Friday, 28 September 2012

The stately pleasure domes....

In Shangri La!  That's the name of the resort we spent this last weekend at, well the Thursday afternoon til Friday lunchtime!  It was the birthday of British Rob the band instructor so a bunch of us expats headed off to Shangri La.
Ahhh Shangri La, you've done it again!

A great time was had by all, swanning around the sundeck, taking the lazy river ride from one lagoon (and pool) to another and its adjoining bar area.  Sigh the hardship, but someone had to do it!
David does the lazy river

But really I am getting ahead of myself. Since returning from Europe three weeks ago life has been busy. I had to prepare for and go through vendor negotiations. Such fun! and next week I get to front the powers that be and dicsuss the findings of the evaluation team, me and our contracted service provider.  All in all that means there will be more work in the offing.

So the long and the short of it is that the last few weeks have been a little more than busy. And Katrina has been given a 2 January submission date for the BIG T (Phd thesis). So no rest for her til January!

But in between work I bought a car! Somehow along the way I managed to discount a number of Jeeps, Citroens, Volkswagons and other cars from consideration. Settling in the end for the cheapest car I considered, a 2001 Chevrolet Blazer 4wd SUV.  It has the zr2 designation so sporty suspension, to go with the 2 doors.  It wasn't until a few days after buying it that I realised that as well as being a two door it is a four seater. That's right no middle seat in the back! And then today I discovered the cruise control, so swings and roundabouts.

But for its age it is remarkably clean and quiet with (for this region) a very good service record. But then being a Chevrolet and thus an American car, the fuel economy sucks and it doesn't handle. But with petrol 28c a litre..... On the other hand it is rather comfortable and a pukka 4wd.  Wadi bashing here we come - well after Katrina hands her thesis up!
The Chevvy
The weather here is finally starting to turn for the better. Some nights the temperature even drops below 30! and 40 during the day is becoming rarer.  Outdoor activity will become more and more possible in the coming weeks. People tell me the next five months will be fabulous with days in the mid twenties and nights around twenty with low humidity.  I could get used to that. Apparently it's called winter!

We are slowly building a social life here and the last few weekends have all included nights out involving a few different social circles.  Funnily enough the only Aussies we deal with on a regular basis are Dan and Nooshin (and now their baby Anoosha). Dan is a freelance Aussie, working on business development in the region, primarily with Australian companies.  For all of the first baby three months ago Dan is not hugely younger than us, although young enough to not remember/know Aunty Jack and the Naked Vicar Show! He does however have a complete DVD set of Kingswood Country.

Apart from our two rescued Omani cats  - Button and Bluey - mum cat out the back has gone and sprogged again. Four kittens this time two white with grey tabby patches and two white with ginger splotches, a bit like their big brother Bluey.  Thankfully a second vet has opened in Muscat (a good 20+ kilometers closer to home) and as soon as we can catch mum it's off to the vet for some tube tying.  The kittens will follow shortly after and hopefully they will stay and chase the rest of the local cats off, meaning no more breeding in our backyard!  Kittens tug Katrina's soft side - Yeah I know who'd a thunk a Ranga had a soft side!
Mine, all mine!

And then all of a sudden we are almost up to date.  Wednesday night was spent at the Police club, at one of their candlelight evenings.  I thought it was just going to be a special spread in the club restaurant, but no it was a buffet dinner in the sports field. As I'd booked a table for four we took Dan and Nooshin with us and were the only non Omani's there - well apart from some of the wait staff.  The stadium lights were set to "romance level" and tables were spread across the in-field, with 4 or 5 buffets around the perimeter.

When they called "grubs up" we all rushed and queued for the food - only to have the Maitre'D' come and tell Katrina and Nooshin that actually ladies should be queuing on the other side of the field!  So off they went. Field sides seemed to stop mattering after a little while as we all bogged in and people went searching for that dish they missed.

They also laid on live music, rather pleasant Arabic (but slightly Westernised) music and bouncy castles for the kids - of which there seemed to be a never ending supply! One of the bouncy castles was the aft end of a ship set at about 30 degrees to the ground - so everytime I looked downfield I kept imagining Leonardo Di-Caprio heading for a deserved ending! (and when did I not have my camera?)

Which now brings us to Shangri La!  A rather pleasant resort with three hotels, the Omani Heritage centre, numerous restuarants and late night Belly dancing in an area adjoining one of the many bars. Following on from pool lounging, floating around the lazy river and our first ever camel rides, a rather nice way to spend the balance of the weekend - the pictures can talk for themselves.
Camel riders extra-ordinaire
And then all too soon checkout and back to reality. The next little while will be rather busy for us both, but will hopefully have settled a bit before we welcome our first two sets of Australian visitors on the 3rd of November and then my parents for the second half of November.

Let's see what Hunts tours Oman can conjure up...............

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Home again home again.....

Yes we are home again, back in Muscat. We arrived a few days ago, getting in a couple of hours late because the pilot stalled the engine at a red light in Abu Dhabi.  And well by the time they got it restarted and checked out again landing time had slipped from 9 to 11. Making what would have been a reasonable off the plane and home to bed a rather late off to home, chill a bit and then off to bed.

It is kinda nice being home and somehow the mosque calls ringing out over the neighbourhood are a pleasant reminder that we are in fact home.

So what happened on the rest of our trip, welllllllllllllllllllllllll

Dijon, was so picturesque and we had a great time wandering up and down the banner infested street looking at all the fabulous buildings and so on.  unfortunately the museum at one end of the Ducal palace was closed for renovations. Sigh!  It must have had some good stuff in there as my experience is that if a museum is under renovation or closed when I come to town that's cos it's got the best stuff in it!  Grump.

So off we wandered down the street and bumped straight (well almost straight) into a pair of cathedrals. One of them has been disused for a couple of centuries or so and so, following some pretty severe desecration in the French Revolution.  None the less in we wandered to find a functioning art space set up around the slowly being renovated interior.  Huge industrial strength wooden beams have been set up to stop the arches falling in.  Sadly off in one corner lies the rather large remnants of a baptismal font.
Cathedral repairs under-way

From there we wandered across the street to the functioning, gargoyle clad cathedral.  Lots of late 17th century stuff in here........  Wandered around took some pictures and then Katrina got all excited, it seems that under the Cathedral is an 11th century crypt, which we could go see. How often does an Australian get to look in a crypt? let alone one this old with a genuine saints coffin included!  So down the stairs we duly clomped and around the rather atmospheric crypt we peered. All very interesting and given what is left of the original colours it must have been spectacular in its heyday.
Katrina of the Catacombs

And then all to soon the TGV train to Switzerland beckoned and we were away again, leaving the city of mustard behind.

Ahh Switzerland the home of bankers, international diplomacy, fabulous scenery and the second best chocolate in the world!

We trained it into Geneva, via Lausanne and with the help of a taxi found our way to Kiriel's landing where we gladly stopped and dragging out the tablet watched QI until Kiriel made her way home from work. This was to be home for the next week, Kiriel's pull out couch bed!
Mont Blanc takes a peek, just to be sure Geneva survived us.

There is really too much to tell about Switzerland and surrounds, well the French claim part of the shore of Lake Geneva and in these French areas the red and white Swiss flag is flown at least as proudly as the tricolour. Where did we go well Annecy is pretty spectacular, set in the Alps and as is almost every other town in the region, on a lake shore. Montreaux (on a lake shore) boasts the utterly spectacular Chateau Chillon which we spent half a day at after the GPS had us drive Kiriel's little Toyota all the way around lake Geneva.
Just one of the fireplaces, rather modestly decorated..

And then we were off to Basel for the real reason of the trip the wedding of Christoph (and Monika), who had lived in Canberra some time ago when studying at the ANU and had rented house space from..... Kiriel.  Interesting wedding, a civil ceremony in a hall above a sled and coach museum followed by a reception at a 12th century castle which overlooked the whole valley that Basel nestles into.  Mmm Mmmm Mmmmmm.
Berg Reichenstein, 12c Castle and 21st C reception venue par excellence.

As a side note apparently marriages in Switzerland are not legal unless they have had a civil ceremony, whether a church wedding is involved or not is apparently immaterial. And as another interesting side point all churches are referred to as cults! So Cafe Cult is a perfectly nice coffee shop in the grounds of a church.

But I digress, after the wedding we hotfooted it back to Geneva via a rather spectacular stronghold and medieval city, a Roman Ampitheatre and accompanying city bits and one of the most spectacular sunsets we had ever seen.  Quiet days beckoned, kind of.
Avenches amphitheater - which as you can see from the temporary seating is still used.

Monday was a relax and down time day and Tuesday we explored Geneva by bicycle. Katrina swears she is never going cycling with me ever again!  A ride around the city parts of the lake took us down to the confluence of the Rhone river (Lake Geneva outlet) and the L'Arve river which comes out of France. The Rhone is crystal clear and the L'Arve a kind of milky white. Not seen anything like that before, have a look on Google maps and you will see the difference. Unfortunately the cycle path got rather undulating on that leg and by the time we decided this is no place for bicycles, it was damned if you do and damned if you don't so we continued.  Just when Katrina thought there could be no more up, there was! I may not have helped things by reminding her that "well we were in the Alps after all!"  Even a cold beer and coffee waiting at the pub atop the climb was not enough.
The Rhone and the L'Arve meet

And that night we farewelled Kiriel as the airport beckoned at a totally unreasonable hour of the morning.....