12.23.2013 - 12.26.2013
We're up fairly early and have a continental breakfast from the lounge on our floor. There's an espresso machine, fruit and pastries. We have a long drive ahead of us so we're ready to pack and check out. I ask directions at the front desk to the Muscat Expressway and I'm told, "Take the street in front of the hotel and just go straight." Just go straight? "Yes, you can't miss it, you just go straight!" Wow, directions have certainly been simple on this trip?!?
And we do easily find the Muscat Expressway. It's a long expressway that skirts the western boundary of Muscat, about 34 miles long. But such bliss to be out of traffic and moving along at 75 miles an hour. It's short-lived though and soon we're back on the highway north with all its construction and confusing roundabouts. After several hours we know it's time to look for our road that will take us west. We don't recognize our turn off and we realize we've gone too far. However, it's not so easy to turn around here. We drive at least ten minutes and there are no exits in sight. Finally, Chaz just slows down and drives across the dirt median and heads us in the opposite direction! Well, that's one way! We soon come to our turn off and we're back in the mountains and on the road to Al Ain. The mountains are beautiful, stark, and gravelly, so different from anything I've seen before.
Just before the Oman/UAE border there is a road block with Omani police and soldiers stopping cars in both directions. We've barely slowed when the soldier takes a look at us and waves us on. We spot a camouflage truck on the right side of the road with a 30 caliber machine gun in a gun turret on top of the truck. Wow! You wouldn't want to blow through that check point. Soon we're at the Omani border patrol station again and the little toll booth. The attendant takes our passports and asks Chaz who he works for in Abu Dhabi. Chaz responds DynCorp and another voice from within asks, What do you do? Chaz tells him that he works at Zayed Military City in support of the UAE Army. No response comes, our passports are stamped and we're given the little piece of paper with a "3" on it which we hand to the attendant at the next booth and we're through! I'm not sure how much smuggling they expect between one toll booth and the next or if it's a check on each attendant, but taking a piece of paper from one toll booth to the next with high fences all around us seemed a bit silly.
Next we're approaching Al Ain and in trying to remember our direction of Just go Straight! we somehow get on the wrong road and we're in the Omani town of Al Baraymi which borders Al Ain. We make several turns and again, We're Lost!! We just keep driving and all of a sudden we're at a dead end street and in front of us are high fences with razor wire and a group of buildings marked Border Patrol. So we just drive in and come up to the attendants standing in the street who look at our passports and tell us we must drive around and get our visas stamped. We make the turn and drive down a very narrow passageway between several trailers to a parking area. We park and ask someone where the Visa office is. He gestures down a walkway and we walk up to a trailer and inside. Here there is a desk with a man and woman each in front of computers. There is a Frenchman in front of us who has a hand full of passports. There are four Filipino men with him that he is apparently trying to get into the country. After about a ten minute wait, we're waved up to the desk where they check on something, who knows what, in a computer and our passports are stamped and we're waved on through. We get back in line for the little toll booth and present our piece of paper and we're back in Al Ain. Where we are in Al Ain, we're not too sure!! However, sign for Abu Dhabi appear shortly and somehow we're on the right road. We're glad to get home after another five hour drive.
The next day is Christmas Eve. We decide to eat lunch at Roul's which on top of the Central Market in downtown Abu Dhabi. Chandler and I ate lunch there last year, but Chaz has not been there. It's a delightful lunch in gorgeous weather. Afterwards, Chaz and Chandler order shesha and share an apple mint flavor smoke. There are several other parties with us on the roof, including a couple where only she is smoking shesha and another group of three women, one of whom has her head covered and two of these women are smoking shesha. A couple of other tables include businessmen who simultaneously smoke and eat. What a different culture this is! However, it's a very relaxing leisurely lunch.
We take an easy stroll through Central Market. The market has been built on the site of the original ancient souq in Abu Dhabi. It's three stories high and filled with small shops of gold jewelry, watches, traditional Emerati clothes, Indian imports, spices, and all sorts of inexpensive trinkets. I buy a peach silk caftan from an Indian importer and again enjoy the bargaining process.
Christmas Day is a very relaxing day for us. I made Christmas cookies the day before - white chocolate, cranberry and pistachio! Yum! Today I cook a whole chicken, green bean casserole and sweet potato casserole and biscuits. It was pretty good, if I say so myself.
Oh! Sometimes the translations into English are quite amusing. And sometimes, well, we just don't know what they're thinking. I bought a baking sheet to make the cookies. In reading the care instructions I came across this admonition: (Chandler and I were nearly hysterical after I read this outloud!)
"Do not overheat your utensil to avoid fumes that could be dangerous for small animals with particularly sensitive respiratory system, like birds. We recommend that birds should not be kept in the kitchen."
No birds were harmed in the making of these cookies!
I made a mistake in booking Chandler's trip home. We had decided he would leave on Thursday, the day after Christmas but I failed to notice that his flight was at 1:40 am on Thursday! This meant we had to take him to the airport on Christmas night. We left around 9 pm and only took one wrong turn! We're sad to see Chandler off but we all so enjoyed our week together.