Monday, 22 September 2008


If you ask anyone in the know in Dubai where the best place is to go for diamonds they should all give you this answer: the Gold and Diamond Park. Not only are you getting great quality diamonds, you're getting great prices. Situated near the Mall of the Emirates, this indoor 90 store specialty mall is the home of bling!

A friend of ours is engaged to be engaged and took a salivating Ashleigh and myself ring shopping last night. She gets to pick her own ring, lucky girl!

So, we showed up with a little knowledge and a big desire to try on as much bling as we could. We noticed a stark difference between jewellery shopping here in Dubai to jewellery shopping at home in Australia. Here, they're more than happy to let you try on WHATEVER you want. There is no snobby looking down their noses at you like in Australia, assuming you can't afford even the most cheap of diamond flakes, let alone the big blingers.

We were welcomed to the shop, asked what we were looking for and promptly seated at the counter. We were then offered water and while our friend told them what she was looking for in a diamond solitaire, they indulged us with a WHOLE tray of rings each to play with!!!

Ash and I couldn't believe our luck! When we jokingly said the stones just weren't big enough, they bought out the biggest diamond ring in the store and just let us hold it and ooh and aah and try it on. Then out came the big guns......drum roll completely necessary here......a 27 CARAT DIAMOND BRACELET. Each stone was 1 carat and it was set in the shiniest white gold I've ever seen. There was so much sparkle it almost seemed fake. The little guy babysitting us took a shine to Ash and let her try it on. If she wanted it, it was hers for the bargain price of AUD $130 000. That's like a 1/3 of a house! We were totally speechless....which is a big deal for two girls who never stop talking.

We returned today to haggle over the final price of the diamond and to arrange for it to be set. You can choose the colour of the gold and the style of the setting - they even copy big-name settings like Tiffany & Co and Bvlgari. AND they can make it in about 4 hours. None of this "come back for it next week" rubbish like at home.

One of the guys took a liking to me today and while he was a bit freaky with his super-long pinky fingernail, he was rather sweet. He let me try on the 27 carat bracelet today and said "ooh it's fabulous on you darling". In fits of giggles, Ash and I whittled down the selection before us to a few that we really like, dreaming of the fabulous Fortune 500 men we need to meet to buy us said bling.

All in all, it was a very fun day and after dinner at our favourite Lebanese restaurant tonight, we're going back to collect the finished product!

Friday, 19 September 2008


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Wednesday, 17 September 2008

My Love - New York City

After wrangling an interview for my US visa in April I've finally done my first rostered New York flight! This has been one lengthy process - from convincing the visa organiser in the office that I needed the visa and New York NEEDED ME, to the 3 hour process of the "interview" (jumping through US "security" hoops for a 1 minute interivew at the end), to collecting my freshly stamped passport to waiting. And waiting. And waiting for a flight!!

Once we have the shiny new visa in our passport, we have to wait 3 months before we're placed on the Master Crew List, some document most likely hidden in the depths of a computer somewhere in the Pentagon, telling the US Department of Homeland Security which crew are allowed to fly into the States. Because having an official visa stuck in my passport isn't telling enough. After tiring of the wait after two months I called the office and was told I was on the list! At two months instead of three!

I'd been bidding for flights since I got that visa, hoping that maybe I could fool the system and they'd give me one. No such luck. Finally, while stalking the roster system day by day before rosters were officially released I discovered I'd been rostered for a New York!

Barely able to contain my excitement, I started planning things to do. Keeping in mind I've been there three times before on holidays and this work trip would only give me ONE DAY in my favourite city in the world, I had some precision planning to do!

My first trip this month was a Brisbane, and I was delighted to be home for Mum's roast pork on Father's Day. Five days off followed that trip and then it was time to get ready for NY! It was an early morning take-off, at about 2am, so I set my alarm for 10pm. I purposely stayed up late the night before so I could kind of get my sleeping patterns on track, so I was pretty tired when I went to bed at 6pm. When the alarm went off I was quite groggy and hit snooze. My bus was scheduled to pick me up at 11.15pm, and this snoozing went on until 10.30. I just couldn't figure out why the alarm was going off at night and why it wouldn't stop. All of a sudden, I bolted upright, grabbed the clock and realised it was going off because I was supposed to be going to NEW YORK!!!

Lucky I'd ironed and packed before I went to bed, so I just had to rush around and have a shower, tame my hair and plaster on some semblance of a face. All good to go, I grabbed a container of the chicken and corn soup I'd made a few days earlier and I was off to catch the bus. I arrived at briefing, checked in my bag, got briefing over with and then it was off to the aircraft. From the minute I stepped on board I felt a little sick. Just nauseous and yucky. Once we'd taken off I started to feel worse. Guzzling water seemed like a good idea to calm my stomach, which I thought was playing up because I hadn't eaten any dinner before the flight. Within half an hour of take-off I was in the toilet, puking my guts up. Then I repeated my efforts about half an hour later.

Let me tell you, the intimate experience of having my face almost IN the toilet bowl is something I'll never forget and I'd like to say right now that I NEVER want to hear another passenger complain about how dirty they are. Believe me, I know! Unless you've had the same displeasure, I don't want to hear it! I didn't want to get too close to it, but didn't want to be too far away in case I made more of a mess and had to clean it up.

I was sent on the first break to sleep it off and after a solid few hours of rest I felt much better. The rest of the flight was quite busy, with all eight of our passengers eating one after the other and not really giving us a moment of peace. We finally landed, had our fingerprints taken and retinas scanned, micro-chips implanted in our necks and made our way to the hotel in Brooklyn. I'd had conflicting advice from the crew who'd done the trip before - some said "don't sleep, go straight out and then you'll sleep really well tonight". Others said "have a nap when you get in, otherwise you'll hit a wall and be stuffed before you get back". I took advice number one, showered and went straight out before my body could convince me otherwise. It was a lovely morning so I decided to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan, something I'd meant to do each time I'd previously been there but just didn't seem to get around to doing.

There was so much hustle and bustle on the bridge I couldn't believe it! Tourists galore, bike riders, families on outings and even a fashion shoot! There, on a Monday morning was a model dressed in a hideous Jackie-O style jacket, toting a massive bag and pouting and posing her heart out. Not one to rubberneck, I bypassed the growing crowd and soon found myself near City Hall. It was a short train ride and a rather long and confusing walk to the first stop on my list: Bed Bath & Beyond. I was in search of a super cool shower curtain I should have bought last year but didn't think I really NEEDED. I've been thinking about it ever since, so I decided Monday was as good a time as any to buy it. Never mind that it might not be in stock anymore, I had to have that opaque curtain with sparkly confetti-style circles embedded in it. Trust me, my description doesn't do it justice. I wasn't to find that curtain, because the store didn't exist! I diligently copied the address down from the website and must have looked like one confused kid when I got to the corner of East 4th and 1st Avenue. All I could see were apartment blocks, a delusional drunk and a corner store. The store attendant gave me rather shady directions to the nearest store, which I promply discarded and set off for the next stop on my list: Dumpling Man.

Dumpling Man is a cute little shop in the East Village that we discovered on holidays last year. One of Ash's friends gave us the hot tip, so we set of in search of dumpling greatness. We munched on them in a failed attempt to calm my nerves before getting inked at a tattoo shop two doors down. Little old Chinese ladies make the dumplings on the other side of the counter while you watch and you can have them steamed or seared. Searing is just crunchy-good! You can even buy them to take home to cook later. Their webcam broadcasts their dumpling prowess for all the world to see. Alas, this year I realised it would be one hell of a walk from where I was, so I abandoned that idea and set out for my next planned stop.

Whole Foods is an organic paradise with an awesome range of fresh fruit and produce, chocolate, bread, flowers, a salad and hot food buffet and even a grind-your-own peanut butter station! It's basically a natural supermarket for the health conscious. And yuppies. I bought what I always do - a big brown container of the salad bar/hot buffet/dessert buffet. At $7.99/pound, it's a bargain! I avoided the dessert section in favour of some scrummy salads and was the happiest I'd been all day, curled up on a chair looking out the windows at the New York streets below as I munched on my ogranic goodness! It's amazing how much better things taste when they're not dowsed in steroids, pesticies and rat repellants. If organic food wasn't such a blatant rip-off in Dubai and so woefully difficult to get to in the horrendous 24-hour traffic, I'd eat it all the time. Not that they'd have anywhere near the selection in NY or a buffet of any kind, but it'd kind of feel like I was cheating on Whole Foods.....

From Whole Foods, it was back on the tube to underwear mecca: Victoria's Secret. Walking through those revolving doors is a different experience - there are racks of gorgeous underwear and hordes of credit card waving women and confused looking men. Oh, who could forget all the life size pictures of stunning supermodels wearing aforementioned underwear with killer curves plastered EVERYWHERE around the store? Enough to make you suck in your spare tire, pull your jeans up over your love handles and insist you ARE a size small when the over-zealous sales assitants chirp "hiiiiiiii, howwww arrrrrrre youuuuuuuu?" the nano-second you step foot on the premises.....of course not....

I wandered around, picked up a few things and then lost all hope when it became apparent I had more knowlege than the sales assistant/bra fitter regarding bra sizes and fittings of such contraptions. I left the store with a bulging trademark pink striped bag (not containing any bras, strangely enough!) and set off in search of shoe heaven.

I recently flew with a girl who had the funkiest sandals I've ever seen and when she told me she'd bought them at Steve Madden in New York I nearly squealed with delight while trying to explain that I'd be there in less than two weeks time. She tried to let me down gently, telling me she'd bought them a year ago, but I scoured their website and they still had them! Alas, at almost 6 feet tall I've been "blessed" with rather large feet. I'm a size 41/42 and was very hopeful when I saw on the website that their shoes go up to a 10. I estimate I was about 1 size too big for the shoes and there was just no way I was squeezing into them. I will now have to wrestle with shoe envy for the rest of my life. Or until gladiator sandals go out of style. These babies have graced the feet of Heidi Klum, Bar Rafaeli and Kate Moss....I so wanted to join that funkily dressed crowd.

By this time I was seriously hitting that sleep deprived wall and it was about 3pm. I was starting to wish I'd had that nap after all.....until I realised I'd still be in bed and not shopping. That perked me up a bit, enough to brave another clothing store. I ventured into Gap, where I bagged a cute little knit sweater with groovy button detail on it and then hit up the locals behind the register for directions to my hotel.

That's right, navigationally challenged Pink Poodle vetoed the conceirge desk prior to strolling over the Brooklyn Bridge because there were wayyyy too many tourists all haggling for maps. So, not knowing which train stop my hotel was near, I decided those who live in NY might be able to help me. I stand by my belief that Americans are rather helpful souls. Slightly painful when OUT of their country, they're just great when they're in it. While some didn't really know the answer to my questions and gave me directions that would have surely resulted in a very wild goose chase, it was the thought that counted.

By this time, my feet were killing me and I was on the lookout for a pharmacy to stock up on some industrial strength bandaids! I'd foolishly worn the same sandals I'd trecked around Paris in only a few weeks earlier after vowing to never again wear them for distances greater than 2 blocks. Pain is unavoidable and sometimes necessary when shoes are involved. I discovered Duane Reade on my first visit to NY when I was in desperate need of a bottle of water. How to spot vacationing cabin crew? They're armed with a 1.5 litre bottle of water at all times! My mate Duane (there's pretty much one on every corner like a 7-11) carries an awe-inspiring range of bandaids, chocolate, painkillers, chintzy greeting cards and an uber cool line of nail polish called OPI. Not only are the colours awesome, but they're very long lasting and fairly chip resistant. Very important in my job, as a chipped nail can be very distracting on a long flight. It can lead to picking off the rest the polish or even breaking the nail in frustration when you just can't get that last chip off. Terribly woeful when compared to world hunger. Each colour has a super cool name, such as "you're such a kabuki queen", "cajun shrimp", "bubble bath" and my all time favourite "lincoln park after dark".

At only $8.50, they're a steal! I grabbed three new colours and a bottle of hideous Evian water (higher in sodium levels than the salt plains of Utah) and hightailed it out of there and into the nearest subway station. After interrogating a few of my fellow passengers, I exited the tube at what I hoped was the nearest station to the hotel. The Marriot not in sight, I approached the nearest fruit vendor and caught sight of some of the most delicious looking and smelling fruit I'd seen all day (sorry Whole Foods!). After buying some dinner snacks, I hit him up for directions. He didn't speak English. Lucky for me a passerby did and she have me rather correct directions. By this time I was staggering like I had a very bad case of arthritis in my feet and was desperately in need of some sleep. I walked past some of the crew who had to call out to me about 4 times and looked really confused when I looked at them blankly. I'd entered the no-return sleep zone and was fading fast. I asked (in hindsight I may have demanded) where the hotel was and staggered to it. They were all peppy because they'd wasted half the day sleeping and were off to see the Brooklyn Bridge in all it's night time glory.

I got into my hotel room, collapsed on the bed, ate my fruit and painted my toenails an awesome summer orange colour (cajun shrimp) and then passed our for 12 hours. It was then time to get ready for the flight back to Dubai.

New York is officially my new favourite flight. With not many passengers to look after, hours of sleep in the crew bunks and the best city in the world to layover in, who wouldn't want at least one a month on their roster??

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The Blue Lagoon

Just when I thought my overseas experience couldn't get any better it did. I went to Malta. In the summer. For TWO WHOLE DAYS!

I've been to Malta once before but that was 2 years ago when I was in the midst of fresh heartache and just coming out of a three week non-eating phase. Strange how woes in your personal life can make your appetite disappear huh? Super strange for the girl with an African arse who seems to always be eating something. Anyway, I was just starting to come out of my devestation coma and was delighted to wolf down a pizza at the lovely Cafe Fontanella, which is in the old town of Mdina and has gorgeous views of the Maltese skyline.

Fast forward 2 years and I was delighted when my incredible swapping powers with our roster swap shop proved themselves supreme again - I managed to fob off a Nagoya for TWO-DAY Malta in the summer. Hello Japanese girl, do you realise what you're missing? Making the move to first class has been such a wonderful experience - I've never looked back and it means I'm even further away from the Economy cabin....just how I like it. The only drawback? A great many of our flights only operate as two-class, meaning first class doesn't fly to the following destinations: Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Venice, Vienna, MALTA, Hong Kong and Bangkok (except Bangkok/Sydney) and a few more layovers and a handful of shite-ful local turnarounds. However, the bad news does get better in summer: due to the larger amounts of passengers who want to travel to these destinations, the flights are changed to larger three-class aircrafts to accomodate them all. So I have overbooked passenger loads and the Japanese girl who swapped with me to thank for my latest, greatest adventure.

I landed in Paris the week before the Malta trip, turned my phone on and found....shock horror, a text message! It was from the purser on my upcoming Malta trip (a friend I've flown with a few times before) and he had great news: he was organising a catamaran trip for our second day in Malta, all inclusive of drinks and food and snorkelling fun for only 60 euros. Was I in? WAS I IN??? You bet! I even called to confirm my attendance I was so excited!

Finally it was time for the trip! I barely slept I was so excited and really didn't want to get out of bed when my alarm went off at about 5am. Now, that's not a bad wake up time but let's face it - if I don't wake up when my body wants to wake up I'm just not happy camper in the mornings. Or a pretty sight!

The flight was rather uneventful, with very few passengers - easy peasy! This gave us ample time to sit in the flight deck, drink the fresh juice cocktail and check out our options for the catamaran trip. We finally landed and then it was off to the hotel for a short nap and out for dinner. We managed to wrangle our way into a gorgeous restaurant on the side of a hill with a top-floor open view of the bay. Not bad for a last-minute walk-up group of 14! We wined and dined and munched on delicious food and then it was time for gelato. Yummmmm.....

We walked home past all the local night spots and all of a sudden at the ripe old age of 25 I felt like a fossil! While Malta is a gorgeous place with gorgeous buildings and gorgeous beaches and gorgeous food, it seems that the gorgeous teenagers have nothing to do with their nights ... except get all tarted up and go clubbing when they're 16. There were girls parading around in pants smaller than the knickers I wear to bed! I guess they'll only be young with fabulous legs once so they may as well flaunt them before cellulite and gravity set in.

Up bright and early the next day, we all eagerly convened in the lobby for our bus to take us to our boat. I think there were about 10 or 12 of us and the smell of sunscreen permeated the air. Finally the bus showed up - think year 10 camp style coach, so we were all aboard and off to the sea. The boat was waiting for us at the harbour in Valetta (the capital) and we all climbed on and staked out our seats. Half the crew opted for the upper deck, while myself and the rest thought it wiser to stay downstairs under sun shade on the padded mats. The upper deck might have had higher views and unrelenting sun, but we had shade and the option of sun when we wanted it. No guesses for who got the most roasted.

We set sail and were indulged with a continuous commentary from the captain all about the history of Malta and our surrounding area. A few of us drifted off to sleep in the breeze and it was all just so serene and lovely I forgot for a minute I was there courtesy of work! The crew came around and offered sandwiches and the bar inside was serving drinks. Soon we were all feeling a little buzz from the unlimited spirits and coke and water and then before we knew it we were putting down our anchor at the first beach for a bit of a swim and some lunch. We bravely jumped the 4 metres or so into the cool blue water and swam around and snorkelled and marvelled at how blue the water was. Lunch was buffet style, with local fish, some beef and lots of salad and pastas. We feasted to fantastic views and then had another swim.

Then it was off to the magnificant Blue Lagoon. Let me say here, it's not THE Blue Lagoon where the movie was shot. I'm lead to believe that lagoon is in Iceland and that led me to imagine just how cold it must have been for the poor actors! Anyway, I digress....

Back to the crystal clear waters of Malta's Blue Lagoon. From the moment we entered the little cove we were all mesmerised. Some of us hooted off to catch a speedboat that zipped around to the other side of the island to see the famous caves and even see where a scene from the movie The Count of Monte Christo was shot. Our speedboat driver had a killer tan that I was most envious of. I guess that's what happens when you spend every day shirtless in the Maltese sun. And I guess that's why I look like Casper. Casper with freckles.

Our driver skillfully eased the boat inside one of the caves and it stank of sulphur and wet and dark dank scary bat-cave smell. There was a tiny sandy beach inside which is sometimes used for movies but we could barely see it and tried to light up the area with our camera flashes. We zipped back out of the smelly cave and back around to the lagoon side of the island at what felt like 400km an hour, screaming and squealing with delight as we rocketed over the waves and almost flew out of the boat.

Back to the lagoon and straight into the water, enjoying a splash and a floundering snorkelling experience. I don't know what it is but I'm scared of deep water when I can't see the bottom and while this wasn't the issue because the water was so clear, I get really claustrophobic when I try to snorkel. I'd rather just hold my breath and wear some goggles. The whole breathing underwater thing freaks me out so bad I start to try to breathe through my nose and fog up the glasses and then I gasp in surprise that there's fog and then I suck in the water. Bad bad bad. And funny funny funny for those watching my drowing-rat attempts at having fun!!

We finally clamboured back into the boat and headed back to Valetta. The sun was beautiful and warm and I fell asleep and woke up covered with a towel. The crew were worried that I was starting to roast like a chicken on a spit! I ended up on the upper deck for the cruise back into the harbour in the afternoon sun with splendid views and a chat with the crew. It was fantastic, a really fun day, followed by a lazy stroll around the beach the next day before heading back to the airport.

All in a day's work! I can't wait to go back to Malta again.

Ooh La La!

Delighted once again to find a trip to Paris on my roster, I wondered what I'd do there.

We landed and I decided to go skip bludging around watching the Olympics at the hotel and head straight into town. After the obligatory trip to the airport, lining up for my 18 EURO day train pass (total mega rip off!!) and finally getting into town, I knew I'd made the right choice.

There wasn't anyone at the concierge desk on my way out, so I grabbed a map at the airport. Unfortunately this map only showed train stops, not landmarks. I made this discovery only when I was sitting on the train and knew I was in for a crazy tour of Paris that afternoon.

I wanted to see the Arc de Triomphe, followed by a shopping stroll down the Champs-Elysees and figured the train stop that was "Grand Arch" would have to be it. Not so. I came out of the station, eager to see the great arch looming above me and indeed saw an arch - just not the one I'd imagined.

My experience with French people is rather limited. Each time I've ever tried to ask one for directions I'm usually met with a frosty stare and some vague finger pointing in the direction I'm assuming is where I asked to go. I'm certain there are lovely, warm, wonderfully eager to help French people out there but I've just not found one yet. So, I decided I'd find the real Arc on my own. I caught a glimpse of it off in the distance and suddenly wished I'd worn some more comfy shoes! Turns out it was only 1 train stop away from the one I got off at, but it took me almost two hours to walk there.

It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon, so I set off armed with my camera and discovered that the French LOVE fountains. They were everywhere! My favourite was a huge pool-like fountain with stripes of all the colours of the rainbow. There were a few teenage girls splashing on one edge, thoroughly enjoying the afternoon sun.

The walk to the Arc was so lovely that I started to get nostalgic for home. Not that my home town looks ANYTHING like super-chic Paris, but it was something about the fresh air, the bicycle-riding & dog walking crowds and the breeze whooshing through the trees that made me long for where I came from. Prior to this job, I led quite an active, outdoorsy life - numerous pilates classes a week, trips to the nearby beach for picnics and playing with my now overweight dog Rusty in the park on the other side of our fence - and all the French fresh air made me wish I lived there. My apartment in Dubai doens't have opening windows or a balcony and it's a pretty small space for three adult women.

On my way to the real Arc, I stopped in at a lovely little cafe called Paul (we have one here in Dubai) and pretty much inhaled a chocolate eclair and bottle of water. These eclairs are outrageously sinful and oh so delicious! They're a huge bargain at 10 dirhams and are just loaded with the yummiest chocolate my tastebuds have ever encountered. Feeling somewhat refueled, I recommenced my walk, bought a cute top on the way and finally found myself staring up at the magnificant Arc de Triopmhe. For some reason I expected it to be bigger, but at 49.5 metres tall, it was a pretty big heap of stone! Parked on its very own round-a-bout which is apparently the most accident-prone intersection in the world, I wondered how to access this monument. There were families with children over there - surely they hadn't braved the multiple lanes of hooning traffic to get there? "LAUREN YOU MORON" said my inner voice, "you go under the road!"

I negotiated the underpass, bought a cheap ticket (thanks to being 25!) to climb up to the top of the Arc and then sat underneath it and stared at all the names of the fallen French soldiers. The Arc is home to the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War 1. I sat there for a little while and then braved the climb to the top. There were something like 285 never-ending steps that made up the teeny tiny, oh-so-narrow internal spiral staircase. I had to stop once to catch my breath in one of the tiny alcoves that many people were gasping for breath in. At the top, the views were so incredible I stayed and stared for hours. The Arc offers 360 degree views of Paris - the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur at Montmarte (highest point in the city) and a very stunning view of just how far I'd walked from the Grand Arch.

I sat there until it was nearly dark and then it was time to head back to the hotel for a much needed sleep. My lovely little sandals had rubbed parts of my feet almost raw, so I limped my way to the nearest tube station, made my way back to the airport, caught my connecting bus to the hotel and passed out. I never did make it for the stroll down the Champs-Elysees.....perhaps next time!