Thursday, April 19, 2012

Memory Lane - Leslie

These pictures are in no particular order...
Just some that I scanned for a digital picture frame for my mom's birthday in 2009.
I've left some because I will include them when I blog about those events.
These are just older pictures...

Nealle, Leslie & Jennifer June 17, 1988
Thomas & Sarah July 4, 2001
Leslie watching Carrie Beth & Uncle Stewart dance at Carrie's Wedding 2001
Mom In Mexico 1999

Thomas in Mexico 1999
Thomas in Mexico 1999
Mimi, Leslie, Sarah, Thomas, Damon & Peanut Fall 1991
Thomas & Sarah 1991
Mimi, Leslie, Sarah, Thomas, & Damon Fall 1991
Thomas & Sarah July 19, 1991
Gramma & Sarah Fall 1991
Sarah & Gramma 1992
Sarah, Gramma, & Thomas 1992
Leslie, Sarah & Damon July 18, 1991 about 2:30am
Nealle & Leslie 1995(?)
? & Mimi - Nealle & John's Wedding 1995(?)
Gramma, Thomas & Sarah 1998
Leslie & Mom June 17, 1988
Mom & Nealle 1995(?)
Sarah, Gramma & Thomas January 1999
Aunt Carol & Mimi at Carrie & Jessie's Wedding 2001
Sarah, Thomas & Grampa 2000
Thomas 1991
Thomas & Gramma sleeping on the plane ride back from Carrie Beth & Jessie's Wedding 2001
Thomas 1992
Sarah, Grampa, & Thomas 1998(?)
Jennifer & Eric Martin (from Mr. Big) Outside Rafter's 1993
Mom January 1999
Mimi, Leslie, Gramma, & Thomas January 23, 1989
Mimi at Nealle & John's Wedding 1995(?)
Thomas 1991

Leslie 1971

So for our next few posts we will be stepping back in time...
There are travels, adventures, and events in the last few years that we would like to share...
There is more to share, but alas we have not scanned all the pictures from the kids growing up...
So this journey to the past will start with a short trip down memory lane of pictures we scanned for a digital photo frame gift to my mom. I will include dates (years) when I can remember them...
Then the hope is over the next few weeks we will post adventures and events starting in 2005 with my move to Jamaica...
Then it is back to the present with new adventures and events...
Stay tuned, and we hope you enjoy!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

UAE Vacation

On March 15th Leslie's college friend, Donna Ashwood arrived in Abu Dhabi for a visit and vacation!

I should have know that her plane would land early - they always do here - but she was wandering around on her second loop, realizing she had no contact numbers, when she spotted me walking toward her with this sign...
And we picked up right were we left off so many years ago...
A sign of true friendship!

Welcome to the UAE, Donna Ashwood!
We visited, caught up some, stayed up later than we should have with a big day coming the next morning.

March 16th:
We packed everything up and headed for Dubai for a 3 day stay at the Ramada Downtown. On the way we made a brief stop to drop Boo off at her Vacation/Holiday Hotel; Spots Above Boarding. The coolest doggie hotel EVER! It is a large villa on a 1/2 lot, completely secure with 10 foot walls and locked gates. The Matron of this hotel, Jenny, is AMAZING! She loves every dog that comes thru her gate as if they were her own. What she is doing is so wonderful. I can leave Boo and she has the run of the house, yard, patio, and doggie playroom. She got to play with other dogs and run as much as she wanted and spend lots of time in Jenny or her husband Nathan's lap. They even go so far as to let her sleep on their bed with them at night!

So we left Boo for her week long holiday and went on to Dubai to begin ours.
First stop Ibn Battuta Mall. We were looking for a particular phone for Donna's girls. Sadly we never found it, but we did find these great lamps that I know Yvonne would love... too bad that they are installed in the mall =0).

Then we went to Mall of the Emirates so Donna could see Ski Dubai and for what Sara and I consider the best cheeseburger, cheese fries and malt in the UAE at the Shake Shack.
 Ski Dubai from the outside.
Then on to check into our hotel. I kept where we were staying a surprise, trying to go for the 'wow' factor. I think I did ok =0) View from our balcony - yep that is the tallest building in the world - The Burj Khalifa!
 And the famous Dubai Fountain - same designer as the Vegas Bellagio Fountains.
  Donna - being, well, Donna - so glad she is still silly!
We rested for a bit and then headed out to our Dhow Dinner Cruise on the Dubai Marina.
 Cool Buildings on the 'New' heart of Dubai
 The skyline with some really cool spotlights.
The Belly Dancer and some serious peer pressure and Donna finally gave in...
Donna swears she can't shimmy - so she pointed at me and - yeah well - sadly there are no pictures =0)

We all tried a little Shisha
 And hammed for the camera
A late night came to an end with a very scary ride in the tour operator's SUV - I think we were all sore and scared and VERY glad to be safely out of his vehicle ...and yes I did call and complain! As Sara proclaimed when we exited, "LAND!!"

March 17th:
Up next the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa - not a bad way to start my 44th year.
We woke up to quite a bit of fog, and unfortunately the air was still hazy due to sand/wind storms throughout the UAE the 2 weeks prior to our vacation. But we still made a go of it and Donna and Sara (both true to their silliness) made their own fun...
The Burj rising above the fog as seen from the balcony of our room
On the walk over we watched a Shih Tzu playing in the fountain - and of course Donna had to hear again how much we missed Boo already.
 Donna & me on the foot bridge over the Dubai Fountain Lagoon to Dubai Mall
Inside 'The Top' there are displays showing interesting facts and figures and some interactive displays that you can superimpose the Burj on different skylines...
Here it is in New York! Gives a bit more perspective to just how tall it really is...
 Entering to go to the elevator - more really cool visual displays
 A display that 'built' the building showing milestones in height dates
 We video taped the elevator - it takes 60 seconds to go from ground floor to the 124th floor!

Pigs at 'The Top' on the observation deck (the 124th floor)
 View of the Dubai Fountain
  View of the Dubai Mall
 Looking up at how much more building there is above the observation deck
 Buddies hamming for the camera
 Donna (tip) & I (bottom) caught the shadow of the Burj!!
Another cool feature is the video display telescopes that have options to show day, night, current and historical (early 1970's) view... Here are just a few...
One guest decided he would 'mark' his visit in original way...
You can tell that the Burj was designed in the USA by the sign for the bathroom - most places here it is signed "Toilet"
And of course this is where the silliness came in...
True to form for our family bodily functions are always the source of a good laugh...
We all 'marked' our visit in a not so original way...
Sara's picture of the back of the door as she was weeing at the top of the tallest building in the world...
Donna was excited that she too wee'd at the top of the tallest building in the world...
Then the jokes began, and speculating which wee would make it back to the bottom first...
the we or the wee
(Mimi would be so proud!)

Donna and me at the Burj

While making our way thru the mall I found a sign that seemed to state the obvious...
Why, yes I am!

We stopped off for a drink and to our surprise Donna's cup was ribbed much to her delight! ;0)
And Sara was mighty happy with her mini milk shake...
 Really? Well she is easily impressed! =0)

We then met up with Shams (another friend from college who lives in Dubai) and his beautiful family for a long lunch of really fabulous Lebanese food and catching up

By the time we made it back to the room to rest I was feeling pretty crappy as I had twisted her knee early in the day so with much coaxing Donna and Sara went on the Dubai Creek Dhow Cruise leaving me in the room to rest with frozen washcloths, pillows under my legs, and pharmaceuticals. 

Dubai Creek goes thru the middle(ish) of old Dubai with buildings and forts dating back to the late 1800's as well as newer buildings. this is where the spice and gold souks are located.
Sights from the Dhow Cruise

While on the Dhow Cruise Sara decided to try to get the money back for my ticket and ended up talking to the owner of the company who was extremely nice and when he found out why I wasn't there and that it was my birthday he sent a birthday cake to me in the room! Wow now that is service and you can bet we will use them again!
Funny - some of the letters slid off during transport =0)
I managed to cut it so I could eat the peaches and berries without getting any kiwi =0)

Then Sara went on a picture adventure trying out different light settings on our Cannon Rebel T2i. Here I have to say 'Thank You' again to my Dad for this awesome gift! We've been able to get great shots of things you just can't get with a small PHD camera.

Anyway... We have been getting more brave about taking the settings off the automatic ones (portrait, landscape, night, etc) and have been getting some pretty good results.
She captured some awesome shots - here are just a few...

It is amazing how many pictures we take now that we don't have to pay to have them developed... Just on my birthday we took 366!!!

March 18th:
We didn't do everything on the original itinerary for today, some because everyone was worried about my knee and some cause we all slept in (which felt mighty good!)
We packed up and checked out, leaving our luggage in the holding room at the hotel and took a cab to the 'old' part of town to check out the Dubai Museum (inside an old fort), Textile Souk, Spice Souk, and Gold Souk. I think we were all expecting old world type bazaars but it more the tourist trap store after store of pushy people hawking their goods...'For you, my friend, very good price, special deal!' We did make a few select good purchases, but only after walking out on a a couple places who thought they had caught themselves some stupid women! Sorry guys, not even close!
Pictures from the Dubai Museum

Musical Instruments
 Weapons of the Royal Army - About 150 men
 Interesting Plaque - Guess regardless of teachings/scripture there are extremists in every religion...
Then it was on to the Souks...through some very narrow 'alley ways'
Textile Souk area
 Another narrow 'ally' with shops
Water Taxis for getting back and forth across Dubai Creek
 A really pretty Mosque on Dubai Creek

Then it was back to the hotel to grab luggage and car just in time to drive thru yet another sand/wind storm. This one wasn't too bad, but there were some moments of getting buffeted by some pretty strong gusts. I am so glad I have a natural driver for a wife! (I don't ever have to drive anywhere =0})

March 19th:
Sara had to work this morning so Donna and I slept in and then did some 'jammie' chat time on the couch, catching up on what has gone on in each others lives since we last saw each other over 10 years ago. It was so good to know that we just picked up right were we left off with no awkwardness or distance. We had some 'girlfriend therapy' and each shed a few tears. I think we both really needed it! I can't even begin to express how much it meant to me.

When Sara got home we slowly gathered ourselves and took a quick driving tour of part of the city on the way to the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque. We got there a bit early and were able to stand outside and listen to the call to prayer. It was beautiful and so peaceful.

As we waited to enter we were amazed and saddened by the number of women who were coming to take the tour that showed absolutely no respect, truly utter disregard for the culture and beliefs represented by the mosque. On the website it asks that you wear loose fitting clothing, that your knees and shoulders are covered. They provide clean Abayas and Shaylas to all women visitors once you get to the entrance but there were some who were stopped by security and told they had to collect one at the return booth at the curbside because they had cleavage hanging out, in tank tops, or really short skirts. You may not believe what someone else does but when entering a sacred place for any belief I believe that we should show each other understanding and basic human respect.

Okay - enough 'soap box' ... We went in and gathered our Abayas and Shaylas and began our look around. We were awed by the opulence and taken back by how it was breathtaking and not at all gaudy. I had the camera at the beginning but then Sara took there are more pictures on me than of her...I will get even another time =0)
 Pretty Lady!
  Mine - Taken by kneeling down and holding the camera almost on the floor pointed straight up =0)

Playing with the light settings again

Then it was on to grocery shopping for our trip to Liwa... I didn't want to eat out for 3 days and since we were going to be in the middle of the desert, wasn't sure I wanted to pay resort prices for all our meals. Poor Donna figured out about half way thru the week that we graze and snack, but usually only eat what one could consider a 'meal' once a day. She didn't speak up about being hungry, and we just kept going... Sorry Donna - next time I promise to feed you more regularly =0)

After a shopping and a snack there was time for one more bit of fun before returning home...
The Indian Henna Center =0)
Donna chose a traditional pattern and even had the soles of her feet done. The soles were solid henna and came up onto the sides of her feet in what looked like waves. We decided that she could now tell her children that she does, in fact, walk on water! =0)
 I went with a traditional flower pattern as well
 And again Sara had the camera so there are no pictures of her...
The henna centers, beauty shops, spas, etc are all segregated to one sex so that women can go in and remove their covering to receive services without being seen by men. The windows are covered and the 'treatment' areas are behind a dividing wall so if someone opens the door they cannot be seen by passersby. While at the henna center a Muslim woman in came in to have henna done. She removed her Abaya and Shayla down to he workout clothes. She sat down and struck up conversation. She is married with one child and is attending University studying marketing and design. She designs clothing and has a tailor that creates her designs... hmmm... I think I may have to call her.
Safeya (pronounce like Sophia) was beautiful, eloquent, fun, had a great sense of humor, and was just an absolute joy to behold as she seemed to just bubble naturally with a constant smile. Her henna was amazing and I asked if I could take pictures of it (on her hands (palms and backs), forearms, legs from the knees down and her feet) She hesitated for a minute and then said that I could as long as I didn't show the photos to any men. I gave my word and then got several showing the beautiful patterns of flowers and swirls.
Note: I will not post these pictures anywhere online but if any of my female family or friends want to see them I will skype with you sometime and show them to you via screen share, as I am uncomfortable even emailing them due to my promise.

Then it was home for more visiting and bed...tomorrow Qasr Al Sarab...

March 20th:
Again Sara had to work and Donna and I were caught in our jammies at well past 1pm... but again the 'girlfriend therapy' was awesome!
We pulled it together and went to see the Emirates Palace...well they wouldn't let you in until after 7pm to just take pictures and look the guard gave us the number for one of the cafe's inside and said if we had a reservation then we could go in...
Reservation made and we find out we cannot go in in 'slippers' (flip-flops) so mad dash to Marina Mall to find some cheap sandals for Donna and Sara (I was the smart one in tennis shoes)...
Fast forward 45 minutes and we are back at Emirates Palace and the same guard greets us. The cafe actually sends you a text message to confirm your reservation and you have to show it to the guard to get in the gate.

Whew we are are in...well almost... our driver (Sara) decides to tour the parking garage on the way to valet parking - (read she missed the turn - TWICE!)

Opulent and over the top don't even describe this place... it is just stunning and no pictures really do it justice. But Donna decided she was treating for Afternoon Tea...even spending someone elses money and I can't justify $27 for a glass of champagne... Had a fabulous pomegranate and blackberry iced tea tho.
 Yes this is real gold in their coffee!

 A bit of cheating here as the day was overcast and windy, and we were short on time...
so I am including pictures from a previous visit


Then it was beyond time to get going - we were now about 6 hours behind schedule, but as we would find out when we arrived at Qasr Al Sarab - the universe had a plan all along to help me out with the 'WOW' factor I was talking about at the beginning. I kept the location a secret from Donna, Sara knew, but I think we were all WOW'd when we topped that last dune on that little windy road at 10pm in the pitch black ...
The pictures just don't do it justice...Google it for better pictures =0)


   These are some of the cool pictures we took of the place throughout our stay...


Donna hamming again - it seems we do a lot of that =0)

March 21st:
We drove into Liwa which was pretty much a whole lot of sand and more sand =0)

And we figured out how they must keep the roads clear after a wind/sand storm...
In Utah we have snow plows...Here they have sand plows
 Then made it back in time for a sunset camel trek...
The sunset wasn't that great but the way the sand changes colors as the light changes is epic...
Hard to capture on film however...
 Our Bedouin camel guide
So the picture you see of Donna and Sara on the camels?
 Well this one shows just how those shots were taken... and they say I have no talents...HA! 
Up and Down was the worst part...that is a lot of leg to fold and unfold...

 Our handsome Bedouin camel guide leads the camels away after our amazing ride into the desert... 
That night we had a visitor to the room...

March 22nd:
We get up early for a fun Dune Bashing trip into the desert...hard to depict just how steep these dunes are in the pictures, but lets just say that it takes 3 years to get a license to be a driver for these trips, and WOW... we did some things I didn't think were possible and keep the wheels on the correct side of the car (read: not in the air!)
Sand on the windshield from a sideways slide down a steep dune...
And just some fun ones...
 Pigs in the sand
Ghost Pigs
 This is what happens when you get Sara out of bed early in the morning and take her to the desert...
She runs around, does her crazy dance, and buries herself to her knees....
 She really loves the sand...


 So I reminded her that she had said when she got to the 'Red Desert'
she was going to make a 'sand angel' ...
 The sand is so fine - even more fine than that on Silver Sands Beach in Jamaica - so it doesn't stick unless you are wet - and as there is no water - well you get the idea...
It brushes off like a fine powder...your skin still feels a bit gritty,
but nothing like sand from Utah, Wyoming, Florida, California, Mexico, or Jamaica

Then it was back to the room for showers, mimosas with fruit, humus,
and Arabic bread for brunch on the terrace... 
 And I showed mad skills by popping the cork off the terrace ceiling and right into the ice bucket!
Donna and I went to the pool for a nap in the shade while leaving Sara in the room to have the bed for a nap. Up to this point she had been sleeping on the terrace each night on 2 lounge chairs pushed together, letting us older people have the bed... She liked sleeping under the stars, but it does get a tad cold in the desert at night, so with one blanket, she was glad she brought her sweats.

Anyway - Donna and I had a spa treatment booked and after our naps we headed off to those... I think they thought it was a couples massage situation because they had us in the same room...

We got a good laugh at that and the party hats they gave us to wear... (read: disposable spa panties) ... 
Donna went in to the toilet to change back into her clothes ... I stayed in the sink area and changed ...
When she came out I was standing with hands on hips, panties on head and what I hope was my best 'Ta-Da' face ... she did a double take and lost it!

We both laughed hard, and decided to share with Sara... Guess you had to be there cause we returned to the room and put them on before we walked in and she didn't think it was funny at all ...
Maybe our brains were gooey from the massages ...
Maybe it was just another "wabbit hunting' moment =0)

March 23rd:
We packed up and headed back to Abu Dhabi, picked Boo up from her holiday, and went back to our flat for a last kebab sandwich and for Donna to pack everything up ... she had to be at the airport at 10pm for her flight home... I was sad to see her go, but we had a wonderful time... A vacation I think we all needed!
I just hope it isn't 10 more years before we get to do it again!