Sunday, 15 April 2012

Time to relocate?

For those who are wondering where I have ended up.. lately I have been busy tinkering with a new project (well actually more than one project but the absence of posts here is mostly due to one reason).

I am working on a new blog and I am testing it to see if it is the case to relocate.. to Wordpress.

If you want to have a look this is the link:

See what you think.

I am still debating where I should make the move.

And by the way you can subscribe to that new blog via email. So you receive a message when I post a new update. If I scrap it or move it I'll let you know.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Earth Hour 2012 in Muscat, Oman

Oman joined Earth Hours for the second consecutive year last night.

Lights off - lights on
This year the participation of two iconic buildings in Muscat such as the Royal Opera House and the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque represented an important symbolic gesture of willingness to commit to the environmental cause by the country.

For the occasion people were invited to witness the countdown of the light switching at the Royal Opera House in Muscat: an event organised by Environment Society of Oman with the participation of Merge FM, a local radio that publicised the event and entertained the audience on the night.

An expert from the PDO Planetarium brought a telescope to promote the benefits of darkness for star and sky gazing. Visitors were able to admire the craters and contours of the moon through the lens of the telescope.

The photo above shows the Royal Opera House with the lights off and the gradual switching of the lights back on at the end of the hour.

A good portion of the people who turned up were Omanis, including young children: it is always a promising sign when the local population is involved in events that promote environmental awareness.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step”
Old Chinese Proverb

For more information about Earth Hour you may visit the Earth Hour official website.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The magic of Sweden: in pursuit of the Northern Lights, sleeping in the Ice Hotel and other winter adventures

The guide in front of us silently pointed towards the woods. 

With my hands tightly grappled around the handle I turned my head and between the trees I could clearly see the front of a reindeer bull, its thick neck fur shining under the glorious sun beaming through the branches. He was watching us totally still, as if in a frozen pose, a stark contrast to our fast moving pace and the rhythmic running of the dogs.
The guide later told us that had we stopped, the wild animals would have run away and the dogs would have started barking, breaking all the magic, so a glimpse was all we were able to afford; yet that fleeting sight filled me with such joy; the feeling of being at one with nature made me feel so alive.

We left the Middle Eastern sun where we currently live to travel thousands of miles to a frozen landscape that could not be any more different than the sights that we get back home: we were dog-sledding near Jukkasjärvi, in Lapland, 200km north of the Arctic Circle as part of our winter trip to Sweden, on the pursuit of the Northern Lights, to experience the famous Ice Hotel and to dust-up some long neglected skiing skills. A truly unforgettable holiday!

A musher's view
Standing on the back of our own personal sleds each pack of dogs was pulling us fast over frozen lakes and through the woods to our final destination for the day: a group of remote log cabins tucked in a corner of forest where René, our guide, a skilled dog musher, personal cook and butler prepared our meals, lit our log fires and generally helped us make the most of a truly unforgettable experience. We were lucky enough to be the only couple on the tour which meant that our candle lit dinner and sauna as well as the whole experience in these remote cabins with no electricity or running water was a truly romantic one.

Aurora Borealis
The weather was with us too, so as our dinner was being prepared we were able to gaze at the sun slowly disappear behind a line of trees into a deep orange glow before retreating into a hot sauna lit by the warm light of the burning logs. Once the night enveloped us we sat in awe watching the Northern Lights dance in the sky in the quietness of the beautiful snowy and still landscape.

There is nothing more exhilarating to me than waking up in the morning surrounded by nature. My most unforgettable trips are the ones spent in the wild and in the most uncomplicated environments.When all the unnecessary burden of my earthly possessions becomes clear by the simple fact that I am not missing them. That’s when I feel I can stand still in silence and reach out and inside myself. When I feel so small and yet vast in being part of such a mesmerising ecosystem.

But of course that's easily said when you know that all your creature comforts are just an arm stretch away, so I won't pretend. I am extremely grateful for what life keeps throwing at me and treasure every single moment. 

I digress.  

Back at the Ice Hotel it was time to check into our Art Suite. Finally we knew which of the amazing ice sculpted rooms we were going to spend the night in at -5c: Art Suite 302 – Frozen Love.

As the night descended and tiredness arrived, I reluctantly slipped into my thermals and layered myself with an unattractive fleece pyjama, socks and hat before collecting my sleeping bag from the warm reception. I had lost any interest in looking even remotely glamorous; for me this was a challenge. I was not going to duck out, yet I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to sleep. A sleepless camping trip in the desert during a cold December night was all that kept coming to mind: if I had been so cold in the desert surely this was not going to be warmer, was it?
I followed the tips given to us during the afternoon tour religiously: don’t get wet (dampness is your enemy in the cold), get the sleeping bag just when you are ready to go to bed, don’t drink prior to bed (I know some may not agree but knocking yourself out with a few vodka drinks is expensive anyway!), keep warm before hand. 

Frozen Love
I followed all the tips with devotion: I was like a Magdalene of the ice as I stepped outside with the sleeping bag wrapped around my head and body, got into the icy building, through fairy tale-like corridors of crystallised pure water, reached our room and climbed onto our bed. Once inside the sleeping bag I realised that after all it was as toasty as under the midday sun at the beach. Almost too warm: I had to take my unsightly fleece pyjama off and stay in my thermals. That’s how warm it gets. We sat on our bed of Reindeer skins like two pupae in awe for a while. Then lights off. Some art still glowing in the dark, I fell asleep in my own cocoon with a smile on my face. I woke up to the crisp morning air; the daylight beaming softly through the icy walls.

It was truly like a winter wonderland dream. 

I made it and I’ll never forget this.

Winter sunset

Morning hug
Four-legged friend

****** practical info ****

A trip to the Ice Hotel like this will set you back a few thousand British Pounds for just a few days but if you can afford it, it is well worth the experience. It is truly unique.

The overnight dog sledding tour was particularly expensive but for us it was the first time and it was a truly unforgettable experience.

We arranged everything ourselves (read: myself): from the international to the internal flights to accommodation & transfers.

Internal flights are expensive, especially if you manage to book a wrong non-refundable connection and have to rebook like I managed to do!
Return flights to Kiruna from Stockholm for our dates were about £259 per person (1hr 20 min-long domestic flight). That’s without the rebooking fee.
Kiruna is the closest airport to the Ice Hotel: about 15 minutes’ drive.

We combined our Ice Hotel adventure with a 3-nights ski break in Are (return flights from Stockholm to Ostersund, and Ski bus pre-arranged with which gave us two full days skiing. Are is one of the largest ski resorts in Sweden and supposedly one that most resembles a typical alpine ski resort. It is way smaller than any ski resort I have been to in the Alps however it was very nice for two days skiing. The runs were varied and there is an amazing array of well equipped snow parks dotted around. Consider that we were not able to ski the higher part of the resort since the cable car was closed both days due to strong winds.  It was still fun and beautiful.

Sweden is an expensive country. This was probably the most we have ever spent for a one week long getaway!

We ate lots of Reindeer (it seems to be as common as beef there) and I have to say that strict vegetarians may have a hard time on a Swedish diet.

That’s it for now. It was an amazing holiday!

If you are thinking of doing a similar holiday and would like more detailed info feel free to add a comment or send me a private message.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Project management in Oman

Are you a project manager in construction and you forgot to arrange utilities for your construction site? Don't worry. 

Here is an inspiring story for you.  

Door bell rings. I open the door. Two cleanly dressed and polite young guys are at my gate. If it was Europe I would suspect Jehovah Witnesses. I am safe here.

Young man: Hello Ma’m we are from the construction site next door.

Me: hello (I assume they are supervisory staff, mostly because I can understand what they say)

Young man: Ma’m we need electricity. Next week we start works but we don’t have electricity. We have applied from the electricity company but it takes two weeks to get connected and we must start next week.

Me: yes? (thinking: I wonder what this has got to do with me, though I know where this is going)

Young man: We were wondering if we can use your electricity for one week.

Me (thinking: is this true?): Use my electricity for one week??!? 
(quick mental elaboration: wait? what? when? how? Uh?) - I must have looked a bit stunned.

Young man: yes

Me: what do you mean use my electricity? (random images of doom populate my head). You want to extend a wire into my property to plug it into one of my sockets?

Young man: Yes Ma’m only for one week. It’s only for a small light for the workers. Until we get electricity.

Me (still thinking: I must be dreaming, wake up!): OK, excuse me for not understanding, what do you expect me to do? To keep a window open so that you can use my electricity for a week? Can you not get a generator?

Young man: No, no generator (reason mentioned escapes me).  It’s only for a little electricity for the workers (and something else that has also escaped my mind in the commotion), only for one week (as if he was asking it for 10 minutes). No ma’m no window open, we can use the plug outside.

Me: what plug outside? 

Young man: Yes ma’m don’t you have one for outside kitchen?

Me (thinking: I am starting to enjoy this): no I don’t think there is any plug outside (though I vaguely remember seeing one)

Young man: Ma’m tomorrow I can send my electrician with one of my men and they can inspect…

(Image of electrician with naked wires attached to a light bulb springs to my mind: enough time spent on this nonsense. This is project management at its worst). 

Me: no sorry, your construction site management issues are none of my problems.

Almost four years of life in the bubble and they still manage to amaze me. It's an art!   

Monday, 5 March 2012

The month in pictures - February 2012

The month begun with more kitesurfing lessons but I had to take a break soon afterwards though because the instructors went on holiday for the rest of the month. 
This is me on the board...well kind of. 
My first water start!

Muscat Fashion week 
I went with the ladies to have a peak at Arabian fashion on the occasion of the second Muscat Fashion Week (the first one was in 2011). 
OK the world of Laurence of Arabia is hardly the center of fashion but it was interesting nonetheless. Despite what one may think, considering the background of ladies in back Abayas, the locally produced fashion was intensely colourful. To be fair Oman is actually a very colourful country and women's traditional dresses can be a rainbow of colours made up of interesting fabrics. On the evening we went (Tuesday) there were some very interesting and beautiful gowns as well as an amazing collection of extravagant hats from a Saudi designer. I took over 200 photos

Pestering the cat

The cats are a little bit whiny lately so every now and then I try to take revenge.
Usually when they sleep I can kind of do anything I want to them (evil grin).

The Easts do Oman
Happy times! It was lots of fun. From 5-star hotel cocktail parties to lunches on the beach, from sunset on the mountains to rolling down sand dunes, from exploring old castles to boating along the coast we managed to jam quite a lot in, in such a little time.

Of course the best entertainment being the children.

My favourite expression now is "run for your life!"

Thank you for the memorable time together. :D

We ended the month with a carnival party trying to re-live some of my Italian childhood traditions but mostly as an excuse to make some hyper-caloric Italian carnival sweets, frappe (or chiacchere, stracci and the many other names they are known as in different regions!)
First time I made them in my life and the result was quite encouraging.

I have been doing a lot of cooking lately... February is also the month we bought this new and expensive kitchen gadget: suddenly the kitchen has become an experimental lab.

Ah of course, last but not least my uni results have been published on my University of Portsmouth student portal:

Honours Degree of Bachelor of Science In COMPUTING AND INFORMATION SYSTEMS with Upper Second Class Honours

Now I need a new project... I am in brewing mode.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Top service in Oman

Settings: having drinks at the swanky new pool bar at the Chedi (one of the top and finest hotel establishments in town).

Me (to waiter): excuse me. Can we have the bill please? But only for the following drinks as we are going before the others who have just joined us: 2 beers, 1 Aperol spritz and a glass of wine.

Waiter: ok

A friend who's just joined our group intercepts the waiter in question and orders a drink.

Ale: oh-oh. You know this is going to create confusion..

I make a point to repeat the drinks we asked the bill for to the waiter.

He's off.

The waiter returns 15 minutes later... Maybe 20.

A tray on his hand carries the drinks we asked the bill for.

This is top service in Oman. Start again from the top...


On a different day and in different circumstances:

I'm home. I go downstairs planning to read a book on the sofa. The maid is cleaning outside.
I hear a distinctive crackling noise coming from the window by the tv.

Here we go again: cleaning the windows means spraying water all over the place with a hosepipe... and the windows in this country are not watertight.

The noise is quite unusual. I gather that maybe it's not the sound of water being sprayed against the window. I draw the curtain to inspect the area. The little concert comes from the socket and plug right beneath the window: water is trickling onto the tv plug.
It doesn't sound or look good.
The maid totally unaware happily continues with her flooding mission outside.

My heart sinks: while on holiday this lady is going to look after our house and pets. I seriously wonder whether there will be a house to come back to.

The things you learn to live with.