Sunday, April 8, 2012

High Adventure

We promised high adventure for Grandma and Grandpa, and though it hasn't all gone according to plan, we have definitely made things memorable. No doubt you've come to appreciate the region's love of superlatives--the biggest, the tallest, the most. And Grandma and Grandpa have definitely experienced their fair share of superlatives. Driving in from the Airport, they experienced their first superlative in the form of the most leaning building in the world. It does catch your attention even at one in the morning.

The jet lag wasn't particularly kind to their sleeping habits, but fortunately there was enough adrenaline to get everyone through day one. Liam treated us to pancakes for breakfast and then we were off to see and ride the camel at the heritage village. Anyone who knows my father, can appreciate that he likes to understand processes and details. When he's in a new restaurant, or patronizing a new business, he's methodical in how he approaches the experience. He wants to know about the people working there, the origins of the franchise, overhead costs and profit margins. Well, this drive to know is extending to the entire country of the UAE. From the moment he landed, he's been working overtime to comprehend the region. I've been able to answer most of his questions, but not all. He asks some pretty good ones. I've been impressed with how hard he's been working to understand as much as he can in as little time as possible.

After heritage village, we gave Grandma and Grandpa their first UAE mall experience. Marina Mall is the biggest mall in Abu Dhabi which means it's got a bit of everything and a little more just in case. My favourite thing to show is the Mercedes dealership, because you never know when the whim might strike you to add a new luxury vehicle to your collection. That night there were Shwarmas from a new place down the street.

We have been to the future and driven in its driverless cars.
Day two, we introduced Grandma and Grandpa to the gold and carpet souks as well as Masdar City. More opulence. It was Chinese food for dinner and the new Muppet Movie. We tried to keep things pretty low key so they could recover a bit from their journeying.

Day three was the beach. It was a perfect day for it. There was a bit of a chill to the water, but a fantastic breeze kept us out there a little longer than we should have been. There was a Krispy Kreme outlet on the boardwalk that brightened my Dad's day. That night, the adults went out for Mexican and the kids got some much needed down time with a movie at home. I don't know what it is, maybe it's some primal need to prove myself, but I find myself working to keep up with my father's appetite and coming up short almost every time. I haven't been that full for a very long time. We were sent home with more Krispy Kreme donuts, because that's what grandpa does. At this point James has declared that we've had enough Krispy Kreme donuts and don't need any more. Sometimes my kids make me so proud.

Foreman James!
"How did I get here?"
All of his questions have helped me to look anew at things I've started to take for granted. It really is amazing how used to things like call to prayer or the cacophony of foreign languages one can get. This is home for us and so it's easy to take the differences for granted.

Day four was a visit to Dubai. In order to make the most of it, we were off early in the morning. I also hoped to mitigate the heat we'd experience because our air conditioning was down (horrible timing, but we did promise adventure). We experience a significant sandstorm on the way up which impacted visibility and made driving with the windows down a little problematic, but we made it without too much difficulty. Our first stop was Dubai mall, which continues to overwhelm me and put me ill at ease. Grandma and Grandpa did a little book and toy shopping with the grandkids, stopped by the aquarium with the worlds largest acrylic panel and then a little lunch. I only got lost two or three times.

After lunch we were off to the Mall of the Emirates to see what an in-door ski slope looks like because you really have to see it if you're here. Ellen shopped at the mall for a little bit while we took the kids to see Mirror Mirror which proved to be a pleasant take on Snow White for kids. Very pretty and creative in parts and the kids seemed to enjoy it quite a bit.

We've spent a little more time in malls than we tend to do. The funny thing about malls here is that they should be one of the most familiar settings in the region for Westerners. The malls here are just like the malls in the US and Canada (with the exception of hosting a few higher end shops here--who knew that Louis Vuitton had a kids line?). It's in the malls that I should feel most comfortable, but I don't. That's the foreign experience for us.

By the time we made it home everyone was ready for bed and the only consensus that we could reach about the following day was that it would be a late start.

Day five was the lowest key of all our days. This high adventure does tend to take its toll. We met for lunch at a nearby mall and then shopped about for a birthday gift for Liam. He found a game at the video game souk (yes there is a video game souk in Abu Dhabi). We also got to spend a little time in the pool at Grandma and Grandpa's hotel. It wasn't heated, but that didn't prove to be too much of a deterrent. That night was Liam's birthday dinner. He had put it off so that Grandma and Grandpa could join us. Ketchup chicken, roast chicken (courtesy of Miranda) and cream puffalicious for desert. It was quite the feast.

Day six was church. Julie hosted a great brunch in the morning. Then off to church which is pretty much like church wherever you go, save for it being a bit more international in its flavour. That night, Liam had his Karate Test (for those keeping track his is not a Brown 3 in both Kobudo and Karate). Then back to the apartment for some more cream puffalicious with Grandma and Grandpa.

We ended our final day together on a high not. We started off by going to the church so that Liam could be interviewed for an advancement to teacher and then we set him apart. It was nice to have Grandpa be there to participate in that. After that we were off to the Grand Mosque. It was my first time inside and I must say I was rather impressed. We had a great tour guide who was adept at pointing out the really interesting details. After the Grand Mosque it was Crepes and a little bit of shopping at the Central Souk, basically Abu Dhabi's attempt to combine the traditional market experience with some of the conveniences of a modern mall. The girls found some great earrings and James found a fun little toy. We ended the night with a somewhat traditional meal at a nearby restaurant. I'm not sure what Grandma and Grandpa thought about it, but it was an experience that they needed to have. It was not easy to say good-bye, but it helped that everything had gone so well.

I'm not sure how we could have done more. It really felt like cramming a month's worth of experience into a few days. Grandma and Grandpa did a great job navigating the newness of their surroundings. And, thanks to the magic of Skype we were able to skip the whole getting reacquainted phase of visits and hit the ground running. The only thing that really surprised Grandma and Grandpa was Liam's height. We're hoping that after they get home that the stories they share might inspire a few more adventurous souls to explore the excitement of the Middle East. As they will no doubt tell you, we make pretty good tour guide, even when the air conditioning in our van's on the fritz.