Little Things…

Yesterday I got on plane (yes another one) and headed south east for a week of wallowing in Abu Dhabi.

Abu where (or why) many of you may be saying.

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, a tiny country near the tip of the Arabian peninsula overlooking the Persian Gulf. It is a little under 8 hours flight time away from London and as to what I’m doing here, at this time of year day time temperatures average between 28-30C, I am in serious need of some sunbeams and there was a ripper of a deal.

So enough of the background. Let’s get to the point of my story.

I arrived last night at around 9pm and after making my way though the cacophony of the terminal and spending more than an hour shuffling with the rest of the queue through passport control, I found my ‘pre-booked transfer’ man and was duly on my way to the hotel in the lovely leather back seat of a white Audi. With a driver that sensed I was too tired to chat.

A little thing, but nonetheless appreciated.

My room is lovely and spacious – on the 7th floor overlooking the lights (at night) and the white sands of the private beach (during the day). The Traders Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri is a 4 star hotel and yet there is a robe, slippers, a gigantic bed with an assortment of pillows and a fully equipped bathroom: when I say fully equipped I mean not just the requisite toilet and basin but also a bidet, a big bath and a separate shower (not a shower over a bath).

I also found two complimentary bottles of water on the bedside table – these are rarely complimentary or offered (versus being asked for) in multiples – and there are both English (3-prong) and European (2-pin) plugs in the room. 

A further 3 bottles of water have been left in my room today. Oh and the wi-fi is everywhere, fast and completely free.

Such small attentive details create such lovely looked-after moments, don’t they?

After the haunting sounds of the Muslim call to prayer echoed across the hazy dawn sky this morning, it was off to explore the breakfast buffet and not only did I have a delicious, freshly cooked omelet but there was also turkey bacon. Yes turkey bacon – these things are of great significance when you don’t eat red meat. I do have turkey bacon at home but have not seen it anywhere on my travels so this was such a rare and happy find.

A post-breakfast stroll along the paved and scrupulously tidy boardwalk took me past several of the Shangri-La residences in the complex, the marina and into the souk. I’ll wander in the other direction tomorrow – apparently there’s a day spa nearby.

And then it was time to hit the beach. Free water (another 2 bottles) in a little esky was duly delivered along with 2 big towels to my sunlounger of choice. A further and even larger towel was wrapped over the mattress with the offer to replace this later in the afternoon. And I was about 10 steps away from a cooling, salty swim.

Little things people, it takes such little things to make me happy. 

I can hear the wailing call to prayer as I sit here wrapped in my borrowed robe typing away. The lights are appearing in the dark night sky and with Day 1 under my belt, I’m already feeling loose-limbed, sunkissed and deliciously relaxed. 

As-salamu alaykum (السلام عليكم) is the traditional Arabic greeting here and while it is used as ‘hello’, it actually translates as ‘peace be upon you’.  And I can confirm peeps that yes, peace is definitely what is happening up here on the 7th floor.

I can see nothing for it but to repeat the whole luscious process tomorrow.

Ma’a ssalama…
(See you soon…)

A Pinch Of Salt…Feeling Like Jenny

Loose-limbed. Unruffled. Calm. Fluid.

These are all things I associate with a truly relaxing holiday. You know, the kind where you reach a sort of ‘one-ness’ with the world from your prone position on the sun lounge. The kind where the most critical decisions may include shall I read or doze, am I hungry enough to be bothered moving to accommodate some sort of snacking, and is it cocktail o’clock yet. Where it takes effort to pull yourself back ‘together’ again in order to manage a) the trip home and b) contributing something beyond water cooler stories during the first week back at work.

Most of us save hard and schedule annual leave with military zeal to achieve this and, when it’s all done, find ourselves gazing wistfully at our fading tan lines and poring over travel websites to plan that next escape firmly in the foreseeable future.

Well this week, I managed to achieve this in the space of a couple of hours in South West London. On Thursday night I ventured just off Chiswick High Road, crossed the threshold into the world of Floatation Therapy and experienced the most profound relaxation ever. 

People, welcome to Floatopia.

There are lots of benefits associated with floatation therapy including stress relief, detoxing, increased energy, improved concentration, relief from injuries, regulating sleeping patterns (one float apparently simulates 4 hours of sleep) and releasing Endorphins – the body’s natural pain killer and happy pill.

So I filled in my form, donned my Floatopia-issued slippers and was shown to my Private Float Suite. After a quick run through of the Float Room itself and the do’s and don’ts I was left to my own devices and not wanting to waste a moment, I was showered and ‘in’.
Floatation simulates a zero gravity environment for the body by heating a solution of Epsom Salts to skin temperature. The ‘water’ for want of a better word, is quite shallow (waist deep when you are seated) so I got myself in the right spot, pulled the door closed, turned off the light and lay back to find myself floating effortlessly in the darkness.
My brain chattered furiously and I in turns let myself listen to my garbled thoughts and then gently pulled my mind back to the sensation of the stillness. The soft background music stopped – this happens after about 15 minutes I was told – and after a while (and I really couldn’t tell you how long) the chatter slowed and my limbs seemed to become ‘at one’, blurring the edges of my physical self, with the warm salt solution around me. I let my mind float too, observing it flit about as if the thoughts were not really mine and listening to my heart beating comfortingly in the background. At one stage, I tried to count my heart rate but my thoughts drifted away again.

It is the most extraordinary experience to be completely with yourself in this way. I’ve never ‘mastered’ meditation, always with one ‘eye’ on the clock and feeling too impatient with the distractions of the mind and body. But I imagine this is what it must be – this total acceptance of everything: the itches, the niggles, the thoughts, the chatter and then the move back to stillness, silence and peace.

The background music started softly again to signal the end of my float. Feeling a bit disconcerted I fumbled for the light switch and stretched to establish the connection between limbs and brain again. My Floatopia ‘host’ had mentioned I might ‘feel like Jenny’ at the end of the float – whoever she is, I’d like to be Jenny a lot more often.

15 minutes later I was showered, dressed and in the chill out area feeling like I had spent a blissful two weeks on a beautiful beach somewhere.

All in about 2 hours and for the bargain Groupon voucher price of £17.

And to top it off, I slept the best sleep for years on Thursday night and continued into Friday, calm and unruffled, in the face of the end of the week commuting challenges.
Now that’s has to be the best value holiday I’ve ever had.