Tuesday, December 20, 2011

House Hunters International, Three Months Later Update AND Merry Christmas from the Middle East!

It's now three months later, and which apartment did we choose?  If you guessed the 4 bedroom with great appliances, you were right!

We've spent a lot of our time the past few months making our new apartment into a home.  I've very much enjoyed settling into my role as "Homemaker" which seems to be a full time job in Dubai.  And, as predicted, it has proven to be a great place for entertaining as well.  Our first party was hosting Thanksgiving at our place.  20 pounds of turkey, 13 Americans, 1 Brit, American football on the slingbox and a LOT of desserts helped make it a wonderful, warm and delicious holiday!  Tim played bartender while I made sure everyone was well fed. 

Since then, we've been getting into the Christmas spirit.  It's not snowing, most of our shopping has been online, and we don't have Rudolph on TV, but it's really helped us remember what Christmas is all about.  It's bittersweet celebrating our first Christmas away from our families.  We obviously miss them all especially during the holidays, but we're excited to develop our own traditions.  We want to wish all our friends and family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  God bless you all in 2012.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

House Hunting International: Dubai

I really wanted to be on House Hunters International, but it got vetoed... So here's what our episode would have been like...

Tim and Kari are young newlyweds in the Atlanta suburbs.  Tim's company recently transferred him to their office in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  Tim and Kari have known each other since meeting in their small high school in rural Pennsylvania.  Now this small town couple is heading off for a new adventure in the big city.

Cue Theme Song.

Shot of Kari and Tim in apartment in Alpharetta, GA.  They are looking at pictures of Dubai on their laptop and commenting on the pictures.

 Kari: Oh look at that view!  Tim nods in agreement. 

Shot of Sutter and Troy families sharing meal at long table... Mr. Troy raises glass and makes a toast reminding Tim and Kari that their family is part of them and will always be with them.  Narrator: After a goodbye dinner with family, Kari and Tim make the 7571 mile journey across the world to their new home in Dubai.

Having lived in Philadelphia, Chicago and Atlanta, Tim likes the energy and convenience of a big city.  Kari lived at the beach in North Carolina and has always wanted to move back to the on-the-water lifestyle.  They decide to center their search on the Dubai Marina, a man-made marina designed to be a "City within a City" that offers glamorous towers, shops & restaurants within walking distance, and incredible views of both the beach and the yacht filled marina. 

As Tim and Kari explain what they want, the wishlist appears on screen...
We're looking for an apartment with at least 3 bedrooms, so that we have rooms for visitors and room to start a family.... Room to grow
I'm afraid of heights, so we can't have anything too high....   Lower floor
I love to cook, and the kitchen we have now has such a small stove, so we want a big kitchen with nice appliances (Kitchen) and we definitely want a big balcony with a view and dining area so we can have dinner parties (Room to Entertain).
A nice gym and pool are important to us, and access to the highway, restaurants and shops.... Good Location

Tim will be busy and important with work, so Kari is doing most of the hunting on her own.  Most of the places she's seen have been nice, but just not ideal... there was the beautiful apartment with a waterfall in the living room at the edge of the Marina that had a view of the neighboring power plant; the spacious apartment with the prettiest view but was on the 29th floor and the balcony had a very low railing (Kari: Tim's 6'4"... this would barely reach his thighs); the beautiful kitchen but cramped living and dining rooms; and the perfect apartment with an amazing kitchen that was miles from any stores and no water view.  After weeding through the options, Kari decides on 3 apartments to show Tim. 

Shot of Kari and Tim arriving at place #1... a 3 bedroom duplex across the street from the Yacht Club on the 2nd floor.  This one is significantly under their budget.  Kari: It's rare to find apartments with both an upstairs and downstairs, and I really loved the kitchen in this one.
Tim and Kari walk into apartment and into the kitchen.   The kitchen has been recently updated.  It has a large 5 burner gas range with a grill and griddle surface, an island, pot rack hanging from the ceiling, built in wine rack, dual hidden refrigerators/freezers (hidden to look like cabinets), a cappuccino maker built into the wall, and opens to the large living/dining room.  The counters are a little dirty.  They both open cabinets and drawers, oohing and aahing over the features.  They move into the living room with its high ceilings and built in book shelf.  They walk out to the balcony, which overlooks a busy street, with the Yacht Club on the other side.  Tim: Well it's pretty low and close to the street.  Are you ok with it not being too private?  Kari: I am, and you'll see why.
They look quickly at the dirty powder room downstairs (Tim: I think something died in there) and then go up the stairs.  The stairs are covered with a burgundy carpet with gold circles.  At the top of the stairs is a small loft area (Tim: This would make a great office/study area).  They go into the master bedroom.  It is a fair size, enough to hold their furniture.  Kari walks across the room and opens the door to a second balcony.  It is slightly higher from the street level and offers a slightly better view.  They cross the hall to see 2 more bedrooms, with yet a third balcony facing the rear of the building. Kari: See why I'm ok with the balcony not offering privacy?  There are THREE balconies to choose from!
Back downstairs in the kitchen, they discuss the place.  It is in desperate need of professional cleaning, but they discuss the possibility of using the remainder of their budget to have the cleaning done and the carpet removed.

Later that week, a realtor who Kari had previously met calls and suggests that they check out an apartment in a building right on the Marina Walk.  Apartment #2 is a penthouse level (4th floor, not the top), right at budget and is fully furnished.  Kari picks up Tim from work and they meet at the apartment.  Walking in, they notice the gold wall treatments, making the wall look as if it is made out of gold.  (Kari: Oooh, how pretty) They check out the enormous living/dining room with its interesting decor... larger than life sized naked lady lamps, over-sized jewel toned furniture, red chandelier, large elephant tusk, sparkly wall treatments.  Tim: Our furniture is being shipped, so we'll have to ask them to remove all this.... except those lamps...  They walk into the HUGE kitchen.  It has a nice stove, nice refrigerator, and eat in table.  Kari: um... no dishwasher?  The real estate agent nods "yes" and points to the sink.  Kari decides not to argue and wonders whether she can hand wash all the dishes for 3 to 5 years.  They walk out to the terrace.  It is enormous and overlooks the marina.  Tim: We could have huge dinner parties here.  Think about all the entertaining we can do!  They walk back inside to look at the maid's room, a common feature in apartments in Dubai.  It is larger than most maid's rooms but still fairly small.  Kari: Where does that window open to?  She opens the window and hot dusty air blows in her face... it is the elevator shaft.  Oh, well that's... different.  They move on to the bedrooms.  There are 2 and both have a bathroom ensuite.
The realtor calls later as the are discussing the place.  While they love the outside terrace, they are concerned that it is only 2 bedrooms.  They express this concern to their realtor.  She replies "Well it's 2 bedrooms plus maid's so that's fine."  Kari wonders if she could pass off the maid's room as a guest room.

A week later, Kari again fills her afternoon with apartment viewings and decides to take Tim to see one more.  They schedule a second viewing for Saturday when Tim is off work.  Apartment #3 is a 4 bedroom apartment in a building next to the metro station and directly across the street from the Dubai Yacht Club and is right at budget.  They walk into the apartment (Kari: it's apartment 1404... every place Tim and I have lived has had two 4's in the number) and straight to the living room.  The building is circular which makes the room an odd shape, but it is massive.  Kari walks over to the floor to ceiling windows that look over the marina and Yacht Club, and shows Tim the built in blinds.  They walk out to the balcony.  It's a good size, but the smallest of the 3 places they've looked.  The view of the marina is amazing, and the Persian Gulf can be seen in the distance.  They go back inside and Kari shows Tim the laundry room with a washer AND dryer (Kari: you NEVER see dryers in apartments here) on the way to the kitchen.  It is equipped with a 6 burner gas range, refrigerator with water and ice dispenser in the door, and tons of cabinets.  They are impressed with the quality of the appliances.  They look at 2 identical bedrooms on the right side of the apartment that share a bathroom before crossing to the other side to view the Master bedroom and the smallest bedroom (Kari: it's the smallest and right next to the Master bedroom... this would be ideal for a nursery), both with ensuite bathrooms and access to the balcony.  A trip to the pool and gym confirms that the building has nice the amenities they are after as well.

So which one did they pick?
The duplex with the gourmet kitchen?
The 2 bedroom with an amazing terrace for entertaining?
Or the 4 bedroom with the good appliances?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

You Can't Get There from Here

One night last week, while I was driving Tim home from work, he saw a KFC.  Craving normal, familiar, American food, he asked "can we stop there?"  I said, "no, you can't get there from here."

That seems to be the case a lot here.  Something that seems like it should be so simple just never is.  I was reminded of that yet again today...

We opened a bank account yesterday.  We would have opened one sooner, but you need your passport to do that, and Tim's passport was in Abu Dhabi (I think) for the past 3 weeks.  They must have thought his visa picture was handsome.  So now we had the visa and we had checks from the sale of my car and from closing my American bank account.  We also had a letter from Tim's company confirming that he was employed and would make X amount.  Ready to open a bank account??  Almost.  The account is open.  We have our credit card applications in, and we're getting emails welcoming us to the bank.  But that branch didn't accept foreign checks.  Ok.  No problem.  I'll just go on Sunday to the one that does.

The bank is theoretically about 10 km from where we live.  It took me an hour and  a half to find it.  The problem is, if you take the wrong ramp, it's almost impossible to just turn around and go the other way.  Tim and I ran into this problem in the same area before... you have to go MILES out of your way to turn around... in a round-about.... which is poorly marked by signs that are a foot off the ground and really don't help you if you only see them when you're already passing them... and you're in the far right lane and your exit was all the way over in the left lane.  So I ended up on this never ending, unmarked road leading me out into the desert.... for the second time since we've moved here.  Except this time I didn't have my co-pilot.  Panic threatened to take over.  I couldn't find where I was on the map, and I was 100% sure what road I was actually one.  I needed Tim.  (this is one good thing about all our adventures.... we really have learned to work together and depend on each other a whole lot more)

Tim listened as I vented about the poor signage and my despair at being once again lost in the desert, and 2 text messages, 3 phone calls, 3 more round-abouts & a few tears later, I was heading in the right direction.  I miraculously pulled up at the bank.  I was quite proud of myself.  Yes, I had gotten a little lost, yes I had shed a tear or two out of frustration, but I made it to the bank!  I had successfully navigated the wilderness and could deposit my checks that I've been carrying around for 3 weeks.  I walked out of the sweltering 115 degree desert heat into the comforting AC of the lobby. 

The gates were down.

I turned to the security guard (who was a good 6 inches shorter than I) and asked "can I deposit my checks from the US?"  He said "oh the bank is closed mum, you come back tomorrow."

That's when the sobbing started.

"But it (sniff sniff) took me over (wimper sniff) an hour to (sniiffffffff) FIND IT!!!!  (SOB!!!!!)"

That poor security guard just stared at me, helpless and obviously wishing I would stop crying. 

It's times like these when I could use a glass of wine.  Oh wait, we don't have our liquor license.  I guess I'll just eat the rest of the cookies in my cupboard and try to make it to the bank again tomorrow.

****On a much happier note, I'd like to congratulate my dear dear friend Rebecca and her husband Tom on the birth of their BEAUTIFUL daughter Lily Francis Stranix.  Good job making such a cute kid guys!  Welcome to the world Blueberry!  Love, Aunt Kari****

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

It's Dangerous to Pick your Nose while Speeding

I'm the wheels of the family. 

Since Tim's residence visa is being processed (slowly) right now, and he does not yet have a UAE driver's license, he is not legally allowed to drive here.  I have to wait for my husband's paperwork to be complete before I can apply for my visa; I need his sponsorship, permission and money to do pretty much anything here.  But until then, my Georgia license is considered just as legal as one issued by the UAE.  So for now, I'm doing all the driving.

Driving in Dubai isn't difficult as long as you forget everything you've been taught about highway safety.  Car accidents are the leading cause of death in the UAE, and 25% of those are pedestrians.  The people darting out in front of traffic don't help that statistic.  Turn signals seem to be optional.  Honking can mean "outa my way," "hey you," "I'm here," "you're slow," "why are you riding a bicycle on the highway?" or "&*%$#!!!!!!!!!"  If you are not driving fast enough for the liking of the motorist behind you, they will let you know by flashing their high beams, honking, and rumor has it will even bump you into the other lane. 

The speed limit on most roads is 100 kilometers per hour.  But they give you a grace zone of up to 120 kilometers per hour before you get penalized... and my car beeps if I top 120 (yes I make it beep daily).  The speed limits are enforced by cameras placed every few kilometers apart.  They'll get a picture of your car, your license plate, and you.

Which brings me to the title of this post.  I've always thought that picking your nose while driving can be dangerous.  What if you get rear-ended and your finger goes so far up your nose that you poke your brain?  The close distance at which motorists follow each other here would certainly increase that risk.  And yet I see people picking their nose in their cars here.  I guess it's nice to know that it's a universal vice.  Still dangerous though.  And imagine the shame in knowing that the Sheik has a picture of you with your finger up your nose. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

We made it!

So today marks one week since we've arrived in Dubai.  It's hard to believe that it has only been a week! 

Our flight was 14.5 hours, direct from Atlanta.  I was nervous about how long it was, but with a little wine and my husband to play Trivial Pursuit with me, it passed in no time.  I did spend some time walking around the plane and ended up hanging out with some of th crew in the back!

We arrived in Dubai at 7:40 in the evening, but by the time we made it through customs, fetched our luggage and got to the hotel, it as well past 10pm.  We knew we should have gone to bed early, but we were too excited and ended up Skyping with some good friends and family that night.

We're just taking it all in.  We spent our first weekend trying to get acclimated to the new timezone and culture.  We had dinner at the Palace Hotel, which is right by the Burj Khalifa.  It is a remarkably beautiful building.  There is an observation deck on the 124th floor, but my fear of heights may prevent me from experiencing that.  What I can experience there is the water show in front of the building.  I'm such a sap; I cried because it was so beautiful. 

Now we're living in a temporary apartment in the Marina.  It's a great area.  I can look out my window and see the boats docked in the marina, and beyond that I can see the Palm Island.  I've always loved the beach, and Tim loves the city, so this is really the best of both worlds for us.  Since this is only a temporary place, I've been on the house hunt.  Hopefully we can find what we want, without it being on a high floor!

We never in a million years would have dreamed we'd be on this adventure, but here we are.  We actually keep pinching ourselves to make sure it's real.