BENJI’S BLOG

Benji, a miniature schnauzer, tells his thoughts and feelings after joining the home of Diane and Paul at nine weeks of age

Source: BENJI’S BLOG

Dubai, Desert, Sunset and Dinner – Part Three

IMG_0360

The vision of vast miles of sand dunes – stretching for miles across the desert – was fresh in my mind as our feet sank into the soft sand, still warm from the disappearing sun.

Sand dunes for miles
Shadows lengthen as dusk falls

‘The desert is wonderful,’ I thought, feeling its magical beauty.  Smoke was rising over the white walls of the renovated fort, bringing an enticing smell of spices and meat:  it reminded our hungry tummies that soon we were to experience a ‘typical Bedouin evening.’

‘I bet they don’t have many authentic bedouin here, it’s an opportunity to get money from the tourists,’ said Paul.  ‘Let’s see,’ I replied as we passed three or four camels, their mouths loosely tied, reined and ready to ride, their pommelled saddles resting on brightly coloured blankets.

IMG_2291

‘Choose a camel, it is safe.  The herder will make the camel kneel while you get on,’ said Mohammed, our driver and guide.  There were a few comments about camels having bad breath or biting, but several people took up the opportunity.  Paul and I declined.  We had ridden camels in Tunisia, afterwards feeling sorry for the restrictions imposed on them

‘The camels resting near the vegetable souk in the Buraimi Oasis, having crossed the desert with their Bedouin owners – when I was there in 1967 – had a far more interesting life,’ I whispered to Paul.

IMG_0039
Chicken curry at the Bedouin evening

‘Something smells good.’  We sniffed the air.  Dinner was cooking in huge metal cauldrons attended by men in crisp clean robes.  One pot contained white rice, another was full of chicken flesh and vegetables, simmering in a deep orange sauce; the distinctive spicy aroma of curry blew in all directions on the evening breeze.  An attentive chef proudly spoke.  His few English words were difficult to decipher but, moving his arms in a wide circle, he indicated that the main dish was a whole lamb.  It had been cooking since early morning in the authentic Bedouin manner – in an underground oven.  He stepped back to lift the oven top, allowing hot air laced with the delicious fragrance of herbs and spices to rise up above our heads.

Lady in hijab makes pita bread
Lady in hijab makes pita bread

Walking past the male cooking domain, we reached an Arabic lady wearing a black hijab.  She was seated in a circular area, making flat bread, or pita, her nimble hands making it look easy.

Nearby, on a long table were containers of fruit juice, water, or camel’s milk that I enjoyed so much I had a second cup.  The waiters were informative… explaining that camel’s milk is very rich, and warning that it could cause belching…. and farting!  Later, I was glad it hadn’t had that effect on me….. and so was Paul!

I learned that camel’s milk contains more vitamins than cow’s milk, including vitamin C, protein and fat, whilst being lower in cholesterol, enabling Bedouin to survive solely on camel’s milk when travelling long distances through the desert.  Wondering whether it made them belch or fart, I remembered that in Arabia it is courtesy to belch loudly after a meal:  a mandatory sign of pleasure, so probably they welcomed this effect.

The lamb had been removed from the underground oven; slices piled high on a serving platter looked tender and appetising.  Waiting our turn, we discovered people were from various countries:  France, Italy, the US and Australia, many English, and our friends from Brazil.  The majority spoke English and they had been collected by car or taxi from various hotels in Dubai city for this desert sojourn.  The mood was friendly and expectant.  Acknowledging the commercial side of such an evening, most felt it would be fun as well as offering an insight into Bedouin life.

Pita bread making area
Pita bread making area

Young men carried trays between the food preparation and dining areas.  With our new Brazilian friends, we sat at a wooden table beneath a green awning held in place with rope and poles.  Exclaiming at the fantastic array of side dishes appearing, we waited no longer and helped ourselves. Various group members verbalised their appreciation::

‘The pita bread we saw being made tastes so fresh, great for scooping up these deliciously tasty dips.’

‘Hummus, tabouleh and dips I don’t recognise.’

‘Salads with unusual herby flavours.’

We licked our fingers before realising finger bowls also were on the table.

Using her skewered kebab to point at the stuffed vine leaves, another Brazilian lady joined in. She had little English:  ‘Delicious, perfect.’  She kissed her thumb and forefinger indicating her appreciation of this varied Bedouin spread, continuing:

‘I must stop eating.  I won’t have space for the main dishes,’ rubbing her generous expanse of tummy.

‘Me neither,’ rubbing mine.

But we did have room and those dishes were splendid, especially the succulent lamb with mouth-watering flavours.  To complete the meal Arabic coffee was poured from hand-made brass coffee pots into small porcelain cups that, without handles, resembled large egg cups.  Finally, plates of small Baklava – very sweet cakes – were brought by the waiter.

Flaming torches are lit within the fort
Flaming torches are lit within the fort

By now it was dark.  Off centre between the two dining areas flaming torches were being lit and placed around a raised platform;  local musicians materialised when we weren’t looking and a male dancer in local dress with long leather boots, leapt onto the stage, brandishing a sword above his head in time to the musical beat.  After a while he changed the sword for a wooden imitation rifle that he whirled around his body, up and over his legs and up his back in a typical Bedouin dance.

A stone built building protected by the fort wall housed male and female toilets:  white porcelain with flushing and running water, sinks, taps and paper hand towels.  Surprised, I commented:

‘I imagined they would be simple sand squat areas, or chemical toilets in a wooden shack like those provided for the Abu Dhabi Defence Force in their tented camps, in the 1960’s.  But that might have been taking authenticity too far!’

Away from the light, the dark night sky was full of stars.  Outside the white fort walls, listening to the desert silence, we stood a while, picking out the Plough,  Jupiter and Saturn shining clearly and twinkling, enjoying this quiet moment together.

The fast sound of gypsy music grew louder as we returned to see a dancing lady in a brightly coloured blouse.  Her bare feet beat the stage as she flicked her long tiered skirt from side to side and back to front.  The rhythm increased with the booming beat until she bent forward from the waist with her head so low that her long brown hair reached the ground.  Her head swung swiftly from side to side, her hair whipping about.  The movements gained momentum, her feet beat faster and louder, hands quickly clapping, arms twisting, as she reached the final crescendo, throwing her head back to rounds of appreciative applause. IMG_2274

The air was cooling, the evening breeze picking up.  At our table some of the Brazilian contingent had left, making their way towards the parked vehicles outside.  Those remaining sat, eyes closed, leaning against each other.  I supposed Paul was chatting somewhere.  Whilst waiting I took a walk, committing to memory the night scene:  once flaming torches around the stage now dead, burnt out;  busy waiters in white shirts – less fresh than when the evening had started – collected screwed up paper serviettes and other debris from the fast emptying tables.  There, in the central area, I spied Paul.  He was sitting askew on one of the cushions that formed a comfortable rectangle, smoking one of the Shisha, or hubble-bubble, pipes set out and ready for use.

‘Everyone’s making for the Land Rovers,’ I said.

‘That was very pleasant,’ Paul spoke softly.  ‘A relaxing five minutes,’ rising slowly from the cushion.

‘Five minutes?’ I replied, chuckling.  ‘More like twenty, you looked as if you were in a trance….and I have evidence,’ tapping my camera.  We laughed.  IMG_2314

Paul enjoys the shisha pipe
Paul enjoys the shisha pipe

While Paul had been experimenting with the shisha, the evening had been winding down.  It was time to reposition our head-gear and return to our classic 1950’s open Land Rovers to speed through sand dunes lit only by headlights.

Arriving back at the entrance to the Reserve, we swiftly swopped vehicles.  It was warm and comfortable inside the People Carrier.  We were driven along deserted dual carriageways on our way ‘home.’  Tall buildings stood either side, until the tallest building in the world and symbol of modern-day Dubai – the Burj Khalifa – appeared on the horizon, and we were returned safely from the Bedouin’s desert encampment to our modern glass skyscraper hotels.

Photo of Burj Khalifa
The Burj Khalifa

Footnote:  In 1999, to preserve the desert habitat, 27 sq km had ben set aside for the Reserve by the Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum:  70 Arabian Oryx were released and 6000 indigenous shrubs and trees were planted.  Also, in 1999, the Al Maha Desert Resort with spa pool was built.  In 2003, to protect the remaining desert landscape, 225 sq km was allocated to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve and H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum was appointed Chairman.   http://www.ddcr.org/en/

*Tour operated by Platinum Heritage, Dubai

Dubai, Desert, Sunset and Dinner – Part Two

dianesdaysout

Sand dunes for miles Shadows lengthen as dusk falls

IMG_0020

IMG_2293

Ten Land Rovers drove into the desert each carrying between six and eight passengers in Arabic headgear.  The drivers took different routes up, down, round and through the sand dunes.  We saw no more than the occasional vehicle, giving the impression that the desert belonged to us.  Arabian Oryx lifted their heads as we passed, unperturbed by the dust cloud flowing out behind.

Reaching a rendezvous point, we left the vehicles to clamber up the steep sides of sand dunes, the better to gaze across the desert as shadows lengthened and the sun settled lower towards the horizon.   Desert shrubs and trees indicated the presence of water beneath the surface and later, on our way to dinner, the driver stopped to show us various examples of native vegetation.

IMG_2308IMG_2303

Barely giving us time to clamber back into our Land Rover, the driver roared off.   ‘He’s in a…

View original post 236 more words

Dubai, Desert, Sunset and Dinner – Part One

dianesdaysout

IMG_2275

Our much-anticipated holiday started on Christmas Day.  We flew Business Class via Emirates to Dubai, the first stop on our six week break.  Paul and I were looking forward to our first local tour – a trip into the desert to watch the sun set over the sand and dine Arabic style in a deserted fort.

IMG_2331IMG_2283

A driver, whom we later learned was called Mohammed, collected us from the Hilton Hotel in Dubai Creek, expertly steering the People Carrier along busy dual carriageways, modern roundabouts and road junctions.  ‘I wonder whether we’re the only ones going,’ I whispered to Paul.  ‘It’s overkill using this size vehicle if that’s the case!’  Paul joked.  The upper part of the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world, was visible in the distance.  It reminded us of our disappointment at being unable to secure a reservation to visit this iconic building.

We were making good speed along a smart…

View original post 385 more words

SPRING IN MY STEP AND IN MY GARDEN Wisteria Blooms after Six Years

Wisteria Floribunda
Wisteria floribunda
Wisteria floribunda in bloom at Treetops

May 2015.  The threat of removal has frightened our wisteria floribunda into flower.  Located in a prize position in the corner of our raised patio for the last six years, it had produced no more than three flowers a few years ago.  The prized plant was in full bloom when purchased as a birthday gift from my eldest daughter, twining happily around its supports.  It was all downhill from there.

I provided it with a tall metal support (in anticipation) and several bags of John Innes and top soil were dug into its allocated area.  This plant was to fulfil my life-long dream of owning a beautiful flowering wisteria.  I loved and nurtured it, watered it profusely through summer droughts, applied granules and liquid feed and checked it anxiously through snowy cold winters.

Wisteria floribunda at Treetops
Wisteria floribunda at Treetops

Each spring its progress was monitored, every new shoot closely watched.  But it looked nothing like the happy flowering wisteria we saw growing up complete fronts of buildings with thick stems entwined in loving hugs.  Our Wisteria had many leaves and long thin tendrils that waved this way and that in an effort to find another plant or tree to grab:  like a wayward child it was difficult, untidy and unruly.

Acknowledged experts in the pruning and growing of wisteria, having one that covers the rear wall of their home, our friends from Derbyshire arrived to assist.  Plastic ties were obtained and Paul joined the happy band of enthusiasts, carefully following advice as to which tendrils to attach to the purpose-built trellis and which to chop:  how to arrange the growth to ensure a good cluster of blooms that surely would grace us the following spring.  A vain hope.  I lost enthusiasm but Paul dutifully followed our friends’ directions for two years, last year telling it ‘You have one more spring, if you don’t flower then you’ll be dug up, you’re such a waste of space!’

Wisteria Floribunda
Wisteria Floribunda blooms after 6 years

Many plants in our garden have been presents and remind me always of the givers so, not wishing to give up on this present from one of my daughters, I checked its label and realised that the floribunda variety of wisteria is not as vigorous as the sinensis type.  Perhaps we were spreading its energy too far.  With little hope that the following spring would be any different to previous ones, in desperation I removed all growth on the east fence, leaving only that on the south facing fence.  Thereafter we gave the wilful wisteria little attention.

Wisteria Floribunda
Wisteria Floribunda in flower at last

You can imagine our surprise and delight when we returned from our winter holiday to find buds appearing on all parts of the remaining plant.  These photographs, taken with my Canon Ixus 155 compact camera, show the result.  Yippee!

The Little Teapot, Poole, Dorset

The Little Teapot, Poole
The Little Teapot, Poole
The Little Teapot, Poole
The Little Teapot, Poole
The Little Teapot, Poole

We found a charming teashop in Poole.  For a change to travelling by car, we had taken the bus from Bournemouth Square that brought us to the bus station on the outer edge of town.   Heading towards Poole Harbour through previously undiscovered areas we came across a small teashop:  so inviting, we could not pass by.

Tea was brewed in small individual teapots, also used to adorn the walls.  The scones, made by Marie a joint owner of the teashop, were served with jam and cream and tasted as delicious as they looked.  Paul opted for his favourite – a large slice of Victoria sponge cake, declaring:  ‘It’s every bit as good as my Mum used to bake.’  Praise indeed!

Cakes and scones in The Little Teapot, Poole
Cakes and scones in The Little Teapot, Poole

Marie and Lara were attentive and friendly, without being invasive.  We learned that ‘The Little Teapot’ is family owned and run.  Marie is delighted when holidaymakers find her traditional shop with its speciality teas and home-baked cakes.  But excellent coffee and savoury dishes that include a mezze sharing platter, salads, paninis and toasties, all made fresh to order, make it more than a teashop.  Open all year round, it is not surprising that it attracts local people as well as visitors to the area.  A framed award on the wall is well deserved:

5 stars Tripadvisor – 2014 Winner – Certificate of Excellence

‘The Little Teapot’ is located at the waterfront end of the High Street, opposite the Antelope Public House, just round the corner from Poole Quay.  We thoroughly recommend a visit.

4 Grand Parade,High Street, Poole BH15 1AD.  Telephone: 01202 7678408.  Website has menu, photographs and additional information.  https://sites.google.com/site/thelittleteapot2/

The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth

Gardens of the Menzies Carlton Hotel and Timeshare Apartments
Gardens of the Menzies Carlton Hotel and Timeshare Apartments

We left our timeshare apartment and turned right towards the five metre high sculpture situated high on the East Cliff overlooking the sea:  three planes in red glass, their stainless steel smoke trails having glass discs in the Red Arrow colours, red, white and blue.  The sculpture was designed by pupils from the Kinson Primary School in Bournemouth, in memory of Flt Lt Jon Egging, who sadly crashed after the Red Arrows display at the Bournemouth Air Festival in 2011.

Red Arrows Memorial Sculpture
The Red Arrows Memorial Sculpture

Walking towards Bournemouth town, we passed the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum.  Its unusual design, visible from Bournemouth pier, reflects the style of its owners, Annie and Merton Russell-Cotes, who worked closely with their architect John Frederick Fogerty.  The result, in 1901, was a unique yet comfortable home providing an ideal backdrop in which they could display artefacts collected during their world-wide travels, including Australia, New Zealand, Russia and Japan.  Following their tour of Japan in 1885, the objects shipped back to England filled over a hundred cases and are recognised by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (V&A) as one of the most important Japanese collections in the world.

The ‘Urban Renaissance’ café (no admission charge if you are visiting only the cafe) provides some of the best coffee in Bournemouth.  Whilst there, sample one of the absolutely excellent freshly baked croissant supplied by their sister café in Boscombe.  Finally ladies, whether or not you have a need, be sure to visit the quirkily decorated toilet said to have been used by Lily Langtry, actress and Mistress of King Edward V11, known as the ‘Lily Langtry Loo.’   Check opening hours:  http://www.russell-cotes.bournemouth.gov.uk

Approaching Bournemouth pier, we were disappointed to find the building work due for completion in Spring 2015, was not finished.

‘It will be a vast improvement on the building monstrosity here previously.’

‘At least we can weave our way around to reach town.’

Balloon in Lower Gardens
Balloon in Lower Gardens

Despite the on-going use of machinery in the Lower Gardens, spring flowers were pushing out, encouraged by the tardy sun appearing late in the afternoon.  Sunshine encouraged tourists into the balloon that was anchored in the Lower Gardens, now high above us, affording its occupants a fine view for twenty miles around.

Hungry and seeking to eat before returning for a quiet evening in the apartment,we discovered Harry Ramsden’s fish restaurant open for business on Undercliff Drive, East Beach.  Its location overlooking the beach, friendly greeting and interesting 1920’s décor with black and white Charlie Chaplin film playing on the far end wall, encouraged us to relax over a glass of acceptable house white.  The meals were equally fulfilling, light and tasty batter perfectly complemented our large cod with mushy peas and well-cooked chips.  We had no space for desert.  On the return we were glad of the uphill walk to our apartment, thinking it might help keep our weight down!

Harry Ramsdens Fish Restaurant
Harry Ramsdens Fish Restaurant, Bournemouth

http://www.harryramsdens.co.uk/england/bournemouth/