Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The last day of July and getting back into my workout routine

Time flies. It is the last day of July and I am wondering to myself, where did these 7 months go?
Yesterday, hubby, kids and I headed to Media Rotana hotel for a wonderful meal at Italian restaurant Pregos. Husband and I started off with a plate of various cured meat, salami, parma ham and other delicacies that I can't remember the name of. Since it is still Ramadan, wine and other alcoholic beverages were only served at 8 pm. The children decided to go for pizza (Joli) and lasagna (Elias). I opted for a seabass and seabream fillet with roasted garlic potatoes and hubster ordered a rib eye with roasted rosemary potatoes. The steak was excellent, it melted in my mouth (as I had to try a small piece from hubby's plate). My fish was also cooked into perfection and the skin fell off just by looking at it. By the time our main course arrived, it was 8 o' clock so we could enjoy a glass of wine with our meal. I am not a huge dessert fan but at Prego's, they serve the most amazing Crème Brulee with three different flavours, all served in tiny glasses. We all happily dug into the smooth Crème Brulee and after that, we had definitely reached our limit for how much one can consume in one night.
As you all know, I hired a PT in the beginning of May with varied results. In May, the weather was still nice enough to exercise outdoors but came June and July, it simply got too hot. Just stepping outside the door made me sweating and panting. The initial idea behind the PT was to bring him to our compound gym and we could go through some exercises and routines. However, the security rules at our compound would not allow that (silly, and very much Dubai) so we had to stick to my garden. Going forward, I will probably try to opt for another PT at a proper gym this time and hopefully get inspired enough to continue on my own. The PT was great, not his fault things are so unflexible here in Dubai but ultimately, if you are going to pay that much of money, you want full value (and a proper, air conditioned gym!). I am sure, in September and October it will be perfectly ok to exercise outside again, but I can't wait until then. I did sign up for a boot camp class that will start up in the fall in the compound. That will be great fun (I will probably have to revise that comment later on...)
As of now, I just signed up for my first spinning class in months. Baby steps.

This is where I'd rather be today...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Post vacation blues

I am back at the office and even if I truly love my job, it is a bit depressing. I could easily have stayed another week in Greece but I guess that is the general feeling after a vacation, it seems too short?
The children have another month of holidays and they are enjoying it to the fullest. Elias had barely landed on UAE soil before he was off to friends for playdates and sleep overs. I have hardly seen him. Teresa returned from her annual trip to the Philippines and Joli has been almost glued to her since then. Husband arrived from Brisbane/Singapore the other day and we had a nice catch up over a few drinks and a nice dinner at home.
It is still Ramadan and extremely hot outside. However, we are planning to go out for a nice meal tonight, the whole family as we have not done any family orientated activities in a long time (the kids truly missed their Dad during our holidays). We are aiming for the excellent Italian restaurant Pregos at Media Rotana, Al Barsha. The never disappoint when it comes to the cured ham, gorgeous steak and not to mention, the amazing Crème Brulee (Amaretto, Pistacchio and Vanilla). To die for!
Husband is off to Colombo on Thursday and I am going out with some of the office girls. According to the moon, Eid (the festivities that mark the ending of Ramadan and beginning of the new month) should fall on the 9th of August but this has yet to be confirmed. I am sure it must be a psychological thing, but just because you are not allowed to eat, all you can think of is food!!!
And speaking of food, I bought a Greek cooking book while on holiday. There are so many wonderful recipes that stretches further than the usual souvlaki and gyro and I am looking forward to try something soon. We did get addicted to the Greek salad but soon realized that one of the main reasons it tasted heavenly is because of the vegetables. You can never find such natural tasting vegetables here in the UAE.
Below are a few photos I took with my Blackberry!

Me outside our hotel in Athens

The kids goofin around

SPA treatment?

And Elias got his fair share too

Gorgeous Greek salad

Tired Joli waiting for food

View from our hotel in Poros

Jumping Joli

Sister and brother

View over to Galatas

Pork roast

Gyro lunch

Our house in Schinias

Afternoon champagne

And we made brownies to celebrate friend T's birthday!

At the Acropolis


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Thank you Greece for amazing days!

We are back in hot, sandy Dubai after almost two weeks of great food, wine, sightseeing, relaxation, great company and wonderful experiences! We arrived last night and kids were happy to be home, Elias went straight to his Playstation and Joli was in her room, playing with her My Little Pony castle. I managed to fill the waching machine with the first batch of laundry and also hang it before we all went to bed. We took a stroll down to the compound supermarket to buy some light food for dinner and breakfast today.
We left the villa in Schinias early Wednesday morning. Friend T and kids went to the airport and left later that afternoon to Dubai and friend S with family headed up to Delfi. They have two more weeks in Greece and I have to admit I am very jealous! I decided to drive up to the island of Evia to stay one night there. It was a pretty easy drive but harder to find a nice hotel. After a few hours of driving around, we finally gave up and drove back to Athens airport to return our car. We did enjoy a lovely seafood lunch at Nea Aktari though and it only took us about an hour on the highway to get back. When the car had been returned, we took the metro downtown to the hotel that was recommended by our friends, Acropolis House. A charming family run hotel in Plaka and with only 10 min away from all the historical sites. Plaka is the old historical neighbourhood and filled with narrow little streets, cafes, restaurants, shops and charming old houses. We walked up to the Acropolis in the evening and enjoyed the stunning view over the city and the remarkable history that surrounds the Acropolis. Joli was not too impressed though and it was pretty hot to walk all the way up there. When we had been searching for our hotel, we had passed a Korean restaurant and we went back there for a late dinner. The kids enjoyed home made nuggets (the only similarity to the ones you get at various fast food restaurants is the name). I had pulgogi and kimchi and it tasted divine!
The next day we took a small train that goes around Plaka and Acropolis. It was a pleasant ride and the kids loved it. We strolled down to the Monastiraki flea market where I found a small trinket box and Elias bought himself a T-shirt.
Last time I was in Greece was in 1996. A while ago so about time to return and I was not disappointed! Greece is a fantastic country with great food and lovely people! I am already thinking of going back next year again to discover all the magic Greek islands that we didnt have time to see!

View over to Galatas from Poros

The Acropolis

The rocks


Monday, July 22, 2013

Beautiful Greece

Askeli beach, Poros

Walking into Poros town

The pool at the villa, Schinias

The rocks and the Aegean ocean

Pool view

Magic moon over the sea

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Missing passports

Apologies again, but I am having the most relaxing time in months! The kids and I left Poros on Thursday morning with the speed boat and arrived in Piraeus around 10 am. Everything went smooth and we bought tickets for the bus up to the airport. The bus arrived and there were quite a lot of people trying to board it. A very nice guy assisted Elias with one of the bags. What surprised me was that he wasn't even getting on the bus, but yet being so helpful. We got on, sat down and I quickly went through my purse (as I normally do) to see that everything was there and soon discovered that one thing was missing. A pink folder, the same size as an ipad was missing. It contained our tickets and most important, our passports. I cannot describe the panic when I realized that it was actually missing, not accidentally misplaced in another bag. And it then struck me that the helpful guy must have taken it out of my purse whilst assisting Elias with the suitcase. He must have thought it was an ipad. We jumped off the bus at the next stop and ran back to the bus stop. Not quite sure why, maybe I was still hopeful that I maybe had lost it and it would still be there, somewhere near the bus stand. Poor kids didn't quite understand the seriousness but they realized that something had happened, something NOT good. I tried to figure out a plan B. Where is the Swedish embassy located? How can we get emergency passports? And luckily enough I still had money in my other purse. I went straight back to the ticket booth where we purchased the tickets for the airport bus and asked the lady if by any chance, someone had returned a pink folder. And yes, someone indeed had! When she took out the pink folder, my pink folder and handed it to me, I thought my heart was going to stop again. Elias had tears in his eyes of relief and I think I thanked every possible God there is. So he stole my pink folder but had the conscious enough to return it when realizing it was neither an ipad nor contained any cash. I opened it quickly and everything was still there, all our passports and tickets. But someone had indeed gone through all the receipts and various documents. After this minor shock, we quickly got new tickets for the airport bus and got on the next bus. I couldn't believe my luck. Maybe it was my Dad watching over us that day.
We arrived in the airport one hour later, got our rental car and drove up to the house in Schinias. The house is fantastic. Located on a slope, overlooking the Aegean Sea and its crystal clear water. The closest small town is Marathonas, where we usually go to buy groceries. It is a cute little town with a small square and a church.
Pictures to follow!

Hello Greece

Apologies for the blog silence! I and the kids left early Sunday morning for Athens and after an hour of anxious waiting at the staff travel counter, our seats were finally confirmed (the joys of standby again). We managed to see half an hour of hubby, returning from Adelaide, before our taxi arrived and we headed out to the airport. The flight went smooth, kids enjoyed a movie and I was listening to some music and tried to get myself into vacation mode. It is funny, you are looking forward to it so much but once it's there, I find it hard to relax in the beginning. Hence my blog silence, I just needed to land, literally. We landed in a sunny Athens and hopped on the bus to Piraeus, which reminded me of when I was back packing around the Greek islands in 1996. After an hour of waiting in Piraeus, we could finally get on the speed boat to Poros island and arrived 1,5 hour later. The hotel, New Aegli Hotel, is located just by Askeli beach on the "other" side of Poros port. It is not more than 1,5 km away and easy to walk (not with luggage and two tired kids though). We quickly settled in and the kids insisted on a dip in the ocean before dinner.
The hotel is very nice with a large terrace overlooking the sea, where you can enjoy a nice meal or a drink. It takes two minutes to the beach and the water is crystal clear. Our first day, the kids spent the entire day in the water and I had to drag them up.
We normally enjoy a nice breakfast buffet in the morning before heading to the beach. In the afternoon, we stroll down to Poros (it takes about 20 min and is a good exercise). The port of Poros is quite small with lots of cafeterias, bars and restaurants overlooking the sea. Luxurious yachts and sailing boats are anchored along the marina and I have to say it looks very pleasant.
After a stroll around town, kids are normally quite tired so we take a taxi back and have dinner either at the hotel or at a nearby restaurant. The food is great and the people are very friendly.
Today is our last day here in Poros and the weather is a bit cloudy, which is actually quite nice. The kids decided to hang out by the pool instead and later this afternoon, we will do our daily stroll down to Poros and then take a water taxi to the neighbouring town of Galatas, just opposite of Poros. It is literally a stone throw away but you still need a boat to get there. Galatas is located on the eastern side of the peninsula Peloponnese.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ramadan Kareem

The Moon Sighting Committee announced on Monday that Ramadan will start in the UAE today, July 10. As per UAE law, all companies have to adjust the working ours to Ramadan hours which means work starts at 8 and finishes at 2, without any lunch break. The start of Ramadan also means that all cafes, restaurants, food courts will be closed until Iftar, when the sun goes down but will then stay open until midnight. The roads are usually congested around 2 when everyone leaves work and also before Iftar, when people are meeting up to break the fast together with friends and family.
This is our 6th Ramadan in the UAE. The first year when we moved here in 2008, it was a bit shocking to find that everything was closed during day time but you do get used to it. You don't plan any outings that involve food during the day. Most hotels offer wonderful Iftar- buffets with traditional Arabic food but also more international flavoured buffets.
During Ramadan, the bars are open as usual but no alcohol is served until after Iftar and there is no music or dancing.
Yesterday, the much dreaded Dubai heat finally struck us and the temperature hit 48. It is a dry heat though, which is better than the humidity but it is still warm. It felt like walking around in a large baking oven.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

One more week

One more week, and we are off to Greece! I don't think I have ever look forward to a vacation more than this time! It is like my mind has just realized that it is only one week away from complete rest and has started an early, pre-vacation celebration and is unusually slow to start up in the morning.
Teresa left on Friday afternoon, very much looking forward to spend time with her family. I and Joli went to an Aussie bar on the Palm yesterday for lunch with friends (but left just before the rugby game started). We spent an hour by the pool and then hubby had a night flight to Jakarta so he went to bed early while I and the kids watched TV. I rediscovered Ally McBeal on Netflix and enjoyed a few episodes. I loved that series and I remember I even got the soundtrack. I have to admit, the music isn't all that good (that singer's voice is actually quite annoying) and Ally is wearing long jackets and short skirts which was the fashion at that time but now it looks a bit funny. Anyways, perfect to watch in the evenings with a glass of wine in hand.
The packing has already started with my normal obsession of not bringing too much clothes as I hate carrying around tons of luggage when only half of it will be used. There is a washing machine in the house we are renting after all.
What I am looking forward to most of all is just sitting on my terrace, looking out over the ocean, kids playing in the sand/playground/room/wherever they want to play, sipping on a glass of wine. Yep, I can't wait for that.
I did have time to pop over to my dear friend A for a nice coffee break the other day. Her son had made the most amazing chocolate cake.



Monday, July 1, 2013

A fun-filled weekend

On Tursday evening, I and hubby joined Mitzie Mee for some delicious tapas at Al Hambra, Al Qasr. I have been there a few years ago and it was just as nice this time. We shared a whole set of various tapas dishes and they all tasted amazing. After the tapas, we took a stroll over to the Belgian Beer Café for some more drinks.
A week ago, my neighbor and friend B convinced me to join her for a boxing session early Saturday morning. I was all excited and set my alarm for 5.30 and off we went. The session starts at 6.30, and it was tough but great fun! It was a combination of circuits and boxing and needless to say, we were both exhausted afterwards but felt extremely happy with our achievements that morning! Later that day, I took the kids to Dubai Mall for their treat after completing the academic years with great success. Joli went to Kidzania with Teresa and I took Elias and his friend to Sega Republic where they played games, went on various rides and had a great time. Kidzania is a fun place where the kids can try different professions and earn kidzos (Kidzania money). It all starts at an Emirates counter (identical to the real ones at the airport) where the kids check in and receive a first class boarding pass. They then enter the boarding gate and proceed to their destination. Inside they can try being Pilots, be Firefighters, Doctors, Nurses, Chefs, Make up artists etc. They can also get their own Kidzania driver's license. Joli had a blast and when we left the mall, around 3 pm, we were all pretty exhausted and decided to cool off by the pool. The weather is hot but not as hot as it uses to be and yesterday was a bit hazy too, perfect pool weather!

Chunky pieces of melon topped with ham

The first week of the summer holiday has just started and the kids are enjoying themselves. No early mornings, no homework. This morning we paid our annual visit to the dentist and all went well. Always nice to have that sorted before going on vacation!