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.
December 2nd marks the 41st National Day of the United Arab Emirates. In a culture that is so rich with tradition and customs, the celebrations seem to be (in typical UAE fashion) more about personal pomp than national pride.
Dubai police have gone so far as to ban ‘Car Parades’ (one of the most popular ways to celebrate National Day according to The National newspaper). These parades, whereby tributes to the UAE leaders and national flag are flaunted in engine-revving fashion, are really just an obnoxious display of wealth and arrogance, not to mention a dangerous one. So are these antics really how Emiratis choose to celebrate their great nation?
At first glance, yes. When frequenting the popular neighbourhoods of Dubai, such as JBR, and Abu Dhabi it would appear so. However, if you delve a little deeper and go in search of authentic national pride, it’s everywhere – even in some surprising places – whether it’s a SMS of thanks and blessings that went out to every citizen and resident of UAE from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai (I got one on both mobiles), in the shopping centres, or as I discovered, even at the zoo. I decided to venture out-of-town to Al Ain, a small city in the Abu Dhabi Emirate, and was pleasantly surprised to see a grassroots celebration in which the elders shared dance, song and even a history challenge with the children.
So while the celebration of customs and culture of the United Arab Emirates is anything but typical on National Day, it’s really rather fitting for a nation that is young, rambunctious, and ever so proud.
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!
According to Wikipedia, the term “Going Postal” means becoming extremely and uncontrollably angry, often to the point of violence, and usually in a post office or other workplace environment.
While I am far from reaching this stage, many Dubai residents can tell you about their endless list of unusual and frustrating procedures and events that occur in the UAE when the same process is so simply in every other country. Here is my recent example:
I wanted to mail a letter home. I finally found a post office (the first time in my 2 years in UAE), went inside where I learned that I had to take a number and queue. When I finally got to the counter, I was told that I could certainly buy my single stamp but they were unable to mail it for me. At the post office. It’s up to you to locate a post box outside and mail your letter, which not only adds an extra step for me but I think it’s safe to assume they need to hire somebody to now collect, deliver and sort this mail.
Oh, Dubai – so advanced but so archaic.
It has (again) been too long since I’ve provided an update. After my last post below – in case my frustration wasn’t evident – I decided to relocate to Abu Dhabi rather than make the daily commute from Dubai. As much as I miss Dubai and the lifestyle, I love that I have two hours of my life back every day and I’ve eliminated the stress of that drive – it just wasn’t worth it.
So now I live in a beautiful new complex called Al Raha Beach, which is ten minutes from work and 45 minutes from Dubai Marina, and I’m loving life again.
Much has happened over the summer – I went home to Canada for a couple of weeks (far too short for such a long distance), another Ramadan has come and gone – more about that shortly, I went “Primal” – TWICE -, and I’ve even found time to check a travel item off my bucket list.
Looking forward to updating more about these. Stay tuned.
For those who don’t already know, I have been making the treacherous commute from Dubai to Abu Dhabi every day for the past month. It’s about 120 km each way and some may think – as I did – that so many others do it and there’s nothing wrong with a little commute. I’m Canadian after all – we’re used to spending long stretches behind the wheel as we trek across our home and native land.
Reality hit pretty quickly as I contemplated what this drive would be like when I’m working 16 hour days leading up to the hotel opening (more about that later) and whether keeping my amazing life in Dubai is really worth two hours of terror every day. With the end of my apartment lease in Dubai coming up quickly, I was forced to make a decision. Coincidentally, several reports were released this week regarding traffic statistics on UAE roads. While the reports showed a positive change, the numbers speak for themselves – and it’s a scary story they tell.
This is ultimately what cemented my decision to move from Dubai to Abu Dubai.
The number of traffic accidents in the UAE fell by about 20% from 9,658 in 2009 to 7,642 in 2010. Fatalities fell nearly 14%, from 966 in 2009 to 826 in 2010. In 2011, there were 6,700 accidents. Seems like good news, right? Until you consider that these crashes resulted in 7,808 injuries and 720 deaths. That’s over 560 accidents and 60 deaths – every month – in UAE. 60 deaths are entirely preventable every single month?! Tragic.
Also bear in mind that UAE is small – only 83,000 km sq. To put it in perspective, it’s slightly larger than the province of New Brunswick.
The stretch of highway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is infamous for bad driving; the rules, rather than the exceptions, include excessive speeding over 200 km/hr, tailgating and flashing high-beams, passing on the shoulder of the road, and just general bullying. I continue to be shocked daily by the antics I see. While I often wish I could capture these on film, I’d much rather get home safely. But here is a little report I found from The National that will give you just a small glimpse.
I’ve read that there has been an increased police presence however in the 40+ hours I’ve recently spent making that drive, I have yet to see any at all. So how to change the lay of the land, literally? While having police and radar cameras more visible – and actually enforcing the laws – would help dramatically, I wish there was a way to call on each road rager and bully-beamer and ask them to lay off on what is entirely selfish behaviour. We’ll all get there in due time and if everyone would act more responsibly, we would all get there alive – inshallah.
Comment below and let me know what you think should happen to increase traffic safety.
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.