Underway! Dubai: Sand, Sea, and Sun.

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April 25th 2015
Published: April 25th 2015
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Wednesday 22 and Thursday 23 April

A good start for the big trip: we got to the airport in plenty of time and breezed through check-in in 5 minutes. A bit of playtime for Zachary, Noah, and Jade until it was time to do the farewells and off we went. Very friendly lady at Customs and Immigration (she was very familiar too, I’m sure it will come to me) and we watched the planes and other airport goings-on for half an hour or so before heading to the gate. Onto the half-full plane and away on time. Sadly, Emirates’ service wasn’t what it should be. We waited nearly an hour before we saw anyone to offer drinks, and then when meal-time came we were told we had to pre-order a child’s meal for Zachary, and this should have been done when we booked. News to us – and as it was a travel agent that booked it I’ll have to let her know this. The stewardess said she’d try to get hold of one and be back in “two or three minutes”. We saw her next when we disembarked. We thought we’d try to be proactive and ask another person for an extra child’s meal for the next leg to Dubai. We were told she would look into it, and that was the last we saw of her too! For all that, the A380 does have decent legroom, the meals we had were excellent, and the range of in-flight entertainment options is staggering.

Got into Brisbane a bit early and we sat with Patty in the gate lounge. Patty is the mother of our friend Bridget from Te Akau and was travelling home to London via Dubai on the same flight as us. Zachary and I went on the hunt for some hot chips. After a long walk we found a Subway, a Chinese place, and a burger bar. Unfortunately that was closed but the good thing about Australia is you’re never too far from a pub and they kindly made us up an order of fries which we took to the gate lounge.

Then on board for the long haul. Much fuller flight and a great start from our point of view as Zachary went straight to sleep! I decided to skip dinner and try to go straight to sleep too. However, I have a history of sleeping badly on planes and Zachary’s sleep only lasted a couple of hours. It wasn’t helped by the fact they kept all the cabin lights on for so long and all three of us had issues – not helped by the baby that simply would not settle 10 rows ahead of us. We felt sorry for the parents who really were doing their best and didn’t lose their patience at any stage. In the end Zachary had 3 sessions of about 2 hours, I dozed on and off a bit, and Heather a bit less.

We made very good time and landed in Dubai after exactly 14 hours at 5am local time. This is an enormous complex. After a bit of a walk we then had to catch an internal train to the Baggage Claim and Immigration building.

We managed to suss out that we could store our bags for 20 dirhams (about $NZ8) each (this was after we “cleared” Customs which involved having our passports stamped and walking out the door – no baggage check).

As it was too early we thought to go to our hotel we decided to do this with a view to go into town and then come back later – our hotel was quite handy to the airport. Also, it is better to just carry on and go to bed at the appropriate time locally. So we got a day ticket each for the Metro / tram / bus system (AED20 each) and headed for Dubai Mall.

We got on a fairly empty Metro and sat. I sat next to the door on the side we got in, Zachary and Heather sat on the opposite side. First lesson learned. A few stops later the Metro was a heaving mass of bodies and by the time we got to Dubai Mall stop Heather and Zachary had some fun trying to get to the door. If you have any issue at all about close body contact and personal space then the Dubai Metro is not the place for you! 9 people can quite easily fit on a seat designed for 4!

For the first of many times Zachary proved to be quite an attraction! The gentleman sitting next to Heather and Zachary on the Metro was quite taken by him and Zachary was being his usual charming self!

After getting off we walked (Zachary loved the travelators and zoomed rather than walked) to the Mall and went on the hunt for breakfast. Unlike NZ or European cities, things tend to get underway a bit later and at 7am nothing was open. After a few minutes we saw an Antipodean looking lady walking towards us. We asked her where to find coffee and she took us back to her café which she was just opening up. She was a Queenslander who now lives in Dubai. It was more a specialty type place so Zachary and I had a yoghurt muffin while Heather had a large slice of chocolate cake. Those, with 2 coffees and a juice added up 110 dirhams! (about $45) However, she shouted us the coffees which was nice. I was hopeful that this wouldn’t be typical of the food and drink prices. She gave us some useful tips and while Zachary was charming the locals she commented that he would be very popular! However, no need to worry she said, as crime does not exist in Dubai. If she was to leave her computer or her bag on a table in the café and some back 6 hours later you can guarantee they would not have been touched. Crime does NOT pay in the UAE!

We had a wander through the Mall and looked at the aquarium from the outside which was impressive in itself – looking forward to going through there tomorrow! From there we decided to take a ride to the end of the Metro line and have a look at the city. LOTS of tall buildings, LOTS of construction, LOTS of sand. An interesting happening occurred a few stops before the end of the line – a man in full traditional dress was standing further up the carriage and I had seen him muttering to himself. Just as we approached a stop he headed over towards where Heather and Zachary were sitting (in the carriage for women and children only – I was standing just on the other side of the line) and seemed in distress. He began to cry and then collapsed, grabbing the side of the seat. Zachary, as you can imagine, was quite alarmed by this and several other men near me quickly went to the man’s aid. They checked he was not dying, and lifted him into the seat opposite. He seemed quite fixated on Zachary and on a couple of occasions tried to get up. The men pushed him back down and two very consciously made a barrier between him and Heather and Zachary. We decided to get off and catch the next Metro. We don’t think the man was attempting to harm Zachary. He certainly didn’t show any signs of it, more that perhaps Zachary reminded him of someone or something and this upset him. Perhaps it was just the colour of his hair. Anyway, no damage done and we were very impressed with the reaction and behaviour of the men on the train. This was typical of our experiences throughout the day. The people here are extremely polite and respectful. Every time, without exception, that we asked someone for directions or advice we received it with a smile. My (much) older sister Astrid went to Dubai a few years ago and told me that it did irk her the way women were treated, but that you just accept it. For example, she said, people won’t talk to women if their husband is there. However, on our first day here we found that the men were extremely courteous and, while we made a conscious effort for me to do most of the talking, on the times when Heather did ask someone they spoke to her. In the mall, when we were looking a bit lost, a worker had no issue in approaching Heather and asking her if we needed help. The one exception was at the end of the Metro ride just described when Heather was asking a station worker about beach access. I was looking at a map and when I walked over he immediately turned his attention to me. There was one other interesting incident at the end of the day too which I will describe further on.

We bought some bottled water which is super cheap and headed back to the hotel to have a rest before going to pick up the bags. After doing a bit of a loop we found the hotel and had a rest. The hotel is what we thought it would be. It is in the old part of the city and 40 years ago was probably very flash! Now it is well past its best and not exactly in a touristy part of town. However, we made a conscious decision not to spend a lot of money on accommodation and it seems adequate for our purposes.

Having now established the direct (and quick) route from the Metro to the Hotel we went and got the bags. I managed to lose the baggage reclaim ticket but the lady at the airport was very helpful and they were retrieved without drama.

Back to the hotel to drop the packs, shower, and then back to Dubai Mall for a better look, some dinner, and to watch the fountain dance. By this stage we were all very tired, especially Zachary, and we decided to keep it simple for dinner and went to a place called Texas Chicken for dinner (which had a cool light up bouncy ball with the kid’s meal). Tomorrow we’ll try something more ethnic, or at least healthier. We discovered a huge toy store and Zachary had a ball trying out various things. They also had a store called Pinocchio World which was cool too. By this stage Zachary is getting used to strangers talking to him and patting his head! In fact he is starting to revel in it. At one stage he stood at the bottom of an escalator at the Metro station and held out his hand and nearly every single person high-fived him as they passed!

We watched the (excellent but short) fountain dance at 6 and then walked back past the Burj Khalifa to the Metro. If we thought it was busy before we hadn’t seen anything yet! 200 people crammed into carriages designed for about 80 and every train the same. After 3 attempts Heather and Zachary managed to squeeze in, leaving me to try and get the next one. People are just crazy trying to get on. They pay no attention to queues or the rules in place and barge in and squeeze where there are no gaps. After 3 more trains I managed to find a small spot. I got to Union Station and found Heather holding a fast asleep Zachary. She recounted the interesting experience I referred to earlier. She was holding Zachary in front of her and after a while felt somebody playing with one of her breasts. Thinking it was Zachary she went to tell him off, then realised his hands were elsewhere. Sure enough, some cheeky local was having a grope. Heather did not take kindly to this as you can imagine and told him off extremely loudly and firmly. The men surrounding him glared at the groper and I suspect he may well have got an earful at a later point! Second lesson learned: if it is busy, Heather and Zachary will use the carriage for women and children.

A quick stop at the convenience store and I carried Zachary, still sleeping, back to the hotel. Not many minutes later we were all asleep (7:30pm local time).

We only have two beds so Zachary and I shared. The beds are a bit firm, but our room is on the top (4th) floor and we shouldn’t be disturbed by any street noise or the two clubs on the first floor of the building. Day one successfully negotiated. As we get back into a bit more of a “normal” eating and sleeping routine hopefully Zachary’s ears will start to work properly!

Friday 24 April

We all slept until about 5am which was good. No problems with noise and we headed down for breakfast just after 6 (it said in our room it started at 6, but in fact it is 6:30). Anyway it meant we were first in. A basic selection of toast, spreads, cereal, eggs, noodles, and sausages was available with breakfast drinks. As it is included in the cost of the room we weren’t complaining. Back up to the room, managed to get our European cell phone numbers working, and made a plan to go via Metro to the beach then work our way back in. On the way to the station a young man saw us diverted his course to come and say hello and shake hands (with Zachary, not us) which was a nice start to the day.

Got to the station and discovered that the Metro doesn’t run until 2pm on Fridays as it is prayer day. You would think that in all the reading I did about Dubai this would have been mentioned somewhere! So a slight change of plan. Got a taxi to Jumeira Beach, arriving about 10 and it was already very hot! Much hotter than the previous day as the sky was clear. Zachary had his togs, we had decided not to bring ours, a decision we immediately regretted. What a stunning beach! The water was warm and clear and safe. We went in as far as we could without getting soaked and Zachary had fun in the water. We’ll go back tomorrow when the Metros are running and get there earlier, all with togs! We checked out the expensive hotels etc on the beach front and stopped for an iced chocolate. Taxi back to Dubai Mall for lunch and a bit more of a nosey around. This mall really is enormous. We found more areas we hadn’t seen yet, including the Dubai Dino a diplodocus fossil, one of the most complete fossils in the world – only the tail bones are artificial.

After lunch we went to the Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. Entry was 110 dirhams ($NZ45) each (yes, same price for Zachary) and this included a walk in the tunnel, a ride on the glass bottom boat, and entry to the underwater zoo. The tunnel walk through was average, the boat was very good, but the underwater zoo was excellent. There was a great collection of animals here, mostly aquatic, and also a section of nocturnal desert animals. It also houses one of the world’s largest captive crocodiles, known as the King Croc, who was moved here from Queensland after menacing the locals.

We then passed the time by having a cuppa and then visiting the souk across from the mall. Then we headed back to the mall, wandered round a bit more and went to the food court for dinner. We got a platter of rice, beef, chicken, and spring rolls to share (cheap meal and didn’t involve chips!) and then saw the 6:30 fountain show before heading back to the hotel. On the way to the Metro Zachary was accosted (in a friendly way) by several more people and then again at the hotel – he really is proving to be quite an attraction. The Mall was insanely busy with people still arriving as we were leaving. The advantage of this was that the Metro going back to Union was comparatively quiet and we both got on first time. Popped into the local supermarket, got some fruit, and back ready for bed just after 8.

Much hotter today, a few degrees cooler tomorrow would be appreciated!


25th April 2015

Thanks for the awesome updates!
Love following the stories of your travels, sounds like Zachary is taking it all in his stride and is having a lovely time. Look forward to hearing about your next destination, London I believe. xxx

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