2002-12 (DECEMBER, 2002)

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

"Fly Away" Day - We departed for Sydney airport at 18:30 on Wednesday evening. Check-in went smoothly (our pair of bags totalled exactly 40kgs) and, after the world's second most expensive sandwich, we were off. We had been looking forward to sampling the delights of flying with the legendary Emirates Airways but were most disappointed. The most noteworthy aspect of their service was the horrendously low cabin temperature - I was practically hypothermic by the time we arrived in Singapore for our half-hour stopover. Unfortunately I didn't have access to any more clothing, so had to freeze all the way to Dubai as well.

"Dubai" Day - We arrived into Dubai just after 07:00 and made our way directly to our hotel. After a short delay (we were a bit early for normal check-in) we were directed to our room for a quick freshen up. This turned into a slow freshen up and we were not ready to go out on the town until just before midday. We had been in contact with a friend-of-a-friend who lived in Dubai and she had kindly offered to show us around for the afternoon. Naimh (pronounced "Neeve") is an Irish woman engaged to a Kiwi (bit of a parallel with us there) and had been living and working in Dubai for 5 years. She collected us in her monstrous GMC ute and took us out on a whirlwind tour of the city-state of Dubai. First up was lunch at the Boardwalk Café, a restaurant suspended out over the Dubai Creek (actually a long, narrow inlet of seawater). We had timed our arrival just after one of Dubai's rare rainstorms and the air and sky were scrubbed clean for us. The last of the clouds had departed by the time we sat down to eat and all of us got a touch of the sun whilst sitting out beside the water. Next up was a spot of shopping - the girls bought a Peshmina each and I picked up a very cheap Smart Media card for my camera. After that we drove out to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and tried to blag our way into "the Burg", the impressive sail-shaped hotel on its own purpose-built island. We were turned away because I was not suitably attired, although the entrance fee of $AED150 per head (around AU$70) was a slight deterrent anyway. We settled for the free view from the top of the Jumeirah instead. We finished our afternoon with a quick look around the Spice Souk and Gold Souk, neither of which were terribly impressive, but were good for bargains. We returned to our hotel for our second freshen-up of the day and then Naimh collected us again (this time with hubby-to-be, Andrew, in tow) and took us out to Century Village for dinner. We selected a fab Lebanese restaurant to eat at and enjoyed some great food as well as a Sheesha Pipe or two. We concluded the evening with a pint of Guinn at the (inevitable) local Irish pub.

Christmas 2002 - Cyprus

"To Cyprus" Day - We departed Dubai at 'sparrows fart' the next morning and touched down in Cyprus just after 09:15. Coral, Andy's Mum, kindly came out to collect us and drove us back to their new apartment in Limassol. We blobbed out for the afternoon and didn't really move again until it was time for dinner. Andy & I retired early to our B&B and slept long.

"Not A Lot" Day - We mozied back to Coral & Hugh's apartment for breakfast and then I did some more blobbing whilst Andy helped Hugh take the cats over to their home for the next five nights. Upon their return, and after a bit more faffing around, we departed for Pissouri and the beachside Columbia Hotel, our home for the next five nights. After settling in, we regrouped for a dinner mission to the adjoining Columbia Beach Resort, a stunning new complex beside the sea. We had an above average buffet and then repaired to the bar for coffee. The majority of the Christmas guests had not yet arrived, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Andy & I retired early again, the slow process of time-zone adjustment still only half complete.

"Blobby Day" - Apart from breakfast, a walk on the beach and lunch, our day was a bit light on major achievements. 'Twas a day of complete R&R. Coral went out to collect Colin, Marie and Caroline (the penultimate party joining us for the festive season), but we didn't manage to get to see them before we retired for the evening.

"Exploration Day" - Andy and I were up early again and had finished our breakfast well before any of the rest of our party had even begun to stir. We decided to take advantage of the glorious weather and go for a walk along the cliffs above and beyond our hotel. We climbed and traversed for over an hour and were rewarded with some spectacular views. We cut our walk short, however, in order to catch a ride into Lemesos (Limassol) with Coral, but vowed to return the next day to follow the clifftop route to its conclusion. Coral dropped us in Lemesos in time for lunch which we took at 'Bistro 127' on Vastleiou Makedonos Street. After a lovely meal we wandered back through town via a random collection of quaint back streets (and shops) and took in such sights as the Central Municipal Fruit and Vegetable Market. Our meandering terminated at the Limassol Castle and Medieval Museum just as the sun was dropping from the sky. We made a cursory circuit of the inside of the recently and immaculately renovated castle before retiring to a coffee shop across the road. There we awaited Coral's return. Having collected Lynda, Andy's sister, from the airport and then Andy & I from the castle, Coral drove us all back to Pissouri and the hotel. After a super-quick turnaround we were back out the door again, this time with a full contingent of eight for our evening's diversion. Coral is a one-woman ex-pat social secretary and has taken countless new arrivals under her wing over the years. As such she enjoys the company of an extensive set of ex-pat friends and tonight's invite was to the opulent, but secluded, villa of one of these couples. Originally built as a hide-away love nest for some wealthy Cypriot businessman, the secluded setting provided much entertainment for the various cars trying to find it in the dark (ours included). Upon our eventual arrival we were greeted by our magnificent hosts, Liz and Chris. Our party of eight made up less than half of the attendees and yet the sheer volume of scrumptious food and drink on hand defeated the healthy appetites of us all combined. I spent a most pleasant evening chatting with a number of fascinating people - the ex-pats of Cyprus all have an interesting story to tell. I could hardly keep my eyes open on our journey home and was very pleased when my head finally hit pillow.

"Christmas Eve" - We began a little later today after our late night. The day was a bit grey so we elected not to venture out. Instead the day's highlights included a leisurely coffee session in the bar and a wonderful few hours in the opulent spa/sauna complex at the Columbia Resort. That night was the Christmas Eve Dinner Dance which turned out to be rather less alcoholic than expected due to some rather outrageous prices for booze. We entertained ourselves by creatively modifying all the Christmas decorations within reach instead. We were in bed before midnight.

"Christmas Day" - After a leisurely breakfast (big, despite the quantity of food consumed the night before) we spent the rest of the morning giving and receiving some brilliant gifts. Coral was particularly taken with the Paua shells I had gotten for her (thanks to my Mum). More food was then consumed thanks to the Christmas Buffet Lunch. We all were in dire need of a walk on the beach to settle our stomachs and then returned to the spa/sauna for the rest of the afternoon. We skipped dinner that evening and just sat and chatted instead.

"Boxing Day" - After a tumultuous checking-out session (Andy's and my bill was the only one vaguely correct) we all piled into two cars for our trip back to Limassol. We stopped at Erimi so that Andy, Lynda and myself could hire a car for today and tomorrow. After depositing everyone back at Coral's, Andy, Lynda and I decided to give Coral a break and so disappeared into town for the rest of the afternoon. We ensconced ourselves in 'Bistro 127' to escape the cold and windy weather and proceeded to consume a good number of Keo beers (as well as some yummy nibbles, of course). We re-grouped for the evening meal at 'La Mer' before retiring back to the same B&B that we had stayed in on our first night (Andy and I walked home from the restaurant).

"Shopping Day" - We had a bit of a late start today - I, for one, was too bundled up against the cold to want to move. The three B&Bers finally got under way just after 09:00. First up was a couple of rounds of croissants and coffee at Coral's. Lynda drove us up to the shop, which was very brave for a learner driver (Cypriot driving has to be seen to be believed - it makes your average driver in Rome look like Granny in her Morris Minor). Coral, Hugh, Lynda, Andy and I then all piled into our cars for a convoy to the town of Pafos at the western end of the island. We arrived just after 13:00 and our first requirement was to get some food. We rang Colin, Marie and Caroline to see what they were up to and it turned out that they were also in Pafos and had just sat down to lunch at a great 'locals only' place away from the tourist strip. We decided to join them in 'Leonas' and were very glad we did - the food was exceptional. We were very, very full and very, very happy by the end of our rather long lunch. Next up was the obligatory trip to 'Kivotos' jewellery shop (simply known as "The Shop" to the McDonough women) where the ladies bought up a storm - Andy came away with a new necklace, two rings and pair of ear rings. Shopping mission accomplished, we trundled back to Limassol and Coral's flat. At 19:30 those that were going to the classical music concert assembled for a pre-prondial G&T before heading out. Lynda, Caroline and I bid them adieu and settled in for the evening. I finally got to watch the final episode of '24' (which I had missed when it was on in Oz) and then headed back to the B&B for an early night (we had an early start the next day, after all).