Thursday, April 10, 2008

Heading out again...

This time to Cancun with my friend, Jean, who now lives in Uruguay. We try to meet once a year at a beach location for "girlfriend" time. We've been to Turks & Caicos, Vegas, and the Dominican Republic. This year it's Mexico. Leaving tomorrow on American -- which would have me in a panic state except for the fact that I'm on a 737 and a 757, not an MD80. Those planes have been grounded off and on since Wednesday and will likely be grounded tomorrow due to FAA issues. I think it's absolutely ridiculous to leave people stranded due to their (FAA) mistakes but that's where we are today. Sigh.

Looking forward to laying on the beach, by the pool, and/or in the spa. Four days...yeeha!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Goodbye Dubai

We got a little bit of a late start to the airport Friday nite but didn't think much of it (well, maybe Lynn did :), until we got there. OMG. I thought San Jose (Costa Rica) could get crazy, and China even worse, but this was total chaos. Lynn, Julie, Chris and I managed to somehow (thank you Julie) to make our way through the multiple security areas and check our bags with about 40 minutes to spare maybe. And of course it's prohibited to take pictures in the airport. Guess I'm lucky I got out of there!

Got on the plane, left about midnite, and relaxed a bit. Nice dinner, a couple of mojitos, 2 Simply Sleep tabs and I was out. I am extremely fortunate to be of the size that can put a pillow on the tray table, lay my head on it and sleep. Probably got 5 hours. Not too bad for a 15 hour flight. But my calves were screaming when I got off the plane (that dang skiing!). And we were late getting into Atlanta so I once again almost missed my flight. I figured my luggage would certainly not make it. But to my surprise, both of my bags were there in Austin.

I can't say enough about what a great experience this has been. I learned a lot and made some new friends. Came home to what I thought would be an empty house because Rick is in Dallas this weekend, only to find Kristi and Benjamin here. So that was really fun -- I got to give them both their gifts. Now I am finishing this part of my blog, considering a Myers and Diet before taking a bath and falling into bed.

Now if I can just stay awake long enough to go to bed on Central Time. It's only 4:15 and I am forcing my eyes to stay open..

Dubai was incredible. Seriously. :)

Last stop

Our last stop on Friday was to Don's hotel at the Marina Beach Resort (he got to move there after the forum because he is the Big Kahuna!). Betsy and I spent so much time at Madinet that we didn't have a lot of time, and it had gotten kind of hazy so I didn't put on my suit or get in the water. Got a nice shot of one of the mosques on the way there (I plan to see more of these on my next visit). I did take a picture of the beach before having a beer with my new friends by the pool. After this we headed back to the hotel so that four of us could start preparing for out trip to the airport...

Souq Madinet Jumeriah

After skiing, Betsy and I took a cab to the Madinet Jumeriah resort. The resort houses two luxury hotels (where of course we were not staying :), and a Souq mall. This mall, unlike the more local mall we hit Thursday nite, includes much more Arabic detailing in the architecture, and less haggling if any. We shopped for a while and then realized we were starving. So we had a nice lunch (I had a giant prawn salad on sauteed veggies and Betsy had a lovely fish dish) with a couple of beers. You don't get to order alcohol at many places. I took a pic of the mall and a pic of the abras -- VERY different than those at the Dubai Creek. This is more like a Disneyland area but we still managed to drop a few Dh (not sure if I mentioned before but the exchange is 3.67 Dh to 1 US dollar). Interesting that the abbreviation for their currency happens to be my initials...hmmmm.

There was an excellent view of the Burj Al Arab hotel from the mall, so I snapped a few pics there. The photos don't do it justice...this thing is massive. Helicopter pad toward the top along with the restaurant we couldn't get into (it was booked all week). Betsy and I decided that we would make reservations next year 3 or 4 months before our trip. Smart thinkers us gals...

Ski Dubai!

This was the most incredible thing I think I have ever done: snow skiing indoors! Ski Dubai is the largest indoor snow park in the world and contains 12,000 tons of manufactured snow. There are basically four runs and a quad lift. One of the runs is a black (or so they say - it didn't seem like it to me but it was still fun) that is about a quarter mile. The only indoor black diamond run in the world. Pretty wild! Betsy, Sam, Hall and I ventured out for this activity. For about $60 you get jacket, pants, boots, skis, throw away socks, and two hours of skiing. If you don't bring your own, you can buy inexpensive hats and gloves (that are not very warm we discovered) at the shop next door. I had done my research on this one so I brought my own socks, gloves, a turtle neck, and my beloved puppy ski hat. I think we all must have said "This is so cool," a thousand times. Two hours has never gone by so fast, but my calves certainly feel like it was two hours! We calculated that it took about 6-8 minutes (no lift lines!) to get to the top and then ski down so I guess we made about 10 runs or so. I took a video which is not the best quality but is fun to watch - it's too big for this blog so I'm working on reducing the size so that I can post (noted Hall quote in the video - "No skiing for women, only dog :).

This picture is of what the structure looks like from the outside. Amazing.
And Ski Dubai is attached to the Mall of the Emirates so shoppers can watch the action (and you can shop when you're finished skiing :).

As a result of us having such a blast, several of our colleagues plan to do it next year. I'm definitely in for a second trip!

Souqs and Dinner

What a fun time we had shopping at the souqs. Houkas, spices, rugs, souveniers, you name it. And GOLD, lots of gold. Haggling is expected and so I was ready to go after experiencing China. But I was put to shame! Sam is Iranian American and speaks Farsi, which allowed him to haggle with those shop owners and/or workers who also spoke Farsi (the most widely spoken Persian language). Boy was that great to watch. Sam was not about to let any of us pay more than we should, and we didn't. He had some of those guys getting pretty ticked off, but that's when Sam said he knew he was getting the best price. We were some of the only non-Arabic folks in the souqs since these are the more local shops. It was a blast. As you can see the mannequins proved to be a little interesting in some shops. And note the Texas store. The streets reminded me of Vegas in some parts....lots of lights!

By 11:00 or so we were starving so we hunted down a little local eatery. Hmmm....interesting place. Really good food and pretty cheap. A couple of the guys ventured into the restroom, however, and from what we heard it was pretty bad. The rest of us refused to even go in to see, but we now understand why you would never shake someone's left hand after they'd been in there....ew.

Getting home proved to be a challenge...we could not find a taxi. We ended up walking to a hotel to try to call one from there. Said it would be 30 minutes but then one showed up. Betsy, me, Julie and Sam took that one and Hall and Chris waited for another one. Such cavaliers...

Well, another one never showed up so they ended up accepting a ride from someone -- danger, danger, warning -- ended up being a nice guy and he brought them home safely.

The Abra

After the forum closed, six of us headed to Dubai Creek and the traditional (read "old" Dubai) souqs - shops. After a rather long taxi ride (the traffic can be horrendous at certain times of the day), we were dropped off near the abra (flat bottom wooden taxi boats) landing so that we could take an abra to the other side of the creek where the souks are located. The abras are something to experience. It costs 1 dh to ride - that's about 30 cents or so. Everyone piles on and away you go! After we went shopping (more about that in the next post), we got back on an abra and as we got close to the landing, the driver asked if we would like him to take us on a tour of the creek. Just us for 60 dh - about 20 bucks. Of course we said YES! Chris even got to drive - and we are all afraid. At one point we asked how much it would be if we wanted to buy the abra. The driver said 2000 dh - that's about $500 US!!! We pondered the idea of buying it and presenting it to Don with ISTE written on the top, but we didn't have a trailer - LOL! I think I terrified the driver when I put my arm around him for a photo...Oh, and the photo of Chris was supposed to represent the Titanic scene although it certainly doesn't look like it. I'm surprised we weren't arrested, quite frankly!

Closing the Forum

Thursday was the last day of the forum. Although there were less than 100 attendees for this first event, those who attended definitely got a lot out of it. Hats off to Don and Lynn for pulling it together on relatively short notice. I was thrilled to be a part of it and hope to be invited back next year. The focus was primarily on technology in the classroom, but there is also interest in online. Maybe next year we can have a stronger track based on possible research between now and then (to gauge interest). I was fortunate to meet a lot of new people who made the trip even more fun than I expected. Here's one picture of the attendees listening to a demo on SMART boards. At the close, Don handed out beautiful (and heavy!) crystal displays that include the name of the forum, the name of the larger event, GETEX, and a 3-D image of the Burj Al Arab -- the largest hotel in the world (321 meters). We didn't get to go there but I took some pictures of it from a slight distance. I feel privileged to have been able to work with all of these folks. The talent among them is amazing. I've also included a shot of us during our debriefing.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

More Reception Shots

Like I said, we had a good time...


Last nite we attended a reception that we thought was set up for the vendors and us, but of course by the time it ended we had made it our own...

We didn't start out thinking we would have a good time. Betsy had our evening planned for shopping and dinner, but those plans went down the tube when we found out about the reception that was scheduled for 8:00. 8:00! That's a little late for a reception, but we knew we needed to attend. But when we got there at 8:00, we were told that it was actually scheduled for 9:00! 9:00 of course then became 9:30 or 10:00. We basically talked our way in early and began drinking wine and beer - almost a full hour before things were supposed to begin. It was a huge room and we hadn't seen that many vendors at our forum/conference. But lo and behold, by 9:00 it started filling up. We decided that the vendors must have included all of the vendors at the various education events here in the hall. The place was packed.

And then the "entertainment" began. A DJ and of course the obligatory belly dancer! Needless to say, our group had great fun with all of this - and the pictures only represent a portion of the dancing that took place. And after the belly dancing, the place cleared out except for a couple of tables, ours being one of them. We danced until our legs were aching and had the place to ourselves. We even did the Chicken Dance. Leaving some great impressions in Dubai. It was another bonding event for the team. :)