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Road Trip: UAE’s Eastern Region

Last month I left behind endless vistas of sand dunes for the mountains as I road tripped around the UAE’s dynamic eastern region in a slick Maserati Quattroporte S. From the Dubai enclave of Hatta to Oman’s dramatic Musandam Peninsula and colorful mountain markets to Ras Al Khaimah’s well manicured luxury resorts and golf clubs, it’s my favorite part of the country.

Published in the March 2015 edition of Condé Nast Traveller Middle East. Click the spread below to access the story, or grab the issue on stands around the GCC this month and available to download from the App Store.

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And a humorous sign at Khor Fakkan beach: “No grill finally”. Yes, finally, the ban I’ve been waiting for all this time.

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Morning Mountains

One of my favorite things about my flat in DIFC are my views. To the one side (seen below) I look over the residential neighborhood of Zabeel towards Ras Al Khor (the wetland reserve), and to the other side I have full-on cityscape skyscraper views of Sheikh Zayed Road and DIFC. And admittedly, I do prefer the latter – but I’ve always thought it would be amazing to see the Hajar Mountains from home. If was even possible to ever see them – I always wondered if they were simply too far away, no matter the day’s clarity.

After living here for pretty much exactly one year, I finally got my answer during today’s sunrise, an impressively clear one.

At first I thought that perhaps it was simply Fossil Rock, but once I whipped out the camera for a better view, I think the length and layers in the distant landscape mean it must be the Hajars. Whatever or wherever it is, it’s a pretty scene.
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That’s not my name

As of yesterday, I have officially given up on my name.

Even in America, people struggled with the name “Laurel”. It’s not a commonplace name, but it’s not completely bizarre either, yet people just could not wrap their minds around it.

“My name is Laurel.”

“Laurie?”

“Laurel”

“Lauren?”

“Laurel”

“Laura?”

“No, LAH-RELLLL.”

Even as I grew up in school, teachers somehow couldn’t get it. At times, during the first day of class of a new school year, an attendance sheet would get passed around and you’d make sure your name was on there and spelled correctly. I swear I can recall an occasion or two when I got the sheet only to find that “Laurel” had already been crossed out and replaced by “Lauren” (or something similar). As if my name was a typo.

I’ve always found the confusion doubly baffling because I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Where everyone goes skiing in the nearby Laurel Highlands and the state flower is the Mountain Laurel. And nobody ever messes those names up.

Upon moving to Dubai, where varying degrees of English fluency and a plethora of accents are bandied about, I knew immediately that there would be no point in trying to get my name across correctly – particularly in situations like ordering food, making reservations or almost any sort of phone conversation. In official situations I give it, but the two most usual responses I get are: (when speaking my name) “Ms Maurel?” and (when spelling my name) “L-A-U-R-E-O?”. I can see where the “Maurel” comes from, but I’m always confused as to why people insist on hearing the final “L” as an “O” when I spell it out.

And it’s to the point now that I don’t even bother giving most people my real name.

“Your name, ma’am?”

“Lara, L-A-R-A.”

There, easy as pie. Who can mess that up?

“Ms Mara?”

Oh well, it’s still simpler to get Lara across than Laurel.

Then, yesterday, I hit rock bottom when dropping clothes off at a dry cleaner.

“My name is Lara, L-A-R-A.”

I look at the receipt to see “Liro” written down. I open my mouth to correct the name and suddenly realize that I cannot be bothered. You know what? Close enough. You’ve got an “L” at the beginning and an “R” and some vowels tossed in there. I’ll take it.

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Snowboarding The Jungfrau

This was not my first rodeo. I’ve headed out to the Jungfrau region for a snowboarding holiday a couple of times before in the past handful of years, but something about this year felt a bit different. Maybe it was the weather, maybe the town we stay in, Wengen, is not as quaint as I remember it, maybe it’s just that I’m getting used to the place so it feels less interesting or exotic… I don’t know.

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the cute Wengernalpbahn, the fourth and final train to get to Wengen

All that aside, Wengen is a charming little village, accessible only via a rack and pinion railway (the world’s longest) from either Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald. Of course that’s after three other trains: Zurich to Bern; transfer for Bern to Interlaken Ost; transfer for Interlaken Ost to Lauterbrunnen. But once you get into the village, it’s pleasantly car-free. With the exception of the hotels’ electric cars, which seem to have seriously multiplied since my last visit. A “pedestrianized” town loses some of its charm when you still have to keep an eye out for vehicles when walking down the village streets.

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a snowy day hinders the visibility towards Kleine Scheidegg (taken from the Arven lift, I think?)

Snowboarding was a bit of a mixed bag this year and I think that’s where I felt the biggest difference, with the weather playing a significant role.  Continue reading

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36 Hours In Bern, Switzerland

When indulging in a snowboarding holiday in the Swiss Alps, we often find ourselves with a day or two to spare before or after making our way to the mountain resort of Wengen. As we fly into Zurich, that’s normally where we spend our extra time – and good times have been had there (I’m looking at you, warehouse district and Hive Club) – but this year we decided to switch it up and spend some time in Switzerland’s quiet, old and totally charming capital.

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snow falling on the old city and Berner Munster while walking down to Schwellenmatteli

Bern is about an hour away from Zurich on Switzerland’s heinously expensive rail system. But hey! It’s a good introduction to the country, where everything is heinously expensive (except alcohol, if you happen to be a GCC resident), so may as well get used to it. With a couple of suitcases as well as an unwieldy snowboard bag, it was a relief that our stay, the Hotel Schweizerhof, was an easy jaunt just across the street from the train station (the hotel is also a short walk from the Old City, situated just outside of its border). Continue reading