I may not be Islamic, but I still get their holidays. Being a western expat in a Muslim country, with a husband working for an English firm, and children going to an English curriculum school, we get the best of both worlds – Christian and Muslim holidays. The kids love it – they only have about 180 school days per year, and although I may be sacrificing my sons’ chances of getting into a good university, so do I. It leaves me in an enviable position – while we were still sunning it in Umbria, we planned a quick getaway to Sri Lanka over Eid al Fitr, which coincides with mid-term break for the boys, giving us about eight days to play with.Just to make all you poor non-Dubians jealous, check out our up-coming holidays:
- 4-7 Nov – Arafat Day and Eid al Adha
- 8-12 Nov – Mid-term break
- 26 Nov – Al Hijra (Islamic New Year – falls on Saturday – may have Sun 27 off)
- 2 Dec – UAE National day (falls on Friday, so will have Sunday 4 off)
- 20 Dec-2 Jan Christmas and New Year break (English firms give 25 Dec and 1 Jan off)
- 5 Feb – Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday
- 6 Feb – a day off for the kids just for the hell of it
- 8-22 April – Term break (co-insides with Easter)
- 18-12 May – Mid term
- 17 Jun – Israa and Miaraj Night
- 28 June-28 August – Next year’s Summer holiday, including: Eid al-Fitr 19-21 Aug
Eid al Adha has been my favourite so far – the last few years (lunar calendar dependent, not solar), it has fallen just far enough out of summer that it occurs with the change of season, and a need to rekindle the holiday spirit. It also has Arafat Day nicely positioned so you are guaranteed a three-day holiday, which really means nobody works for the other two, so you get a whole week, plus the weekends either side. This means that every year has included one of the following quick breaks:
Male is only a 4-hour flight, and hotels will meet you at the airport and transfer you swiftly by either seaplane or speedboat. To say it is a tropical paradise is simply not enough. It is a fantasy land, made up of tiny islands with fairytale over-water shacks, crunchy coral-white sand, glassy bay water for diving, and reef breaks for surfing. It’s a total chill holiday – hotels are villages on their own islands, and you never need to leave. The people are so relaxed and happy they would give Rastafarians a run for their money. There is plenty to do, and nothing to do, whatever you like. November is officially in the best weather bracket. There are still flights and plenty of rooms available as of today. We loved Kandooma resort, which has an excellent all-inclusive package, but seriously, the entire country is beautiful, and as long as you’re out of the capital, it’s hard to go wrong. Hambone loves the boat charters with Tropic Surf (but that’s a minus children holiday only).
PS – later we stayed at the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa – Ooh la la, now that is something else.
The flight is less than 5 hours, and you are plonked right in the middle of the city. Istanbul is one of my favourite cities in the world – it shows a merging of many cultures into a unified and exotic concept. Have dinner at Topaz Restaurant Turkish fusion food with a view over a golden lit mosque and the glittering Bosporus. Stroll the wonky cobbled lanes of Ortaköy, buying kooky crafts made by local artists, then drink cocktails on the foreshore at the iconic House Cafe. Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque of course must be visited, and the Grand Bazaar (although I thought the Spice Bazaar was better). There is a restaurant called Hamdi on the square that sits in front of the Bazaars facing the water – it’s about 5 stories tall, and you can eat up the top. The food is not spectacular, but it’s worth it for the view – gaze over the boats decked out like parade floats, the street food and the fathers fishing over the bridge, dozens of lines shining like wet cobwebs. Just walk the city, again and again and again. I don’t think I could ever get tired of it. We stayed at the “W“, which was great, and in a super location outside of the old town, but in a bustling area with an incredible fish market. The Amira or Rast hotels are probably a better choice if you want to be in the thick of it.
I am simply in love with the place. I have blogged about it several times before (Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna, Colombo, Nuwara Eliya, Kandy). This year we are staying on Talpe beach, near Unawatuna so Hambone has the surfing straight out front. We have rented a five-bedroom beachfront villa with a pool, butler, private chef etc etc for $550/ night, and are sharing with friends. It works out cheaper than hotels, and we have been told this is the way to go. Flight time is also about 4 hours, but then we have a three-hour drive to where we want to be. Bentota is only an hour or so away from the airport, and has a selection of stunning hotels designed by Geoffrey Bawa – We had lunch at Club Villa in February, and would recommend it.
PS (All posts including some new ones on Sri Lanka here)
Take a 4-hour flight to Trivandrum, and then a 1/2 hour drive down towards the southernmost tip of India, and grab a bit of “India Lite” at Kovolam Beach. There is a strip of one, two and three-star guest houses on the beach, or a couple of five-star options nearby (read previous posts on the road trips, backwater, and Kovolam Beach). Other alternatives are heading into the backwaters of Kerala and staying on a houseboat, or for those needing a little cleansing, a yoga retreat – from a near-Golden-Door-type experience like Beach and Lake resort, to hard core, guru-led ones complete with a complete lack of anything lush.
It’s just cool enough to hit the mountains for some hiking now, so either base yourself in Nizwa at the Golden Tulip, self-camp on the top of Jabal Shams or stay in a bedouin tent, or stay at the Al Hoota guesthouse near Al Hamra, and explore what I raved about in this post, and more here. If you feel like a city break, it’s only another hour or so to drive to Muscat. Many stay at the Shangri La Bar al Jissah resort and never leave, but it’s a crime not to see the souq and at least cruise the corniche. If you take the beach road back to Dubai, stop at the Chedi for lunch – the expansive lawns and super-slick architecture will make it worth the stop as will the modern cuisine. If you don’t feel like driving that far, then there is always the Musandam Peninsular. The luxurious and spectacular Zighy Bay and the less-so Golden Tulip Khasab are well and truly booked by now, but you could still camp assisted, unassisted, or spend the night on a beautiful antique (yet shipshape) dhow.
Back here in Dubai, there will also be plenty to do. Global Village opens again on November 1, and there will be fireworks, activities in the malls, and the general excitement involving live goats being thrown on the back of utes for later sacrifice, and of course more refined demonstrations of Emirati culture, which even the non-emirati can participate in, particularly around the Dubai Mall (more info linked here). You could always do what we did last year, and stay in a local, or near-local hotel. Look into Dibba, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Bani Yas Island, Liwa, Fujeirah and RAK. Some might camp. Or ‘glamp’ at a desert resort. Just don’t get ripped off – many hotels outrageously inflate their prices over public holidays, so make sure you check the rate outside of holidays before paying. Punish this practice and avoid them as a favour to me and your wallet -these rogues really need to learn their lesson.
There are plenty of places I have not been yet that are also within mini-break acceptable reach from Dubai. Beirut and surrounds, Amman and Petra, Salala and Sur in Oman, Cyprus, other cities in India, Zanzibar, the Seychelles, Tunis and Damascus (wish I had gone last year). They will all have to wait – but not too long – there’s another holiday around the corner!