2019 tour travel blog

from the 125th floor, Burj Khalifa

life's a beach

Burj al Arab beach

Burj al Arab

only 40c to cross the river on these traditional abra boats

From 125th floor Burj Khalifa

From 125th floor Burj Khalifa

Burj Al Arab beach

Burj Al Arab beach

Burj Al Arab beach

spice souq

Dubai Creek abra boats

06 May – Monday

Ramadan means followers cannot eat or drink between sunrise and sunset, but they make up for it after dark. It is also common for everyone to be up well before sunrise to feast (suhur), and the mosque is busy early too.

The weather remains hot, mid 30’s, and low humidity, and today we are off on a tiki tour. We grab a day pass for AED22 each ($9), covers the metro, tram and bus network. Tony has downloaded every app on the local transport system, but found them hard to use when it comes to bus routes, so we will just rely on Mr Google. First stop off the metro is the Burj Khalifa, 160 storeys (830m without the antenna!), it is the tallest building in the world, and was opened in 2009. Getting from the metro station to the Dubai Mall is always a mission, we seem to walk forever. And then we have to negotiate the mall itself. Luckily we had been here a couple of days ago, but it is still a challenge to find our way in a hurry. We didn’t quite allow enough time to arrive for our 10.30am slot. We are a bit late, our tickets read 11am now (but at least we have tickets still!), and again we are walking forever to get to the lifts. Then there is the long wait…

We have tickets to the 124th and 125th floors, tickets are AED262 ($108). It takes around 60 seconds to get there, WOW! We are in a double decker lift so they can carry more people faster, and we hardly felt we were moving (ears popped, so we figured we were, haha). Another long wait at the top, we figure we are only allowed out of entry corridor as others leave, so that it is not too crowded at any one time.

We expected to be overcome with fear, or something close to it, this high up. We are pleased that we are not, in fact this does not seem real at all, so that probably helps a lot. Liken it to our Legoland visit back in Malaysia would perhaps be the best way to describe it. It is quite hazy out today, and we cannot see very far at all. The haze is caused by sand dust and heat. But still we are in awe of all this, only feeling queasy when we think about dropping something over the side. We are not allowed to hold anything outside the gaps in the windows on the outside deck, just in case it drops. Something from this high up can be quite deadly by the time it hits the ground. There is even a base jumping platform from up here, we didn’t see anyone, and no we are not going to have a go ourselves.

In the gift shop Tony is approached by a woman who puts a glove on his hand, she does it so quick it is on before he realises it. She says there is no obligation to buy, and Tony is still wondering what is going on. He is taken to a green screen for photos, and is told Tom Cruise, Mission Impossible – this building featured in one of the movies. Cynthea joins him after the first few a taken and we are put in a variety of poses, then are shown some pictures. Tony is climbing the tower just like Tom Cruise, we sitting on girders, and various other themes. They avoid the price issue again, pisses us off when they do that, and keep asking which ones we want. Tony is rather shocked when they tell him AED300 ($125!!!) for an 8x10 in a frame, with one smaller one also included. The price quickly drops to 200, but he still is not interested. What a rip off! Had they been reasonably priced we may have bought a couple or three.

We didn’t see anyone freaking out at all either, well except for the woman on the “glass floor” with Tony when it “cracked”. Tony was expecting it as he had been watching a few get on before him, but it still gives you the willies when it happens, there is a loud bang and the glass “shatters”, haha.

We spend a good couple of hours up here, and then queue for ages to get back down (envious of those that forked out the extra for fast track tickets, not that we had anywhere else to be in a hurry. We do want to be down at the beach for sunset but that is some time off.

Back in the Mall the food outlets are either closed (not many) or closed off with a curtain so those observing Ramadan are not offended. There is a big sign out to say they are open, and by law there must be someone outside to ensure only those allowed can enter. How they would tell if someone who was supposed to be fasting tried to get in, we don’t know. At the food court there are huge walls up to stop people seeing inside, and people on the door checking.

If you go in you must eat or drink inside, nothing to be taken outside (takeaways are allowed, as long as you don’t eat or drink in public). We grab a fruit lemonade and a snack to eat there, but are still peckish, so grab a pizza deal. Tony was going to get it as a takeaway, but decided it would smell too much to carry on the bus before dark. Don’t want to go upsetting people!

We have trouble finding the bus depot, Mr Google tells us to walk half an hour around the streets in the heat of the day, blow that. We ask where to find it and are told to go to the centre of the mall and follow the signs from there. But the only signs are for “tourist buses”, and we are not looking for that, we want the local one. We keep getting directed to the hop-on, hop-off site, but once there can see our bus. There is not really a time table here, there is a start and finish time for the runs, and a rough idea how frequent the service is (5, 10, 15, 20 minutes depending on the time of day, and day of week). It works well, the only problem we had was finding the route we needed.

We head out to the public beach by Burj Al-Arab Jumeirah (the one that looks like a sail). It is a bit of a worry when the bus goes off in the opposite direction to that expected, but he soon does a u-turn and gets things right. At the beach we are impressed that there are several life guard stations, but not impressed there are no changing facilities. There are toilets way up the other end of the beach, so we reluctantly head up there, not keen on changing in there given the state of these places we have seen. We are frustrated that there is a sign up banning people from getting changed in the toilets, bugger. But there is a line up for the disability toilet, and people are obviously using it as a changing room. Luckily I is relatively clean inside (no obvious shit on the floor like elsewhere we have seen!). Still, you wouldn’t go in bare feet (not that you would to any toilet), and you need to be very careful that no item of clothing touches the floor. Shudder at the thought!

Outside there is a shower to wash sand off (before you get changed in the toilet!), and we are amused to see a sign banning people from using the shower as a toilet! Given that it an open shower, we would be surprised if anyone did that, but then…

There is not a lot of crime here, but there are still opportunists around, so we are careful with our gear on the beach. Others, however' have left valuables in plain sight on their towels. We take our phones into the water with us, Tony bought water-proof pouches in Malaysia. The water is wonderfully warm, and must be quite salty too as it is easy to float. The swimming area is roped off, and strictly patrolled. A few heavy waves, but not too rough here, and it is fairly shallow. We can walk right out to the barrier and water is still not above chest height.

We spend a long time in the water, and only get out when it is close to sunset. It is difficult to see much in the distance, even the Burg Al-Arab a few metres away is hazy. As the sun goes down we get a couple of pictures, but it is a bit disappointing with the heavy haze on the horizon. The Burg Khalifa is all but invisible in this murk, but as the sun sets there is a strip of light from sunlight reflecting off the antenna.

It is a long wait until dark as well, but the lighting of nearby buildings makes the wait worthwhile.

We head toward the bus stop, and are disappointed to see one go past, and prepare for a 20 minute wait at the stop. At least the bus stop is air-conditioned! Bliss. The stop is lit up inside, and there is a button to push so the driver is alerted to passengers waiting. The schedule board is counting down to the next bus, 7 minutes to go, but then there is a toot, our bus is here and we jump on. We are heading to the Mall of the Emirates, another massive mall where you can buy anything you like. But we are not going to shop there, it is iftar, the time of breaking today’s fast, and the place will be heaving until the early hours. We are wanting to see a bit more of the city, and decide to ride the tram line down by the marina, and this mall is where we can board the tram.

There is not a lot to see, as the windows are highly reflective, but we are pleased to be sitting down, and it is air-conditioned. We ride the length of the line and back, and then grab the metro back to the hotel. Normally it would be packed as the shops are shutting at this time, and while it is busy, many shops are staying open because of Ramadan. Back at the hotel, the prayers are still going, but it doesn’t worry us at all, even though the mosque is right across the street.

07 May – Tuesday - we think, difficult to remember which day of the week it is.

Our last day in Dubai, and after breakfast we are told we can check out late, at 2pm, no extra charge. If we want to stay on until 6pm it will cost AED70 to keep the room, but we decide to store our luggage until we go to the airport. We are a bit surprised we haven’t been ill from the food, every day it has been much the same story, it looks like it was cooked hours ago, and the whole lot put out at once. Today is no different, and we are also surprised at the potential food waste, given that the hotel is quiet, and it is now Ramadan, there is a lot of tucker still sitting in the warmers. There are a couple of dozen fried eggs, but they are pretty horrible, and get binned. There is also a vegetable curry this morning, we try that and it is left on the plate with the egg. Not a lot of flavour in it, not even a dose of salt helped. We laugh when we see that “pain cakes” are back on the menu, and the sausages that we have been eating are now labelled as Chicken Sousas. Paritha bread and Full Mosmas (a bean and chickpea mix, not sure what it should have been called!)are on the menu, so we have that with fresh fruit, feta cheese and hommus. The cheddar cheese that we have been avoiding (we found it old and warm, urk) is actually fresh today. The usual muesli is available too, but the cold milk is still warm (room temp). Every day there has been a warmer full of warm milk, but we have never been game enough to try it!

After checking out we head to Dubai Creek, and today we have no trouble getting our boat ride, AED1.00 (40c) to cross over to the other side. The traditional abras are great to ride, but OSH would have a pink fit and spoil all our fun. The Creek is busy, but we have never seven seen a close call, let alone an actual accident. We take note of where we get off and head for the shade, just happens to be a market, so of course we are hassles at every step. Cynthea is looking for a small purse to keep her silk scarf protected when carrying it in her bag, and Tony is after a small tripod for the camera. Cynthea gets taken into a shop where the shop keeper starts thrusting stuff intoher hand. She wants just purse for AED5.00, but this guy is ruthless and insists that she pays for everything he had given her. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word no, and Tony is pissed off when he takes the tenner from his hand and asks for the rest of the money. He is keeping the note away from us too, so we cannot easily get it back. We distract him, grab the money back, drop everything (literally), and leave. Further along someone else has the same thing, and we buy it there, no hassles, not even bothering to haggle the price.

Someone tries to sell Cynthea a cashmere scarf, the price quickly drops when she says no, but they are not too pushy about it. In fact we would have gone back to this guy later if we decided to get one, only $12 each, but we are close to the luggage weight limit as it is, and room is also tight in our bags. We are also wary that it is what he claimed…

Tony finally finds a shop selling camera gear, but the tripod he wants is about the same as he would have paid in Australia, so we keep looking, even after the price drops. Across the road is another shop, so we head in there for a look. There is a cheap one there, $12, no offer of getting it a bit cheaper when Tony hesitates. It is what he has been looking for (and probably won’t last long, but only needed short term), se we get one. It is very small and light at only 40g, so won’t be a weight issue

We have a long walk around this district, looking for an open restaurant or café, but they are few and far between. It appears Ramadan does not apply to pigeons or cats. An injured pigeon is sitting under a shop entrance, and someone has given it a cup of water to drink from. Later we see a cat outside a restaurant, and it is drinking water from a cup someone has put down for it. We are surprised to find an open café that is not screened off, so we head in for a mango lassi, with icecream, and are taken upstairs after we order. Air-con is on, and the blinds are down. We wander back down to the water front and head back over late afternoon. We grab a coffee in our hotel, shocked at the price AED5 each ($2).

Hotel staff are surprised we do not need a cab to the airport. We are walking the 400m to the metro station, and are hopeful we have the timing right and the trains will not be too packed. With Ramadan on, it is hard for us to judge when the quite time will be. We are lucky, and there is plenty of room, even when we change for the airport line it is not packed, and we get offers of help with bags, and directions are given. We are surprised that the metro exit is right at the departure check-in, we had expected to walk for miles.

There is not a lot to shop for here, we are surprised there is no food court, with Costa Coffee and Starbucks being the only outlets, and things are quite pricey here too, far more than we expected to pay. No free water either, and the dearest we have seen outside the big malls, but we have a bit (should have grabbed 1.5 litre bottle at the hotel, only 80c, but neither of us thought about it). The lovely couple in front of us are leaving to go through immigration and security, and gives us a bottle of water and an apple.

We have a while to wait, it is two hours before check in opens, so Tony decides to do this on line. There is a bit of a melt down as he realises that despite what he entered on line when the tickets were bought, the documents do not match the names in the passports, the airline has missed out our middle names. Despite assurance we can change our tickets any tie, we cannot change the names they were issued in, and the flight is full. Tony thinks we should just wing it and hope for the best, resort to tears if necessary… but Cynthea insists on talking to someone about it. Tony continues with the online check in, and that includes detailing our passports. Tony hopes that will get us through, but Cynthea insists that we talk to someone, so she heads off upstairs with our tickets to the airline offices. She comes back beaming, everything will be fine, she is told. We bloody hope so! She has also found a huge food court on the next level, not that you would know, there are no signs at all.

Check-in is now open, so we head straight over, and thankfully there are no problems. We are not even questioned about our plans to leave, which is good, because we don’t have any yet! The manager who Cynthea talked to is waiting nearby, and shows us where to go for the security checks, he even greets us by name. We wonder if he had a word to those on the check-in counter?

We decide to get immigration and security over immediately, as we have been told there is a food court at the gates. Immigration goes smoothly, and then security, all goes smoothly. Out the other side there is… nothing. A long corridor, and a train waiting. Bugger. We board the train, still not knowing what gate we have to use, but relying on the sign that says all departures.

At the end of the line there is lots more walking and a huge duty free shopping area. We are not buying anything, as although our bags are checked through to Barcelona, we are unsure what limits are, and when they will be enforced. If, for example, we had duty free at our Bangkok transit, we would have lost it at the security check.

Tony decides to convert all AED cash to Euros here, he goes to a line that is advertising buy and sell rates, but even this is Travel-Ex, they are not doing money changing, it is a VAT refund counter. Yes, they had a sign up saying that is what they did, but they also had conversion rates up. Tony tells them if they are not money changing, then they should stop advertising rates, and the three people behind him also make the same mistake. Sigh.

At the correct counter Tony hands everything over, by his calculation he should get €15 for his AED66. He notices that the staff member only keys in AED65… and is then asked if he has a €1 coin on him to make it up to €15. Tony queries this, and says that AED66 should be enough, without needing more Euros. He is told they cannot accept local coins, and Tony points out the stack of them on the counter. Tony is told that they are for people buying AED, and Tony points out that this is departures , so why would they be buying any. Tony tells him not to bother, and just give the money back, the teller hands over the €15, and doesn’t say anything more. There is a receipt with the money, and it shows Tony handed over AED66.40. So basically the guy was asking for €1 to cover a 40 fils (NZ 17c) shortfall. Scamming pricks.

After the shops is a huge waiting area, and a food court upstairs. As expected the food is expensive, Tony’s coffee at Maccas is AED19 ($8), pizzas are around $40. So much for duty free, haha. We will get fed on the plane, so don’t bother with food.

After the shops is a huge waiting area, and a food court upstairs. As expected the food is expensive, Tony’s coffee at Maccas is AED19 ($8), pizzas are around $40. So much for duty free, haha. We will get fed on the plane, so don’t bother with food.

At 11.30pm the gate is announced but we have plenty of time, so stick around. Then we realise the gates may not be close, so hurry off. But when we get there, there is another security check to go through. Cynthea passes straight through, Tony gets the full search, everything is swabbed, and he is “insulted” when the security officer comments on the Aussie brand Kathmandu clothing he is wearing. Tony laughs and says we Kiwis have enough problems as it is with Aussies claiming our stuff, without him doing it too. Boarding is at 15 minutes past midnight, as they call boarding for the first of the passengers we pleased to see that those who try to jump the queue get turned back.

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