Archive for the ‘Dubai’ Category

Another world

Posted: January 7, 2011 in Dubai, Kenya

Not much to report today. We were up early (again! – this is becoming a habit) and heading to the airport by 7am. We were there with loads of time to spare for our 10.45 flight, so we browsed in the shops & generally hung about. The fun part of travelling – not. But the time passed & we were on our way to Nairobi. The flight was tolerable. The plane was a smaller one and didn’t have the snazzy entertainment system (such as movies on demand), but I planned to spend the time sorting & editing photos. Which went fine for the first 10 minutes, until the person in front of me reclined their seat, and there was no way I could open my laptop. Seriously, if they are going to squash so many rows in a plane, I don’t think the seats ought to recline! I managed, with my laptop tilted at a strange angle and my elbows close to my ears – and then promptly slept most of the way anyway.

We got a great view of Dubai as we took off. We were hoping to see the Palm, and probably would have if we’d been on the other side of the plane, but we did fly right over “The World”, which was kind of cool.

   

       

We really enjoyed our 3 days in Dubai, but the whole purpose of this entire trip is the Kenya photo safari, which begins tomorrow, and we can’t wait!! All we have seen of Nairobi so far is the road from the airport to the hotel, but it was just as I had imagined it. Noisy, crowded, colourful, dry & dusty, generally run down. The traffic is chaotic, the streets full of cars, buses & trucks, most of them well past their prime. There are bicycles loaded high with packages, “traditionally built” women in colourful garb and elegant young women with fabulous jewellery & elaborate hairstyles, beggars and businessman,goats and chickens, acacia trees and bougainvillea.

There are security guards everywhere, which is both unnerving & reassuring. Our shuttle from the airport was scanned for bombs before it was allowed to drive up to the hotel (but after we spent an hour driving in it), and we were had to go through a scanner ourselves before entering the hotel lobby. Everywhere you go in the hotel there are guards keeping an eye out. Nice to know they are there, but shame they are needed. We have been warned enough times about the security risks in Nairobi, so elected to stay in the hotel tonight. We had a cocktail by the pool (real ones this time) and dinner in the hotel restaurant, which is decorated like a railway station cafeteria from the 1930’s. Very cleverly done. It is a “themed” restaurant, and tonight’s theme was African food, so we got to sample lots of mostly unidentified foods (it was a buffet) – delicious but mysterious.  There is also a lounge for guests which feels like it is straight out of an Agatha Christie novel.

So looking forward to meeting up with Chris Bray & Jess tomorrow evening, and especially to seeing Jan (and Rex too). And we will get to meet the other people in our safari group.

Hardly any photos today, since the most interesting sights were through the window of a speeding car – but I

have finally uploaded the photos from 2 days ago. Check them here.

Up, Up & Away

Posted: January 6, 2011 in Dubai

You wouldn’t really call me a morning person. And I have a well-documented fear of heights. So what was I doing at 5am heading into the desert to take a hot air balloon flight?? The desire for a great photo, it seems, transcends all else! And I have to say, the 4.15 wake-up call, the trembling knees, and the bumpy bus ride were well & truly worth it!!! What an amazing adventure!!!

In truth the scariest thing about the whole experience was the bus trip, the driver seemed to be hurtling down the highway at breakneck speed. We arrived in the middle of nowhere (it seemed) before dawn. There were around 40 of us, and two balloons. We were given our safety briefing & climbed into the basket. My teeth were chattering – though whether from cold or fear I’m not sure, but the heat of the gas flame soon warmed us up & we were airborne in no time at all. The sunrise was spectacular, and as the shadows shortened we just drank in the scenery. Our pilot was quite a character but exuded confidence & I knew we were in good hands. To tell you the truth, it really wasn’t that scary. And it was sooo beautiful. I would certainly do it again.

We had expected a “light breakfast” as part of the balloon experience, but it turned out to be only a small an of soft drink! So when we got a text from our Sydney friends Anna & Ken Harman, who currently live in Dubai, suggesting lunch, we were happy to comply. They met us at the Dubai Mall, and we shared a delicious meal at a swank French restaurant. It was good to catch up with them & hear about their life in Dubai.

Our plan after lunch was to head to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. We joined a rather large queue only to discover that tickets must be pre-booked and were sold out for the next 2 days. There was a sign saying there were some immediate entry tickets available, which seemed perfect. Until we discovered that they cost AED400 (around $100) each, compared with AED100 for the regular ticket. What a rort! I am sure the view is very nice up the there but … Instead we came back to the hotel. Don’t forget we were up at 4am. We had a delightful swim in the hotel pool (on the 11th floor) and a refreshing mocktail on the pool deck. We’d have had the real thing but the bar wasn’t open!

Planning a quiet night in tonight as we head for Nairobi first thing in the morning. Dubai has been lots of fun. It is big, brash & bold. I do not think I’d like to live here, but it is a great place for a holiday. It is a city of extremes & superlatives, and there is much to occupy a visitor. I would love to come again some day. But Kenya beckons, and I can hardly wait!!

Photo Count Today 477
Modes of Transport: 10
Wrong Turns while walking: Lost count

Living the high life

Posted: January 5, 2011 in Dubai

After a bit of a sleep-in and another delicious hotel buffet breakfast today’s plan was to see some of the new modern luxury high-rise part of Dubai – which is most of it. Dubai today is luxury hotels, apartments, and shopping malls – a total contrast from the crowded, noisy streets we wandered through yesterday. But it is modern Dubai that has put the city on the map as such a popular tourist destination, so even though it feels a little “fake” it s in fact the “real” Dubai. And I must say they do excess very well.

Having learned our lesson yesterday, we decided to catch cabs today. Even my public-transport-loving husband was amenable to that! Turns out the cabs are clean, efficient and very cheap. And a lot easier than walking! We headed straight to the Atlantis Hotel, one of the newest and most extravagant of the new and extravagant Dubai Hotels. We especially chose that one because it is situated in the Palm Jumeirah, that man-made development in the shape of a palm tree. We had seen a few documentaries about the construction of it, and so we were especially interested to see it. We were immediately struck by how huge the Palm is, and what an unimaginably enormous task it was to build this from nothing. There are lovely gardens, and the architecture is tasteful, in the Arabian style. And of course, miles of beaches.

The Atlantis itself is, needless to say, huge. It is opulent and grand, with an ocean theme. There is a water park, sandy beaches, dolphins and an enormous aquarium. And of course a shopping mall. Much of the hotel is accessible to guests only, but one of the security guards offered for Keith & I to go up to the hotel lobby, and we got to have a sneak peak at how the other half lives. We explored the aquarium, which was very well done. According to the brochure, while digging the foundations for the hotel, they found the ruins of the lost city of Atlantis itself, and this “aquarium” displayed what they discovered. All a bit Las Vegas, but very entertaining, & provided lots of fishy photo ops.

There is a monorail that runs the length of the ‘trunk’ of the palm, and we caught that back to the ‘mainland’. From there another taxi took us to Madinat Jumeirah, another resort next to the Burj al Arab Hotel (the big, sail-shaped 7-star hotel). Madinat Jumeirah is just lovely, with Arabian style terrace houses, canals with little abras, lots of waterfront promenades and a souk – a market-place in the traditional style (but minus the hawkers and with very upmarket shops). It is all very tastefully done and we had a pleasant wander through the souk and then a light lunch in a waterfront restaurant (a meze plate for 2 – delicious).

We dragged ourselves away and walked next door to have a look at the Burj al Arab. We knew we wouldn’t be allowed inside unless we were staying or eating there, but were surprised to see big fences, security guards, and the inaccurately named “Welcome Centre” stopping us from getting anywhere near it. There were also hordes of tourists jostling for position to get a photo of themselves in front of the hotel. We left pretty quickly. We walked to the Jumeirah Beach hotel nearby, hoping to find a taxi, but there was a huge crowd of people there doing the same. A shuttle bus arrived, going to the Mall of the Emirates, ad we hopped on, very glad of a seat. The shuttle was supposed to be for hotel guests, but it must be my day for meeting friendly security guards (well, not counting the ones at the Burj), and they let us on.

The Mall of the Emirates is allegedly the largest shopping mall in the world, famous for the indoor ski slope. Only in a place like Dubai would they think of building a ski slope in a place where the temperature in summer is around 45 degrees. We did a little shopping, had a wander around and then ate dinner in an authentic looking Arabian-style restaurant. But looking at the menu we thought it may be a little too authentic – we had no idea what most of the items were! We had to admit our ignorance & ask the waiter for suggestions. We must have looked hungry because he brought us the most enormous amount of food – all extremely delicious but much more than we needed.

An early night tonight – because tomorrow morning we are getting up at 4am for a hot-air balloon flight over the desert! And no – I haven’t been suddenly cured of my fear of heights – so wish me luck!!

PS Working on posting some photos – I might catch up eventually.

Photo Count: 488
Modes to Transport: 8 (cumulative) – 9 if you count shank’s pony
Calorie Count: Don’t ask

In Old Dubai

Posted: January 4, 2011 in Dubai

Well, if day 1 is anything to go by, we are going to come home very satisfied, totally exhausted, and several kilos lighter! It’s been a great day, if rather long.

The flight was tolerable, as 17 hour flights go. The entertainment system was pretty groovy, with personal screens, and literally hundreds of movies, TV shows and music on demand, and (the best thing) a USB port to charge your MP3 player. I watched “Letters to Juliet” (pretty silly story but very nice scenery), and Keith watched “Robin Hood” (the Russell Crowe version) and “Mao’s Last Dancer”. But mostly I just plugged in my iPhone and listed to my playlist & slept. We both took a sleeping tablet, and were convinced it hadn’t had any effect at all, until we realised we had missed breakfast entirely.

We were picked up at the airport in Dubai by a car from our hotel (the first time I’ve been met by a chauffeur with my name on a sign – made me feel very important!). We checked in but the room wasn’t quite ready (it was only 8am) so we went  to the dining room for a wonderful buffet breakfast. We hadn’t eaten since dinner on the plane just after leaving Sydney so bread and water would have tasted good, but we made short work of the buffet, and sat and planned our day.

We thought we’d start in old Dubai, and get a feel for the city before the rapid expansion in the past 40 years or so. There is a Metro stop right outside the hotel, so we headed into town. We learned two things about Dubai today. It is big. Seriously big. And it is not designed for pedestrians. The metro is very shiny & new, spotlessly clean and very efficient, but it still took about 30 minutes to get to our destination. Then once on foot, there are wide expressways everywhere that make crossing the road a hair-raising experience. It was just a block from the Metro station to Dubai Creek – but it seemed to take forever to get there.

When faced with a fork in the road, and a decision to be made, you’d think you had a 50/50 chance of getting it right, even if you were just guessing. But despite having several maps, and Keith (the worlds best map-reader) we managed to make the wrong choice every single time, and ended up walking miles out of our way by the end of the day.

Dubai creek is actually a large river on which Dubai was founded. It is the oldest part of Dubai and very much feels like a traditional Arabic city. We visited several souks (markets) which were fun. Textiles, Perfume, Gold, Spices  – we weren’t really looking to buy anything but it was fun to look, take photographs, and avoid the spruikers. To get to the market we caught a waterbus, and then an Abra – a traditional small wooden boat (more like a floating crate) – that takes people from one side of the creek to another for the princely sum of one dirham (27 cents). By the time we reached the Dubai Museum we were hot, tired and ready for a nap. But we had been highly recommended to go there so we dutifully headed in. The museum is housed in an early fort, and there were a few exhibitions of weapons, jewellery and musical instruments, and a quite interesting house made of palm fronds, as they apparently lived for centuries in these parts. We were a little underwhelmed and were about to leave when we saw a a few people entering doorway & followed. Down a spiral ramp underground we encountered an amazing recreation of old Dubai, with panoramas, videos, & displays. It was wonderful, and we were so enthralled we forgot how tired our legs were feeling.

By the time we finished at the museum, we were well & truly ready for a long sit. We headed back to the Metro (after another long walk) and went to the Dubai Mall, once of Dubai’s famous (enormous) shopping malls. Our plan was to find a seat at an outdoor restaurant, eat a slow dinner, and watch the spectacular Dubai fountain. In fact that is what we did, but only after several wrong turns (on foot) and a famous-last-words moment – “we don’t need the shuttle bus, it is just over there” – and a circuitous route through the mall (including an enormous aquarium in the middle of the shopping centre). The fountain is a lot like the one at Bellagio in Las Vegas, if you have seen that one – it is amazing what they can do with water & music. In the end dinner was lovely. Keith had red curry lamb shanks and I had a gourmet salmon pizza, and a mango, papaya, cucumber & lime smoothie. Exactly what the doctor ordered.

NB Have uploaded these photos but they have no captions – still working on those!

Photo count: 733
Modes of transport:6 (this one is for you Joel)
Fatigue Factor: Extreme