A few days ago on the way to work I noticed that there was a Tim Hortons coffee shop beside my hotel, opening soon. There are Starbucks coffee shops everywhere, including one in the hallway between the parking lot and my office on campus. I was pretty sure that Tim Hortons were rare in Dubai, and when I went online to find out more I discovered there were no Tim Hortons in the city at all. One of my colleagues told me that the grand opening was to take place on Saturday. He had been to the shop the day before and they were giving away free stuff before the official opening. I was a little disappointed I had missed out on that, but suggested that we get a group together and go there for the grand opening on the weekend.
Yesterday I decided to walk over to the Tim Hortons to try to confirm that the grand opening actually was happening Saturday. I hoped to see a sign on the window, but the windows were opaque and the only writing was “Opening Soon”. There was a couple who approached the door ahead of me and pulled on the handle. To my surprise the door opened. There were quite a few people inside. It was a small foyer so it was a little crowded. One of the employees told me that I could order anything for no charge. I ordered my favourite item from the menu – an ice cappuccino. I wanted it with chocolate milk, but they didn’t have that as an option in the Dubai shop. After I got my Ice Capp, I decided to ask the couple that had entered ahead of me if they were Canadian. We started chatting, and decided to continue the conversation sitting at a table. That just doesn’t happen at a Tim Hortons in Canada.
Laurie and Eric are originally from Vancouver. Eric is currently working for Emirates Air and they have been living in Dubai for about three years. It turns out that Eric knows a friend of mine’s brother, whom I have never met but he grew up in the same town as I did and he is currently a pilot for Emirates Air. While we were chatting, various members of the staff came by with samples from the menu – including bagels, donuts, french vanilla coffee, soup, and ice capp. There was also a guest book that was passed around, which we signed. We asked one of the employees if he was from Canada. He said that he and several staff were here for three weeks to train the local staff. He looked fairly young, so I thought that was probably a great opportunity for him. A little while later Dave, the manager, stopped by our table and we started asking him lots of questions. It turns out that this is the first Tim Hortons to open in the middle east. There is one being built in Abu Dhabi, but its opening has been delayed. Dave had only been in Dubai for a few months, be he was going to be here for a few years setting up more shops in the U.A.E. He had spent the last few years doing the same thing in Dublin, Ireland. After awhile Dave’s wife Lisa came by, and she ended up sitting down with Laurie, Eric, and I and we continued the chat.
Laurie was a great source of information. She told me about a website: http://www.expatwoman.com/dubai/ which has lots of information. There is an Annual Breakfast at the Burj Al Arab (shaped like a sailboat) in October. It turns out that the breakfast is on a Sunday, but fortunately I don’t teach on Sundays. I had been debating about whether or not I would go into the Burj Al Arab, because you are not allowed in the doors unless you have a reason to be there. In other words, you would have to be a guest, or have a reservation at a restaurant to get inside. I have been told that the cheapest option is to have tea there for about $80 Cdn. The expatwomen breakfast looks like a really good way of visiting this iconic hotel.
I also asked Laurie and Lisa a good place to buy clothes. I am looking for some casual clothes to wear on the weekends when I go out during the day. I had been told to cover my shoulders and cover my knees. Although that rule is clearly violated by lots of visitors, I feel more comfortable if I do respect the dress code. The problem is that I don’t have any shorts that cover my knees. The only casual long pants I have that do cover my knees are track pants. I have been going out wearing them, but they are hot, and extremely casual. I wanted some thing that was calf length. Both Laurie and Lisa recommended Marks and Spencer in Festival City as a place to get clothes that would fit. After a little while, I had to leave because it was almost 11:30. I wanted to get to the grocery store before it closed for prayers at noon. Before I left, Lisa and I made plans to meet back at the Tim Hortons next Friday morning.
That afternoon, I headed to Festival City with my colleague’s daughter Cristina. I was on a mission to get pants. We took the metro to the Emirates station near the airport. From there we took a cab to the entrance of the shopping centre; it cost 10 dirhams. I had never been in a Marks and Spencers before. The irony that I have been to three different malls in less than two weeks will probably shock my friends and family. As I have said many times before, I hate the mall. I think the only other time I had been in this many stores in this short amount of time is when we were shopping for bridesmaid dresses for my sister’s wedding. I started pulling a bunch of things off the shelf based mostly on what I think might fit. I went into the change room twice, both times with eight items. I ended up buying two pairs of calf length pants and a couple of tops.
As I went to pay for the items, the salesclerk told me I had the option to pay in dirhams or Canadian dollars. I had been given the same offer at the Duty Free shop in the airport when I arrived. I thought I should pay in Canadian dollars, because I expected the rate to be better that way. I did the currency conversion calculations when I got home. It is hard to know for sure what the best deal is, because the rate of exchange varies every day even using the same means of getting the currency. However, the rate of exchange I received by paying in Canadian dollars at the Marks and Spencer was almost 1/3 of a cent higher to purchase 1 dirham as compared to the highest rate I had seen from any source – paying by credit card or getting cash out of a bank machine. Based on that transaction, if I am given that option in the future, I will pay in dirhams.
The Festival City Shopping Centre is an upscale mall. Although I have been to both the Mall of the Emirates and the Dubai Mall, I actually have not explored either one in depth. However, I would say that Festival City is closer to the Dubai Mall than the Emirates Mall in its tone and clientele. Cristina and I spent the rest of the time basically window shopping. There were lots stores I had never heard of, and there were lots of stores that I had heard of, but never seen. In fact, I don’t think there I saw one chain represented in the entire mall I had ever been in before. There is an IKEA in the mall, but I can’t remember if I have ever been in one in Canada.
Some of the stores I had heard of but never seen include: Calvin Klein, DKNY, Ferrari (although I didn’t really think of that brand as being a store in a mall), Fred Perry, Lacoste, Marc Jacobs, and Tommy Hilfiger. There were lots of stores I had never heard of, like Paris Hilton, Handbags and Accessories. And there were lots of stores that had middle eastern wares. One shop sold amber and perfumes. Outside the shop were a couple of contraptions that had smoke rising from them. There were women dressed in abayas, standing near the smoke as it rose; it seemed that they were trying to get the scent onto their clothes.
I felt completely out of place when I walked into many of the stores. I went into the Marc Jacobs store and wandered around. I was wearing my Adidas track pants, Reebok golf shirt, and Birkenstock sandals, carrying my nylon “CS Girls Rock” bag. I felt that the salesperson was judging me for even walking into the store. He clearly knew that I was not going to buy anything. It reminded me of the time that I walked into Paul Magder’s fur shop in Toronto, when I was in university, similarly dressed and about 20 years old. That is a long story that I won’t go into now – although it does have a very nice ending.
Near the end of our walk through the mall, Cristina and I ended up in the eWalk section. The interesting thing here was that the stores here weren’t generic electronics shops. There was a Toshiba store, and a separate Panasonic store, and a Samsung, store, and an LG store, and so on. Cristina recognized the local wireless service provider name on a store, and I went in to get a SIM card for my phone. Being a neophyte when it comes to cell phones, I was a little confused by the choices, but I got the card. Cristina warned me that my Blackberry may be blocked, and I would have to figure out how to unblock it before I could get the SIM card to work. She was right, and I still don’t have a working phone. I will ask for help at work tomorrow from more experienced cell phone users.
Today I met with several of my colleagues to go to the Grand Opening of the Tim Hortons. I suggested we all meet at 11:00 a.m. Eleven of us walked around the corner to indulge in a Canadian tradition. It turns out that 11:00 a.m. was probably the worst time we could have chosen to go. The place was packed with people, and there was not much space for people to sit inside the store. Also, today everyone had to pay for their food and drink. Still everyone seemed to be happy to be there. We got a picture of most of the uWaterloo Dubai group (and family) along with the store manager, and a fellow Canadian who was originally from Waterloo.
As we returned to the hotel, I noticed a pretty good breeze. Since the temperature was only 36 degrees and we were standing in the shade, it actually felt tolerable outside. Without a plan for the rest of the day, I decided to go to Jumeirah Beach in the late afternoon. I decided to take a cab to the Jumeirah Beach Park, which turned out to be 15 dirhams. There are several beaches along the same coastline. Some of them are private hotel beaches and some of them are public beaches. You have to pay 5 dirhams to get into the Jumeirah Beach Park. The park is the length of the beach and probably less than 200 metres from the road to the fence separating the park from the beach. The beach itself I would guess at about 1km long. However, I am horrible at estimating distances.
I went directly to the beach. There was a sign that said “No cameras on the beach”. I did respect that notice, but there were others who did not. Those who were taking pictures seemed to be taking them of family members. I would have liked to take some pictures of the beach and of the view. I did take a few pictures from the park looking onto the beach. I don’t know if that was violating the spirit of the law or not. I think the intention was to stop people from taking pictures of women in bikinis without their knowledge or consent. The waterfront was dotted with umbrellas and lounge chairs. As I walked along the edge of the water I saw piles of umbrellas and chairs that seemed to be free for anyone who wanted them, but I am not sure about the protocol. The temperature of the water felt like a warm bath. I had been warned about this. Most people that were in the water were just standing in it, not moving much. That did not appeal to me at all.
It was a nice, but short walk along the beach. The wind from the Gulf made the temperature and humidity tolerable. At the west end of the beach I had a good view of the Burj Al Arab in the distance. There were many kites in the distance that I assumed were being used for kite surfing off of another beach. I would have liked to take a picture of that view. At the other end of the beach there was a group of men playing volleyball. Most of the women that I saw were wearing bikinis, regardless of their shape or age. There were a few women wearing one piece bathing suits, and I saw a couple of women wearing burkinis.
When I left the beach I sat down on a bench in the shade. The bench I was sitting on was sheltered from the wind. Within a few minutes my whole body was coated with sweat. I walked around the park area and took a few pictures. I walked slowly, and felt a breeze most of the time. It was not ideal, but it was nice to be outside. I left the park and tried to get a cab back to the hotel. I see several cabs a minute on the road outside my hotel, but I wasn’t so lucky outside the park. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, and about ten minutes, I finally flagged down a taxi. I will definitely come back to this beach when both the water and the air are cooler. However, I expect that it will be much busier.