Ramadan Season 2019

The 2019 Ramadan season began on May 6th and lasted for 29 days. This means fasting for some, reduced working hours, iftar dinners after sunset, and all around it is a relatively quiet time in the city. We kept our fitness up by attending the last yoga outdoor session of the season, moved indoors after that to Bodytree studio, and attended a string of classes called Sweat. Socially, we attended the annual Oilman’s golf tournament and dinner party, a few iftar dinners with friends and colleagues, a bike ride and picnic iftar on the Corniche, and drinks at BU! on their closing night. We also managed to squeeze in a couple of visits to the beach and pool as the weather was still tolerable. We celebrated Dan’s 7 year work-iversary and, as per tradition, found a new steak joint called Nusr-Et.

Iftar picnic

Work-iversary drinks

Nusr-Et steak dinner

BU! closing night

Dinner with friends

Ramadan Kareem

I also managed to sneak in a weekend getaway to visit my friend Jami in Munich. She was travelling through Europe with Mark, their 1-year old daughter, and Mark’s dad and step-mom. I couldn’t commit initially but checked the flight loads on Wednesday evening and was flying from Dubai to Munich on the afternoon of Thursday, May 16th. Good thing Jami understands the last-minute airline travel! Dan drove me up to Dubai and spent the night checking out the La Mer area and then met up with his friends the next morning for another off-roading adventure. This time on 2 wheels instead of 4.

Dan launching the Husqvarna FC 450 in the Dubai desert

Jami picked me up from the airport and we drove out to Grunwald where they had rented an Airbnb. Not knowing what to expect, I brought Dan’s single air mattress in case I had to sleep on the floor, but luckily for me there was an extra bed in the living room. I met everyone for the first time, including Jami’s fiancé Mark (he had popped the question during their travels), and we relaxed over a glass of wine before hitting the hay.

The next morning, we walked into town to grab some breaky and then all hopped on the train into Munich city centre. We arrived just in time to catch the 11:00 glockenspiel show in Marienplatz and then went to Hofbrauhaus to catch a bite of lunch. After filling up on beer, bratwurst, and sauerkraut, we wandered through Viktualienmarkt which has been selling groceries since 1807. We picked up a few things for a home-cooked dinner back at the flat. We then headed back to Grunwald and stopped at the wine shop to pick up some local German wines for dinner. It was a beautiful day so we decided to pop a bottle champagne to celebrate Jami and Mark’s recent engagement on the back deck. That night, the girls were in the kitchen cooking up a lovely meal of pasta stuffed with the in season spargel (i.e. white asparagus) and weisswurst, a Bavarian specialty. The next morning, Jami and I grabbed a coffee and then she drove me over to the train station. It was a short trip but totally worth it to see a long-time friend.

Old Town Hall and Column of St Mary

Prost!

Lunch at Hofbrauhaus

Girls hanging in Grunwald

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Jack and Zack in Oman and the UAE

Late last year, my friend Zack mentioned an interest in visiting the Middle East with his son in the Spring.  After a little planning, Zack and his oldest son, Jack, were scheduled to spend 6 nights in Oman and the UAE.  Rebecca and I drove to Sohar, Oman straight after work on Thursday, April 18th.  We arrived at the Sohar Beach Hotel and enjoyed a pizza and some suds by the pool.  Later, we walked over to Silver Jubilee Public Park and were amazed by the number of people out enjoying the beautiful evening weather.

Bec and Dan in Sohar

Late night amusement park

The next day, we lazed by the pool and strolled down the black sand beach.  Checking out of the hotel, we tried to visit Sohar Fort, but it seemed to be closed.  It was still impressive from the outside.  We had lunch at the Sohar Fish Market before heading south down the coastal highway to Muscat.  We found the Hilton Garden Inn in the Al Khuwair district and then popped over to The Chedi for drinks and dinner before heading up to the airport to pick up the boys.

Sohar Fort

Lunch at the Fish Market

Sohar Fish Market

Bec on The Chedi lawns

We greeted Zack and Jack at the arrivals area of the newly opened Terminal 1.  They had traveled from Los Angeles through Abu Dhabi.  Once back at the hotel, we realized the duty free had somehow been left in the airport parkade!  So Bec and I quickly drove back up to the airport while Zack and Jack got freshened up.  With a little persistence and to our surprise, we located the stash and were soon back at the hotel.  In search of a 1:00am meal, we found the nearby Al Lail Al Hadi Café and settled into a big Arabic mixed grill. On Saturday, the four of us headed over to the Qurum Beach for a Turkish breakfast and a swim in the Gulf of Oman.  It was pretty hot so we went back to the hotel for a little rest and an afternoon swim in the pool before I drove Bec up to the airport for her flight back to Abu Dhabi.  From there on, it was a boy’s trip.

Late night lemon and mint

Bec, Jack, and Dan in Muscat

The three of us asked a local guy to tie our ghutrahs (head scarves) in Omani style and we set out for the Mutrah Souq.  Zack found some shirts for him and Jack and his other 2 boys.  We found a restaurant and tried Oman’s national dish, shuwa.  The sheep meat is marinated in a spicy date paste and roasted in a special oven, which is a pit dug in the ground.  The meat is flavored with a variety of spices, then wrapped in sacks made of dry leaves, which are in turn placed into the oven.

Guys ready to hit Mutrah Souq

We had a big day ahead of us on Sunday.  We were on the highway heading southwest with Starbuck’s in hand by 8:00am.  We arrived at Wadi Shab around 10:00am, parked, and got ready for our adventure.  We took the short boat ride across the water and started our 45 minute hike into the canyon.  It’s moderate terrain, but the heat was starting to get to us by the time we reached the pools.  The pools are crystal clear and jumping in is the best way to cool down after the hike.  Swimming and walking further up the wadi, the final reward is the cave into which you swim and see a waterfall crashing down.  We were out of the wadi around 1:00pm and backtracked to Muscat.  We then traveled inland through the towns of Nakhl and Al Awabi.  Turning south onto an offroad track, the Hajar Mountains present themselves in full.  We drove through Wadi Bani Awf and made the final push up the Eastern Mountain of Jebel Shams.  We arrived just before sunset and set up camp.  It was pretty windy, but the air was nice and cool.  We lit a fire and made ourselves a nice steak and boerewors dinner.

Boys in Wadi Shab

Jack in Wadi Shab

Jack and Zack in Wadi Shab

Swimming out of Wadi Shab

The next morning, we drove down the paved road to Al Hoota Cave.  It hadn’t quite opened so we stopped for a coffee nearby.  It was there that we spotted some camels and a curious youngster quickly made friends with Jack.  This friendly camel may have been the biggest hit of the adventure.  We had a guided tour of the cave and saw 500m of the 5km long cave.  We also spotted some bats, spiders, and the blind fish that live inside.  From there, we popped into Al Hamra for lunch at Reem Al Yamen restaurant and afterwards we drove to the nearby traditional “falaj” village of Misfat Al Abriyyin.  The village has old stone houses and uses the falaj irrigation system to make it a true mountain oasis.  From there, we headed up Jebel Shams proper and got to our camp site around 3:00pm.  We had some wild donkeys and goats visit our camp while we were getting set up.  We played some catch and had a few games of Uno before getting the fire going.  Again, at this elevation, the weather was nice and cool.

Zack, Gus, and Jack in Al Hamra

“Hey Gus, give me back my hat!”

Best friends

Jack and Zack at entrance to Al Hoota Cave

Wild donkeys on Jebel Shams

Pre-dinner Uno match

On Tuesday, we’d be heading back to Abu Dhabi.  We had a quick look at the Grand Canyon of the Middle East, Wadi An Nakhur, before making our way back down the mountain.  We stopped at the impressive Bahla Fort and Jack led us around surely leaving no stone unturned.  We continued home and crossed into the UAE at Jebel Hafeet.  We had trouble finding a Subway in Al Ain, a request of Jack’s, so Burger King had to do the trick.  We arrived at our place around 5:00pm and the guys got settled in.  We had a quick dip before dinner and got in a few more games of Uno before Bec served us adventurers a belated Easter dinner of ham and scalloped potatoes.

Jack and Dan with the trusty Jeep

Exploring Bahla Fort

I was back to work on Wednesday.  Zack and Jack toured Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and met me for lunch near my office.  In the afternoon, Zack and Jack spent some time at the Bounce Trampoline Park.  The three of us met Rebecca at the Umm al Emarat Park where we hit the playground and visited the petting zoo.  We opted for an Italian meal and walked over to the Intercontinental hotel that evening.

Zack and Jack at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

We were up early the next morning as the guys had an early flight to catch.  We said goodbye to Rebecca and hit the road.  I sadly dropped the guys around 6:30am and said our farewells.  I’ve had more than a few worldwide adventures with my friend Zack, but it was a real honour to lead him and his already gentlemen of a son around our neck of the woods.

I’m sure Jack had a few stories to tell his classmates.

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March Visit to Cowtown

I connected in Toronto after departing NYC and arrived in Calgary around 1:30pm on March 25th.  Dad was there to greet me and gave me a lift out to Strathmore to pick up the car.  I got back into Calgary and made it to Scott’s just in time to head off to the Flames-Kings game down at the Saddledome.  The game was a bit of a sleeper with the Flames losing 3-nil, but we had seats by the Flames bench and I think Wyatt and Emery enjoyed that.

Wyatt keeping an eye on the bench

Emery, Scott, and Dan at the Flames game

On Tuesday, I was up early and off to the mountains.  I was the first up the lift at Lake Louise and skied for a solid 5 h.  That was enough for me and was soon on the road back to Calgary.

The next morning, I had breakfast with Wyatt and Emery and then headed over to Dad’s.  We took his new Brittany Spaniel pup out for a long walk through North Glenmore Park.  After that, Dad, JeriLynne, and I headed downtown to have lunch at Saltlik with Grandma Margaret, Barry, Carole, Bev, and Bec, who had arrived the day before.  Barry and Carole had delayed their trip to Phoenix just to see us so it was really nice to catch up with them.  Surprisingly, during lunch, Bec jumped out from her chair and ran abruptly out the door.  She soon came wandering back in with her friend Jen who she had seen walking by.  From there, I was off to Red Deer to see my youngest brother and his family.  Kevin was at work when I arrived, but Jordyn, Ada, and Soren were home.  I was happy to finally meet my newest nephew.  We played in the living room until Kev got home and then Rebecca arrived after making a couple of stops in NE Calgary.  Jordyn prepared a delicious meal for us and we enjoyed catching up.

Lunch at Saltlik

Rebecca, Grandma Margaret, and Dan

Bumping into a friend downtown Calgary

Dan and Soren

On Thursday, Kev was off to work for the morning.  Bec went to meet her friend Kim for coffee and I did a little shopping.  Bec then set sail back to Calgary to have lunch with Jen.  After meeting Kev back at the house for a bite, we loaded up and went to the Collicut Centre for a swim.  Both the kids seem to love the water.  That night, Kevin and Jordyn treated me to a nice sushi dinner at Shiso, a Japanese restaurant overlooking Rotary Park.

Kevin, Ada, and Dan at Shiso

Kevin and I took Ada for a walk to the nearby park on a nice sunny Friday morning.  I packed up and said goodbye to everyone and was soon southbound on the QEII.  Back in Calgary, I stopped in and had a good visit with Bev before Rebecca and Paige got back from their “facialiscious facials”.  We had a nice bottle of wine and a few games of crib before I headed over to Dad’s.  He was busy preparing a shrimp and scallop linguine and we also played some crib after dinner.

Dad and Shiloh

Rettenmier’s and the dogs

On Saturday, we were off to the airport after our short visit in Calgary.  Bec was excited to be flying in WestJet’s new Dreamliner.  We connected in Toronto and then made the big hop to AD.

Bec on WestJet’s new Dreamliner

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Long Island Wine Country and NYC

On Friday, March 22nd, Rebecca and I boarded a flight to New York.  We arrived at JFK International Airport around 5:00pm and found our rental car.  The rush hour traffic was a bit heavy at first, but it thinned out the further east we got and we were soon cruising down the Long Island Expressway.  It took a couple of hours, but we arrived at our final destination of Cutchogue, the sunniest place in New York State, located on the North Fork peninsula of Long Island.  The wind had really picked up and howled all night long.

We were served a delicious breakfast by our North Fork Guest House hosts and we asked about any interesting walks nearby.  They recommended Nassau Point Beach, but were a little concerned about us staying warm enough in the cold wind but being Canadian we had it covered…or so we thought.  We did a brisk walk on the beach, but the strong north winds off the Atlantic were too much for us and we ended the walk not long after it started.  From there, we drove as far east as possible to Orient Point Ferry Terminal and then backtracked a bit to get to the Kontokosta Winery.  Although Long Island temperatures are cooler than the mainland, it is all the sunshine that allow the grapes to ripen in this unique wine region.  We enjoyed a tasting while watching a small herd of deer on the lawns.  We then drove into the touristic town of Greenport where we strolled main street and hit a few vintage shops.  For lunch, we shucked our own oysters at Little Creek Oysters.  Our next stop was Jamesport Vineyards where we tried a couple wines and some local cheese.  Dropping the car back at the guesthouse, we walked over to Bedell Cellars just down the street and had our final flight of the day.  We opted for an early dinner at the nearby Touch of Venice restaurant and played a little crib back at the guesthouse.

Hitting the North Fork Wine Trail
Flight at Kontokosta Winery
We had to go “shuck ourselves” for some lunch
Dan at Little Creek Oysters in Greenport
Morning walk in the vines

On Sunday morning, the wind had finally let up and it was feeling more like spring as opposed to winter.  We had a quick walk through the rows of vines after breakfast before loading up the car and heading out.  We did stop at a sustainable family owned farm called Eight Hands Farm.  We purchased some snacks and coffees for the road and headed west for the Big Apple.  We found the Renwick Hotel in Murray Hill on Manhattan Island, ditched the car, set out on foot past Grand Central, through Bryant Park, and across Broadway.  Bec had scoped out a taqueria called Los Tacos No. 1 and it did not disappoint.  After lunch, we walked up Broadway past the Ed Sullivan Theatre and into Central Park.  It was a lovely spring day and people were out enjoying the sunny weather.  Out of the park, we walked down 5th Avenue past Trump Tower, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and into Rockfeller Center.  We were thirsty by this point and stopped for a refreshment at Bill’s Bar & Burger.  We then killed some time checking out Grand Central Terminal before our reservation at The Campbell, a cocktail and jazz bar inside the old office and reception hall of former financier John William Campbell.  We enjoyed a couple cocktails and the duo of Acute Inflections.

Dan on Broadway
Getting in the order at Los Tacos No. 1
Pure deliciousness
Bec loves to stroll in Central Park
An evening at Grand Central
Dan can appreciate a well crafted cocktail
Acute Inflections, a singer and bassist at The Campbell

The next morning, I was off in the car rental to LaGuardia Airport super early for my flight to Calgary and Rebecca would be staying in NYC to attend her 2 day conference. She had plans to meet up for dinner with her friend Debbi that evening and then would be heading onwards to Calgary.

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March in the Emirates

March started with a friend stay-cation in the Emirate of Ajman. The guys (Spence, Laurie, and I) drove up in the early morning to play a round at the Al Zorah Golf Club while the ladies (Bec and Amanda) headed up a bit later to enjoy lunch and massages at the Ajman Saray spa.  The weather did not cooperate though – it was as cold and windy as it gets in the UAE.  The water was so rough that the beach was even closed to swimming. No beach time for us so we hit the highway in the morning back to Abu Dhabi stopping for a spot of lunch at Last Exit.

Laurie, Amanda, Bec, and Dan in Ajman

The next weekend, we joined Laurie and Amanda at Bazzar, a Cirque du Soleil show, where I was lucky enough to be called on stage to participate in the Maestro’s antics.  We visited Wahat al Karama, a new war memorial across from the Grand Mosque, before meeting our friends for a lovely outdoor Saturday brunch at Li Jiang.

Bazzar performers

Dan onstage at Bazzar

Cirque du Soleil

Grand Mosque from Wahat al Karama

Li Jiang brunch

The Presidential Palace, Qasr al Watan, or Palace of the Nation, opened to the public on Monday, March 11th and we had tickets to visit the same day.  We’ve watched the construction since we arrived in Abu Dhabi and it is truly amazing. It is for official state visits and where global leaders are hosted and took over 5 years to complete.

Bec in Qasr al Watan

Qasr al Watan at night

Rebecca volunteered from 17 to 21 March at the Special Olympics again this year for the World Games. She was involved with the awards ceremonies as an athlete escort as well as a tray bearer of the silver and bronze medals at the ADNEC and Corniche venues. We attended the Opening Ceremony on March 14th at Zayed Sports City and I came to watch some of the sporting events at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. I also ran the Unified Run on Hudayriat Island to support the athletes.

Special Olympics opening ceremony

Bec at the SOWG opening ceremony

SOWG back of house

Dan in the 11 km Unified Run

On March 21st, Bec led us over to the Emirates Palace Hotel where we saw famous Flamenco dancer Sara Baras tap the night away in a performance called Sombras.  From there, we were looking forward to our trip to the US and Canada.

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Keeping the Wheels in Motion

We kept the wheels in motion after our kickstart to 2019.  Here is a recap of our busy Feb:

  • Watched Conversations with Nature (7 short films) at the Imagine Science Film Festival at NYU Abu Dhabi.
  • Took in the Papal Mass broadcast – a historic event as it was the first-ever visit by a pontiff to the Arabian Peninsula and an initiative of the Year of Tolerance here in the UAE.
  • Got back over to Abu Dhabi Pottery to paint our mugs and bowls.
  • Visited Warehouse 421 in the port area and enjoyed the photography exhibit on abandoned places in the UAE.

Warehouse 421

  • Went to a backyard BBQ and played board games late into the night with our friends.
  • Popped over to the Red Bull Air Race and watched in amazement as Jetman hovered on his jet pack back and forth over the Breakwater.
  • Ran in the 5km Saadiyat Dock Run.
  • Bec took me to Ferrari World where I finally got to ride the world’s fastest roller coaster, the Formula Rossa, which hits 240 km/h and 4.8 g’s.

The fellas at Game Night

Red Bull Air Race in Abu Dhabi

Jetman, David Mayman

Saadiyat Dock Run

Formula Rossa

  • Went to the Cuban-Khaleeji Project Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra at NYU Abu Dhabi and kept the jazz theme going by spending the weekend in Dubai attending the Dubai Jazz Festival with Alicia Keys headlining.
  • Ziplined through the Dubai Marina with our friend Herve (Maliha and Bec sat this one out) followed by lunch at the Palm Grill JBR.
  • Indulged in some delicious cheese with Maliha at Dubai’s First Annual Cheese Fest.

Dan ziplining over the marina

Herve and Dan post zipline

Alicia Keys – Dubai Jazz Festival

Bec at Dubai Jazz Festival

  • Bumped into Pierce Brosnan at the Louvre Abu Dhabi while checking out the Roads of Arabia exhibit and the newly purchased Rembrandt.
  • The last week of Feb, we had our friend Jen stay with us while she was visiting from Canada and took her out to Nation Towers Neighbors, a social group in our building.
  • At the end of the month, I had a team building event and took the podium in both karting sessions at Al Forsan International Sports Resort.

Cheese Fest!

The girls in Dubai

A seasoned Abu Dhabian returns to UAE for a visit

Speedfreak and his gang of good drivers

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January Kickstart to 2019

Our 2019 kicked off with New Year’s Day at the beach and Dan trying out his new pasta maker before committing to our yearly January diet plan. We spent the first weekend in Dubai partaking in the annual Dubai Shopping Festival, running a 5km race in Cigna Park, and visiting Green Planet, an indoor rainforest attraction. We met up with some friends at Pier 7 before heading back to Abu Dhabi and watching the classic movie Dial M for Murder playing at Manarat Al Saadiyat. The following weekend Dan went out to the Liwa Desert for an overnight camping and desert driving trip.

Dan trying out the pasta maker

Cigna Park Run in Dubai

Burj Khalifa Light Show

The Green Planet Dubai

Pier 7

Liwa Desert Drive and Camping

The rest of the month was business as usual – working, apartment cleansing, dieting, and kicking up the workouts with a few runs and yoga classes. We did manage to check out the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and enjoyed a BBQ in Khalifa Park with our friends grilling up some steaks and veggie burgers. We also joined an interesting walking tour of the city called Remote AD followed by dinner at the newly opened Al Hudayriat Island food trucks. Our friends Mark and Debbi were also visiting from London and we had a nice dinner with them at one of our favorite outdoor restaurants, the Belgian Beer Café. We finally managed to get over to Abu Dhabi Pottery to try our skills at pottery making.

ZSC Make a Wish Run

Post run coffee on Al Hudayriat

Abu Dhabi Pottery

Dinner at Belgian Beer Cafe

During the last week of the month, our friends Rene and Nadia spent the week at our place before transitioning back to Canada. We enjoyed having them stay with us and celebrated with a going away dinner at one of their favorite Italian restaurants, Villa Toscana, on February 1st with a few close friends. Rene and Nadia were actually the first people we met here (through a family connection) and we have many happy memories of our time with them.

Going away dinner

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