Sunday, January 28, 2007

Al Ain has no cranes. It's on a plain. And it doesn't rain.

It must rain a bit, actually, because it's very green. Trees and grass everywhere. But then it could be down to the irrigation. I don't really know how these oasis locations work, if I'm honest.

After leaving the nocturnal driller to his curtain poles, we headed out of town. It was time to get out of the place again, and we had juggled the idea of Fujairah on the East coast, or Al Ain, which is down on the Oman border in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Both were a fair drive away, but the maps seemed to show an easier route to Al Ain, so we headed there. There was an Air Show on at Al Ain as well. I wish we'd gone to Fujairah now.

The drive was pleasant enough. The long, straight roads are easy enough to drive on, even if they provide little in the way of stimulus. A game of Eye Spy only lasts 5 rounds if you're lucky. Sun. Sky. Road. Trees. Sand. Er, that's your lot. We noticed that the signs and petrol station names changed as we entered the next Emirate. All of them were the same name, in fact, and every single one was an exact replica of the one before. I started to wonder if we were going round in circles.

Before long, the harsh, red sand of the desert became more and more punctuated by lush, green vegetation. We aren't talking palm trees and turfed grass, either. Verdant pastures passed by in a green blur, and trees of all kinds cropped up in clumps here and there. It's quite a thing to see after being in the dusty, landscaped confines of Dubai for so long.

We arrived at Al Ain's outskirts and were greeted by the sight of a giant Arabic coffee pot in the middle of a roundabout.

We started following the signs for the Airport, which is the kind of place they usually host Air shows, I figured. After several miles of outer suburbs and no sign of an airport or even an aeroplane, we decided to head into the town centre and get something to eat. We passed more trees and greenery as we drove through pleasent suburbs, and noticed that there wasn't one skyscraper on the horizon, with no building higher than 3 or 4 storeys, and not one tower crane to be seen. After finding that the town's eponymous Mall was basically shut (and getting lost in the car park thanks to misleading signs), we found another Mall in an area called Al Jimi, and had lunch in the food court. With our light lunch in our stomachs, we had a wander and a window shop. Marvellous. We came all the way to Al Ain for a change of scenery, and ended up in a bloody Mall.

I decided to end this abject silliness and we headed out again to see if we could find the airport. We did, and were greeted by the sight of thousands of cars parked in every conceivable location on the approach to and around the airport, and about 3 aeroplanes parked on the airport apron. A short drive around the airport roads lead us into a long queue for the main parking area, which was full. As we waited, we watched a yellow bi-plane performing a startling array of aerial stunts, swooping, rolling and diving towards earth. I wondered if the pilot was sending SMS messages whilst flying, then remembered why I didn't have much time for Air shows. I had lived in Germany near a US base where there had been an awful disaster after a mid-air collision at an Air show in the late 1980s. If we hadn't been away on holiday at the time, we may well have been there when it happened, and ever since then, I just haven't felt comfortable watching planes doing tricks. It's bad enough when they fly in a straight line, thank you very much. The Red Arrows fill me with dread.

As it was, the whole spectacle looked decidedly underwhelming, and with it getting on in the day, and with parking options looking limited, we decided to head back to Dubai. On the way back, as we left Al Ain's green plains behind, I spotted a sign for the East Coast, and realised it would have been the better option. Yes, Al Ain is different to Dubai, but ultimately it was a bit bland, and didn't seem to offer much to the family. You live and learn, I suppose.

The kids were good. They spent a long time in the car without causing too much of a scene, so we went to a Wild West-themed family-friendly (i.e. full of screaming brats) restaurant for tea when we got back as a treat (and I fancied some pork ribs as well). They enjoyed it, even if the ribs weren't very good.

Now we are focused on next weekend, and the imminent arrival of the MOTHER and SISTER-IN-LAW. The WIFE and kids are really excited, and so am I. Seeing some familiar faces after so long will be good.

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