A Travellerspoint blog

United Arab Emirates

Not the Rolex

Everything in Dubai seems to be attached in one way or another to a shopping mall. I am not exactly sure why this may be the case (though I can hazard a fairly good guess) but it seems to be the way things are heading in this town. They don’t really seem to be building a modern city, they are building a business and shopping mecca.

Todays adventure took me into another shoppers paradise, well if you can afford the labels it is. My wallet was having minor palpitations just thinking about trying to cover the bill should I take it out in a moment of madness and purchase something from one of the many expensive brand name stores. Fortunately for my wallet, and bank account, I was there for another reason. Skiing, yes that’s right, skiing, or to be more precise, snowboarding. The Emirates Mall in Dubai boasts an indoor skiing area, so naturally being a big fan of snowboarding; I felt it would be almost criminal for me not to at least check this out. I was expecting a small sloping area big enough for a couple of seconds thrill ride on a toboggan or something similar. I was however wrong, very wrong, as this thing boasts a black run.


The Ski area in the Mall of the Emirates - Dubai

It is an extremely well set up enterprise. The cost is quite reasonable, all the equipment you could need is available, and it even includes a lift, a proper ski lift. I was so impressed I don’t think you could have wiped the smile off my face with 100 grit sandpaper. So I laid down my money, put my valuables in a locker and proceeded to the equipment section. Here was where I encountered my first problem, for you see I have rather large feet. Freakishly large actually and the nice young man who was assisting me was having a little trouble finding me something to wear. (Oh and to clear up an old myth, yes it is true what they say about people with big feet. We do wear big shoes.) So I finally had to squeeze myself into something a couple of sizes too small and proceeded out into the frigid air of the indoor run. The snow is not that soft to be perfectly honest, more like shaved ice. But still this is skiing in Dubai so who am I to complain about the lack of 3 foot deep powder.

This was where I encountered my second problem; for my snowboarding ability is hampered by one fatal flaw……I am not very good at it, in fact if I am being brutally honest I would have to say that I am quite poor. Now this has never been a hindrance in the past. I have never been asked to provide any credentials when visiting the many snowfields in Australia. In fact just owning equipment seems to be enough to qualify me to take on whatever run I feel like. What’s more, you generally have the whole mountainside in which to operate. Sure there are areas that are quite a bit more hazardous than others (trees for example are not a lot of fun) but the area is spacious enough for all to share equally. In this situation I am able to hide my inabilities quite adequately, and generally progress up and down the mountainside at my leisure without doing too much damage. The slope in the Emirates mall however, is quite narrow, and surprisingly steep. So my first few runs were spent annoying possibly everyone else who was within 10m of me. I believe I was sworn at in Dutch, German, Arabic, Italian and at least another 2 dialects that I didn’t recognise. Still I was having fun and gradually getting the hang of things again. I did have 2 hours to spend after all, and I was determined to make the most of it. This was when I encountered my 3rd problem, I became confident.

Have you ever heard the phrase “He just ran out of talent”?? Well that is exactly what happened to me. I had managed to build up a bit of speed, rounded a corner over a rise and tried to do a little jump, and then everything went a just a little askew. I managed to not only fall in the most ungraceful manner imaginable, (picture starfish on my belly and that would be pretty close) but to go tearing through a safety barrier, scatter a rather startled group of children that were learning the basics of skiing, hit every tender area on my body at least three times each, and finally came to a rather quick halt against a hut type structure. Realising this may have been against the many rules governing the use of the ski slope, I felt that it was time to turn on the charm. So I stood up, ignored the crying children and staring parents, look casually at my watch, exclaimed “Goodness me is that the time” and bade skiing Dubai goodbye before making a hasty exit. Of my allotted 2 hours I had used only 30 minutes, but I have always maintained that you have to know when to quit. Generally it’s when people start looking at you like they would like to kill you.

So after skiing I decided to get something to eat, preferably next to a window so I could hopefully watch somebody else hurt themselves in an overtly embarrassing nature. (Unfortunately this did not happen.) Whilst looking for a suitable establishment I noticed a big sign that advertised a place called TGI Fridays. “I’ve heard of that” I thought to myself, “Let’s give that a go”. This was my fourth mistake. TGI Fridays would have to be the most bland, disgusting food I have encountered since my time in the DRC. In fact I think they could improve things by employing some Congolese cooks. I have never in my life ordered lamb that came out with NO TASTE WHATSOEVER. On the side was a coleslaw type substance that actually made me gag and spit it out. It takes a lot to make me do that, trust me. However this was not the worst thing about TGI Fridays. It was in fact the Jalapeno Poppers. These are advertised as hollowed out chillies with cheese filling, coated in crumbs and lightly fried. Sounded good, so I got some. My first bite was my last, as the entire cheese filling made a dash for freedom from its jalapeno prison and sprayed itself all over my lap. Searing hot, extremely oily, disgusting American cheese on my crotch, which wasted no time at all in not only creating a permanent stain that made it look like I had pissed myself, but in transferring all its heat onto what is quite possibly the most tender region of my entire body. All in all I would say that whatever you do, stay out of TGI Fridays. My waitress offered me a 20% discount on my next visit; I explained that she would have to pay me to come back.

After calming myself down with some ice cream (God bless whoever thought of ice cream) I decided to stroll for a while around the mall. It was the kind of mindless wandering I am capable of in shopping precincts, and wound me up in the front of the Rolex shop. I have always thought it would be nice to one day own a Rolex, but nothing too flashy of course. I always figured it could be something nice to congratulate myself for reaching 50 with for example. So I had a look at the wares in the window and proceeded to the door to ask if I could have a quick look around. Now these places are the kind of shop where you get buzzed in by the employee. So I knocked on the glass door to get his attention, gave him a big smile and pointed at the door. The young, extremely well dressed gentleman inside looked up, got out of his chair, came over to the door, casually unlocked it, gave me a sneer and a look of pure contempt and said;
“Go away.”
I was just dumbfounded. Go away?? Even the man at the Tag Huer store had let me have a nose around (I told him from the start that I wasn’t going to buy, but he was happy to show me everything anyway), so I naturally started saying something in response to this obvious slight, however I was unable to get anything out at all. I don’t know if it was the sports shirt and thongs, or the apparent large urine stain on the front of my shorts, but he didn’t let me get a word out. He had decided that not only was I not welcome inside the store, but that I was better off not soiling the front of it either; as he started moving me on by shooing me away in the manner that pigeons are chased away from a picnic. It was so surreal that I could do little but smile. I considered teaching him a lesson but I could not come up with an idea that didn’t involve a brick and a short stay in prison. So I just laughed it off and decided that I really shouldn’t spend any more time in the Mall of the Emirates, got into a taxi and retreated to my hotel to cool my poor burnt privates in the pool.

So my advice from all this is as follows;
Try the skiing in Dubai, you won’t get to do it again (well I won’t anyway for at least a couple of years).
If any of you are considering buying a luxury watch in the near future, turn up dressed like an average person. If Rolex doesn’t let you in you can always go see the nice people at Tag Huer.

And please, for the love of God, stay out of TGI Fridays.

Posted by Dangermouse 10:45 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

It's a long way to the top

sunny 28 °C

The problem with tall buildings is that, well they are tall, extremely tall in some instances. Whilst this revelation may not come as a shock to many of you, it does present some challenges. For example the problem with being so tall is that you can see them from a very long way off. The Burj Khalifa is one such example. This monstrous marvel of modern engineering can be seen for up to 50km in all directions.


Why is this a problem?? Well I could see the building from my hotel balcony and felt it would be an interesting place to attempt to walk to today. That’s why. Because after a couple of hours random walking the damn thing didn’t seem to be getting any closer. I’m sure it was, but things that are a long way off tend to keep looking that way until you get rather close. Add to this the fact that those crazy Arabs like building residential areas with dead end streets, and the trip becomes all the more challenging. On more than one occasion I wandered down a road only to find it ending abruptly. I even gauged one possible tentative foray by the volume of traffic preceding me down it. I figured that a vast number of vehicles going down a road was a decent indication that it went somewhere. Right?? All I can surmise is that someone in that particular complex must have been having a party, or that everyone was going home for lunch at the same time.


Burj at sunset from near my hotel.

I can be quite stubborn when it comes to matters like this, quite stubborn indeed. It turns into a challenge between the city and me, and I’ll be damned if I was going to let the city win. The downside to this style of thinking is that Dubai is in fact not an evil omnipotent force out to make my life as trying as possible, and has no idea of either my struggles or growing hatred. It wouldn't actually care at all if I caught a taxi the rest of the way. This is actually quite counter productive to only myself, but there you go. So after wearing a decent sized hole in my foot (why do I continue to wear these things if they always give me blisters??), lots of swearing and mild questioning of my personal sanity, I made it to the tower. It turns out that it was only 6km as the crow flies, though I figure that I covered 10-12 on my meandering path. The Burj Khalifa is an impressive thing to witness up close. It was completed in 2010 and stands at over 828 meters tall. (This was from the official website and reads like someone who owns something large and spectacular but doesn’t want to give too much away. “So how tall is your building??” “Oh somewhere near 828m, one doesn’t like to brag you know”). Either way it is quite amazing to look at.

Now after half a days random march, there was no way I was not going to get to the top of this thing to have a look around. That is after all the whole point of tall buildings. So I entered the attached shopping mall (of course) and spent a maddening hour trying to find out where you had to go in order to gain access to the big building. (For those who care you need to go the LG level, sacrifice a chicken, click your heels three times and say “Take me to the bloody tower lift or I am going to hurt someone” to the nearest mall employee.) Once I arrived at the lift I was quite dismayed to find that you need to book tickets in advance, days in advance it seems. There was an electronic board near the front desk which relayed the dates and times that one could purchase tickets for a trip to the top. Today was sold out, as was tomorrow and the next day. Time, I felt, to turn on the charm. (This by the way has never yet worked out in my favour, but as I said I can be quite stubborn).

So I approached the nice young lady at the front desk, gave her my best smile and asked politely if there was a chance that she could sneak me in on a trip today.
“Of course” she replied with a smile “You can buy an immediate ticket and go up right now.”
“That’s excellent” I said quite happily, so there is a first time for everything after all.
“That will be 450AED” came the response.
“I’m sorry did you say 450??” I inquired, rather a little shocked. The price on the board was for 100AED, this was over 4 times the cost.
“Yes of course, the cost for a pre-booked ticket is 100. For an immediate ticket you pay 450.” She said quite happily, in the manner of a policeman who is giving you a rather expensive ticket for something quite innocuous before wishing you a nice day.
“Ahh” I replied, once again realising that charm does really not work for me. Still I am not one to let something like cost get in the way (did I mention stubborn??) so I handed over the money, retrieved my ticket and headed through the turnstiles.

Firstly I have to say the staff on hand are quite friendly, and the lifts are the most amazing things I have been in. Most lifts that go any higher than 10 floors tend to do so with the kind of urgency that leaves you a little queasy and descend at such a rate that they leave you with the feeling that you are really only a hairs breath away from the speed of an actual free fall. These lifts not only went over 120 floors in one go, but did so in such a refined manner that at no time did I even feel like I was moving. This is quite a feat and really deserves more attention than they get. As for the view, well at first I was a little disappointed that we were not at the actual top, but still it is impressive. After all how often do you get to be this high up without the need of a parachute?? I challenge anyone to go to the top of this thing and not think “Holy crap that is high”.


Not quite at the top

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Views from the top of the Burj Khalifa

So I stayed on the viewing deck for a period, enjoying the view and taking note of the type of people who visit Dubai. For a start this place oozes money, it just unfortunately didn’t ooze any my way. I have not seen this many well-dressed people in one place ever, and the last time I saw this much Louis Vuitton gear I was in a market in Thailand (though I think some of that was maybe fake). In fact, everywhere I look in Dubai the people are the same. I am way out of my depth here when it comes to fashion. But then again this seems to be where the rich come to show off. So after walking around for a while, admiring Dubai from above, I ended my time on the viewing deck and descended back to ground level. Was it worth the money, of course it was. For starters I had invested the best part of a day and a bit of blood, sweat and creative vulgarity in getting to this thing. I have paid more to walk over the Harbour Bridge in Sydney and have wasted more money on big nights out than this cost me. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to the top (almost) of the worlds highest building and highly recommend it to anyone that finds themselves in Dubai for a period.

This is of course completely relative. For the more organised amongst you, I recommend maybe booking in advance. You get the same experience for a lot less money. Otherwise don’t get discouraged by the sold out signs, a little charm and a lot of cash will get you to the top anyway, and it is definitely worth it.

Posted by Dangermouse 11:17 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

Strike 1

sunny 33 °C

Have you ever been let down by your imagination?? I have, on countless occasions, possible because my imagination can be somewhat over-active. For example, have you ever constructed a mental image of someone whom you only know by voice?? It could be from someone you have talked to over the phone, or heard on the radio etc. When you finally get to see them in person isn’t it always a bit of a surprise to see what they look like?? The reality often doesn’t match the mental image (I am much better looking in person for instance).

Why bring this up now?? Well I found myself disappointed today in a big way. So disappointed in fact, that I registered a strike against Dubai. Now I am a fair person and I give everywhere 3 strikes before I decide never to bother visiting them again. So far the only other city that has recorded a strike was Melbourne, Australia, and it got 2. At least it did until I realised that, as I am from New South Wales, I instinctively hate Victoria and everything about it. For there is still a decent rivalry between the states in Australia, and I finally understood that this was influencing my opinion of Melbourne. Once I realised this I had to, in all fairness, remove the strikes against this city. For Melbourne is in fact a lovely place, full of interest and history. It’s just a pity it’s also full of Victorians. Anyway what did Dubai do to deserve this?? Well I’m afraid it has no soul.

Firstly let’s go back to the start of the day. It all began with a rather pressing desire to get across the road, by any means possible that didn’t involve getting into, or possibly run over by if I could at all help it, a car. So I set off with a purpose in my stride and a plan. A jolly good plan to follow the road until I found a bridge, or crossing, or at the very least a hole in the fence I could squeeze through. I even eyed off a couple of those signs that span from one side to the other, usually advertising something simple whilst the speed cameras underneath collect money for the government (and they would be very busy in this part of the world). So after an hour and a couple of km’s or so I discovered a bridge, a beautiful bridge that allowed me to stroll safely beneath it. I was wrapped, and feeling very pleased with myself. It was, mind you, in the complete opposite direction to that which I had intended to travel, but it was there none the less. So, ticking that off my list of things to do that day (it was in fact the only item) I set about discovering what else was available. So I decided to find that pyramid, and strode purposefully off in its general direction.

The pyramid was in fact a hotel, and was decorated quite lavishly in large statues of Pharaohs and hieroglyphs. Quite stunning but also quite out of place, as the Egyptian empire at its most magnificent extent did not even come close to covering this part of the world. So I wandered in to have a look around and quickly wished I hadn’t. The interior was done in the same motif, and was a little too tacky for my taste. When I inquired at the front desk as to just why the hotel was decorated in such a manner and not in an Arabic style, the young lady stared at me for a short while before asking me who I was and what I was doing there. Non guests, it seems, are not really welcome to go strolling at will through the Raffles resort in Dubai. Nor, as it turns out, can you just look around in any of the more expensive places to stay. So it seems that this complex was decorated like this because they could. I should have seen the warning signs from this alone, but I was still in a jovial mood from conquering the road, and as such was keen to keep exploring. Las Vegas was beyond the reach of Ramses as well, and they have things decorated in the most extraordinary ways, so who am I to judge. I am sure some people like this kind of thing, but I can’t include myself in that category. So I wandered back outside, wondering what else I could accomplish that day, only to see a Big Red Bus come past.

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The Raffles Hotel - Dubai

I have taken the Big Red Bus in London before and can honestly say there is no better or more startlingly expensive way to see a city in a short period. My routine is usually to do an entire circuit, note down the areas of interest and then get on and off on the next go around to explore at my leisure. So for me, in a new place, this seemed a magnificent idea. I approached the rather stressed looking people selling tickets, handed over the equivalent of a years salary for anyone working in the textile industry in China, and boarded a bus. There were two routes from which I could choose. The red route, which goes through the old part of town, and the blue route, which explores the new. Now I have to admit that I am a sucker for old buildings, I truly am. I just love them, and spend hours admiring them much to my lovely wifes continuing dismay. Superman has kryptonite, I have old buildings. You could drop me off somewhere like Prague or Rome, come back in 6 months and I would still ask for more time to explore. They are just fascinating to me, I enjoy everything about them. So naturally I opted for the red route. Eager in anticipation of what was to come I boarded the bus, camera and mental notebook at the ready, and set off to discover the old Dubai.

Would you like to hazard a guess as to how many places I wished to explore on the second circuit?? How many areas intrigued me so much as to make me want to leave an overcrowded bus and a seat that had the consistency of somewhere between ironbark and granite and the comfort to match?? None, absolutely none. In fact I was so despondent that I put my camera away half way around and didn’t once regret doing so. Old for Dubai, it seems, is anything made after 1970 that isn’t all glass. (I may be a little out on the dates here but not by much). In fact I got the nasty feeling that the Big Red Bus of Dubai is there merely to get tourists to different shopping areas. We saw the gold souk (there are hundreds of these in town by the way, this was just the biggest one), various shopping centres and the river. That was about it. The tour also went through what was supposed to be the old part of town; however I lost a lot of interest in this when I noticed air conditioning units on the roofs. I could not have been more thoroughly disappointed if I was told that everyone else on earth was going to get to live forever and have lots of sex, except for me. In fact I questioned going back out to explore at all.

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Ancient cooling units and Gold Land in old Dubai

However after a little reflection I have decided to give Dubai another go. I realised that, much like the hottie on the phone who turns out to be a man with an effeminate voice, I had expected too much from Dubai. This was after all nothing more than a fishing village and international port city that decided to become something spectacular. And it is spectacular. It boasts the worlds biggest hotel, tallest building, indoor skiing, man-made islands in the shape of a palm tree and the world and more impressive and architecturally interesting modern skyscrapers than you can poke a stick at. Whilst these may not be my favourite things, they are Dubai and impressive none the less.

So I will venture out tomorrow and explore Dubai’s flash. This may not be the city I was hoping it would be, but it is Dubai, and nothing else can match that.

Posted by Dangermouse 09:40 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (1)

Why did the chicken cross the road

sunny 32 °C

There is a certain kind of excitement that accompanies a journey into a new country. For me this new place was the United Arab Emirates. I have a stop over here on my way to a new job and was quite looking forward to seeing what Dubai had to offer. I had heard a lot about it of course, and was quite looking forward to seeing it for myself, I was genuinely excited. My enthusiasm could not even be dented by a 2 hour struggle to clear customs.

Arabs it seems, whilst understanding the concept of queuing, do not quite grasp its complexities entirely. I noticed this only as I neared the front of our queue. As we were standing patiently awaiting out turn, a rather well dressed Arabic gentleman strode purposefully to the front of the line and planted himself there. The lady in front of me made some rather weak noises and then did nothing, so I tapped him on the shoulder and indicated that perhaps he should stand in line like everyone else. He looked at me, smiled, patted me on the shoulder and apologised before picking up his bag and moving into line behind me. There he had another brief but lively conversation in Arabic with the gentleman behind me, picked up his bag and moved into line behind him. This continued until he found himself in a position where nobody was asking him to move any further back and waited in line there, having now found his place in the queue. Once I saw this in action I started paying more attention to the lines around me. This was happening on a regular basis it seems, and partly explained just why it had taken the best part of 2 hours to progress the 50m to the immigration desk. As it was 0300 (that’s 3am for those of you not used to 24hr time) I had not been paying too much attention, and as such had probably let several hundred people join the queue in front of me.

So after finally clearing customs and having my bags searched (I always get searched by the way. Anyone looking for a reliable drug mule should probably make inquiries elsewhere, as I am pretty well guaranteed to wind up on banged up abroad quite quickly) I exited the building, found the most expensive taxi in Dubai and made my way to the hotel. There I slept for quite a while, roused myself in the mid afternoon and decided to go for a walk around. My hotel is in an area that seems to be poised for development, and from the hotel lobby I could see a structure that resembled a rather impressive glass pyramid. So, interest peaked, I set off to see what it was about.

I find that walking around is the best way to get a feel for a new place, and this was no exception. Though there was one slight problem. My hotel, it seems, is surrounded by motorways. Lovely, smooth, 6 lanes in each direction, motorways. The kind of thing you could comfortably drive a formula 1 car on without damaging it too much. Great roads, but not exactly suitable for pedestrian access. There were no over-bridges or crossings of any kind, and the local speed limit appears to be whatever your car is capable of, as the vehicles on these roads were moving along at something close to Mach 3. All this combined to make a crossing a rather suicidal undertaking. Added to this was a 7 foot fence on the median strip in the middle of the road designed to discourage anyone from foolishly attempting to cross it on foot. (I know it was 7 feet tall as I ran into it on my mad dash across the road, quite surprised to find there was a fence in the way that was a foot taller than me and quite spiky). There was, it seems, no way for a pedestrian to cross that road that didn’t involve a prior ability in high jumping or pole vaulting. So I wandered up and down its length for a while and then headed home, had a rather nice meal and a swim and retired for the evening.

And the building?? Well it turns out that it is a hotel, called Raffles, linked to a shopping centre. I will see if I can get in there tomorrow. If a chicken can get across a road then surely I can. Stay tuned.

Posted by Dangermouse 11:00 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

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