Sunday 23 August 2015

European Vacation

We recently escaped the Middle Eastern summer furnace for a few weeks in Europe. The only problem was it seem that the heat followed us with Europe being struck with a heatwave.

We flew to Prague and at the airport jumped in a hire care and promptly drove to Berlin. With the help of a friend's sat-nav we found our way through the north of the Czech Republic. The sat-nav only came with a German-speaking feature, so I had to follow the map and give the directions, which kept leading up off the autobahn and onto tiny, picturesque country roads. Which were lovely and all but after a seven-hour flight we was just eager to get the three-hour drive over and done with and get to Berlin. I have to say, Berlin was a bit of culture for this Middle Eastern-living girl. People walking down the street with their shirts off and a large can of beer in their hands, doesn't happen too often (read, at all)  in the streets of Dubai. It's funny how all these little things jolt you when you've been living life one way.

Our first day in Berlin was a balmy 41 degrees. Which is not too bad in Dubai, where we have lots of air con, in Berlin where the buildings are built to keep the heat rather than out it was stinking hot! We just looked at it as a good excuse to have a few German hop-beverages. 

The kids were a little overwhelmed by Berlin, but they did love the Berlin Wall. Especially Lil-lil who was fascinated by the memorial and museum and spent many days afterwards filling us in about what she'd discovered about the wall. Which shows why it's so important to remember these parts of history. 

Berlin Wall memorial
Preserved section of the Wall
The imposing Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
After a couple of days we headed to Bratislava on our way to Budapest. A few people had told me not to bother with Bratislava, but it was a nice stop-off point and plus another country, so why not? I'm glad we did as I really enjoyed our time in Bratislava. Along the banks of the Danube is a new development with lots of nice bars and restaurants. We ate dinner while the kids ran around on the grass in the late evening sun. The next day we strolled through the beautiful old town and had lunch in a Slovakian pub before setting off for Hungary.

Old Town, Bratislava

Budapest has been floating around the top of my travel list for some time and I have to say it didn't disappoint. In fact, the only thing I was disappointed in was that we weren't staying longer. The architecture, the history, the beer, the food, the vibe, the people - Budapest has it all. The only thing that made it difficult was it was 41 degrees in Budapest too, which made it hot and sweaty seeing the sights. 
If you haven't been to Budapest and you get the opportunity to go, take it! It's a fabulous city! 

Hungarian Parliament House

Lots of Hungarian salami!

After Budapest, we drove to Vienna, on my birthday. We've been to Vienna before, but the last time we were there it was cold and snowy. We arrived on a warm sunny day and headed straight into town to wander around. The best part was having the famous Sacher Torte with a candle at the beautiful Sacher Hotel as my birthday cake. 

The following day we wandered around the city again in glorious sunshine. We met up with some friends who used to live in Dubai and moved back to Vienna about a year ago. They took us on a short bus ride to the hills on the outskirts of Vienna with an incredible view over the city. We wandered down the hill through the vineyards until we found a winery serving food and wine and had a band playing out in the vines. It was magic evening where everything was just right - the music, the food, the wine, the company, the weather. Everything came together just right, there's no way you could've planned it. It's moments like this that make you appreciate living overseas and the people you get to meet. We'd never have found this place if we were on our own. 

After Vienna we headed back to Prague for five days. We wandered the town, ate lots of Czech food, climbed the hills to overlook the city. The city was filled to the brim with tourists and there were times I felt like part of the herd. There were moments of bliss though, like discovering a tiny French market on Bastille Day where we ate scrummy French food. 

Pretty Prague

At the end of the five days, it was time for Skip to head home to Dubai and the kids and I to jump on a plane to Ireland. We were lucky enough to be invited to stay with good friends in Dublin "for as long as you want! The whole summer if you like!" I thought the whole summer might be the end of a beautiful friendship, so we opted for 11 days instead. 

These guys were really good friends in Dubai (and still now, of course) and within 2 minutes of seeing their faces in the arrivals hall of Dublin Airport it was like we'd seen them yesterday rather than a year ago. Lots of laughter and chatter. They took us all over Ireland, from east to west and south to north. We swam (well I dipped my toes in the chilly water), we climbed mountains, we boated, we hiked and rode bikes, we sat in pubs and we camped, we partied and heard live music. It was a brilliant 11 days. Our six kids altogether had a ball, running outside and adventuring and playing and scampering and trying new things. Just like a summer holiday should be, even if it didn't quite feel like summer to us desert-dwelling Aussies. 

We flew back to Dubai, with a quick one night stopover in Prague. Happily back to Skip and our home. Not so happily back to the sand and the heat. 

It was a beautiful escape. One of the biggest perks of living here in the centre of the world. 

Saturday 8 August 2015

Whatsappening in August

A few people have (no so subtlety) asked me recently when I was going to blog again. I wasn't sure. I wasn't sure if I wanted to even blog again. Sometimes you run out of things to say, sometimes you get sick of the sound of your own voice. Sometimes you edit yourself to the point where you wonder, well what's the point? I've had a lot of stories in my head recently, but they're not really for this blog and maybe that's just it! Maybe all these stories in my head need a new home and different space to play.

Yet, here I am typing so let's see what happens.

We are in yet another Dubai summer. Hot, dusty, humid, sweaty, oppressive summer. Quiet. Hibernation. Not much else to do but stay inside. Most of the city away in their 'home' countries, except for the Australians. For the Australians it's always the same - too far and too expensive and the wrong time of year to visit 'home', so it's a few weeks somewhere else and then sweat out the summer, swearing they'll never do it again (until next summer).

It's a strange time of year. You see Facebook posts of friends in the UK and then messages from other friends who are in Italy on their way to Scotland or in Russia on their way to Italy. You Whatsapp a friend you think is in town for a catchup and get a reply of 'Sorry! We're in Pakistan, we came back at the last minute won't be back until the end of the month.'

The other night I had a messages back and forth from a friend who is in Lebanon. She decided it was time to show her kids the place of her birth. There was talk of tanks and beaches and boredom and kidnapping. All as I lay in my bed and she sat in a hotel room 'that isn't four star' in a black out. A few weeks previously she messaged me as I lay in a tent in an Irish field in the pelting rain and she was in air conditioned comfort in Dubai. It can be surreal!

As August wears on there will be more messages, but they will start to be "We're back! It's soooooo hot! I forgot how hot. Are you around to catch up?" and "What day does school start again? Is it Tuesday or Wednesday? PS: It's so hot!"

As August wears on the kids will complain more and more every time I mention going to the pool or the mall. They may even get excited by the prospect of returning to school.

So I don't know if this qualifies as a blog post. But there  you go. I might even do it again. Crazier things have happened!
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