Well, that’s the first destination ticked off the long list of places I’ll be seeing. Dubai certainly is something to behold.
The flight over here was interesting to say the least. It was the first time I’ve ever flown with Emirates and I was amazed. Walking onto the plane, I clocked a staircase that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a space ship. Lights up the side, carpeted, hand rails…..the full shabang. I wasn’t seated up there but I was wanting to go up and have a nose. I imagined it to be another world of bars, cigars and roulette tables. A place where men with gold teeth wooed scantily clad women, like some sort of Bond movie. It was them vs us down on the bottom deck. The deck I was on was very impressive, regardless of what tomfoolery was going on upstairs. Comfortable seats, plenty of leg room and a built in seat monitor with an array of entertainment at my fingertips. During the course of the flight, I watched several episodes of the The Office, via the BBC classic channel. I did begin to watch a documentary film called ’20 Feet from Stardom.’ A film which follows backing singers of many musicians, putting the spotlight on them and their craft. However, fifteen minutes into this and like a spoiled kid on Christmas Day, I was lured back to the main menu and delved into the extensive selection of music by any artist you could think of. There was dedicated soul, jazz, hip hop, classical, poetry channels……plus more. Justin Beiber even managed to get his grid on the playlist. Although I refrained from listening to him and instead opted for for some Soul II Soul, Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill. During the flight three people collapsed. Apparently it happens a lot, according to Matty’s missus, who also works for Emirates. Maybe they’d been upstairs and witnessed first hand the shenanigans I alluded to above. Thankfully, they were all OK.
I arrived in Dubai, local time of about 8.35am. The airport was a sign of things to come…..grand, massive, big, huge. And modern. Most things in Dubai are modern and big. I passed through customs and passport control and made my way down the stairs which were nestled next to a huge (obviously) water fountain. Boarding the Metro at the airport with a Costa Coffee in hand, I headed for Jumeirah Beach Resort on the advice of my good mate and host for the duration of the stay, Matty McDaid. Whilst stood on the Metro, I was told by an airport official that I was not allowed food and drink on the Metro and I must dispose of the coffee at the next stop. He pointed to the sign below, gesturing that I was liable to be fined for taking refreshments onto the carriage. Mersey Rail this is not……I think he’d have a field day on the Bidston to Wrexham line this lad. He smiled and accepted my apology for my lack of cultural understanding or ignorance of signs. Nice one chief. About 20 quid saved there. I refrained from drinking it in front of him…..that would have been pushing your luck wouldn’t it? So half of my large latte was reluctantly handed over to his colleague who took it off the Metro. I just hope she enjoyed the last half and didn’t just nonchalantly ditch it.
During the 40 minute Metro journey I looked on in amazement at the shear size of this place and the standard of architecture. All the buildings towered above anything I’ve ever seen. I made my way onto the tram from the Metro and headed to the Marina where Matty met me, took my bags and dropped me off at the beach. I got something to eat whilst he went to work for an hour and then met back up with him. Quick bag drop at his flat, where I was staying and then onto the Burj Khalifa. Now I seen this on the Metro on the way in and of course it stands above all other buildings, not only in Dubai…..but the WORLD. From a distance you can tell its massive, but it’s not until you’re underneath it that you can appreciate just how tall this structure is. If you get a little unbalanced looking up at St John’s Tower in Liverpool, have a butcher’s at this from ground level. I had to enter via Dubai Mall, the biggest mall in the world (you get the picture don’t you?) and headed for the ‘At The Top’ desk which is the name of the tour. Paying 500AED which is about £100, which is £73 more than had I booked online before I came (I knew I’d forgotten some thing), I made my way into the waiting lounge, complete with leather couches, glass cabinets, lights and complimentary tea. I got talking to a family who lived in Irby on the Wirral (or in Wirral? That debate goes on) and who also knew a friend of mine. What are the chances? ‘Small-world’ small talk over, we made our way through to the beginning of the tour, into the lift and up to the first viewing bay. Wow! No other words. The view was incredible. The cars looked like ants as they made their way through the hazy desert. Below the building looked like Lego towers. Literally breathtaking. More complimentary drinks, pastries and photo opportunities before heading to the next viewing gallery a few levels below. The tour took about an hour or so. Well worth it, but, if you’re ever over these ways, book ahead and save yourself a few bob. With the money you save on that, be a rebel and take a bevy onto the Metro, safe in the knowledge that if you get fined, you’re making a saving elsewhere.
I went back into the mall and looked around that for a bit. Then happened upon the aquarium. Guess what? The biggest in the world. 10,000,000 litres of water and over 33,000 types of fish glided around before my startled face. A diver was in the tank feeding them. I had to go in and see it all. A tour of the underwater tunnel, combined with a simulator ride, detailing the work done locally to conserve and maintain marine life for turtles and a tour of the underworld zoo made for an entertaining couple of hours. Here’s a picture I managed to get the day after I’d visited of the outside of the tank.
At one point in the underworld zoo, I felt sorry for the bats (never a sentence I imagined I would say, write or think) as they didn’t seem to have much space to fly about and hang upside down and that. They’ve missed a trick here. Being in Dubai, they could have made it bigger and boasted at having the world’s’ biggest bat cave. But that is an honour I guess Batman can brag about. I looked around at the animals, few of which are in their natural habitat and are instead stuck here for my perusal and entertainment. I felt bad. If I’m honest that soon passed as I convinced myself this wasn’t entertainment it was an educational trip. So…..on we go. I seen everything you could there; crabs the size of dogs, Humboldt penguins, Garden Eels, Kookaburra, Goulding Finch, Sea Nettles (which looked like giant floating mushrooms), Moon Jellies (which looked like giant pink floating mushrooms), Giant Water Rats (lazy, didn’t move) two massive crocodiles (tried to stare one out…..failed) and frogs amongst many many other things. There was even visible Otters. Some will get that reference, most won’t.
As I made my way through the exit and into the obligatory souvenir shop, I was approached by someone with photos of me in the underwater tunnel asking me if I wanted to buy them. I was tempted but kindly refused. My mobile had run down too, so I didn’t get any pictures on this day. This made up for my temporary guilt and shame at having participated in the gawping of these poor souls. At least I was better than those gawping AND taking pictures, flashing the creatures. Not literally, but with a camera flash. That would have been a whole different type of educational trip, if they were actually flashing them. The crocodiles’ teeth would put off anyone with that in mind. Biggest teeth in the world probably.
I’d arranged to meet Matty at 6.30pm so had another browse round the shops as there was still time to kill. The mall is unbelievable. A shopper’s paradise. I needed to get back to the front of the Burj Khalifa where I was getting picked up but trying to get out of the mall proved a difficult task. It is THAT big. I asked three people for directions, all who worked there and they all pointed me back towards the desk where you buy tour tickets. I eventually found an exit, which overlooked where the fountain display takes place and headed out. A crowd had gathered looking out through the tunnel and there was water on the floor. People took their shoes off and walked through the shallow water to the outside. I thought ‘Is this another local tradition?’ one that required the removal of your footwear to step outside? It wasn’t. It was raining though…..very heavily. Thunder soared and lightening lit up the early evening skies. It soon became apparent that the removal of shoes was simply because people didn’t want their shoes to get wet. Dubai’s drainage system is almost non existent apparently, due to the severe lack of downpour here. And here’s me, first day here and it’s battering down. I braved the showers and made my way around the outside of the Burj Khalifa to the front of the Armani Hotel, which was about a ten minute walk. Another hint at the shear scale of this gaff. Matty was late, due to traffic, so I waited around with a security guard for a bit. That evening we met up with Jade, Rob and Tom at the Meat Company, ate and watched the spectacular fountain show. I still hadn’t slept since the night of the 15th February, it was now the night of the 17th and I was ready for bed.
Matty and Claire made me very welcome and put me up. Thank you both. Much appreciated.
The next day, I got up with Matty and headed for the Big Bus Company bus tour of Dubai. It takes about 6 hours to do all together. That takes in three different lines; The Marina, The Beach and The City. It cost about £48 and included a Dhow cruise along the Creek, entrance to some museums along the way, bottled water on the buses and free commentary.
During the day I seen all the sights and landmarks of Dubai including, the Burj Al Arab, the world’s only 7 star hotel. Near to this prestige hotel I went into Souk Madinat. This Souk was unbelievable. As I walked I was greeted by a variety of aromas; rich incense, freshly brewed coffees, fragrances, and fruit. There was furniture shops, craft shops, clothes shops, bag shops, jewellery shops…..basically shops selling anything and everything you could want or need. A man approached me asking did I want to buy Kashmir from Afghanistan. Appealing as it was to the eye and hand my bank balance wouldn’t have appreciated it and I have no desire for such material at this moment in my life. Never say never though and if money weren’t an issue, or indeed space in my backpack, I may have taken the friendly gentleman up on his offer.
A trolley dash round this place would’ve been great though. I opted for a berry and banana smoothie. Trying to remain healthy whilst away.
Back onto the bus to take in more sights, Atlantis and The Palm, The Burj Khalifa and the Address (the building which caught fire on New Year’s Eve) as well as several palaces belonging to the ruling family of Dubai. There was financial, media and technological hubs. As Brian Potter once said ‘Everything under one roof…..it’s the future.’ This place is the future without the roof. Lack of roof meant I caught some sun on the old arms and face. Jerry The Berry. Two Phoenix Nights references in the one paragraph there.
Dubai Museum was an interesting place. There I learned about camels. If you’ve followed my tweets, I promised some camel trivia. So here it is. Camels are very important animals in Dubai, used for meat, milk and their fur is used for household goods and other necessities. They can go for over two weeks without water in the high season and in cooler climates can last up to three months without water. My favourite fact though was that their shit was used for fuel. Reading this blog is worth it for that alone. Any budding Quiz Masters, get that in your next set. I also learned that falconry is the most traditional sport here.
Back on the bus, I passed by the Riviera Hotel where Michael Palin stayed during the filming of ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ before taking a Dhow over to India. You see you’re learning as well as being entertained here aren’t you?
Just remembered, earlier on the tour, we passed a building with the words ‘Scottish Dental Care’ emblazoned on the front. It made me think; Is the dentist Scottish or is the provision of dental care exclusively for Scottish residents and tourists? I was unable to get off and enquire and the commentary didn’t mention it. I wonder if any readers know? Rab is in the desert. Rab has a loose filling. Rab is from Inverness. Does anyone know where Rab can go? Well…..there is that one place…..the Scottish Dental Care emporium. Off you go Rab. I may never get to the bottom of this Highland themed query.
The next stop was at the Creek. This is a stretch of water which opens up into the Arabian Gulf. Here I got talking to a couple who offered me some water and nuts. The fella, who I think was from India said there was no Indians left in India as they were all working here. Sweeping statement indeed, which, if true, will mean it’s going to be really quiet when I touch down in Dehli further along my trip. We boarded the Dhow and made our way along the Creek, which was laden with boats stacked with boxes and goods ready for transportation to countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, India and beyond. The smells of spices and fish engulfed the air. After the cruise, I grabbed a taxi back to the flat and met Matty. We headed to an open air bar, with a massive TV screen, bar, restaurant and stage. There was a singer on. I was debating whether to ask management if they had any spots for a gig. I could impress them with stories of how I’d performed as far as The Claughton, The Tap and even a little pub in Bury on a Thursday night. In the end I just had a bottle of water and headed to the Observatory restaurant which is situated on the 52nd floor of a building, offering great views over Dubai. I must say a big thank you to Matty and Claire for their hospitality during my stay in Dubai, where I started this blog at the airport. I am now on my flight to Bangkok.
The plane is virtually empty, I have the UK Hits of 2000 on in my ears and can smell the food being served. Being on Emirates, I’m now going to connect to the World Wide Web and see if I can post it up.
On the way out of Bangkok, the Burj Khalifa stood beyond the clouds…..have a look.
I was also literally brought to tears as we passed over the desert. Me, a boy from Birkenhead flying over the desert of the United Arab Emirates. I am blessed and God is good.
I stopped writing to eat, well looked after.
Look at the skies…..this doesn’t do it justice. The pink is beautiful.