Christmas in Abu Dhabi

With the last of our vacation days used to go home for a wedding in October, we knew we would not be coming home for Christmas this year. Thus, we decided to make the month of December as festive as possible. We started it off by getting a real tree (all the way from Quebec – it smelled soooo good), decorating the apartment, mixing Christmas cocktails, listening to Christmas tunes, working on our Christmas puzzle, writing Christmas cards, watching a few Christmas movies, and squeezing a few games in over the month.

Christmas cocktails

Puzzle complete

Dan was still in Taiwan the beginning of December so I attended a tree lighting ceremony at Jumeirah and then did some shopping at the Swiss Christmas Market with Rene and Nadia (they even had gluhwein and pork sausages on the grill). Reminded me slightly of Germany. I also went for the first time to the very popular Carols in the Desert with Jen, Spence, Amanda, Nat, Jerry, and their kids. It is a pretty amazing event with family and friends gathered in the desert, drinking hot chocolate, and singing Christmas Carols to a live band.

Girls in the desert

Boys getting ready to sing

Dan returned and we were busy getting ready for our annual Christmas party on the 15th. We baked shortbread, Nanaimo bars, butter tarts, and spiced nuts along with Tourtiere pies, pizza digger dip, a cheese and meat platter, as well as veggies and dip. We served homemade mulled wine as well as our Christmas feature cocktail the Vixen punch – which did pack a bit of a punch. Colleagues and friends came and went and a few remained at the end of the night for some singing and dancing.

Look at that spread

Why does the party always end up in the kitchen?

Dan and Spence enjoying some Xmas cheer

Group Xmas party selfie

We were soon getting ready for the big day. We worked on Christmas Eve and then had our close friends over for dinner. We started the evening off with a pre-dinner Ebenezer Scrooge cocktail and then sat down for the main feast of prime rib with Yorkshire pudding, brussel sprouts, baby rosemary potatoes, and sticky toffee pudding for dessert. We enjoyed opening our Christmas crackers – Rene got a selfie stick and we figured out how to use it by the end of the night for some good group selfie pics. We finished off the night with some port and playing a boys vs. girls game of Catch Phrase.

Ebenezer scrooge pre-dinner cocktail

Prime rib Xmas Eve dinner

Selfie stick put to good use

Christmas morning was a bit nostalgic as we awoke to a thick fog which almost seemed like snow. We made a few calls home then dug into our stockings with a cup of coffee and Baileys. Dan was a bit nervous as this was his first year ever having to fill a stocking! He did well but his seemed to be a lot fuller than mine. We then had our morning breaky and started into the main gifts under the tree. We relaxed that afternoon and then headed to Rene and Nadia’s for Christmas dinner. They served us homemade eggnog (you can not get the real stuff here). Then the turkey and goose arrived with the fixings and we had cherry pie for dessert. We rushed home a bit early to make some calls back home.

Thick fog Christmas morning

Christmas morning

Goose and turkey? Oh my

We were back at work for the rest of the week and then it was the weekend. First up was going to watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi in the Gold Vox cinema and then the Mubadala World Tennis Championship on Saturday, December 30th. Originally, Nadal and Djokovic were supposed to play but we found out, day of, that they would not be there due to injuries. We were a bit disappointed but were soon excited to learn that Serena Williams was coming. It was her first match back after her maternity leave.  We enjoyed watching both the men’s and women’s matches. It was then time for New Year’s Eve. We debated on what to do as we had a few different options but, in the end, we settled on having a fancy evening in. We picked up some oysters, bacon wrapped scallops, foie gras, caviar, and, of course, champagne. We made it to midnight and watched the fireworks over Emirates Palace. A great way to end off 2017!

Serena’s back hand

Bautista ready to serve

Oysters and chardonnay

Bacon wrapped scallops

Foie gras toasts

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Taitung Surf Trip

I said goodbye to Bec at the Phuket International Airport and then walked over to the domestic side.  I had a while to wait for my 23:55 flight to Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok so I found a quiet lounge to relax in.  It was a short flight to Bangkok and I soon connected on my 03:30 flight to Taiwan, arriving at the Taipei Taoyuan International Airport at 8:00 am on Monday, December 4th.  My journey still wasn’t complete yet.  I transferred airports via a 45 min bus ride to the domestic Songshan Airport in downtown Taipei.  My third and final flight wouldn’t be leaving until 13:20 so I did the best I could to entertain myself while I waited to board.

After a quick hop, I found myself in the south-eastern Taiwan city of Taitung.  I was there to meet my friend Zack who had arrived in the country a few days earlier.  He was on his annual surf trip with a couple of other guys from Australia.  When a Luxgen 7 minivan came around the corner with a half-dozen surfboards strapped to the roof, I knew my lift had arrived.  I met Zack, our Taiwanese guide TK Yang, and the other guys, Wade, Dane, and Ben.

We jumped into the van and headed north through Taitung City and up the coastal road.  The guys had surfed the previous 2 days in Hualien and made the drive south that day.  We arrived at the Wishing Well B&B in the late afternoon and everyone wanted to get in another surfing session before sundown.  We drove down to the local beach and the size of the waves threw me back a little.  I was able to get out, have a swim, and get back in while the guys surfed without getting crushed by the huge beach break.  That night, TK took us over to the local restaurant, Low Pressure Surfers Kitchen, owned by a Japanese expat surfer and his wife.  The food was absolutely amazing.  It was nice to finally hit the sheets after such a long overnight travel day.

Delicious shrimp at Low Pressure Surfers Kitchen

Sesame chicken

On Tuesday, I slept late and was sure the guys were off on a morning surf so I had some breakfast and went for a walk in the Taitung countryside.  In comparison to the west side of the island, the east is much less populated.  A narrow strip of land between the central mountains and the Philippine Sea runs down the entire coast.  It is here that the largely indigenous people make their living from the land and sea.  I walked through some cow pasture and fruit farms and down to the beach before turning back to the B&B.  We transferred to a more permanent accommodation that afternoon so, while we waited to check-in to our new digs, TK took us on a drive into the mountains to see the Formosan rock macaques.  That afternoon, I did a little surf photography however I hadn’t brought my zoom lens, so I couldn’t get those nice tight shots.  We also enjoyed watching a couple fishing boats come in and unload the day’s catch onto the jetty.  That evening, we couldn’t resist another meal at Low Pressure and, having called ahead, were treated to an even larger feast with the highlight being the salted fish on the charcoal grill.

Taitung County countryside

Dane with the catch

Salted fish on charcoal grill

I was up early for the morning surf.  We stopped in at a nearby restaurant where the locals were chowing down on the breakfast bao buns, so we sat down and followed suit.  That morning’s surf session was at a spot called River Mouth and the fellas finally convinced our guide, TK, to get in the water.  We popped into Donghe village for another lunch feast of beef noodles and countless other sides.  We did a little shopping at the central market as Zack was keen on finding a hoodie or light jacket.  I think we all thought it would be a little warmer in Taiwan.  19-20C sounds OK, right?  Well, couple that with a constant 20 knot wind and occasional drizzling rain and you might re-think your answer.  That night, TK took us into Taitung for a real treat…the Bawei Ginger Duck restaurant.  Zack recently posted about our meal on his blog, Tacks On A Map.  Have a look, I won’t even try to top his description of our dinner…

http://www.tacksonamap.com/hot-pot-spot/

Go Surf Taiwan Crew – Zack, Ben, Dan, Wade, Dane

Ginger Duck Feast

Hot Pot Spot indeed

After dinner, we rolled over to another Taitung gem, the karaoke bar.  TK got us all set up and we were soon bolting out rock ballads from a limited, but indeed eclectic, collection of English songs.

Thursday morning was sunny and warm, so I cut across the highway to the East Coast National Scenic Area Administration. The large grounds are home to the aboriginal Douli Visitor Center and Amis Folk Center as well as a natural science museum.  On the way home I ran into the surf wagon coming back from the morning surf session.  Ben, Zack, and I popped into Donghe and had another heavy TK lunch before wandering around the market.  That afternoon, TK ran me up to Sanxiantai.  I walked across the 8-arch bridge to San-hsien-t’ai Island and back.  That night, we made another drive into Taitung and hit up a seafood restaurant.

Sanxiantai Bridge to San-hsien-t’ai Island

So many dinner choices

Friday morning was blowing an absolute gale, but the guys were keen on getting in one last surf.  We headed for the beach, but only Dane and Ben were brave enough to paddle out.  I got some great shots of the guys with Dane’s Nikon and 250 mm telephoto lens.  We got back to the house, packed-up, and headed into Taitung.  Our first stop was for some more hotpot, this time it was incredibly spicy.  TK tricked us all by sneaking in some stinky tofu, a fermented and foul-smelling Taiwanese culinary delight.  We did a little shopping in the centre and ended up in the Victory Bar and got on the electronic darts machines.  We were then dropped off at the airport and said goodbye to TK.  He really did an excellent job for us and ensured the betel nut supply never dipped too low.  His company name is Go Surf Taiwan and I’d highly recommend it.  Our 20:40 flight got us into Taipei at 22:00.  It was a quick jaunt to the hotel where we quickly dropped our bags and hit the town.  We caught the metro and headed for the Taipei 101 district.  We wanted to see one of the famous street markets, so we jumped off the train and headed for the Linjiang Street Night Market.  Things were winding down around midnight, but we still managed to find some eats.  Our night didn’t stop there.  The bartender tipped us off to a club she likes to go to, so we caught 2 taxis and hit the Roxy Rocker.  We really weren’t feeling it, so Dane found another for us on Google.  The Wave was huge and a little more like what we had in mind.  It must have been 3:00 or 4:00 am before we called it a night and said our goodbyes as I was heading out the next morning.  All top notch blokes which made for an excellent vacation.

Ben catching a nice wave

Dane trying his best to get barreled

Bye Bye TK Yang! We’re off to Taipei.

I slept till about 10, packed up, and walked to the metro.  The train took me to Taipei Taoyuan Airport where I boarded my 13:45 flight to Manila.  Unfortunately, the flight was delayed 1.5 h, so I missed my 17:55 connection to Abu Dhabi…D’oh!!!  I knew there was another flight leaving at midnight, so I re-listed for that one.  I killed some time until the check-in desk opened and found a lounge to chill in before the flight back to Abu Dhabi.

For someone who doesn’t surf, I’ve been on more than a couple surf trips.  Maybe I should consider taking it up some day?

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Phuket Getaway

On November 30th, we flew to the island of Phuket for a relaxing 4 day weekend. It was a public holiday in the UAE and we had Thursday and Sunday off. We arrived in the evening and took our airport transfer to Point Yamu by Como, located on the eastern tip of Cape Yamu, overlooking the Andaman Sea. We had previously stayed at a Como Hotel in Bali and were looking forward to another experience. Luckily, we made it in time for happy hour before digging into some Thai food for dinner.

The next morning, we joined the Hatha yoga class, enjoyed a beautiful breakfast, and then relaxed by the pool reading our books. It was a bit overcast so we decided to go for a walk around the resort and found some secret stairs down to the beach. We walked for a ways, finding some interesting critters along the way, and then turned back before the tide came in. Plus we did not want to miss the afternoon yoga class. We soon realized that even though it was cloudy, the intense sun rays still found us as we got a bit burnt on our walk. We figured we had better pick up some sun screen (not sure how we forgot this – rookie mistake I know) and some cash so we grabbed a taxi into town to the local 7-eleven where we grabbed some SPF 30, singha beers, lays chips, and some Thai baht.

Fish ball soup for breakfast

Dan leading the beach walk

Iridescent green bug

Agamid lizard

We made it back in time for happy hour at the Breeze Bar down the road which had some interesting cocktail concoctions with a Thai twist – the Thai Basilito and Thai Tini being our fav’s. We continued walking to find Lay Yamu in town for an authentic Thai dining experience. We ordered the papaya salad, grilled squid, and pad thai (which we could not resist).

Breeze Bar Thai cocktails

Pad Thai – who can resist?

The next morning, we were up early for another 8:00 am yoga session before hopping on the bus to take us to Como Beach, sunscreen in hand. We arrived at the boat terminal about 30 minutes later and then jumped on the traditional Thai boat which took us to the private beach. We read, lounged, swam, ate, and kayaked (well Dan did anyways). It was a nice day so we decided to take the last boat back at 4:00 pm. At around 3:30, we could hear thunder and the clouds turned dark … a storm was definitely brewing. We hightailed it to the boat and decided to take a chance and sit in the front. So far no rain, but that didn’t last long and all of a sudden we were on the open water and getting absolutely drenched. We soon disembarked, hopped on the trolly and ran to the bus.

Bec slurping up the coconut water

Como Beach

Beach crab

Dan going for a swing

After freshening up, we enjoyed our 7-eleven beers and snacks on the patio before heading for an early dinner at the hotel’s Thai restaurant once again. We got some local recommendations including the pork neck salad, spinach in coconut milk and a noodle dish. All totally delicious.

Thai dinner

Our last day, we hung at the pool and then went for a massage before our afternoon yoga session. We were able to sneak in one more happy hour (which included banana chips and deep fried anchovies) before heading up to the airport. I would be flying back to Abu Dhabi and Dan was continuing on to Taiwan to meet his friend Zack for a boys surf vacation.

Dan & Bec heading to the airport

 

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Birthday Weekend

Bec had arranged for us to attend a Wine Club event with our friends Rene and Nadia for my birthday at the Four Seasons Hotel.  A representative from the Riedel glass company led us through an interesting tasting which focused more on how the glassware compliments the wine as opposed to just the wine.  We even got to keep the cabernet, syrah, and pinot noir glasses.  The group headed down to Zsa Zsa Bar afterwards for a light bite and a few glasses of wine, of course.

Dan, Rene, and the General Lee on Dan’s B-day

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend kicked off on Thursday, November 23rd.  Bec and I had attended in 2012, but hadn’t been back since so we decided to get tickets.  One of the things we like best about the Grand Prix is the concerts held every night over the 4 days.  We met a couple of Bec’s colleagues at the Belgian Beer Cafe after work and then walked over to the du Arena to take in Calvin Harris.

Dan & Bec at Calvin Harris

On Friday, we met our friend Spence at the Eastern Mangroves and set out on one of the solar powered donut boats.  We enjoyed a coffee and a few munchies while we cruised around the shallows.

Bec cruising the Eastern Mangroves of Abu Dhabi

Dan and Spence co-piloting the donut boat

On Saturday afternoon, we headed back up to the track to watch some of the races from the hill and walk around the F1 village. Mumford & Sons was the concert that evening.  Bec had seen them before at Lollapalooza in Berlin in the summer.  I left work a bit early on Sunday to make it up to the Grand Prix on time.  The final race started at 5:00 pm and Bec joined me halfway through.  Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes won the race, but it wasn’t enough to knock Lewis Hamilton off the 2017 throne.  That night, P!nk put on an amazing show for the final concert.  There was a pole in front of where we had chosen to stand and we both wondered what the heck it was for.  We found out during the encore, it was a landing perch for her well known high flying acrobatics.  So the pole slightly obstructing our view paid off in the end.  All in all, a great birthday weekend.

P!nk doing her thing

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Casablanca Conference

It all came about very last minute but I was on my way to Casablanca to attend a conference with a number of my colleagues. We arrived in the early morning hours of Sunday, November 12th and checked into the Four Seasons Hotel along the beach. It was a 2.5 day long conference with social activities planned in the evenings. On Monday, we enjoyed a city bus tour to the Hassan II Mosque and then a late dinner at El Mechouar Palace. The next evening, I met a friend also there for the conference, and we nipped over to the Villa Blanca Hotel for a glass of Moroccan wine (Four Seasons happens to be a dry hotel) before returning to the gala dinner starting again around 9:00 pm which included some excellent entertainment with a mix of singers and Moroccan dancing. Our last day was a half day so we had time for a walk along the promenade and a dip in the pool before having an early dinner at sunset. The next morning, we flew back to Abu Dhabi. It was nice to visit Casablanca again. Next time though, I would hope to make some trips to visit other cities within Morocco.

Hassan II Mosque

Moroccan chicken

Casa beach

Upon my arrival back in Abu Dhabi, Dan had a busy weekend planned. We headed into the desert with two friends of his for an afternoon desert drive, barbeque and overnight camping. The drive was pretty relaxed and then we set up camp before the sun started to set. We had some drinks round the fire and soon started up the barbeque. We stayed up until all the firewood was burned and enjoyed gazing at the stars.

Dan tending the barbie

Desert camp fire

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Chrit & Jaeda in the UAE

We arrived home from New York on the evening of Tuesday, October 31st.  We had to work the next day and suffered through our jet lag.  After work, we had a little nap before heading up to the airport to greet our friends.  Jaeda flew from Calgary via LAX and Chrit had just finished his 28-day hitch in Oman and flew in from Muscat.  We dropped them at their nearby hotel around 9:30 pm.  After freshening up, they walked over to our place where we had a late-night drink and a bite to eat while we caught up.

The next day, we had Chrit and Jaeda over for a proper meal at our place serving a salad and Uncle Steve’s penne arrabbiata.  We were also real happy to discover that our guests enjoy a few games of crib.

Two old friends in the kitchen

On Friday morning, Bec and I went over to Mushrif Park for a yoga session that was part of the Get Driver Fit program.  Once back at home, we met Chrit and Jaeda and went for a drive along the Corniche and then over to Marina Mall. We started to get a bit hungry so we went for lunch at Pool Bar in their hotel.  With everyone except Chrit still feeling the effects of the jet lag, we all had a little quiet time in the afternoon as we knew we had a big night coming.  We would be celebrating Spence’s 40th birthday.  We caught a taxi over to our friends’ place on the other side of the island.  His wife Jenn did an amazing job decorating the house and backyard.  The catered food and Jenn’s drinks were amazing…my favorite was the Mid-Life Crisis Margarita!  By the end of the night, we were all dancing it up in the backyard.

Jaeda and Chrit at a backyard 40th B-Day celebration

Dance Party with the Birthday Boy

The next day, we decided to spend the afternoon relaxing on the beach at Chrit and Jaeda’s hotel.  We had some snacks in our loungers and worked on our tans.  That night, we popped up to Ray’s Bar for a pre-dinner cocktail and then had a nice al fresco Italian dinner at BiCE.  The restaurant had a special menu featuring truffles and we all went for them in one form or another.

Ray’s Bar aperitif

Mocktail/cocktail hour

On Sunday, Bec and I had to report in for duty so Chrit and Jaeda headed to Dubai for a couple nights.  They arrived back in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday and we had them over for dinner.  Since everyone had enjoyed the truffles so much, we decided to keep up the theme.  We served wagyu striploins in truffle sauce with potatoes, portobellos, asparagus, and some wine from our Canadian cellar.  We had a crib rematch after dinner…it hurts me to admit it, but the ladies came away as the UAE Champions.  Damaged egos still in tact, we took the ladies for an evening stroll.  Chrit and Jaeda stayed at our apartment that night and we all turned in early as there was a flight to catch in the morning.  I said goodbye before heading into the office and Becca dropped Chrit and Jaeda at the airport on her way to work.

It was so nice to have some visitors as it’s been quite some time since we’ve had company here in AD.

Chrit, Jaeda, and Dan at Etihad Towers

The next day was Bec’s birthday.  I met her over at the Rosewood Hotel on Al Maryah Island after work.  We enjoyed a bottle of rosé Champagne and watched the sunset over the water.  I arranged to have some flowers and cake delivered to our table as well.

Happy B-Day Bec-Ret!

We also celebrated with our friends the following evening.  Laurie had discovered that a certain dinner takes place in a lofty perch once a month here in AD.  We had purchased tickets, along with Laurie, Nadia and Rene, to The Helipad Sunset Supper held on the 255 m helipad of the St. Regis Abu Dhabi at Nation Towers.  There was a saxophonist playing, the canapes were amazing, and the Champagne was free flowing.  Oh, and don’t forget those sunset views!  We then met up with Amanda, Jenn and Spence over at Cho Gao to finish off the night.  Somehow, we still managed to have more foodie room in us and we headed out to the Taste of Abu Dhabi food festival on Yas Island the next day. All in all, a pretty great birthday weekend!

Cheers at 255 m

Friday night lights

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NYC Adventures with Steve & Susan

We arrived into JFK at 5:00pm on October 28th and made our way to the INNSIDE New York NoMad in Chelsea where we bumped into Uncle Steve outside.  He and Auntie Susan had been in New York since the wedding and we would be spending the next 2 days with them.  That night, we went for dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant called La Pecora Bianca that they had been to earlier in the week and really enjoyed.  Uncle Steve seemed to be on a first name basis with everyone.  We started with some delicious focaccia, burrata, and hen of the woods mushrooms.  Auntie Susan had spaghetti in pomodoro, Bec had the tagliatelle in Bolognese, I had the gramigna with house made sausage, and Uncle Steve couldn’t resist another run at the pork chop.  We were all feeling a little full after dinner so we took the long way back to the hotel.  The ladies were giving the guys a hard time about going home so early on a Saturday night in New York, but we still said goodnight and went to our rooms.  Bec soon informed me that she was calling Auntie Susan to ask if she wanted to go out on the town and, sure enough, she did.  So the 4 of us were back out into the streets of Manhattan.  Earlier, I had scoped out a nearby cocktail bar named the Flatiron Lounge so we dropped in.  We finally called it a night after a couple of nightcaps in the dimly lit bar.

Empire State from Chelsea

The next morning, our good luck with the weather had run out…big time.  The rain was lashing down in sheets with strong gusts of wind.  Not ideal weather for strolling around the Big Apple.  Bec and I popped over to the nearby Markt, a Belgian brasserie, to meet our friend Debbi from London for Sunday Brunch.  Bec and I stayed with Debbi when we left Canada and she moved to New York just 6 months ago.  After our catch up, we met Steve and Susan at the 28th Street subway station and headed for Lower Manhattan.  We surfaced at Prince St and braved the rain over to REI, an outdoor shop I had always wanted to visit.  I had been researching new hiking boots and REI carried the pair I wanted.  The others waited patiently as I tried on some different sizes, but I think everyone was happy to be out of the rain.  Boots in hand, we continued to the International Center of Photography Museum.  We spent a couple hours walking through the exhibit by Lauren Greenfield titled Generation Wealth.  From there, we headed back to the hotel for happy hour in Steve and Susan’s room and opened a bottle of wine from our cellar we had brought with us.  That night, we would be celebrating Uncle Steve’s birthday.  Auntie Susan had found Cosme, a restaurant serving contemporary Mexican-inspired food.  Each of the share plates were so different and delicious, but the duck carnitas were the clear winner in my mind.  Later, we walked over to Raines Law Room, a hidden cocktail bar.  We rang the buzzer, were greeted, walked down into the basement, and shown to our table.  The prohibition themed bar was a great way to end the night.

Bec and Debbi at Markt

Lashed by rain in NYC

Pure deliciousness at Cosme

Post cocktail rain walk home

The next morning Bec and I grabbed a coffee and NY bagel and headed down to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.  We took our time going through a number of the exhibits, but, in hindsight, we wish we had set more time aside for the Historical Exhibition which tells the story of 9/11 using artifacts, images, first-person testimony and archival audio and video recordings.  It is nice to see the area completed as it was still under construction the last time I was there.  Uncle Steve and Auntie Susan met us at the Memorial Pools around lunchtime and we decided to go for a burger at Shake Shack.  Afterwards, we got on the subway and rode it up to 14th Street.  We spent some time wandering through Chelsea Market before walking north on the High Line, a 1.45 mile elevated park on an old rail line.  Back at the hotel, we had time for one last happy hour before saying our goodbyes.  There was an A380 at JFK waiting to take us home to Abu Dhabi.

Oculus Mall at WTC

WTC 1

WTC Memorial Pool

Auntie Susan and Uncle Steve on the High Line

 

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