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Skyline in Abu Dhabi is typical of the United Arab Emirates region.  Low key isn’t an adjective used often as design direction.    The largest source of pride in Abu Dhabi — and rightly so — is that EVERYTHING has been built out of the desert in just the last 40 years.  Among other things, that feat takes money and lots of it.  Even so, there is a exuberance to economic and real estate development that is almost palpable.

 

This year began where last year left off; lots of work and lots of travel.  Berlin, Abu Dahbi and Dubai weren’t enough to scratch KR’s itch to travel, so she went to Copper Canyon and Cuba without yours truly.   Eleven trips, 12 weeks, and 14 cities kind of says it all.  I’m on the hunt for new business.  And, if truth be told, new experiences.

In the Book of New Experiences, there are few newer experiences than going to the United Arab Emirates for the first time.  If I were a good travel writer, I would think up words to describe this place.  Honestly, words escape me;  I just don’t know how to describe the Other Side of the World adequately.  Think the Cantina scene in Star Wars to get an impression.  I don’t mean this in a negative way, but things are just so totally different that its hard to draw a comparison.

It’s pretty apparent there are basically two types of people:  residents and citizens.  Residents are there to work on everything from research institutes to driving taxis.   Typical stay for a knowledge worker is about three years.  The planes and airports are 90% full of residents from all over the world.   Because of the UAE’s location, there are as many people from Asia as Europe.  Dubai has just become the world’s busiest airport.

Citizens are a different thing altogether.  They dress differently, practice a different religion, and generally live a dual existence trying to integrate Western ways in the Arab culture.  Pretty interesting.  As with most places we’ve traveled, most people are friendly and happy to help.

People that live in the UAE (and I suppose Saudi Arabia) live in a protective cocoon.  There is no sense of the trouble just hundreds of miles away in Syria, or Yemen, or Iraq or..  Pretty amazing really.  I don’t know how they do it, but one feels 100% safe.

Our stay in Abu Dhabi and Dubai was just a couple of days, so we weren’t able to sample much of the place beyond my meetings and our hotels.  Yet we were able to… see the most outrageous hotel in Abu Dhabi (The Palace Hotel, which also serves as a palace); drive 100 miles through the desert between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, stopping at a roadside McDonalds; go to the old part of Dubai and wander the markets (called Souks) in which we bought a camel; and get a glimpse of how the super rich and hipsters live in their Lambos and rooftop bars.

And the possibilities of doing some business with the Emirates seem reasonable. Lots of opportunity, we just have to figure out how to take advantage of it.  I’ve been invited to speak at a conference in Dubai in April, so I’ll be going back and we’ll see.

The whole purpose of this trip was to go to Berlin, not Abu Dhabi or Dubai.  We put on an “Expert Work Shop” for 35 GIN members from all of the world.  For two days we worked on best practices and learned about how folks from Shanghai or Tokyo or Italy or Germany or Finland did things.  Pretty damn interesting.

A not so pleasant experience happened at 4 or 5 in the morning, strapped into my seat, sleeping. Everything is quiet.  I’m in a very long, dark, quiet tube of an airplane  We’re flying from Abu Dhabi to London and we’re over the Mediterranean.  I don’t know where the f___ we are.  Never been here before. Then the plane starts bucking. Very significantly.  The captain comes on in a clipped manner;  “Buckle down!”  Didn’t he mean buckle up?  And here’s what I’m thinking:  this must be exactly what the passengers in the Air France plane from Brazil or the Malaysian Air passengers felt right before it went down.  Dark. Quiet. Somewhere over an unfamiliar ocean.  We stop bucking and I go back to sleep.  But I’ll never forget this feeling and mental image.

As I write this, Karen is in Cuba.  I guess the Little Woman couldn’t wait for Her Man, so she and a girl friend flew from Mexico to Cuba.  I’m awaiting her report, but this is what she wrote in an email:

From a day trip out of town. tobacco farm, cave, countryside. Pretty good.  Free day tomorrow. Looking forward to spending the day in Old Havana!! Had a taste of it yesterday and I can’t wait to go back. No pictures because I used my camera. Will use iPad tomorrow.

This hotel was built in 1930. 19 people were killed in the lobby in the 40’s by Battista’s men during a coup attempt. In the 50s, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky hosted the biggest ever gathering of Mafia men under the guise of a Frank Sinatra concert in the hotel.The Mafia was responsible for bringing gambling and prostitution to Cuba. If the walls could talk.

I can’t get enough of the cars. I’d say 70% are from the 40s and 50s. Some are tied together with rope and  are running with Russian, etc. auto and tractor parts.  Mechanics are looking forward to US trade so they can get our parts. Or enough of the architecture-magnificent old mansions built by the sugar barons and taken over by Castro and turned into government/social service office- all in disrepair and sad looking.  But there are many preservation efforts. Raul has loosened many restrictions and seems interested in change.

Will send photos tomorrow. We are leaving Wednesday am to stay at a famous beach resort. Yuk. I’ve opted for a day trip (6hours on a bus) to visit one of the best preserved colonial cities.

That’s all for now.  Here’s what it looked like in pictures.

 

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It always begins here, at the Admirals Club at LAX.

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Business travel isn’t all work and no play. Here the LACI “GIN” team has dinner in Berlin.  MIke Swords, VP Partnerships on the left, and Marlayna Demco, the-person-we-will-all-be-working-for on the right.

 

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The Berlin GIN “Expert Work Shop” — 30+ people from Germany, Shanghai, Italy, Finland, UK, Beijing, Tokyo, and Hong Kong share notes and solve problems together.

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Nippy would be one way of describing Berlin in March.  KR in front of the Brandenburg Gate

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No trip anywhere would be complete without visiting a street art fair.  No, KR didn’t buy all the stuff in those bags.  But I bought another 1930’s era globe that we then had to take to the UAE..

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Germans like their potatoes, a lot.  This potato was all dressed up.  Appropriately so as it was one of the best tasting potatoes ever.

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My vote for the weirdest airport in the world, the current Abu Dhabi airport.  Now this was Star Wars stuff.  Abu Dhabian’s are pretty upset about it too, so they’re building what looks to me to be city-sized new airport.  One has to keep up with the neighbors you know, especially if your neighbors are those folks in the Arab world’s Las Vegas, Dubai.

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Arabian penitentiary?  No, this is Masdar City in Abu Dhabi.  Masdar City is a “Zero Carbon” mini-city built to test sustainable technologies.

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I had to take this shot quickly to capture some people.  Not a lot of people here.  I came to Masdar to talk with the folks at the Masdar Institute, their hope-to-be MIT graduate school.

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Awaiting a taxi with one other person.

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One of the most opulent hotels I’ve ever been in (note, I didn’t say stayed in).  The Palace Hotel is also a palace.

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Pictures of His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nnahyan, the President of the UAE until his death iin 2004, are everywhere.  Here, KR takes his hand in the lobby of the Palace Hotel which

 

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looked like this.  This is just ONE lobby of a dozen or so

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Most unique ATM in the world:)  Probably pretty handy for visiting despots who need to get a hold on some of that Swiss stash

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Slightly more modest hotel , the Radison in Abu Dahbi.  Overlooks the Marina’s grey haze, which the locals say is the result of the dust storms this time of year.

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So close, but so far away.  The Formula 1 circuit in the Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi.  At least I got to drive by it.

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We took a taxi between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which is about 100 miles.  The drive is the equivalent, scenery-wise , between Barstow and Vegas, without the good stuff.  Drive stopped for gas and KR got us lunch at the McDonalds:)

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View from our hotel in Dubai, which we didn’t really get to see.  We were in town for slightly more than 24 hours and never really got close to downtown.  But, this building is representative.  Lots of very very tall buildings in grey skies.

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Our hotel was on  the Dubai Creek (more on that in second).  Weather was absolutely beautiful, really welcomed given we were in Berlin for a week and froze.  This is a restaurant at the hotel.

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KR wanted to go to the “old Dubai”, so we did.  I didn’t even know there was an old part of Dubai.  This is outside a really neat museum of Bedouin life.  Anything old puts a smile on KR’s face

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Acting like a Sheik, I bought Karen a camel to take home…

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Gentrified street in Old Dubai

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This is the reason there’s an Old Dubai — Dubai Creek.  Unlike Abu Dhabi, Dubai has been around since the late 1800’s as a village on this pretty big creek.  This is a dinner cruise boat that we decided “next time”.

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Old Dubai is primarily made up of a bunch of “Souks”, their word for markets. There’s the Gold Souk, the Fabric Souk, etc. Wish we could have spent more time exploring here.

 

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Half a world away and KR is in Cuba while I write this.  Haven’t actually spoke to her, but pictures sometime tell the story.

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Cuban cars — I think these are taxis

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The primary reason that KR couldn’t wait to get to Cuba was to see the old Colonial buildings before they were torn down by the Modernization that is sure to come with normalized relations.

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Another type of taxi

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Pictures of Che are everywhere

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A pickup truck ran into the left front of the Bullet.  Not good.  Almost 30 days later and I’m still waiting for my trusty stead to get back

 

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Even looking at this picture makes me smile. About a week ago I took NV II to the Long Beach Port so he can be shipped to Belgium. KR and I are riding him for a month through Europe this summer. Wow wow wow!

 

 

 

4 replies
  1. Cindy Rowe says:

    Absolutely fascinating! The adventures you two have been on are amazing. I’m happy for you guys.

  2. Debbie says:

    Whew ! It’s a small small world thanks to airplanes, thank God you and KR aren’t depending on travel via Camels ! Keep on exploring, having fun and sharing your stories. Debbie xo

  3. Ron Kuhl says:

    Thanks for the update.You were so right that Dubai is the Arab World’s Las Vegas. It is one of those places that is hard to describe because it just isn’t like any other, more familiar, places. Be glad you didn’t get more time to explore the souks. Mary hit the gold souk pretty hard. 400 shops with more gold and jewelry than we ever imagined existed. Fascinating…but also expensive.
    Can’t wait to hear about your upcoming adventures in Europe.

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