Monday, 20 February 2017


Nathan has been a busy bee today with the last preparations for a bike race that he has helped organize together with Etihad - the World Airline Cycling Challenge.
The WACC consist of two days of challenges. The first tomorrow being a 15 lap challenge around the Yas Marina Circuit, about 85 km. The second event on Wednesday morning will be a Team Time Trial around the Al Wathba Cycle Track.

Nathan and Bruce packed all the goodie-bags today:

The participation t-shirts:

The participation medals:

They are expecting 50+ cyclists, airline employees and/or their immediate family. Cyclists from Emirates, Malaysian Airlines, Air NZ (guess who?), Jet Airways and British Airways have signed up, and the age range is from 17 to 68 (guess who again?).
I'm sure it'll be a good day!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Wahat al Karama

Another thing I participated in this week was a Masterclass organized only for Abu Dhabi tour guides, at the new Martyrs Monument inaugurated end of November last year. I had planned to go here soon anyway, so I really welcomed this chance of an organized visit.

The Wahat al Karama is located in a strategic place right between the General Head Quarters of the Armed Forces of the UAE, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the Al Bateen airport where the fallen heroes are returned to. It is rather surprising how big the area actually is, there is definitely more than meets the eye when you just drive passed it. It really is an impressive and beautifully symbolic monument.
We got to walk around with one of the local cultural guides, all got busy taking notes!

The Memorial Plaza, with the big amphitheater that can seat 1200 people, and the shallow reflective pool, which makes for great photos of the mosque. This pool can also be drained and filled again in just five minutes, which can leave room for military ceremonies such as the celebrations on Martyr's Day itself.

The Memorial, which is made up of 31 aluminum-clad tablets. They are all leaning on one another, to symbolize the unity, solidarity and mutual support between the citizens, the service men and women and our leaders. They are inscribed with a series of poems and verses by the late Sheikh Zayed and several other members of the Royal family.

This here is the "spine" of the whole monument, and it has the Pledge of Allegiance of the UAE Armed Forces engraved along the top, to represent the support the Armed Forces give to the nation.

Throughout the whole park, there is a channel of water that runs (inspired by the traditional Falaj irrigation system) from the entrance, under the panels and into an Infinity Pool, which symbolizes the infinite gratitude to the fallen heroes of the UAE:

The Pavilion of Honour. This is where each and every hero of the UAE is honoured with a name plate. They date from the start of the union in 1971 until, currently, 2016. The name plates are all made from aluminum recycled from vehicles in service with the UAE Armed Forces.

The seven glass panels in the middle of the Pavilion, represent the the seven Emirates:

We were there right on time to see the daily 5pm salute. How special.

Such a serene and beautiful site.

A bonus with these kind of workshops is that you get to reconnect and network with other Abu Dhabi Tour Guides. This is Karina, also from my guide course:

This Friday Brunch bunch

Yesterday was Friday. Friday when you have visitors normally means Brunch. So it did this time.

We usually only go to the Friday Brunches with visitors or on special occasions, it had been a little while since we had done one so we looked forward to some bubbly and yummy food. It was all very tasty as usual, and I only remember to snap photos of the first and last plate... believe me, there was much more deliciousness consumed in between...

The boys:

The girls:

Discussing Pokemon, apparently a whole bunch of new ones were recently released..!

The newest decor in the foyer included a huge amount of these classic Swedish snowball votives from Kosta Boda!

The dudes:

Thursday, 16 February 2017

A true manifestation of Art and Culture

Yesterday I was invited through the TCA to a special lecture held at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, about the floral inlays on the 1096 external columns adorning the mosque.

The lecturer was Dr Mitchell Abdul Karim Crites, an American art historian that has lived and worked in India and across the Islamic world for more than forty years. He is the founder of the world of Saray design that supports artisans from around the world to create architectural and artistic commissions rooted in the traditions of the Islamic world.
He started out by talking a little bit of what inspires him, his background and so on; and continued to talk about the fundamental aspects of the Islamic art. All very interesting, even more so as we were sitting in the South foyer of the Mosque able to admire so many of the decorations around us as we listened.

Currently, he is involved with the extension of the Masjid Al-Haram in Mecca Sharif, which is scheduled for completion later this year. More than 700 master inlay artisans are working on the inlaid calligraphy panels there under his supervision.

Obviously most of his stories were from the creation of the flower features on the external floral columns of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. He mentioned that when he first got commissioned the job, he got told that the vision of Sheikh Zayed was to make this mosque just as iconic and beautiful as the Taj Mahal. The brief was to incorporate both traditional, modern and Emirati styles, and one must say that the mosque is really a successful merge of all this!
They found inspiration for the columns from the earliest roots of Islam - nature. The flowers pictured were not to be natural flowers, but rather "flowers from paradise".

17 different semi-precious stones were used for the inlays in these floral columns, including lapis lazuli, onyx, agate, iridescent abalone, mother-of-pearl, amethyst and more.

It was really interesting, both the lecture itself, but also the live demonstration on "Pietra Dura" that was performed after the lecture. All the pieces for the flowers in the inlays of the columns were cut and ground into shape in India and then shipped to Abu Dhabi. 250 people were employed to work on the cutting and polishing of the 5 million pieces needed, and later on 50-60 artisans worked for two years at the mosque, doing the inlays. The outer patterns would be done by machine drill, but all the inline patterns were cut by hand, by chisel.

Liina, a girl from my Tourist License course was also there to listen, nice to catch up!

After the lecture they offered us a chance to talk and network with the other participants. I met a Lithuanian artist who specializes in Islamic art as well, and who visited the mosque for the first time.

I couldn't help but going for a quick stroll after the lecture to grab a few photos of the mosque in it's special blue evening light. It is rather spectacular like this at night. It was the first time for me actually visiting it in the evening, so beautiful. I never get tired of this place.

Three generations

Grandma and Granddad have arrived from NZ. It's the first visit at our place for Granddad, so it's all very exciting.

We set the bar high and started out already on their first day on Tuesday with going to the track all of us. Grandma, Linnea and I walked around and the boys suited up and rode their bikes.
Quite cool with three generations of Watson bike riders!

We were so early the gates weren't open yet, so we had to wait a little bit to get going.

It was another great night at the track. We kept waiving at each other as they passed us!