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Published: September 26th 2010
When Robert Louis Stevenson proclaimed, “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move”, he may have prophesied the great affair of business class travel. Whilst planning my holiday, I happened upon a remarkable offer - a business class ticket from Bangkok to Dubai with Qatar Airways (recently awarded the World’s Best Business Class) for only several hundred dollars more than an economy seat. Thinking the price was in error, I re-entered the flight details and the same price was displayed. A tantalising prospect of luxury awaited, and so a few web clicks later my dreams of business class travel became a reality.
Months later, I departed for Bangkok in my usual economy class. An added benefit was the stopover at Changi Airport in Singapore, which provided time to explore their butterfly sanctuary, and enjoy free Internet access and foot-massage chairs - thus confirming why Changi is consistently heralded as the best airport in the world.
After an overnight layover in Bangkok at the apartment of fellow Travelblogger Maisondubonheur
, the business class experience began with much anticipation. Checking into the business class counter with a
backpack always elicits bewildering looks from other travellers and some staff, but swift service saw me proceed through a separate VIP and CIP entrance at immigration with no queues.
This was an understated precursor to the business class cabin - a delightfully spacious area of muted mauve and blue lighting with each seat occupying triple the room of its economy class counterpart. I moved to my window seat and inspected the area; a generous 15 inch entertainment screen, headphones that produced a beautiful sound, a quaint toiletry bag packed with some delightful lotions, and the pièce de résistance
, a seat which could recline to a fully flat bed with the glorious addition of inbuilt massager with seven different settings. I excitedly pressed the various buttons as it caused my back and buttocks to vibrate with varying degrees of intensity.
After take-off I was pampered by courteous and attentive service, with the meals being worthy of a silver-service restaurant - grilled fish, Caesar salad, a lovely assortment of breads and freshly made fruit drinks. I have travelled in business class previously, but never to such a luxurious level; Robert Louis Stevenson would have been suitably impressed. As is normal
with long-haul air travel, drowsiness eventually fell upon me, so I lay my seat flat, curled under a blanket and turned on the massager. My thoughts turned to my 10 weeks of future adventures that will combine the hospitality of the Middle East with the tribes and wildlife of East Africa. Thirty minutes later the massager stopped it shuddering, the seat was finally still, and I drifted into sleep....
....some time later I awoke, unsure of the length of my sleep, but the plane was nearing Qatar. Prior to descending, the captain announced the late morning temperature in Doha was a challenging 45 Celsius. The Qatari gentleman sitting next to me stated gruffly, “It will be fifty shortly.”
I planned a half-day stopover in Doha to visit the highly regarded Museum of Islamic Art. My journey through the airport became anxious when an ATM swallowed my Visa card but it eventually reappeared and I exited the cool air-conditioned terminal into the baking but bearable dry heat of a Middle East summer. I arrived at the Museum, an imposing modern building with a huge cavernous lobby and artefacts displayed under delicate and atmospheric lighting. For me, the most impressive
section was that dedicated to the scientific instruments (such as astrolabes) which showed the continual period of innovation in Islamic countries whilst Europe was plunged into the stupefying intellectual abyss that was the Dark Ages.
Upon leaving the museum, the predicted 50 degree temperature had arrived - it was oppressive. Thankfully, I was soon in the First Class Lounge at the Qatar Airways Premium Terminal in preparation for my short first class journey to Dubai. I’ve never seen anything to compare to this lounge, a splendid area with a stunning array of food, bedrooms for sleeping, and the most tempting - a day spa complete with jacuzzi. After many hours of travel and a few minutes of the summer Doha sun, there could be nothing more refreshing or decadent than sitting in warm mass of bubbling water. As the First Class Lounge of the Premium Terminal was almost deserted (unlike its Business Class counterpart I experienced on my return journey) I had sole use of the jacuzzi and the scented spa area. Relaxing at an airport doesn’t get any better than this.
Alas, it was time to board the plane to Dubai, but my flight was delayed due
to a change of aircraft, which presented difficulties in reaching my connecting flight to Kuwait. Thankfully, an excellent staff member at Dubai airport successfully transferred my baggage an secured my economy class seat. Most interesting about this and subsequent Middle East flights was the practice of family travel where the children would journey in economy class with their nannies (usually Filipino) whilst the parents sat in business class.
I formed a negative view of Kuwait on my previous visit in 2008, but to my pleasant surprise, this stay was far more enjoyable. In order to avoid the wretched Visa on Arrival “system”, I chose to fly Waitanya Airlines who use an exclusive terminal, so Instead of a 90 minute wait for my visa as per my last experience, I proceeded through immigration in less than five minutes. Finally, after 24 hours of travel, I arrived to my hotel and a magnificent sleep.
The next morning saw a recurring theme of my travels re-emerge - arguments with taxi drivers. Things began badly when I boarded a taxi and the driver refused to use the meter, instead quoting me an excessive fare. Despite me asserting the normal price, the driver
shrugged his shoulders and told me with feigned sorrowful eyes “That is too cheap.” I wasn’t having any of this, and after several times ordering him to stop with an increasing volume and intensity, the driver finally halted and I promptly exited the car.
After a few minutes, I hailed an available taxi; its driver was Arbi, a middle-aged man with a round face that beamed when he laughed. Not only did he charge the correct price, but he effectively became my chauffer for the rest of my visit. Kuwaiti roads, as with most in the Middle East, are chaotic affairs, and Arbi would weave through the traffic with great skill and shout “Crazy Kuwait drivers!” whenever anyone cut him off or weaved excessively, even though he was driving in a similar style.
Being summer, most people wisely chose to linger in air-conditioned shopping malls and it was here I met an elderly Kuwaiti man adorned in an elegant white dishdasha
. He possessed excellent English skills and invited me to join him in a cafe, and we swapped stories about travel. He reminisced with fondness about his time in Italy and furtively whispered that he even tried a
little wine, which he said was excellent. When I informed him I didn’t drink alcohol, he espoused me to try it; ironic since such drink was forbidden in his religion.
The heat is not the only summer weather condition of note in Kuwait. One late afternoon when leaving my hotel I noticed that the sky appeared browner than usual, but didn’t give it further thought. Shortly after sunset I was returning to my hotel when suddenly a strong wind with a temperature akin to opening a fan-forced oven struck my face - I was about to experience my first shamal
or sandstorm. A wave of sand ripped along the street and a blast of wind almost threw me off my feet, so I wrapped my leg around a nearby street sign post to secure myself whilst attempting to take photos of this exciting event.
After several minutes of strong winds forcing the trees to unnatural angles and of sand coating my skin, the conditions eased, and I hurried back to my hotel where the concierge commented “That was a small one, sometimes the trees will break”. I had enough of this heat for one day, so I sauntered
towards my room to shower, passing through the tiled foyer still being cleaned of sand by the dutiful hotel staff.
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