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Trip Report Dubai - Trip Report

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We'd like to thank all the trip reporters and other helpful people on this site who provided information to make our trip a success. Our trip mainly covers Italy but with a couple of days stop over in Dubai and this is our report on our experiences there.

We flew out of Melbourne at 3.00am. We had used the train and airport Skybus to get to Tullamarine for the princely sum of $25 for both us against around $100 by taxi. We had a bag with wheels www.exotix.com.au and another large bag in addition to our cameras (Nikon D90 and Canon digital and camcorder and binoculars), backpack with ePC, travel documents and my handbag. The duty free shops and restaurants were all closed at that hour and we could not purchase an additional flash card for my camera. Hmm very bad move not to have bought it before we left Aus. We flew directly to Dubai on Emirates flight EK 409. The flight was most enjoyable. The seats appeared higher than any we had with other airlines and because I could not place my feet on the floor and there were no foot rests, cramps occurred very fast. The air conditioning was so cold, that one had to use a serviette to hold the metal cutlery! The food was excellent and the staff most pleasant and polite. When the lights are dimmed at night, the roof of the plane has a starry roof with lots of tiny lights – very pretty. The toilets seemed smaller than usual but did carry both cologne and hand cream which was great to counteract the dryness. We thought we were on to a good thing. Although we did not have a view of the various islands in Dubai we could see the incredible changes that had occurred since our last trip to Dubai in 1978! Then, Dubai airport was merely a small, rather grimy and lonely building in the desert – the heat shimmer could be seen rising at 5am and there had been a camel train walking over the dunes behind the airport! This distinctive desert scene had been replaced by the magnificent new Terminal 3 which was vast, glass and steel and very modern. The journey from the plane to the terminal took a considerable amount of time on a crowded, standing only bus, winding through the various depots and construction sites in 37C heat. We caught a glimpse of the new unmanned monorail, Metro trains which had commenced running the previous day.

Terminal 3 is huge and it takes 23 minutes from one end of the shops to walk to the last departure gate. There are English speaking staff everywhere and an information desk in the centre of the transit lounge. There are several high priced restaurants with hostesses trying to convince you to eat at the restaurant, and duplicated duty free shops which although they have a very different and vast array of products not available in Australia, are not really very cheap. There are several souvenir type shops, high end beauty products, Swarovski and a Lindt stall where you can see the hand made chocolates being made. Most of the staff are Chinese with a smattering of Indian or Bangladeshi. The Emeratis don’t exactly form a large part of the workforce, as we found out later. Dubai depends on its vast army of expats. There are several free Vodaphone recharging stations where you can recharge your phone and Terminal 3 has free wifi which was great. We had taken our EPC with us, loaded with Skype and we were able to call the bus at Milan Malpensa Airport to book our tickets to Stresa.

After wandering around the transit lounge on Level 1, we found the free restaurant which Emirates provides for transit passengers who spend more than 4 hours there (we were there for 6+ hours). The restaurant is located above the Burger King outlet. Just take the lift up. It appears to be well used by the local staff and was very crowded when we went up to check it out. You have to leave trolleys downstairs or in a small area near the lifts (don’t leave your hand luggage here). Staff stamp your boarding pass. However, it is important to remember two things - don’t stamp your pass if you are not eating immediately and don’t leave it too long before you join the queue as although the buffet is supposed to be available until some time after 2.00pm there is nothing left after about 1.00pm and the tables are dirty. I had a quick snack on chicken soup and arabic bread. There was also some remains of lentil soup, sweet and sour fish, chicken with pineapple and cucumber. Starbucks and other coffee shops charge $A6 for a cup of coffee. A packet of mixed nuts cost $A10 for 300g. The transit lounge does have some long lounge chairs but they are made of aluminum and unless you are well padded, get very hard after a while.

We finally made our way to Gate 223 at the opposite end of the terminal to the Emirates cafeteria and found the lounge packed with Sri Lankan and Indian travelers all seemingly going to Milan. They all had more hand luggage than we had check in luggage (which thankfully had been routed all the way through from Melbourne to Milan). The Sri Lankans had so much paperwork that the check in line moved at snail pace and the staff were tired and harassed. We expected a similar interrogation, but when we presented our boarding passes and passports, they looked at the Australian passport and a huge smile of relief spread over their faces and they just waved us through. The plane may well have been an Airbus (huge) but there was insufficient staff and toilets. We did have a window seat but the seats were still uncomfortable and not only no footrests again but most of the area under the seats were taken up by large metal boxes restricting foot space even further. One could not rest against the bulkhead because there was a space between it and the seat and any pillow placed against it fell into the space. The cabin crew were run off their feet and harassed and it was impossible to get even a glass of water. The wine bottles were served without caps and so there was danger of spillage while juggling implements in the confined space. The food was not a patch on what we had on the first leg.

On our return trip, we flew out of Venice's Marco Polo airport again on Emirates. The plane was very full again and the service nothing like our first leg. Somehow we managed to get shunted along with the transit passengers when we disembarked in Dubai and it was quite some time before we were able to find our way to the baggage collection – our bags were the only ones circuiting the carousel. As Australians we do not need a visa prior to arrival. The obtaining of the visa is very easy. One just rocks up to the Immigration counter passport in hand and it is stamped and you are on your way. The airport bus was not operating and we took a taxi. Although we had the name of the apartment written in Arabic that was not any help as the taxi driver was from South India! The apartment was difficult to find as we did not have any instructions on the booking form. The long and the short of it was that after driving around and stopping and asking directions he found the apartment – which had a different name outside! (Zagy Apartments). Taxi cost 50Dhs. ABC Arabian Suites Kuwait Street Bur Dubai – booked through www.asiahotels.com and HotelClub.

We were concerned that the apartment was right outside a mosque and so we thought that the ear plugs we had bought (experience from Indonesia and India) were going to be put to good use here. It was an eerie feeling being surrounded by sand and deserted appearing buildings. Reception advised us that there were no one bedroom apartments available, so we were being upgraded to a two bedroom apartment for the same rate and we would be moved when a one bedroom apartment became available. The apartment was in fact in the building next door. The lobby smelled of stale smoke and was all marble and white padded silk. The hallways on the 3rd floor were no better and smelled horribly of stale Indian cooking. The apartment was huge with red drapes and dark furniture. It consisted of a lounge and dining room with a flat screen TV. The kitchen was full sized with fridge and washing machine. However there was little in the way of crockery, cutlery or cookware and I would not have trusted the cleanliness of any of it. The two very large bedrooms had wall to ceiling wardrobes and each had its own ensuite. There was a third toilet and basin near the kitchen. The lighting, air-conditioning and hot water were difficult to operate as each operated via a switch which was not necessarily in the same room! There was a small balcony leading off the bedroom which looked out over the mosque and the surrounding apartment buildings. The outdoor furniture was covered in in fine sand dust. Internet was expensive, so we gave that a miss.

It was the early hours of the morning by this stage and we went to bed hoping for a few hours sleep before the mosque called the faithful to pray. Because there are so many mosques – every kilometer or so, they do not appear to call for long or as loud as we have experienced in other Asian countries. The mosque appeared to be new, was very clean and built of the pinkish sandstone that many of the buildings in Dubai are built of. The surrounding apartment buildings were probably all tenanted by ex pat Asian workers. The mosque stood in the middle of the “square” and the apartments circled it.

Breakfast was served on the top floor near the pool and gym (both of which appeared to be permanently closed). It was a small room with a blaring TV (CNN). The food was very basic. Coffee was dreadful. The orange juice was very watery and cold water was non existent. There was toast and some omelet slices and some sort of sausages.

It is Friday and so everything is closed – at least for the morning. We took a taxi from outside the hotel (there happened to be one passing) to the Meena Bazaar – which is like little India, but it too was closed. We walked along and came to the Dubai Museum. This is located in the 1799 Al Fahidi Fort (Al Fahid Street) but all we got to look at was the outside, including the cannon and dhow. Maps of Dubai are very sketchy and not to scale. It was so very hot and we were glad of our hats. Our frozen bottles of water had long since thawed and were warm. We found ourselves at the Grand Mosque and Diwan. As we are not Moslem, we could not enter the mosque with the tallest minaret and 46 domes. Next to the mosque, we noted a number of Indian people walking down a laneway so we decided to follow them. In a trice we were transported back to elbowing our way down the narrow streets of Old Delhi. It was single file with shops selling flowers (marigolds, roses and tuberose) and pictures of Ganesh, Krishna and other devotional material on either side. Vendors and devotees calling out to each other in Hindi or Tamil, bells tinkling. People were making their way to the Hindu temple to make their offerings. We managed to escape down a side lane on to the Dhow wharfage. The dhows were plying their trade up and down the Canal. Cameras clicking, we walked along the quay. It was evident that workers were beginning to arrive from various parts of Dubai to await the buses which would take them to the construction sites around the town. There were large groups of men gathering everywhere. We thought we would head for Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House Museum but could see that there was no semblance of shade most of the way, so we called a halt after walking through the Souk (mostly closed) and stopping in the Asaa’Di Supermarket in Sheik Saeed Ahmed Al Ottaiba Bldg Bur Dubai, to buy some more water and cashew nuts. The store again was just as Indian stores were some 40 years ago. The boss sat at a rickety old wooden table and minions ran around in answer to his orders. Each one had a certain part of the store to mind. They followed us around their particular section until we reached another minion’s area and then they wandered away. The cashews were weighed and we were told how much they were. We walked to the manger and paid him and then took the receipt back to the server who then gave us the cashews. We stopped at an Indian restaurant and bought some somosas and gulab jamuns (not a patch on the ones my mother makes).

Lack of sleep and the heat was catching up on us and so we returned to the apartment and the air conditioner for a rest before heading out to Dragon Plaza. This was recommended by a Pakistani friend and was a long taxi drive there. It is a huge complex colour coded into various sections. It was obviously built with Chinese investment and most of the shops were Chinese owned and sold Chinese manufactured goods. It was however, good for T-shirts and handbags. Shoes were a different matter. Although they were well priced, getting the size in any particular style was difficult as they seemed to carry only one or two sizes in each design and ofcourse they were not my size. It was interesting to watch the Emeratis going about their lives. The women were all dressed in their black or brown burkhas. Some had face masks something out of Lawrence of Arabia but most just had head scarves. Many of their burkhas were embroidered with ornate designs and were very beautiful. It was amusing to note that the younger women had very western clothing under their gowns. Emerati fathers seemed to enjoy pushing the prams and walking along hand in hand with their children. All of them were dressed in pristine white outfits. The Emeratis ofcourse were not seen doing anything as mundane as working. All the stores were manned by expats mainly from the subcontinent. We ate a delicious Indian Meal at the “Sunny” Restaurant. It was dark by the time we came out of the shopping centre but luckily there were plenty of taxis. It was a long drive back to the apartment.
The next day we decided to try to use the buses and took a taxi to the bus station. It was too difficult to work out the buses, so we took another taxi to the Bur Juman Shopping Centre which purported to have a Tourist Office. Ha Ha. The tourist office consisted of a desk manned by a very young Emerati (with braces on his teeth) who had no idea of providing tourist information. He could not give us any information except for pointing us in the direction of the Metro station.

The Metro was easy to use and very clean. Many of the stations have not been completed so it is a very long ride through a lot of ghost stations. We took the Metro all the way to the last station which had a bus connection to Ibn Batutta Mall. This shopping is worth visiting just to look at the magnificent interiors. It is divided into several “countries” each with their own themed architecture. Outside Egypt is the Sky Dubai balloon. Tickets are purchased at the SkyDubai Adventure Kiosk. It is a very large yellow balloon which is tethered. It is released every 30 mins and gives a 360 view of some of Dubai. Although purported to provide a view of Palm Jumeirah that is not true. If you have not been up in a hot air balloon and want to test the experience, this is a good way to start. Inside the shops are all western shops. Starbucks holds a wonderful position under a turquoise dome. The toilets are located close by. The other countries are India and China and Tunisia. We had another great Indian meal in the food court. We took the Metro back to Mall of the Emirates. This is a multistoried centre leading off in all directions. There is not easy to get from the Mall of the Emirates to the Madinat Souk so we just took the Metro back to Bur Juman and then a taxi back to the hotel. Most taxi drivers are from India, Pakistan or Banghla Desh. All are well dressed in their uniforms and are generally polite and helpful. They generally speak some English. We did get one who would have easily had a villainous part in an Biblical movie – he was pushy and somewhat rude because we refused to follow his instructions and to go the shopping centre he wanted to take us to.

We were able to see the both the Burj Arab and Burj Dubai through the smog. Will the latter ever see anyone game enough to travel all the way to the top? After the latest crisis with the lifts, I for one will not go up that building - the tallest in the world or not.
Organised a taxi with the hotel at double the cost of picking up a taxi outside. If we had thought about it we should have organized it with the taxi who had brought us back to the hotel the previous night. We have posted a review of the hotel on Trip Advisor.

The rest of our trip is detailed in the Italian forum.

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