Friday, 15 June 2018

Money Diary: A 30 Year Old British Girl In Dubai, In June

Since giving up news (a story for another day), my sole internet reading is Refinery 29's Money Diaries series. I hope they never stop publishing them. I've shared a few of mine in the past and, my goodness, has life changed since I penned my first Dubai money diary.

Here's what a week of spending looks like these days, in short - I now earn less, work fewer hours, have a boyfriend and have a (small but carefully curated) Dubai friendship group. Getting happy has reduced my impulse shopping, my spending on make-up (which I barely wear these days) and my thirst for gin - all of which my bank balance is grateful for.

Here's a week in June, during Ramadan and the hot, hot Dubai summer. All prices converted to GBP.

Wednesday:

9am: taxi to work. £3.04

12.30pm: Uber from my office to a cafe near the World Trade Centre. I have a half day off in lieu for working at a few evening events recently. Having more time is worth far more to me than extra $$$ in the bank after years of cancelling social plans and sleep in favour of work. I have an Uber discount code because I take a lot of Ubers... £2.31

1pm: lunch at The Sum of Us - the restaurant is open during the day during Ramadan but the doors are closed and the entrance is screened off. I order a vegan coffee smoothie, a cauliflower rice bowl and write some blog posts on my ancient MacBook. £21.71

4.30pm: Uber home. £7.05

5.45pm: Uber to my boyfriend's place - it's a ten minute walk but the great outdoors feels like an oven so walking isn't happening until September. £4.05

6pm: stay in for the evening making cocktails and popcorn.


Thursday:

7.55am: taxi to work. £3.04

8.05am: iced soy latte from office coffee shop. £3.24

12.30pm: lunch with my team and a colleague who is on maternity leave and her baby. We go to TGI Friday's as the financial district ins't very baby friendly. The menu is mostly deep-fried - I order a so-so salmon salad and a side of fries. A colleague treats.

4.30pm: vegan protein balls from office coffee shop. £2.34

5.05pm: Uber home from work. £6.28

6pm: vinyasa flow yoga class - I paid for a six month unlimited membership at the start of April (£963 - fitness is pricey here) so effectively free in this week's budget.

Friday:

10.15am: advanced vinyasa flow class - I love the smaller class size and the chance to try some crazy things. Effectively free.

11.30am: pop in to Spinneys (a supermarket which sells own brand and Waitrose food) and buy almond milk, loo paper, frozen blueberries, fresh strawberries and a single-serve back of granola to make a Bali-inspired smoothie bowl. £19.51

1pm: back to the yoga studio (its effectively in my building) for a guided meditation class.

2.45pm: Uber to the mall where I practice looking at things without buying them. £4.07

4pm: dentist appointment - my dentist is in the mall and is about as pleasant as going to the dentist can ever be. It's a follow-up appointment to no charge.

4.45pm: walk home from the mall (the ten minute walk nearly cooks me alive) and pick up an iced green tea and a halloumi bagel from Caribou. £9.98

6.50pm: Uber to my boyfriend's place. £4.07



Saturday:

Blissful day of not going outside and not spending any money. Make avocado and halloumi toast for breakfast and order Wagamama on Deliveroo for dinner (the "rule" is that whoever's place we are at pays).


Sunday:

8.20am: Uber to work. £4.07

10.35am: iced soy latte from office coffee shop - this week I seem to have forgotten that I now know how to use the office coffee machine. £4.07

12.30pm: lunch from a cafe offering a free glass mason jar with an order - can't resist and order avocado on sourdough. £9.89

6.30pm: take an Uber to an Iftar (the meal to break the fast during Ramadan) hosted by a women's network which I am a member of. £7.17

7.10pm: Iftar at a newly opened hotel in the Al Seef district. The Iftar is free but I have a yearly membership of the network (£135 paid a few months back).

9.10pm: catch an Uber home with a fellow attendee who happens to live two minutes from me - her Uber looks to be turning up first so I cancel mine.


Monday:

6.40am: Uber to physio appointment before work. £8.03

7am: I have mild scoliosis and have just started physio in an attempt to strengthen my back muscles - it's covered by my medical insurance so while I pay £100.77, I'll get reimbursed.

7.50am: Uber to work. £8.48

8.20am: another coffee. £4.07

12.30pm: order lunch from a discounted delivery service which offers a daily choice from two restaurants - today its a vegan superfood salad. £5.07

5.35pm: Uber to mall after work. £5.27

6pm: waxing appointment (every five weeks). The salon I go to has a loyalty points scheme so I cash mine in to get a discount. £37.73 (usual price £49.66)

6.50pm: I spot a new Japanese store in the mall - Miniso. Somewhat guilty fill a basket with flip-flops, a glass water bottle and three Japanese skincare products. Reason that the glass water bottle will help to save the world. £18.59

7.15pm: walk past Pret and end up going inside for a taste of "home", stare at the fridge for ages and settle for a falafel flatbread and a sparkling water. £8.14


Tuesday:

6.30am: sunrise yoga class on my membership.

7.55am: Uber to work. £5.79

12.10pm: order lunch from the same cafe as Monday - avocado on toast with a side salad. £9.89

4.30pm: vegan protein balls. £2.34

7.30pm: walk across the road (so humid bleugh) to the Ritz-Carlton for a colleague's leaving drinks. Sneak a G&T onto the bar tab they've set up. My boyfriend joins us. Have two more G&Ts and pass up on free oysters (#Dubai). Boyfriend settles the tab for the drinks we've had - we take it in turns to pay for things so make a mental note to pay for drinks or brunch during the Eid weekend (a long weekend to celebrate the end of Ramadan).

9.25pm: taxi home because its far past my bedtime. Eat a square of dark chocolate in lieu of dinner. £4.07

The damage: £231.12

Over £100 less than my last Dubai week... My budgeting has been a little less strict since getting back from Bali but I'm working on that elusive balance between respecting and not wasting money but also not being hard on myself if I do want a daily coffee or to pick up something not 100% essential. The current weather also takes some blame for the 16 taxi trips taken...

Do you keep track of your spending?
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Sunday, 10 June 2018

My Canggu Guide: 6 Tips For Visiting

My recent trip to Bali might just be my favourite ever. I'm a sworn city girl but after a week in Canggu the idea of a city "break" does not sound like one, this might be the only holiday I've come back from and not felt more exhausted than before I left.

Canggu beach at sunset 
Here's a little guide to Canggu and Bali which I might have found useful before heading off. I did very little prior research beforehand, partly because I'm chill now and trust that I'll have fun regardless and also because Hannah's sisters live in Bali and we happened to time our trip with hers.

1. It's pronounced "Chan-gu" not "Can-gu". A freebie for you.

2. Sort out your money before arriving. I usually scrabble around for an airport ATM to get my holiday cash or just pay on my card in places like NYC and HK but took GBP300 in Indonesian Rupiah (which was all I could get hold of in Dubai) and USD400 to change up. £100 is IDR1.8 million - enjoy your millionaire status! 

There are ATMs in Canggu, and money exchanges everywhere, of varying "official"-ness. I used my credit card a few times, no issues. How much you spend will depend on your Bali lifestyle - we spent around £700 for a couple in a week which included all our meals, drinks and a few day trips. Bali is very affordable compared with Dubai and you could definitely spend less than this and still have an amazing week.

La Brisa beach club - our favourite chill out spot 
3. Take mosquito repellant. I'm a bit sceptical as to whether any of this stuff really works but I liberally sprayed myself every evening and only got a couple of bites. The mosquito nets around the beds in Bali have the double benefit of looking quite dreamy and romantic. You can also buy repellent in supermarkets and pharmacies which have everything you need so don't worry about taking the kitchen sink with you. Bali isn't in a malaria zone and you don't need any vaccinations but obviously check with your doctor and don't take advice from an internet stranger.

4. Packing: Bali is super chilled - leave heels, make-up, designer handbags etc. at home. No one cares about status and you'll look ridiculous. I mostly wore beach dresses with bikinis underneath, Birkenstocks, sunglasses and a straw hat because I'm averse to tanning. My skin enjoyed the break from make-up and I could have packed a third less than my 8kg suitcase and been fine. We optimistically packed running gear - my trainers stayed in my suitcase. Bali is hot and humid and air-conditioning isn't really a thing so be prepared to get hot and sweaty and to not really care about it. Suncream is your friend, reapply often.

Lunch at La Brisa.
5. Getting around Canggu can seem channelling at first, our airbnb was 2km from the beach which doesn't sound far but when there are no pavements and scooters speeding along the road and its a little hot it's not exactly a relaxing walk. Uber, Grab and Gojek are banned in Canggu but you can use Blue Bird taxis (download the app) and there are local taxis in town which would run us back to our airbnb at night for around £3. 

Everyone will tell you that you "have" to hire a scooter - you really don't if you're not keen. I have no sense of direction and a poor concentration span so knew that scootering wasn't for me and we got by fine without one. If you do hire one, please be careful. 

Our airbnb terrace.
6.  Canggu has a great mix of local food and "hipster" food, and it's all really affordable, delicious and healthy. As a vegetarian, Bali is the most AMAZING place to have delicious veggie food that you'll actually want to eat. Having been to India last year (where I mostly ate cheese Dorritos) I was a bit worried about being able to eat what I wanted but it was fine - I avoided drinking tap water and drank my first couple of G&Ts super fast to avoid the ice melting in them but then forgot about my paranoia and was totally fine. 

Bali has it's own beer, Bintang, which is super cheap. I tried the lemon one as I'm not really a beer drinker and found myself saying yes to a second bottle. Gin and cocktails are a little pricier - we picked up a bottle of gin at the airport on the way in for drinks at "home" - duty free limits are strict (one litre of spirits per person) so make sure to check. Supermarkets do not sell Fevertree Tonic.

Beach yoga.
Have you been to Bali?
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Friday, 8 June 2018

Books and Food: Recently Read

Joining a bookclub when I moved to Dubai was one of my better decisions. In the past year I've read more books than when I took part in the 1999 Welwyn Garden City library reading challenge and have the pleasure of spending a few hours discussing each one and more with an incredible diverse group of book-lovers who have since become friends.

If you're Dubai-based and looking for a bookclub then come join: Dubai Bibliophiles Book Club.


George Saunders - Lincoln in the Bardo -
This year's Man Booker Prize winner isn't an easy read. This is a book that cannot be compared to any other because it is like nothing else I, or anyone for that matter, have ever read. The writing style was one I struggled to get to grips with, not realising at first that the disjointed paragraphs are the voices of various ghosts in the "bardo" - a state of existence between death and rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism. The story centres around the death of Abraham Lincoln's son, Willie, and Saunders' tale is spun out of a single historical fact - a grief-stricken Lincoln visiting the crypt and holding his son's dead body. Despite this, the novel weaves in humour, an insight into human nature and a serving of American political history all while making you feel slightly less clever than you felt before picking it up. 

Served with - birthday cake for the 7th anniversary of Dubai Bibliophiles.


Samantha Schweblin - Fever Dream - 
Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, Fever Dream is Schweblin's first work to be translated from Spanish. The Argentinian author, in a volume that can be read over the course of an afternoon, crafts a tale that is mesmerising and terrifying. A young woman lies in a hospital bed, while a man named David prompts and guides her through a tale of the supernatural, of motherhood and, ultimately, the devastating effects of pollution. A book that has stayed with me long after putting it down, the chilling atmosphere and (scary) dream-like quality of the writing make this one to not read just before going to sleep... 

Served with - a chickpea and guacamole Buddha bowl.


Rachel Cusk - Outline -
A female writer spends a summer in Greece teaching a writing course, here she catalogues her encounters with fellow teachers, students and a man she meets on her flight to Athens. Revealing little about herself initially (the narrator's name is mentioned in the last few pages), the conversations documented slowly reveal the narrator's loneliness. Athens in the summer may be beautiful but this book leaves an unsettled feeling, one where stories are the ones we chose to tell, and how we chose to tell them and where people can be lonely even in one another's company.  

Served with - mini egg and avocado wraps.


M L Steadman - The Light Between Oceans
I still haven't watched the movie (I am strictly a book first, movie second kinda girl) but I can see why this book was made into a film - the remote lighthouse setting,  on an island off of the coast of Western Australia, is surely crying out to be cast with some beautiful actors for a tale of questionable morals and period costume. The book follows Tom and Isabel, a childless couple during the aftermath of WW1, who find a baby washed up on a beach. They take the baby in as their own and what follows is a rather excruciating range of poor moral decisions, bad choices and further questionable morals. I couldn't feel much sympathy for any of the characters and felt like the key premise of the plot was rather rushed in favour of a few pages too many of plot turns which didn't add much.

Served with - aubergine and quinoa buddha bowl.


Sonia Shah - Pandemic
A rare non-fiction read (book for the book club and for me) but this was one of the best non-fiction books I've read. I am fascinated by medically-things (I used to want to be a doctor but watching House killed off that dream pretty fast) and Shah's exploration into the history, current status and future of pandemics is fascinating. The chapters on the history of New York were particularly interesting, I will never see the streets if Manhattan in quite the same way. If you are easily grossed out, I would recommend not reading this while eating lunch. The writing is great - easily readable and complicated concepts are explained simply but without being patronising. A-Level biology was a while ago, y'know? I am still re-calling facts from this book to make me sound more interesting in conversation and it's not all doom and gloom - I'm actually less fanatical about using hand sanitiser than I was before reading it.

Served with - a Diet Coke (it's a book about germs!)

What have you read recently?

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Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Breakfast In Bali: Canggu Cafe Culture

The breakfast offerings in Canggu are amazing, as a breakfast lover I couldn't have been happier.  Here are four cafes to start your day the right way:

Crate

Our first Bali breakfast was at Crate and we loved it so much we returned a couple of days later. Not a place to sit and linger but a top spot for people watching, good music and sitting at a big sharing table with people far cooler than you are. Portions are generous and you can sip your coffee (from a fresh bamboo straw, natch) while looking out over rice fields. My blue chia pudding might have meant that my Bali breakfasts peaked on day one, but the smoothie bowl I had on my second visit was delicious, too. My boyfriend requested a return visit specifically to order the chorizo toastie, when not in Dubai... Arrive early and tag-team to find a table while queuing and perusing the extensive menu board - this place gets busy.

crate cafe canggu

crate cafe canggu

Betulnut 

After seeing Hannah's Instagram snap, we headed to Betulnut for a later breakfast and grabbed a seat on the upper level. The breakfast menu all looked delicious but I hadn't had avocado toast for four days so had to try Betulnut's version, which turned out to my my one and only avocado on toast in Bali. Service was a little slow (my dish arrived long after my boyfriend had finished his) but we're a long way from Dubai and weren't exactly in a rush...also, it's Bali, chill pls. The avocado on toast was worth the wait and the cafe was a lovely spot to escape the sun and plan our next few days of adventures.

betulnut canggu

The Shady Shack

An all-outdoor cafe, The Shady Shack lives up to its name - it doesn't get much more relaxed than eating breakfast in a green oasis. The menu is entirely vegetarian which is a dream for someone who usually has their pick of a maximum of three options. We started with smoothies sipped through fresh bamboo straws, much-needed after a strenuous morning of surfing / watching surfing. One halloumi breakfast and one superfood salad made for the perfect late breakfast - I wish we could have had time to make a second trip here, the takeaway counter and small shop is worth checking out, too.

the shady shack canggu


the shady shack canggu

Oka's Bakery

Our final breakfast in Bali - a few minutes from our Airbnb, and recommended by our host, was at Oka's Bakery. I had my final smoothie bowl and it was an epic one - a creamy avocado smoothie topped with granola, coconut and fresh fruit.  Fun fact but I usually don't like or eat fruit - it somehow tasted so much better in Bali and cool smoothie bowls appealed more than my usual avocado toast. The bakery sells a range of vegan and / or gluten free treats - every item lists all its ingredients which is so helpful, we picked up some vegan cookies and energy balls for the journey home.

okas bakery canggu

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Friday, 1 June 2018

Life: May Round-Up

Another monthly round-up, put together a week early as I'll be in Bali when this goes live - a year-in-the-planning trip with Hannah to visit her sister in Canngu, one which I rather pro-actively invited my boyfriend on on our third date and yet here I am some 12 hours before Googling "plug type in Bali". Two round pins if you were wondering.

Here's May in Dubai:


1. A double-date brunch at Bubbalicious. They had a conveyor-belt of desserts which I managed to photograph and then spent too much time chatting and sipping frozen margaritas and suddenly all the food was being packed away and we were being asked to leave (because it was closing time not because of over consumption of margs).

2. I tried to start running again but its really a little too hot.

3. My friend turned Instagram-husband in Dubai Miracle Gardens. It was very hot.

4. Ticking off two firsts - a trip to Fujairah on the Indian Ocean coast and my first scuba dive. I was quite terrified but it was really quite magical - both in a slow-motion, underwater, we-saw-a-giant-turtle way and also for doing something that I never thought I would or could do.

5. A bookclub meeting to discuss Outline by Rachel Cusk. I found the book a little meh but love my book group (Dubai Bibliophiles) for being as interesting as what we read (and sometimes more so!).

6. It's Ramadan so May involved attending three Iftars (a meal at sunset to break the fast). This one was at the Armani hotel. Part of my new job involves organising corporate events for those of you worrying about my bank balance or if I'm suffering from intense lifestyle creep.

7. Lunch in Abu Dhabi at Cafe Milano - that business lunch life (highly recommend checking out weekday business lunch menus if you're visiting and want to try a high end restaurant without a crazy bill).

8. Another trip to Abu Dhabi for another Iftar - this time in the floating suite at the St Regis.

9. The dessert room at the St Regis' Iftar, pre-sunset version.

How was your May?
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