually I was driving the right direction.  It only took 35 minutes to make the 5-minute drive!

It can only get better…

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Holiday Makers

We live in an apartment complex on the Palm Island.  It has a beautiful landscape and beach, with restaurants and shops, and it has a resort-like feel.  Turns out that some of the apartment units here are rented out to holiday makers as hotel suites.

When I got here, I was curious about the intolerance that more permanent residents had for holiday makers.  I thought “why do they care if those people are on holiday while we live here?”  Now I understand.

The holiday makers that make themselves obvious do so not just by being unfamiliar faces at the beach or the playground, but by being jerks.  Here are some examples:

·      Their children are not at school, so our normally toddler-filled playground gets overrun with teens, preteens and older kids abusing the equipment and making it dangerous for the little ones. 

·      They stay out late and make a lot of noise getting back to their suites. 

·      They drink a lot and make even more noise getting back to their suites.

·      They are the only people who send entire days at the beach (when you live here, you go to the beach for an hour or two a few times a week, instead of 8 hours every day).  So they lay claim to more beach chairs than they need early in the morning taking them up and unbalancing the normal cycle of chair turn-over.  It also unbalances the rate that the garbage cans fill up – so they sometimes get too full.

·      At night their teenagers skulk around the park under our window making lots of noise and those kids move around the moveable playground equipment and take the ladders off of the slides, etc.

·      They say “woo-hoo” or the dreaded “aussie aussie aussie” a lot when they are walking around outside at night.

·      They fill up all of the restaurants so you need reservations.  They take all of the good appointments at the salon so you have to book in advance.

·      They smoke everywhere.

·      They wear teeny tiny bathing suits on bodies that are not teeny tiny (oops, some of the more permanent residents do that as well!).  Just an aside - we were at Mall of Emirates the other day for groceries and I walked passed a sports store with bathing suit mannequins.  I noticed some of them had no bikini tops on (i.e. were half naked).  This is odd because the mall is really conservative and usually even the mannequins are covered up.  When I looked closer I figured out that they were male mannequins in teeny-tiny mens swim trunks - the likes of which I never hope to see on our beach.

·      They love to jaywalk.

·      They give their kids more snack treats because they are on holiday.  My kid sees this and would indeed prefer an ice cream cone to the carrot sticks I am offering. (OK, this is not “jerk” behavior, but it is annoying – we are not on holiday here and normal food/snack rules apply in our house, even if there is a snack bar at every pool)

Now that I have seen people behaving badly at a resort, I will mind my manners on holiday in the future.  I will also try not to wind up looking like a beached lobster spending too much time in the sun.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dubai Zoo

This morning, I took the kids to the Dubai Zoo.  This outing was one organized by an online “meet-up” group, and the first time that I have been on an outing arranged in this manner.  The meet-up group is for mothers.

It took quite a while for us to get to the zoo – about 40 minutes in a taxi (with no air conditioning turned on!).  We were the second set of people to arrive for the meet-up, and the other mother had already taken her child around the zoo.  A friend of mine also showed up with her kids and another two mothers.

I had been warned not to go to the zoo by everyone I told that I was going to the zoo, so I was curious.  Online the reviews were not great and I knew that PETA had a brief demonstration here.  The cost of entry was also concerning – only 2 dirhams (less than 60 cents Canadian).

We started to wander the zoo, and it was quickly apparent that this was no Calgary Zoo.  The animals were in small, obvious cages and had very little to do in the cages (think pet store cages).  In most cages there was a basic feeding station and not much else.  The giraffes had literally nothing else and the monkeys had some trapezes.  The lions were really close to the side walk and had a small enclosure and nothing else.  No real greenery could be found anywhere in the zoo.  It did feel more like a pet store than a zoo, and some pet store animals likely have more comforts than these zoo animals did.

But, where the animals any less happy for their surroundings?  Hard to say….one gorilla was throwing sand at the patrons and a chimpanzee was making an awful, mournful sound.  There was also a big brown bear just laying listlessly in an empty cage and a jaguar pacing steadily across the front of his cage.  The other animals all seemed to go about their business as in any zoo (except for the giraffe that was watching traffic drive down the busy street in front of the zoo).  The snakes, bats and mice seemed to have no issue with their surroundings, and there were many cages with birds like parrots and flamingos that seemed content enough.  The goats and onyxes seemed happy enough as well.  The bird cages did seem overcrowded. 

So, overall, the zoo was not too pleasant.  The company was good, although the kids all moved at a different pace, so our group was split up quite often.

I will definitely try more meet-ups for mothers in the future, but I will probably not go back to the zoo.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ikea Return

OK – so this is kind of funny because it was not me, but I’m sure I’d have been incredibly angry if it was me.
We had to return all of the curtains and related accoutrement to the Ikea store.  This was because our walls are cement, not drywall, and apparently we need a drill to hang our curtains here, which we don’t have.  So, the trip started off as somewhat of a frustration, because, no-one likes a return.  I was worried because the receipt and all of the signs at the store say you need to return unopened items and four of ours were opened.
My husband paid for the purchase, so he would have to do the return.  We snagged a cart in the car park and loaded our rods, curtains and tools in.  We entered the store and the security guard stopped us to ask what we were doing.  My husband explained the return, and he pointed down the front of the store and directed him in that direction, outside the checkouts (by where the café and food store are).  We started to walk in that direction and another security guard stopped us and said we had to go into the store.  Seemed strange, but we had explained the return so we went.  We met a third security guard and he said we had to leave our cart and the return counter would process the return.  This seemed strange because the return counter was a ways down and around the corner.  But, he wasn’t letting us through the checkout with our cart, so what choice did we have?
We got to the return area and the line was very long with a number-pulling system.   My husband grabbed a number and I took the kids to buy a few things we needed.  When we were done, we went to the return counter and my husband looked mad.  Very mad.
Apparently, the store was reviewing the security tapes to see if he had stolen the items in the cart because it was inside the store, in front of the checkout counter.  His receipt was meaningless because he was on the wrong side of the checkouts.  He had explained about how the security guard directed him there, but they really didn’t care. 
He was clearly in for a long wait, so I took the kids to the grocery store to pick up some diapers, and about 20 minutes later he called my mobile to let me know he was done.  He told me what happened.
When they finished reviewing the security tapes to make sure he did not steal the items, the clerk started to process the return.  By this point, some of the items had fallen out of the bag for one of the curtain rods, and the clerk noticed, she did not say anything because he was “shooting laser beams out of his eyes”   (his words).  When he complained about the system, they had initially told him he should not be in the store in front of the checkout with paid-for items.  But he was directed there.  Then she said returns should not be in the store – but he pointed out there was no way to return items without entering the store.  Then she told him that they always used this system (checking the security cameras), but they did not do this with the ½ dozen people in front of him in line.
They did not complain about the open packages.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Story Time

I took the kids to the library today for story time.  My older son loves stories and being read to, so I knew this would be perfect for him.  We had to register about a month in advance for this particular story time and there is a waiting list for each session. 

Story time was almost identical to all of the other story times that he has attended in Edmonton and Calgary.  The librarian read 5 books and interspersed them with songs.  He loved the books and the songs and participated in all of the games, rhymes and actions.  He was the oldest child there by about 1 year because all of the other children his age in Dubai are in school.  He was also by far the most interested child.

The story time lasted 45 minutes and started out with 7 kids.  By the time it was done two mothers had taken their kids out because of tantrums, and one child had fallen asleep.  Of the four remaining children, only 2 were listening, the others were antsy and wanted to leave.  I think this was a factor of both age and the length of the story time.

I tried to sign up again, but there are no more openings for a month.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Road Trip to Ras Al Khaimah and Khatt (5 Emirates in One Day!)

Today we took a road trip in the new truck to Ras Al Khaimah (“RAK”) and Khatt Springs.  The area is recommended by guidebooks as a destination for its landscape and historical points of interest.  Also, it is relatively close to Dubai, about an hour away – a nice distance for a Saturday drive.

We left home quite early in the morning, but we had to stop at a gas station to purchase a Salik tag before we got on our way.  A Salik tag is a tag that you affix to your windshield and it acts as a debit card for when you travel through various tolls on the roads in Dubai.  You top up your tag via telephone, internet or pre-purchased cards.  Of course, it took some doing to leave the main road and find a gas station to buy the tag at.  The stations seem to all be full-service here.

After we bought gas and the tag, we were on our way.  We drove north and east out of Dubai through the Emirates of Sharjah, Ajman, Umm AL Quwain to the Emirate of RAK.  Sharjah and Ajman seem like part of Dubai, the city is continuous between them, but it because less like a “big city” as you drive east through Sharjah and Ajman.  Umm Al Quwain is fairly undeveloped, once we entered this Emirate the road turned to desert with camels grazing on both sides.  There were small shanty towns along the way where people seem to live in semi-temporary shacks with corrugated roofs and tent-like walls.  One of these little towns near RAK seemed fairly permanent, with a kids playground and tall slides.

Along the way, the countryside we drove through was mainly desert sand with tufts of bushy plants and sparse trees.  The Haggar mountains were in the background with occasional glances of the sea from the road.

We left the main highway first at Jazirat Al Hamra because I wanted to see Al Hamra Fort.  This ended up being a touristy town near the seaside with a water park based on a winter theme (“Ice Land Water Park”) and a handful of hotels and shopping centres.  I didn’t think it was a very “nice” town when we were there, but it was by far the nicest town we were in all day.  We saw the fort (one small tower) from the highway and tried to drive closer but it was not possible.

Without exiting our vehicle, we decided to move on.  I picked Khatt Springs as our next stop in the area.  This is noted as one of the most romantic destinations in UAE (OK, so it’s kind of weird to take kids to a romantic destination, but I thought it would have a nice, clean place to stop for lunch and a washroom break - boy was I wrong!).  Khatt is known for natural hot springs and many baths that take advantage of these springs and claim to cure what ails you. 

Khatt was not what I expected.  It was a tiny town up into the Haggar mountains with free range goats everywhere.  It was a series of shacks and dumpy strip malls with garbage and construction waste generously mixed into the shoulders of the highway (providing sustenance for the enterprising goats).  There were a few luxury hotels, all with facilities for guests only, and that was all – no public spaces.  Time to move on.

So we drove into the town of RAK.  Now it was around 11 a.m. and it was getting hot (around 36), so we stopped in a shopping mall for a washroom break and food.   The mall was nice and clean (yay) and air conditioned and it suited our purpose well.  It was quite bizarre though, because there were almost no customers or stores.  Most of the mall was made up of empty stores and food-vending spaces. 

After our quick stop, we drove toward the seaside in RAK.  This rocky coast is known for it’s beauty and there are many resorts here.  To get to the seaside, we drove through the area of RAK that does not have all of the hotels.  Once again, it was a grubby town with goats everywhere and tiny houses.  These houses were more permanent, mostly cinder block houses with corrugated roofs.  There were strip malls everywhere and each strip mall had multiple tailors.

The rocky seaside was pretty, but when we drove on toward the beach, we saw that the beach was nice and it was a natural beach (unlike the man-made Palm Jumeirah beaches by our house), but it was covered with trash.  What a shame.

We drove around the town of RAK for a while longer then made our way home, uneventfully.