My cupcake

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No, that isn’t a silly pet name I have for my husband. It’s an actual place. A new, unspoiled and undiscovered place located in Qurum. As the name might suggest- it’s a place of cupcakes.

One particularly hectic evening Is This Serious and I decided to meet for coffee (ahem, I mean herbal tea…) and she suggested a cupcake place she has recently been to. Although sceptical, there was no way I was going to resist a mouthful of chocolate goodness over a heartfelt conversation.

I was about to call her and tell that I got lost when I spotted her car parked next to a very ordinary looking cafe located in a half empty “future” shopping mall. Hmm. Then I spotted the baby onesie hanging on the cafe’s door with a little cupcake illustrated at the front. Awww. Walking in I realized the entire inventory of the store is built upon life block of cupcake origins, the few shelves present there were  under “everything cupcake” from lip balms to cups with illustrations.

It’s a very girly place. My Cupcake is certainly not the venue for a job interview or romantic rendezvous, it’s the kind of place you would want to take your BFF to if her cat got run over by a car or if your mom’s favourite perfume scent got discontinued by the producer. Ok, perhaps celebrations would also be appropriate and oh yes! play dates! The cafe has the cutest set of pink kiddie tables and chairs. Tea party venue. Bring your favourite bear.

Oh and the actual cupcakes? Not bad at all! I was immensely hungry so I had the Snickers cake but Is This Serious snacked on a Velvet Cupcake and that was delicious too! I took a few snaps but they do not do the place any justice so be sure to go and check it out yourselves. It’s located right in front of Qurum Park in the new mall that they are working on now! (Al Qurum Gardens Centre)

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“Elka” or New Year for the little ones

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In Russia New Year’s celebrations are huge. So huge that people receive an official week or even longer- as paid leave. The entire country goes into a carnival -like celebration starting from the 27th December and slowly recovers later. There are home cooked meals, fireworks, natural pine tress, happy children and Santa or as Russians call him  “Ded Moroz” (literally translated this means Grandpa Frost”). New Year for Russians is now what Christmas has become for the rest of the world (in the light commercial, over-indulgence sense of the festivity). ]

It would be a major understatement to say that New Year’s is celebrated in Oman “lightly”. The children especially miss out on hanging up paper snowflakes, dressing up, joining celebrations and meeting Ded Moroz. Over the last few years the Russian community in Muscat has taken to organizing a special celebration for the children, a kind of show, where all the characters Russian kids know and love come to live in a magical performance. This is organized entirely on volunteer basis, there aren’t even sponsors or professional actors. The last 5 or so shows were the brain child of my mother, she put time and efforts into getting little kids and their parents involved in this festival of fun. Costumes are put together from scratch, the plays are “googled” and edited, lines are learned and the performance comes together on the grounds of the Russian Consulate of Oman just a week before New Years. I’ve attended the last two shows (and participated) and the number of people who how up every year is truly staggering. The children sit patiently, mouths open wide in awe as Santa emerges followed loyally by his army of fictional characters. Usually the kiddies get to perform, sign a song or recipe a poem and in exchange they receive a present from Santa. It’s always so much fun.

It’s happening again this year! If you are Russian or Russian speaking you are welcome to pass by the Russian Embassy (located near The Hyatt) this Friday, 23rd December at 11am sharp. If you have kids who wish to see the performance please bring a present with you to put into Santa’s “bag of gifts” and label the present with the child’s name. There is absolutely no entrance fee or age restrictions!

Here are some photos from last year’s show! (Guess where I am?)

Dolphin Tale!

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Finally a movie for the whole family!

This afternoon I took my 8 year old brother to Shatti Cinema to watch Dolphin Tale. “Oh, great- one and half hours of my life that I will never get back”, I though. It also turned out to be 3D. Oh, Joy! Having sat through Cars 3 (?) earlier this year I could tell how enjoyable this experience would be for me.

 

Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be an enjoyable family film that was both simple and very educational. For once there weren’t trucks being blown up or a gang of kids having a burping contest. It was genuine. The storyline revolved around Winter, a dolphin which was rescued by an 11 year old boy and cared for at a local Marine Clinic. Because the dolphin was badly injured when it washed ashore it’s tail had to be amputated and a team of doctors needed to find a long term solution that would ensure a long, healthy life for Winter. Sawyer,the kid who rescued her dedicated all his time to helping Winter and got the entire community involved in the process. Both children and adults with disabilities were drawn to this creature which against all odds swam, played and jumped through hoops despite it’s close call with death.

I know that my brother learned a few important lessons out of that movie, for starters he stopped gasping “That man doesn’t have a leg” half way through the movie and saw that even children can be in wheel chairs or without a limb. He asked me a lot of questions on the way back home, like how the dolphin could survive if it didn’t have a tail or how come a girl had a plastic leg instead of her real one.

First time in a long time I felt like a movie actually made an impact and bestowed some wisdom into his tiny mind. I would greatly recomend this movie if you have a family movie night coming up or if you just want to teach your child to undrestand and accept dissabilities better. Great film!

UAE’s best kept secrets (from me) revealed…

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1) Crossing through the Sharjah boarder costs only 10 OMR as opposed to the 20 OMR that the Dubai boarder charges. But, it’s not worth it because the total journey then takes close to 6 hours and your butt gets numb and your eyes begin to play tricks on you (especially if you drive after work at night).
2) Pizza can be delivered to your place at 1am and it will actually be hot and taste good! No one will get your order wrong, the delivery dude will not be rude to you and they will include all the toppings and not just those that they randomly selected from the counter.
3) UAE has beautiful people. In hot pants, with monkeys, with baby strollers, on rollerblades, with burgers, in abayas, with Chanel bags, with Chihuahuas or in kinky red shorts. UAE people are gorgeous. A colleague recently referred to it as “a candy store” and yes I know this is very sexist, but it is such a perfect description!
4) Crowds of people are not out there to get me. On the third day I was finally slipping into a mild acceptance of the fact that not everyone is a sexual predator/rapist/stalker (I get that feeling a lot in Oman). Crowds are good. Crowds are fun. Crowds don’t give a crap if you don’t have make up on, if you are standing under the rain and enjoying it, if your husband is feeding you sushi in the middle of the street or if you yell “OMG PEOPLE!” and point at the crowd. Crowd’s don’t give a flying…in the UAE you are average. You are part of the crown and no longer a piece of hot *** that the freaks will drool over.
5) Food tastes insatiably good on the other side of the boarder. I feel like I was under anesthesia up until I arrived to Dubai and had their pizza, burgers, tacos, sushi, noodle soup, Chinese food (Yes, we ate A LOT in Dubai). I could not get enough of the flavors, the variety, the spices and the availability of the palette. I discovered taste buds I never knew I had or perhaps they were dormant up until they were roused by 800 Pizza (cheese, ham, turkey bacon and meat on top of meat).
6) It is possible to spend 9 hours in a mall and you still wouldn’t see it all. Although I am not in particular a shopaholic I felt obliged to visit the BIGGEST MALL IN THE WORLD. It just also happens to have the biggest indoor waterfall and a fantastic aquarium complete with sting rays and sharks. Oh the thrill. Turns out that meeting a 80kg shark nose to nose is not as scary as National Geographic makes it seem.
7) Taxi drivers are not maniacs and can actually be responsible on the road. They will also find your building in the nick of time and use A METER to charge your journey. Seriously! It’s magical. How many of us got into a taxi in Oman having negotiated a price only to get out and pay double because the driver “ bad English no understand two rial”.
8) Their road radars are meanies. It’s not like Oman when you drive on the highway at 140 and think “is this thing on?” oh no. Their super radars are trained to hit your windshield like lightning as soon as you crawl over the 80 m/h limit on the fly over. 😦
9) People go for walks. With their dogs. With their monkeys (I swear!). With their girlfriends. With babies. People just stroll around like no man’s business. I have blisters from all the walking. I hated walking with a passion by Saturday. No gym work out could ever measure up to the calories we burned by walking from our parked car to what seemed like another freaking country.
10) The UAE is going through a rapid baby boom. Or maybe my eyes were playing tricks on me. There are babies of every age, shape and size on every corner of every street and in every shop of every mall in Dubai. There are even twins. I counted 5 sets of twins in the Emirates mall. Between 11 and 5 pm we encountered particularly cute well behaved cherubs that make me have butterflies in my tummy, but towards the evening every toddler we went past was screaming and kicking so the butterflies went away again. Are we missing a trend here in Oman?
I think we are missing about 100 trends here in Oman…and whilst I enjoy our blissful simple existence here, I cannot help but feel bummed to be back 😦

You say there is nothing to do in Muscat? I say boo-yaaa

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I am sick, sick, sick of people whining about the lack of entertainment in Muscat. And when I am not sick I am tired. I am sick and tired of the moans, groans, sights, blank expressions and of the whimpering. I would like to argue that the problem does not lie in the lack of activities but rather in the poor coverage and communication of these events to the general public. Look around you, open a newspaper, and check the Events section on Facebook or even call a friend! Every week there are concerts, shows, exhibitions, workshops, garage sales, classes and even educational wine evenings taking place!
I’ve had a culturally diverse couple of weeks. Let me rephrase that, I have been surviving on sugar sticks and red bull the entire month. I have been trotting around town, adoring paintings worth a fortune and even broadening my understanding of Baroque music.
It all started with my eagerness to visit the International Book Fair which was held in the Exhibition Center at the end of February. Rumor has it, we even got on National Television which showed myself, Alex and Cynthia scouting through volumes of Arabic literature in search for transcripts that looked familiar. Since the title of the fair raised my expectations to finding “International” books I was somewhat disappointed at the limited availability of English merchandise. I have nevertheless purchased a very cool book about dinosaurs (for my brother of course), a few Math/French Grade 2 workbooks (also for the little pest) and even treated myself to yet another Paulo Coelho masterpiece which I am enjoying very much. I found their merchandizing to be questionable after I located a “Cocktails 101” guide next to “Nursery Rhymes for Toddles”. But hey maybe that’s just me…
In the first week of March, the Russian Embassy in Oman organized a reception dedicated to International Women’s Day and invited members of the Russian community for a celebration. On this occasion Mrs. Edemskaya (wife to Ambassodor) has addressed her audience with best wishes of prosperity, peace and health. Coincidently this week also saw the commencement of “Maslenitsa” a traditional Russian holiday throughout which bliny (Russian pancakes) are made and offered to family and guests. Keeping in line with tradition the Embassy served Russian pancakes in abundance with a side of sour cream, jam and honey. Mrs. Pavlovna has stressed the importance of keeping native traditions and holidays alive far from home within the fast growing Russian community in Oman.
Just a few days later I found myself in a 45 minute queue to witness the wonder that is Jared Leto. Being the fidgety hyperactive ball of restlessness  anxious person that I am, I managed to lose our tickets while waiting in line- thank god they were later returned to us by a very kind woman. Overall, I was generally impressed by magnitude of the event and the quality of the music and it turned out to be a good night (3 buckets of beer later). What was missing nevertheless, is the vibe and the drive you are notoriously supposed to experience at a rock concert- and for that I blame the crowd of 14 year olds who were yelling “Get off the stage, bring Snoop Dog instead”. I mean seriously, bedtime anyone?
On the 12th of March I had the honor of attending the inauguration of “‘Drip, Spill, Spray, and a Touch of Nostalgia’” by Anna Dudchenko. Held at The Hyatt, it was a beautiful event that saw the turnout of a very dedicated crowd. Anna rightfully mentioned that some of the guests have been turning up to every single one of her exhibitions since she first began showcasing her work over 7 years ago. The paintings were breathtaking, vibrant and hypnotizing, my personal favorites were the painting of the winter landscapes- I am guessing nostalgia kicked in.

And then… yesterday evening Mom invited me to join her at the Al Bustan for an Austrian concert. I called up my loyal partner in crime Cynt (her blog is here) and we dressed up in evening dresses and the whole deal. Now, I am not usually a fan of classical/orchestra/flute but I like to venture into the unknown every now and again. The troop was very impressive and the music- well unlike anything I have ever heard before! Ok, and maybe we did run down to the café for a glass (or 5) of wine at the interval- but we profoundly appreciated the opportunity to enrich our cultural spectrum during the concert. Classy event of the year? Tick.
I guess the point I am trying to make here is that there really is a lot going on in the capital. You just have to pick your battles. Do not fret, I will help you along the way and hopefully my next post will highlight upcoming events instead of bringing to your attention those that have already passed.

This time…everything in moderation

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In exactly 6 days time, I will be lying belly up on my grandmother’s sofa, indulging in pleasant nonsense of yet another novel and humming “ I am wicked and I am lazy”. That’s right folks. I am headed home.  This isn’t however a vacation that has been carefully planned and budgeted for. (That doesn’t sound like me, does it?). About three weeks ago, it dawned on me that my external visa is expiring in January, and I urgently need to head back to Uzbekistan to have it renewed. Lo and behold, the irrational, inconvenient to say the least, bureaucratically bound laws of Uzbekistan. We, citizens of this humorous land must acquire permission to LEAVE the country. It’s a little nuisance of a sticker that is valid for two years and must get renewed consequently after. Otherwise as it says in big fat bold English (!!!) letters “the passport is not valid for visiting any country of the word”.  I might also run into trouble when trying to enter the country with an expired external visa- hence it is just less hassle to go and sort it out immediately.
At first I did not love the thought of leaving for 10 days- it felt like I was being snatched from normality and thrown headfirst into a pile of icy cold surrealism. The idea has however grown on me and I am welcoming the opportunity to go back home and see the family yet again, this time under calmer circumstances. When we last visited in August 2010, the mere 16 days have turned into a remake of Lemony Snicket’s : A Series of Unfortunate Events.  It was the vacation that will forever be remembered as “ A family reunion, a wedding and a funeral” . This time around I would be most grateful for a dull, uninspiring, conservative visit back home. Nothing has to happen for all I care- I just want to be there. I look forward to going for long walks, visiting my university, having heartwarming conversations with my grandmother, seeing my closest friends and godson and indulging in national cuisine. As they say a traveler seeks adventures and welcomes thrills, a tourist merely goes sightseeing. Well, this time I am the tourist.
As long as I survive the flight back all else is expected to go smoothly. I tend to lose my patience with the local Uzbek airlines and I insist that if any of you ever travel to Uzbekistan- fly via Turkish airlines. That way you will not gain a negative impression of the country- before you even land. However, if arrogant stewardesses, questionable food and rattling planes are your piece of pie you are welcome onboard of Uzbekistan Airlines! (They should hire me as Marketing Director, don’t you reckon?)
Air stewardess: “Lunch?”

Husband: “Yes please, what are my choices?”

Air stewardess: “Well, we have chicken…and…chicken”


Here I must however mention that if it wasn’t for the convenience and the helpful lady working in the representative office in Dubai- I would be walking to Uzbekistan next week! An atrocious travel expectation aside all else looks promising in Cotton Land.

I have recruited an army of thermal clothing, purchased kick ass boots and a majestic amount of Omani dates to take back home. I plan to sleep, read, eat and do absolutely nothing else. At least, that is the initial plan…watch this space…

Day 5 pt 1. The one with all the DE-NI-AL

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On the 18th of November, Yulya’s day 4 in Oman she was eager to go to Zouk, unfortunately the rest of the country did not agree with her wish and protested with a 15 km long traffic jam in the Shatti area.  One thing was clear, disappointed at not getting the chance to try the infamous “Flaming Lamborghini” in Zouk, Yulya is determined to come back and make up for it.  We remained at Park Inn rooftop for rest of the evening, making our way home close to 1 a.m. We had an early night for a change, or maybe we didn’t…I forget. I vaguely remember another house party that lasted till 4 am, but maybe I had imagined that due to my selective amnesia caused by ABSOLUTELY NO SLEEP.
The following morning, on Yulya’s last day in Oman, we had a dolphin watching trip planned. We were feeling strangely energized, or maybe that was the final kick of adrenalin settling in because we knew we only have 10 hours left. We headed to Marina Bandar Al Rowdha, picking my 7 year old brother on the way, as well as a few other people. It so happened that during the National Day holidays, someone was always entertaining a relative or a friend. My Cynthia was escorting her cousin from Lebanon, a friend of mine had her mom come over for a visit, and I had the hot-crazy-mess that also goes by the name of Yulya in these posts. Hence, we all met on the boat. A man by the name of Ameen, endured my calls during the week “we need to add one more person, no sorry 3 more people, wait do you have space for 5?.  He was able to get us all on board at a fantastic rate! All 8 of us (ratio of 5:3, Russian and Lebanese respectively) completely took over the spotlight on the yacht, whist calmer and better mannered tourists scattered in far away corners. From past experiences I expected to be violently sea sick on the boat, but I think a hangover and exhaustion was enough for my body to handle, and it decided not to include sea sickness on to the menu that morning.
I struggle to enjoy my time when I have a hyper, cheeky, fearless 7 year old running around the boat, leaning over the bars to “catch the waves”. I was glad when the boat came to a halt once the dolphins were spotted. We were in luck because according to the captain no dolphins were seen in the last 4 days, a fable used to insure the company against outraged tourists if the dolphins indeed decide to detour and not show face- in my opinion. Cruising around for half an hour along with other boats, we saw a team of dolphins race past our boat, playfully fueling our interest until they disappeared under the murky waters. This was our cue to head to a tranquil bay for an hour of snorkeling.
This was Yulya’s first time putting on a snorkeling mask and setting out to explore. I had both her and the 7 year old Nemo to look after, one minute he is there, the next he is gone. Being a fearless daredevil my brother was in the water within minutes, exploring the coral reef and pointing out fish as big as himself to other participants. Half heartedly jumping into the deep blue, I was surprised to find it warmer than I feared it would be, the water was turquoise and the marine life abundant right under my feet. However this was the first time we snorkeled at that specific location, and being quite careless I assumed the sea is a lot deeper than it actually was. Let’s just say that flippers are always a good idea when snorkeling. A few bumps and scrapes later, defeated I stumbled back on board leaving a blood trail all the way to the First Aid Box, I guess Yulya must have followed that trail because she was right behind me a few minutes later in queue for her share of iodine and a bandage.
Yulya was unusually quite during the trip, and no one from the entire party dared to mention her flight that was only 5 hours away. We were deep in denial about her having to go to Kuwait, because for the 4 days that she was in Oman every minute of it felt like it was exactly where she belonged. The girl was thrilled that she could wear knee-long shorts in public, do recreational activities without being stared at and just enjoy herself amongst close friends. If my Happy Place narrows down to Beach A in Sur, Yulya’s must extend to the entire Oman from the peak of Jabal Shams to the depths of the Gulf.

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