Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sydney to Dubai and back again

(Click on the pictures to enlarge)
The Emirates limousine pick up from our home went well and we spent some time in the lounge waiting for the delayed flight from Auckland. I was disappointed with the layout of the business class cabin of the A380, set up in a 1+2+1 format, each seat with a console beside it so that the only place two people can sit together is each alternate row in the centre of the plane and only each alternate row along the sides is actually against the window. This meant that Nick and I were two seats apart along the sides which was a bit strange. However, the bar space at the back was nice and we made a date to meet there before going to "bed". I got some sleep and three movies. It is a long way to Dubai. We arrived early so we left the luggage and visited the museum nearby.

Dhow outside museum

It is in the old fort that guarded the town and we explored the old buildings and the courtyard and then discovered the main museum was underground, beautifully airconditioned. We spent some time there looking at the exhibits that mainly told of the way of life of the peoples of the area.

Heavy door of the fort

Cannon balls

Fort courtyard and tower

We took a tour with a private driver, seeing the mosque at Jumeirah which is the only one that allows non-Muslim visitors, and having an explanation of the mosque and the pillars of Islam. We thought it well done. The mosque is quite modern and very beautifully decorated.

Dome of mosque

Detail of mosque decoration

Mosque Arches

The driver then took us out towards the beaches areas but he kept stopping at galleries where I think we were expected to buy. The trip was rather a disappointment, not helped by the heat and the sandy, smoggy haze hanging over everything, so views of the Burj Dubai and the Burj al Arab were restricted.

We walked through the textile souks down to the waterfront. It was impossibly hot and very busy with people everywhere selling everything from slippers to blankets (who needs blankets here?) to lengths of fabrics, shirts and shawls. The architecture was interesting with high arched arcades to catch the air and doors into tiny shops. The water taxis there (abras) are a bit different from those in Venice.

Textile souk

Slipper seller

Dhow and abra on the creek

Because of the heat, much of the shopping is concentrated in malls. This must be one of the few places where a mall is a destination. Dubai Mall, next to the tallest tower, Burj al Arab, has over 1,200 shops, of which more than 200 are arranged into a gold and jewellery area. Gold and precious stones are everywhere.

Gold jewellery in shop

Rooftop, Mall of the Emirates, echoes the roof lines of the souk

In the Mall of the Emirates there is an indoor ski slope, rather difficult to photograph, kept at -3 degrees when outside is 45 degrees.

Down near the creek area, we visited the old house belonging to Sheik Saeed al Maktoum, now beautifully restored after having fallen into some ruin. By itself it shows how the families lived and kept cool, with shaded arcades and roof terraces protected from the sun but catching the breezes. But it was also full of photos of Dubai in 1959 or so, that make you realise what has grown up over the last 60 years in this city.

Sheik Saeed al Maktoum House
(the towers capture and funnel the wind)

The shady terraces of the house

The return journey
We returned through Dubai in October. We were pleasantly surprised to be upgraded to First Class on the 777 for no apparent reason, though the difference appeared to be dinner on demand and a better choice of food, plus a free Emirates hand towel. The lounge at FCO in Rome was available to the business class and first class passengers of several airlines and we felt it suffered from that, as no one airline was taking responsibility, so there were quite shabby areas in the toilets, doors not closing properly and so on. The food was also poor, disposable cups of salad where the lettuce had gone brown, a few creamy things on a bread base, a rice salad and that was about it. We also had to ask someone to find a paper or magazine written in English. I know it was Italy, but they had German, Arabic and French, just not any we could find in English.

The plane trip was fine and I fitted in two films, one of which was Angels and Demons, which made me laugh as we had just visited all the main places in it on our stay in Rome. When we finally landed in Dubai they taxied a long way to a hard standing and then bussed us back to the terminal, despite there being many empty air bridges, heavens only knows why! Anyway, quickly through luggage pick up and took our Emirates car to the hotel, getting in about midnight.

The hotel, the Burjuman Arjaan had very lovely rooms, full suites with kitchenettes and dining tables and a spacious separate bedroom and huge bathroom.

Bed room

Living room

We got it on Expedia for a bit over $200aud whereas the rack rate is about four times that. However, it is not really close to anything except a mall, and the view from the room was of rooftops.

It is important to keep in touch!!!
(rooftop from our window)

Breakfast was anything you might want and included in the price. Dinner the next evening was available in the restaurant but the hotel was not licenced and there was very little in the neighbourhood. The young concierge rang around for us but really didn't know what was available reasonably close, so we ended up at a rather downmarket bar and grill at a nearby hotel. The steak was fine and it came with a small carafe of indifferent wine at about $24aud, so not at all pricy but the surroundings were tacky. Had I been feeling a bit better (nasty cold) we would have looked further afield.

We visited the gold souk and spice souk and it was quite fun to discuss the sacks with the sellers, these were rosebuds for tea, these were dried lemons, the bean was to grind to a powder and rub on injuries and so on. They all knew that they couldn't sell herbs or spices to us because of Australian quarantine laws. I did buy some Frankinscence.

Shop in the gold souk

Spice shop in the souk

The mall attached to the hotel was large and VERY expensive. Nice to window shop though really beyond our budget, but we passed a nice time having a look and a light lunch.

Burj Dubai, tallest building in the world
(the needle shaped one, from the taxi)

Emirates car to the airport again, through morning traffic and the smog. The flight home was delayed five hours while they fixed the in-flight entertainment, so we used the laptop to catch up on emails and blogs and had a light meal while waiting.

I have real questions about whether I want to travel through Dubai again. We like to break our journey so we don't arrive exhausted at our destination, but we are not beach people nor shopping people nor party people, which seem to be the main past-times in Dubai. We enjoyed the cultural side of things and some of the history and architecture of the city. We probably could have chosen better restaurants, which was our responsibility, the smog blocked most views and we found the heat absolutely enervating. The plus side were the Emirates transfers and the fare costs, which were far lower than any other airline in Business class because we got "companion" fares for oldies. We will have to see what is available next time we travel.

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