Millions of people around the world work in hospitality but only a few ever have the opportunity to open a hotel, and even fewer a luxury property. I feel fortunate that I have had the opportunity to open two in as many years.
To put it in perspective for non-hoteliers, it’s like having a baby. The pregnancy is often long – usually extending far past your due date; there is always extra weight gained; you become consumed (whether you want to or not) in the finite details of the pregnancy and unless your other friends have “kids” (are hoteliers), nobody really understands what you’re going through.
Then the labour begins. It’s painful – LORD, is it painful! Particularly when you have 120 grandparents that fly in from all over the world to help you through your labour, offering parenting advice all the while (usually conflicting). You don’t sleep for 10 days, you barely eat, and a trip to the loo by yourself is considered luxurious “me” time. You’re having to report in several times a day on exactly how the baby is progressing, how it is positioned, and if the vitals are strong.
Then before you know it the day has come, everyone is cheering you on and with one final push – your baby has arrived! Despite your sleep deprivation, you are elated! And so very, very proud for you have delivered the most beautiful baby in the world! Only now do you realize your lengthy pregnancy (11 months in my case) and all the sacrifices you have made, are worth it.
Your baby will most definitely have hiccups, it might even squawk. You will be at the beck and call of your baby 24/7 for the next couple years. But despite all these things, you love your baby and could not be prouder.
Friends, please meet my bouncing baby girl – officially welcomed into this world on March 12, 2013.
This past Friday I attended a type of event which is far too rare in UAE – a Yogathon. The event invited yogis and yoga-newbies alike to complete 108 sun salutations together at the base of the famous Burj Khalifa, as a fundraiser for the Dubai Autism Centre.
I’m always keen to participate in any yoga event I can so I was thrilled to see this one scheduled on my day off and for such a good cause as well. Friday morning I made the trek to Dubai and met up with my friend and all-time favourite yoga teacher Liz Terry to get our bend on. It was great to see the turn out really was a mix of experience levels, and also that it became a big family event. I have to admit though, I was a wee bit nervous about completing the 108 sun salutations (the event was scheduled for 3 hours!).
While quite simple in execution, I actually really love sun salutations – especially first thing in the morning. Not only does it get your blood flowing but they also get all the kinks out of your muscles and your back. So why 108 sun salutations? Well, apparently the number 108 has long been considered a sacred number. There’s always something to learn in yoga. 🙂
The first hour was hot – about 35C – but we soon got into a rhythm and despite the lumpy grass, it was an incredible location. I felt so grateful for every breath I took as I stretched up to the bright blue sky and the towering Burj Khalifa – the 108 salutations flew by quickly.
Two days later, I feel like I could use another Yogathon – or at least a class – to stretch my tender muscles. But I know I’ll be there next year, doing it all over again. Om.
If you have never heard of Umm al-Quwain then I’ll forgive you because up until two weeks ago, neither had I. Umm al-Quwain is the lesser known of the seven emirates which make up the United Arab Emirates (yes, there are more than just Dubai and Abu Dhabi) and the second most Northern.
A friend of mine had suggested an overnight trip to Umm al-Quwain (UAQ) to go on a Crab Hunting Safari, which is – apparently – what people go to UAQ to do. Luckily I was able to get out of stabbing myself some dinner after doing a little research and discovering there is also a waterpark there. With only one day off work, there was only enough time for one activity – phew!
Through Cobone we found a deal for a hotel with dinner and breakfast included, as well as tickets to Dreamland waterpark, for dirt cheap. A three-star hotel, The Pearl was quite basic and seemed to only have us and a massive Arab family as guests which made for an interesting experience. The restaurant was empty both times we used it yet the others suddenly materialized in the wee hours and seemed to think it a fantastic idea to lounge outside our patio door until the sun came up, BBQ-ing, laughing loudly, and smoking shisha. Not the rest and recharge I was hoping for but what to do. I haven’t been to a waterpark for about 15 years (yes, it’s true) so I actually had a fun, albeit pretty relaxed, time at Dreamland and the 40C sunshine was perfect.
If you decide to make the trip to UAQ, proceed with caution, and with a GPS, as the worst drivers in UAE seem to congregate around Sharjah and Ajman and there is absolutely no signage along the way. I definitely won’t say it is the place to go for a luxurious getaway or the most modern, thrilling waterpark however if you want a change of scenery, then take a little drive to Umm al-Quwain. The journey there was surprisingly pretty. Enjoy!
One of the reasons I wanted to live in Dubai is that it is the ideal hub for any travel in the Middle East, as well as Asia and Europe. My first year here I was completely consumed with work and did not travel at all so I’ve since made it my mission to remedy that. Last November I went to Kathmandu, Nepal for a 3-day weekend, in December I was in Cannes for work for a week and did a side trip to Monaco for the weekend, and in January I jetted to Doha, Qatar for the weekend.
But the most impactful was my trip to Goa, India last weekend – just a 3 hour direct flight from Dubai – where I spent 3 nights and 4 days at Lotus Yoga Retreat. I would like to say that India really is Incredible and that I saw all the sights but I did not. I barely ventured more than 100 metres away from the retreat. I found that when I arrived, all of the long hours and stress from the last year surfaced and my body just wanted rest. I could hardly stay awake for the first two days and anyone who knows me, knows that sleep does not come easily.
I stayed in an amazing little hut on the beach where the sound of waves crashing would lull me to sleep. In the morning, everyone would wander to the main hut where we could have juice and fruit before the first yoga session at 8:30 a.m. in the Ocean Shala The 90-minute classes always went by so quickly and while the stunning view of the sun rising over the water was slightly distracting, it also lent a powerful sense of calm, serenity and clarity. Our yoga instructors varied with every class and it was interesting to get a mix of teaching styles. The yoga itself was not as challenging as I expected – everyone’s ability ranged from complete beginner to my level of experience – however it was the first time I have ever slowed down long enough to really look deeper than the physical aspect of yoga. Some of our teachers were light and funny and had us giggling through the session while others lead us through amazing meditations and others still started a session by having us lie on our backs hugging our knees to our chests and telling ourselves “I love you” – because really, when was the last time you said that to yourself?
After yoga, I would have to make the difficult decision of where to nap – hut, hammock or beach. Yummy brunch of salads, eggs, tofu curries and the like was served from 11-12:00 p.m., tea and biscuits in the afternoon and then the second yoga session from 4:30-6:00 p.m. Our days were our own – almost everyone stayed nearby resting, reading, swimming or sunning. Because most people were staying from 2 weeks to one month, I was one of the few going to every class. It was very flexible and free, not nearly the regimented program I expected it to be.
Over the weekend, I also read a book that I had picked up about a year ago but just wasn’t ready to read. It is called The Power and is the follow-up to The Secret. I think I’m the only person on the planet who had not read one or both of these books but if you are like me, to summarize they are about the Law of Attraction. Simply put, positive or negative thoughts can bring positive or negative results. Regardless of your own perspective, I think the world needs a lot more positive energy and I look forward to contributing heaps of it!
All in all, it was a quick weekend away but I felt like a whole new person when I returned. Refreshed and re-energized, I’m looking forward to taking on every wonderful opportunity that comes my way!
Thank you to each one of you who support me and love me from near and far – know that you’re always in my thoughts.
Oy, I’ve been embarrassingly negligent with my newbie blog! It’s a lot like that Christmas letter you always intend to write but want to commit loads of time to sit down and do it properly, and that time just never seems to come.
So enough excuses, here is a quick and dirty update.
They say what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. There was a time when I really thought my job would break me. And I’m not talking about 10 years ago at the start of my PR career, I mean the first 3-6 months after I landed in Dubai. It was by far the biggest challenge with the most difficult obstacles that I have ever had to overcome. However, through sheer determination (not to mention, a tad too much pride) I persevered and stuck it out to not only open the hotel, but stay on for 18 months and elevate it’s profile within the regional and international media.
Now I’ve signed up to do it again – this time in Abu Dhabi. I will be opening the largest hotel in the world for the brand; 447 hotel rooms, 85 villas, 11 restaurants…I could go on. It’s a monster project and I can hardly wait to get started! I will be living in Dubai and commuting to Abu Dhabi – it’s about 45 minutes to an hour each way. Tentative start date is April 1 (working on obtaining my visa) and the hotel is set to open later this Fall.
I had an opportunity to visit Abu Dhabi a couple of weeks ago and play tourist for an afternoon. One of the highlights was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The architecture was stunning and everything from the carpets to the chandeliers were breathtaking. It boasts one of the largest chandeliers in the world and all 7 chandeliers are made of Swarovski crystals, with a combined value of almost USD $10,000,000. Because it’s a mosque, modesty is of the utmost importance and women have to wear abaya and cover their hair. Personally, I’d love to wear the abaya every day – imagine, never having to worry about what to wear or doing your hair! It would save me an hour every day at least.
Ok, I’ve redeemed myself hopefully with this dispatch and promise to write more soon. Off to Goa for the weekend – yes, you can do that when it’s a 3-hour flight away – so will definitely have more updates.