Saturday, April 2, 2016

Making A Life Change to Become a (Disability) Life Coach

"You're so inspiring!"

I hear this a lot. I'm not saying this to toot my own horn; it's just what happens in the course of my life. I don't go out of my way to do things in my life and think, Wow, this will really inspire people! I just do what I want to do, and because I do those things while having MS, it seems to make people want more stuff.

After all, I suppose it's the reason I started this blog. My life is somewhat unusual, mostly due to my line of work, but I do a lot of "normal" stuff that regular people do. However, normal stuff is made more difficult sometimes by my MS and dependence on mobility devices. A year ago I started putting together a book proposal for a motivational/inspirational tome on how people with disabilities and mobility aids could not only survive, but succeed in life. I wanted to use the experiences of others (including disabled celebrities), as well as my own stories, to demonstrate that we can work, and travel, and have kids, and have fun with friends. That's how I planned to spread my "inspiration" to others.

But then a random idea hit me out of the blue yesterday. I knew about professional/executive coaches and life/personal coaches (my good friend does this), but was there such a thing as a Disabled Life Coach? Of course there is! It's a specialty within the $2 billion personal coaching industry to be sure, but it exists and there's a need for it. So, once I learned this, I started doing what I do best--research.

My new school :)
I always roll my eyes when I hear the term "life coach" because I always thought it was this kumbaya hippie endeavor. Well...not so much. Executive coaches in particular are highly valued by Fortune 500 corporations, and even personal life coaches can earn hundreds of dollars an hour by helping motivated individuals move forward in their lives to achieve their goals. It's not therapy or counseling that helps clients heal, address past traumas, or resolve family issues. Life coaching is about helping people take the next step towards becoming a better version of themselves, and/or helping them realize their full potential.

This is exactly what I want to do for people with MS, or other disabilities, or wounded veterans, or anyone who uses a mobility aid. If they want to learn all that they're capable of, I want them to come to me for help. I want them to discover that they can start a business, or travel to another country, or join a creative writing group, or attend sporting events. I want them to find their own path and blaze their own trail towards their goals by using me as a tool to help them get there.

I'll admit that part of this new endeavor is stemming from the fact I'm getting burned out in my regular job. I've been writing about drug trafficking, human smuggling, kidnapping, death and dismemberment, assault weapons, and money laundering for almost a decade. It will always be my bread and butter and I'm not ready to give it up...but my spirit needs a break.

Through careful research, I've found a training program that is fully accredited through the two international bodies that govern personal coaching. It's a financial and time investment; it will take me at least several months, if not a year, to obtain my first level of certification. I will also need to spend many hours with mentor coaches and doing unpaid work with new or "test" clients to get evaluated. But I believe in this kind of work, and if I inspire people just by living my life, imagine what I can do if I make it a mission :).

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Dubai Adventure - Epilogue

Today is March 3rd, and I've been back at home for two full days now--also two full days after I was supposed to come home, thanks to a nasty stomach ailment I picked up. Fortunately I didn't get ill until right before I was supposed to head to the airport on Saturday night, so I didn't miss out on anything. I was also lucky it was inexpensive to change my flight home (twice), that Tom and Rebecca were able to house me for two extra days, and that my anti-nausea meds are available over the counter (albeit at a high price) in Dubai.

In my rental wheelchair on the AUD
campus where I was staying
So now that I'm back in also-sunny Florida among green and wet things, I've had time to reflect on what's easily been the biggest adventure I've ever been on. Now, I'm aware I only went to a modern city; it's not like I climbed Everest or camped out on the Amazon for a week. But remember that adventure is in the eye of the beholder. Like it or not, as active and seemingly unaffected as I am, I am still a disabled person with physical challenges, and the United Arab Emirates is still a very foreign country without all the benefits of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I've covered thus far all the "stuff" I did with Tom and Rebecca during my trip already, so I kinda want to focus on my unique perspective as a disabled traveler in Dubai. This is, after all, a blog about my life with MS :).

In my scooter on the way to the
Dubai Mall and Burj fountains
First of all, you should know I often tear up when I think about the very simple fact that I was able to go to Dubai. All my friends and family have been in awe over my decision to make this trip, but I think it was more over the distance and how exotic a place it sounds. It's also not a cheap place to visit. Sure, you can spend a few thousand dollars visiting any place in the United States depending on the level of comfort you want (or how many kids you have if you're going to Disney World), but generally speaking, Dubai is not for the budget-conscious. I get emotional over this trip because I was physically able to go, and God blessed me with two friends and a number of strangers who helped me to do and see absolutely everything I wanted.

In my scooter at the Burj fountains
My decision to rent a wheelchair for my stay was a smart one. We were able to mix up my use of the electric scooter and the wheelchair based on obstacles we anticipated (like many high curbs, sand, etc.), and it made the logistics of carrying me AND my mobility aids more practical for Tom (who deserves a StrongMan trophy for all the carrying he did!). Aside from the fact that there are almost zero curb cutouts (ramps from the sidewalk to the street at corners or crosswalks), the metro stations and public spaces are incredibly handicap accessible. As I mentioned earlier, there was even an accessible bathroom in the middle of nowhere at the Bedouin camp during our desert safari!

At the Mall of the Emirates
The people everywhere we went were very courteous and kind. I had no idea what to expect in this regard. 75% of the people in Dubai are foreigners, and everyone has a different way of reacting to and treating the disabled. Fortunately for me, there seemed to be enough other people (generally seniors, who are widely respected) in wheelchairs where I didn't feel too out of place. My youth did that for me, lol! I did receive many unabashed stares from people in most places, but I expected that and wasn't offended at all. It's a different culture and I look different; I'm okay with that. What was very unexpected is the number of people who boldly approached me in a very friendly manner to inquire about my scooter and my WalkAide leg devices! While I saw several wheelchairs, I did not see a single motorized device anywhere. In a wealthy place like Dubai, you'd think they'd be more prevalent (either as rentals or in use by locals). However, it seems scooters are at a premium here; I was disappointed to inform those inquiring that I had brought mine from the States.

Being carried up to the top
of the dune so I could see
the same view as everyone
I mentioned in a Facebook post the other day that if I had an addiction to travel before this trip, Dubai has now required me to seek an intervention. Of course, most foreign cities and places are nowhere near as accessible as Dubai was. Granted, I still had my challenges. Some places had no elevators or ramps, and some activities (although not many, and some I had no interest in) were off limits. But now I've made it my mission to discover every place in the world where I can go. Of course, I have to either bring someone with me or go to a place where I have friends like Tom and Rebecca to help me. That'll will be the hardest part, and will require some patience. But the list is starting! My best friend Erin and I are already seriously contemplating Dublin and parts of Ireland next year. Australia has been on my travel bucket list for 20+ years, and a tour outfitter in South Africa offers a 100% handicap accessible safari with accommodations and everything.

Being hauled onto the camel!
Last Friday night, I went to a get-together with a bunch of Rebecca's colleagues. I met this great married couple who had traveled extensively, and the husband had a fantastic tattoo on his forearm with the 3-letter ISO codes of all the countries he's visited. It went at least halfway up to his elbow, and it was amazing. I liked it so much that I'll be doing the same thing, although mine will be considerably smaller :). But having the motivation to keep adding to that tattoo...that's something incredible.

Sunset in the Dubai desert
I'm back home, but the dreaming and planning hasn't stopped! On May 21st, I'll be meeting my best friend in Vancouver for a 7-day cruise to Alaska. Just like I said I had no idea how I was going to get my behind on a camel but I was going to do it, I have no idea how I'm going to get my behind in a glacier-bound helicopter, but I'm going to do it :). Dream. Save money. Travel. See the world. Because you never know how long you have until you can't do it anymore.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Dubai Adventure - Day Six

Today was my sixth day in Dubai--desert safari day! The three of us slept in, and we got picked up by the tour company at 2pm for the one-hour drive to the staging area. We were the first SUV to arrive, but soon we were joined by a dozen other Toyota Land Cruisers. We took a couple of pictures and chatted since it was going to take several minutes for the drivers let enough air out of their tires (from about 35 psi to 15 psi) for the dune bashing portion of our tour.

Dune bashing in Dubai
That's me in the passenger seat :)
Finally, it was time to go! Earlier this morning, Tom asked me if I liked roller coasters, to which I replied no because I don't like the feeling of my stomach dropping. That generally doesn't happen in a car, so I wasn't sure why he was asking. I only needed five minutes of the dune bashing to understand why he was asking. Imagine a big group of dune buggies riding up and over sand dunes along a beach somewhere. Then make those dune buggies big Toyota SUVs and triple the size of the dunes. We went up and down very steep slopes, slid/drifted sideways at a slant while kicking up massive amounts of sand. We were also driving at a pretty good clip (by request). It was such a huge adrenaline rush! But I will say, dune bashing isn't for the faint of heart; if you get the slightest bit car sick, you had better pop some Dramamine before hand. We were twisting and turning and rising and dropping almost non-stop for 45 minutes!

With our driver Javeed and Tom
At the end of the ride, all the cars went to a high dune so everyone could take pictures. I assumed I would stay in the car since going up a sand dune isn't really in my physical wheelhouse. But did I mention we got the most awesome driver ever? He helped Tom carry me up the dune so I could see what everyone else was seeing! I won't lie; the view was pretty awesome :). But the courtesies of our driver Javeed didn't stop there.

We left the photo stop early so we could get to the camp before the rest of the crowd. The first thing we saw was the camels ready for riders. Yes. Yes, I did. Once again, Tom and Javeed carried me to place me on top of the camel (whose name I didn't catch). I freaked out a bit when the camel got up and held on to the handle in front of me for dear life! But soon we started walking, and it was pretty much like riding a horse. I think I had a permagrin on my face for the whole five minutes it took us to ride around the circle :).
Say hello to my little friend :)

After the ride, Javeed drove us around to the other camp entrance so we could get settled before the rest of the tour group arrived. It was a small group, so we actually had an entire bungalow to ourselves. But the most unbelievable part? Out here in the middle of nowhere, they had a separate handicap accessible bathroom! And one of the most functional I've ever seen, with grab bars everywhere at just the perfect height, a higher toilet seat, and even a grab handle hanging from the ceiling! I just couldn't believe it, and it made the evening that much easier.

A whirling dervish show
Since we were the only ones in the camp for around fifteen minutes, Javeed and Tom carried me to a central location so that the people who were part of the camp could come to me. I got a beautiful henna tattoo on my right hand, and even got to hold and pet a falcon! We went back to our seats to relax for a bit, and then the first show started. Have you ever heard of a whirling dervish? It's a dance performed by a Sufi order in Turkey, and basically involves a man spinning non-stop for several minutes. This particular dancer was wearing a costume that lit up, which was super cool!

After that was dinner, which was good, and a belly dancing show. When that wrapped up, it was time for us to head back to the apartment. As I mentioned earlier, our driver Javeed was so incredibly kind and helpful when it came to getting me closer to things and helping carry my anywhere I needed to go. At first I thought he was doing it because it was just his job. But while we were driving back and the car got quiet, he said to me that I remind him of his daughter. I thought it was maybe because I look like her. But he tells us this story. A huge tsunami hit India in 2004, and killed 230,000 people in 14 countries. The tsunami killed Javeed's sister and her husband, leaving behind two children. Javeed and his wife took the children in as his own, and they know Javeed and his wife as their parents. So it turns out that Javeed's neice/daughter has polio and can't walk. She's in a wheelchair too (she's now 26 years old), and as he put it, always wants to "do and go." He said because of me his mind and heart had been in India all day because I reminded him so much of his daughter. It took everything I had not to start crying on the spot. Here's this man who's just supposed to drive us around and treated me like the queen of the world for a day, just because I remind him of his daughter's strong spirit. Connections are made in parts of the world where you least expect it, and despite the AMAZING things I did today, that conversation was the absolute highlight.

I was supposed to fly home later tonight at 3:50am, but in the car on the way back here I started feeling really queasy so I changed my flight to leave 24 hours later. That way I can rest tonight and all day tomorrow while Tom and Rebecca are at work, and won't have to be nervous about being sick on a 16-hour flight. Thanks so much for keeping up with me on this adventure of a lifetime!!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Dubai Adventure - Day Five

Today is brunch day. I know; a whole day devoted to brunch? Our American idea of brunch is going to a nice restaurant, maybe in a nice hotel, around 11am for a big meal with some mimosas or bloody marys and heading home about two hours later. Here in Dubai, brunch is an event. They start around 12pm or 1pm and last four hours. They are expensive--ranging anywhere from US$65 to US$120 per person--but include all the food you can ingest and all the alcohol you can drink. And the food isn't your average scrambled eggs and waffles. We're talking seafood, crab legs, cuts of meat, really high-end food.

The Atlantis resort on Palm Jumeirah
The locations for brunch can also vary, and Rebecca sent me a list of places to choose from that had well-reviewed brunches. I'm all about go-big-or-go-home, so we're having brunch today at The Palm at the Atlantis resort on Palm Jumeirah. This is the ginormous man-made island off the coast of Dubai (but attached) that looks like a big palm tree with a circle around it. Each palm "frond," as it were, supports either private residences with beachfront property or one of roughly two dozen hotels. The island took five years to build, and has experienced its fair share of controversy. The water between the fronds started getting stagnant, and engineers had to create breaks in the outer circle to encourage water flow around the fronds. Geological surveys have also confirmed that the Palm Jumeirah is sinking by 5mm per year, although it seems no one has reported any structural damage as a result. The 5-star Atlantis resort on Palm Jumeirah is the first resort that was built on the island, and pretty much looks like the Atlantis in the Bahamas, if you've ever been.

Just one small section of the brunch offerings
Fun facts aside, today was absolutely insane. It actually reminded me a LOT of South Beach, and my fellow 305 peeps will understand why shortly. We arrived at the Saffron restaurant inside the resort, and it was already insane. Easily over a hundred people were waiting in line to get in, and servers were handing out champagne to everyone in line. It was kind of a cattle call once they opened the doors to let everyone in and find their assigned table. After we got settled, it was time to do the walk-through to explore our options. If you think you've done brunch, you haven't. This much food in one place exists nowhere else on earth. Then there's the free booze--a Jamison stand, a vodka stand, beer stands, and wine poured at the tables. I can't put it into words. But seriously, the food was incredible, the service impeccable, and EVERYONE was extraordinarily polite in making way for me and my scooter, even as crowded as it was.

Part of the Saffron indoor area
Then there's the nightclub atmosphere. There's a DJ playing the whole time, so the indoors seating is treated to some really great 80s and 90s dance music. And the people...this is where all the young, beautiful, half-naked, and plastic people in Dubai come to brunch. Most are foreign tourists, with a large chunk of them being Brits. The dress code is South Beach nightclub all the way, and you don't have to adhere to standard UAE clothing restrictions. We saw a LOT of lady parts this afternoon. There were at least 300 people both outside and inside the enormous dining space. By 3pm, everybody was ranging from buzzed to completely plastered. Large groups were celebrating birthdays loudly or jumping on benches and chanting soccer (football) rallies. Women were stumbling in their 6-inch platform stilettos, and security guards even chased a couple of them who managed to "escape" into the pool area. About 15 minutes before the end of brunch, everyone started hoarding the free drinks from the stands, so people would be returning to their tables with their arms full of half a dozen beer bottles, champagne splits, and trays of shots. Just. Insane.

Brunch with Dubai friends!
We were at brunch for a full four hours, and only because they started kicking everybody out. To say there was a lot of eating and drinking going on at our table is an understatement, but we were mellow compared to a lot of people. One guy had to be carried out because he was, well, mostly unconscious, and it wasn't from eating too much dim sum. The bathroom lines were insanely long because all of us brunch peasants were restricted from leaving the brunch area and mixing with the legitimate hotel guests. Our party of five got a VIP pass because I was in a scooter and had to take the elevator (outside the area). Thanks to that, we were able to go to the lobby and take some great pictures with a stunning Dale Chihuly blown glass sculpture (he's the same artist who created the glass sculptures in the Bellagio) in the atrium. We were also able to take the main exit and glimpse the Persian Gulf. Some people think a body of water or an ocean view is just an ocean view. But it's a little bit alien to see a gulf or sea or ocean with your own eyes that's SO far from home.

Oeno bar/club at the Westin Mina Seyahi
At this point, it was 5:30pm and we had to figure out what to do. Brunch after-parties are all the rage, so we went for it. We headed to the Westin hotel that has a nightclub that plays 80s and 90s pop, dance, and hip-hop. It was packed, but Rebecca had a connection that scored us a VIP corner with tons of space. Her friend gave us free champagne, and we danced (yes, I rock it like a boss in my scooter seat) for probably three hours. I won't lie; it was weird to be clubbing in the late afternoon, but hey...anything goes in Dubai.

At 8:30pm we headed back to Tom and Rebecca's friend Kevin's apartment for the second night of Jazz Fest. We didn't really care about the Argentinian percussion group in the first half, but we were stoked when Santana came on!! He was amazing, and so was the vocalist who accompanied him. He did all his best-known tunes--Black Magic Woman, Evil Ways, Europa, Oye Como Va--and several of the songs from his duet album, like Smooth and Maria Maria. Just fabulous.

We're finally back at the apartment, and tomorrow is my final day before having to fly home at 3:20am Sunday morning. But I'm going out with a bang; we're doing a desert safari, which is going to include high-speed dune bashing, camel rides, photos with falcons, a dancing show, and a Bedouin buffet. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Dubai Adventure - Day Four

Today was an up-and-at-'em kind of day. Tom had the day off from work, so we left around 11am to play tourist. But before we left, I learned some very interesting things about Dubai and the UAE.

Burj Khalifa in daytime
When I spoke to my best friend Erin a couple of days ago, she asked me if I had seen any obviously poor or homeless people. I told her I hadn't thought about it, and I guess that's the point. When you fly into Dubai, they take a picture of you at passport control and conduct a retinal scan. There are thousands of cameras all over the city, and you never notice them. If you're a tourist, you can stay for 30 days. If you have a work visa, you can stay for that duration. If either expire, they will actually come find you and send you home. The local Emiratis have money; it's the foreign workers who make up the service industry, and you basically can't be unemployed and live here. To get a job here, you have to be sponsored by a company, and all companies here have to have at least 51% Emirati control. Even the lowest paid workers (generally in construction) have housing camps where they're put up for the season.

As for crime, this is one of the top ten safest cities in the entire world. The #1 city is Abu Dhabi, which is a two-hour drive from here in the UAE. There's a reason for this. If you get caught driving drunk, it's life in prison. I kid you not. If you get caught dealing drugs, life in prison and possibly a death sentence. I'm not saying there's absolutely zero crime here, but it's pretty damn close. Many of my family and friends were/are worried about my safety due to terrorism concerns. While the UAE provides generous aid to Syrian refugees, they don't let any in. Or Afghans. Or Iraqis. And I'm guessing no Yemenis either. Try getting away with that in the US :). But between the cameras, crime laws, and border control, the UAE is locked down pretty tightly.

The Metro-Mall walkway
In front of the Burj plaza fountains
So off we went (with my scooter this time to give Tom a break from pushing, and because we only had one curb to deal with) to the metro and headed to the Dubai Mall. The walkway to get from the metro to the Mall itself is at least half a mile long; it reminds me of the Phoenix airport :). We walked through the Mall to the Burj plaza and I got to see the Burj Khalifa again in its full daytime glory! The day was as gorgeous as it could possibly get--maybe high 70s or low 80s with a cool ocean breeze. We watched the fountain show with an amazing front-row view this time. Tom explained to me that the sheikh of UAE went on a trip to Las Vegas and watched the Bellagio fountain show. He wanted something bigger and better for Dubai, so he hired the people who created that show and paid them a ton of money to make "improvements." That's what we saw.

Dubai Mall aquarium
Afterwards I had a craving for Lebanese food, and we had a meal that may have actually topped the steak dinner I had a couple of nights before--tabbouleh, hummus with pita, and shrimp on a skewer almost bigger than my hand. Afterwards we headed back into the mall to see the free part of the indoor aquarium--the second largest in the world I'm told, and I've been in the Georgia Aquarium, which is reportedly THE largest in the world. This one was still very impressive.

Mall of the Emirates
Then it was back to the metro to hit the Mall of the Emirates. While the Dubai Mall is bigger, newer, and more imposing with nicer shops, the style of the Mall of the Emirates is infinitely more stylish, with high glass domes decorated in wrought iron in a way that made it feel like an old French train station.

Indoor skiing anyone?
But the real reason we were there was not for the design and decor; it was to see the indoor ski slope. Yep, for a mere US$120, you can ski inside a mall for half a day while it's 120 degrees outside in July. Plus, you get all the gear you need. They also have a little tobogganing and play area for little kids, which was super cute.

Dubai rush hour
After seeing that, we needed to head back because my scooter battery was dying. Fortunately the walk back to the metro station wasn't that far. However, I did want to stop to capture this cool almost-sunset picture of the hazy Dubai Internet City skyline over rush hour traffic.

Sting playing at Dubai Jazz Fest
But our day wasn't over yet. At 7pm we headed a couple of buildings over on the American University campus to the apartment of a colleague of Rebecca's. His balcony overlooks an amphitheater where they're having a big Jazz Fest this weekend, so we had an amazing free show! The opener was David Gray (who sings Babylon, if you remember it), and the headliner was jazz trumpet player Chris Botti. I saw him play years ago in DC with Jeff Sanborn, and he really is fabulous. But the real treat after Botti? STING!! For a full 90 minutes!! Being a jazz fest, he played almost all older songs, his AND from The Police, which were often enhanced by Botti's trumpet playing. It was an incredible show, and I just had one of those moments where I couldn't believe how incredibly lucky I am to be here, listening to one of my favorite musicians of all time in one of the most exotic cities in the world.

Tomorrow? A marathon Dubai-style four-hour brunch with...a DJ. More to come :).

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Dubai Adventure - Day Three

I had another good night's sleep last night, and woke up for a second time not really believing that I'm almost half a world away from home. This morning has been the same as yesterday--good breakfast, some laptop work, and Amazon Prime movies. But like I noticed last night, as European and Vegas-y as much of Dubai is, you see a lot of little reminders that this is, in fact, the Middle East and a very foreign place.

I never deployed to the Middle East when I was on active duty. I was supposed to deploy to Kirkuk, Iraq three weeks after my honeymoon in 2004, but I started having more serious MS symptoms and was placed on medical hold. Since then, the region has become even more volatile, and as much as I would love to visit Istanbul (which I hear is decently accessible), even Turkey is off limits for the moment. The United Arab Emirates, however, is one of these little pockets in the Middle East that isn't directly in the line of fire of al-Qa'ida, ISIS, or other Islamist crazies.

But as Westernized and relatively liberal as Dubai is as a city, it's still located in a Muslim country. Last night for the first time in my life, I heard the public call to prayer. We were in a very crowded public place with lots of noise, and I probably wouldn't have made much of it if Tom hadn't mentioned it to me. No one stopped and dropped, so to speak, so we just went on our way. I'm a big Coke drinker, and it was cool to see the bottles Rebecca had picked up for me with Arabic writing on one side. Video streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and even iTunes are restricted here, so you have to figure out a workaround if you want to see any US shows that way.

As for dress, we saw the gamut last night. One thing I didn't mention about the mall was that the high-end designers have separate stores just for kids' clothing. Seriously. If you want to dress your 5 year-old daughter from top to bottom in Dolce & Gabbana, this is the place to go. I saw the most beautiful little girl in an elevator, maybe 3 years old, with darling gold earring studs and a lovely dress. After passing by all those stores--and noting the elegant detailed brocade on her mom's abaya sleeves--I couldn't help but silently ask her, Who are you wearing?

I tried to do my homework with regards to customs and courtesies here, but I don't know that it was much use. The people working in the service industry are mostly non-local, and the locals who do work here are accustomed to catering to Westerners. I feel like a fish out of water because I really enjoy being pleasant and charming with cashiers, waiters, door people--whoever. I've gotten very mixed reactions to my American-style friendliness--from stone faces to strained smiles. Other people have been more gregarious, but it's been a crap shoot. All that being said, almost everyone (workers, people around us, etc.) have been extremely courteous with regards to holding doors for us and my wheelchair, and generally making way for us to pass or enter elevators first. And that cute little girl in the elevator? She wasn't shy about smiling or waving at me :).

This is also not a place I would go looking for high culture. There are few museums here. Big musical acts do come here to perform, and the soon-to-be world's largest opera house is currently under construction near the Dubai Mall. There are plenty of mosques, and even one that caters to tourists interested in learning more about Islam. However, because the native Emirati population is so small and everything in Dubai is so new, there is very little historical and profound Arab substance here. I think during part of our desert safari on Saturday, we'll get to experience some of the Bedouin culture, which will be really neat.

Dinner at P&Bs
So moving on with my day, around 6:30pm we headed by taxi to the Souk Madinat Jumeirah. It's basically a big indoor market with lots of restaurants, nice shops selling local clothing, rugs, jewelry, and souvenirs. We were hungry, so first we went to went to eat at a Texas BBQ place called P&Bs. I can't tell you how bizarre it is to walk into a restaurant in the Middle East and see huge Texas flags everywhere. But hey, anything goes in Dubai. Except for pork, of course. Plenty of pulled brisket and beef on the menu, but no pulled pork ;).

The 7-star Burj Al-Arab
After dinner, we went to take some pictures around the Souk, and I honestly felt like I was in the middle of an Epcot country. Everything is so new and clean and perfect that it feels utterly fake. However, we got a gorgeous view of the lit-up Burj Al-Arab, a beautiful hotel that looks like a sail and is the only 7-star hotel in the world.

Ready for some drinks!
From there we did some shopping! I bought some stuff for the boys, some beautiful beaded tunics for myself, and plenty of locally crafted items for family and friends. After shopping was done, we went to Left Bank for some drinks and more awesome conversation before cabbing it back to the apartment.

And we could NOT have timed it better. We're planning on hearing Sting and Chris Botti play tomorrow night from a friend's apartment, but tonight we arrived home just in time to hear the Toto concert as they were playing Rosanna, then finished their encore with Africa. Freaking. Awesome.

Tomorrow Tom has the day off, so we're headed back to the Dubai Mall via metro and to see the full fountain show. I'll also get to see the indoor ski slope, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Dubai Adventure - Day Two

If you've ever traveled eastbound from the US to Europe, or really any place with a significant time difference in that direction, getting over jet lag is like having a hangover for days if you don't plan it right. I went to bed last night at 9pm local and woke up at 3:45am ready to go. Instead of getting up and reading or getting on my laptop, I stayed in bed. After an hour my body said, "Oh, this is when we're supposed to go to sleep!" I passed out for another glorious five hours, but even after 13 hours of sleep I still felt like I had swallowed half a bottle of Nyquil when I got out of bed. Fortunately, after some caffeine, a good breakfast, and a shower made possible only with Rebecca's help (they live in a "normal" non-accessible apartment), I felt as close to normal as possible after my long journey yesterday.
The view from my friends' apartment

While some people would prefer to get going on the sightseeing right away, I'm actually grateful to have time each day to relax, read, watch movies, or get some work done before we head out. The apartment has a ton of windows with nice views and lots of natural light, so this beats a hotel room any day of the week for vacation relaxation.

The loooong walk/roll to the Dubal Mall
After my friends got home from work, it was time for us to head out to the tallest building in the world! To get there, we decided to take the metro, which has been hailed as the most handicap accessible place in Dubai. Whoever said that wasn't kidding. There are even small metal ovals and circles on the ground that lead directly to elevators, kiosks, and train doors for blind people using walking sticks! Really amazing.

Rebecca and I in the Dubai Mall
From there we had to walk/roll a looooooong way to the Dubai Mall, then through the Dubai Mall, to get to the bottom of the Burj. I barely have the words to describe the vastness of this mall. You could easily spend days walking around just to get to every store. There are even two sections of high-end designer stores (like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, etc.)--one section for haute couture and one section for ready-to wear. Unbelievable.

After some window shopping, walking, and navigating, we made it to the bottom of the Burj--all 168 stories of her. It's not like the building just squeaks by as the tallest in the world; it's a good 40 stories higher than the second tallest and dwarfs the Empire State, Petronas Towers, and Sears Building. The observation deck is at the 126th floor, so you don't actually go to the top (even though the attraction is called At the Top), but whatever. I've been to the top of the Sears Tower, so I had some expectations of the elevator ride. I can't explain how blown away I was by the fact that you felt ZERO movement for the 60 seconds it takes to get you to the 126th floor. ZERO. NO acceleration or deceleration AT ALL. Unbelievable.

Once we got to the deck level, we were led to the observation area. I had no idea it was open air! High glass walls of course, but no ceiling! Before we got there, I was a little disappointed we had to go at night because I had seen so many pictures of the view during the day. No way; the nighttime view FAR surpasses any photo I've ever seen of the mostly tan-hazy daytime views.

Burj Khalifa construction display
We of course did a pass through the gift shop for souvenirs,
the got to see some really cool displays of the steps engineers and builders went through to put this puppy together over the course of five years. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, the construction here is EVERYWHERE, and it is non-stop. I learned from Tom that a full 80% of the entire world's construction cranes are located in and operating in Dubai.

After the Burj, we passed by a gorgeous fountain show--very similar to the Bellagio show in Las Vegas--on our way to Karma Cafe for a late dinner. The food was absolutely incredible; easily one of the best steaks I've ever had. The bar inside was very nightclubby with low lights and dark music; I loved it :). Just one more thing that reminded me of Vegas. After a wonderful 3-hour meal, the three of us we beat and headed back to the apartment. Tomorrow is the souk for some shopping and Jumeirah for some more great food!