Tag Archives: United Arab Emirates

Dubai – All that money can buy (Day 2)

In a city that offers all that money can buy, it can be difficult to decide what you want and how to spent the most precious currency that exists: time. But I knew: my first helicopter ride. I will fly above Dubai.


Morning: High in Dubai

Dubai Marina, Dubai, UAE

A breakfast with a view, Dubai Marina view. Not on a terrace, but a bridge. And not a real breakfast actually, but definitely one to remember. The day started like this, with dates milkshake and gazing at the grey curtain of skyscrapers mirroring their shapes in the silver waters where luxury white yachts slid up and down the Marina. Doing this cost me 30 minutes of my second day in Dubai.

12pm

The taxi dropped me in front of Dubai Police Academy, close to Jumeirah beach. A jeep was already for me at the gates, to drive me inside through the security zone. It looked like a highly protected area. I knew by the noise, minutes later, that we’ve reached the starting point: a white helicopter was just landing.

The preparation for the helicopter ride took about an hour, inside the centre, with a session of safety instructions and technical info, including how to get in and off the helicopter when it lands on land or water. After the theoretical part, waiting for my ride and watching other customers coming and going, I observed how the whole thing was happening. I’ve noticed there was also a second helicopter operating, a black one that landed later. That looked so cool, I instantly wished my ride will be with that one. There were 5 seats in a helicopter, so only one seat in front, near the pilot. A kind of VIP seat… No matter the colour of the helicopter, I thought, I just hoped I won’t be sitting on a middle seat….¬†Seeing people leaving and the expressions of thrilled they had when they were landing back was not just fun to watch, but also increasing my impatience.

Finally my turn came. Me and 3 other girls were forming the group. The white helicopter was on the helipad, waiting for the next group. We were waiting in line and I thought that one it’ll be ours… And then I heard the noise. The trees outside started moving. The black one was landing back and the white helicopter just took off. I heard someone from the security telling us to wait in line inside.

– You’re alone so you’ll be sitting in the front, he told me.

These were the words I wanted to hear after paying almost 200$ for a few minutes ride. I was so happy.

The next minute my hair was blowing all over my face as I approached the black and cool helicopter. I took my seat in the front with a smile reaching from one ear to the other, that got even bigger when I laid my eyes on the so very good looking pilot: dark haired, with a short beard, wearing a pilot uniform and a fab smile.

Dubai, helicopter ride

– Hi, welcome! And there we were, all 5, ready to fly up in the sky.

I got the headset on, receiving the last indications from the security stuff as they closed the door. I heard the noise increasing and felt the moment we took off, leaving the ground, going up and up until the cars got smaller and the highway above became a line beneath us. Seen from the sky, the distances didn’t seem so large and the map of Dubai started imprinting on my mind. The Palm and The Atlantis, Dubai Marina, then we turned right and headed towards downtown, where Burj Khalifa was guarding the city from its heart, the middle of the skyscrapers that look tinny compared to the 160 levels sharp structure. It was a clear day with great visibility for this mind-blowing desert city where this is a rare gift.

Dubai, downtown, Burj Khalifa

The views were spectacular. We were communicating through the headset and I was the one asking questions: how close can you get to the downtown and Burj Al Arab – not very unless you have a permit to land there, where was the famous Kite Beach. Then we turned back, flying along the coast line, Jumeirah beach, Kite Beach and then Burj Al Arab, half a circle around the 7th stars hotel passing a little over the legal limit of distance for helicopters that are not landing on its helipad. We saw again the huge The Palm, the man made complex of islands forming the shape of a palm tree, we saw The World, the artificial archipelago of 300 islands laid out in the Persian Golf in the shape of Earth’s continents.

Dubai, The Palm, aerial view

Two more breath takes and we were heading back, getting closer to the helipad, ready to land. I was thrilled! It was worth every scent and choosing Dubai for my first helicopter ride was a great idea for the unique landmarks.

At the end of the ride, as we step out the helicopter, a few cameras jumped in as if we got famous while up there in the air. Then I found out our memories came with a price. I took the cheapest version, 2 photos (only) for 50bucks. It wasn’t allowed to do any photo shooting around the helicopter but of course I got my selfie with the pilot up in the sky ūüėȬ†In Dubai, even memories come with a price.

3pm

Afternoon: Man made miracle  

Another taxi dropped me an hour later in front of Miracle Garden. I wandered among structures of all shapes, from a castle to a plane and cartoon characters, all made of flowers. With 28C, the garden smelled like summer, the January summer in the Golf. This place is another superlative of Dubai: the world’s largest natural flower garden,¬†72K square metres with over 50 million flowers and 250 million plants.

Miracle Garden, Dubai

In the middle of the desert, open for visitors between November and March, before the burning summer temperatures start turning all into dust. My battle here was a classic one for single travellers: obtaining 2-3 decently framed photos that, as an exception, will include myself. An exception because I prefer the photos of beautiful places with no people in the picture, an achievement that in most places takes a lot of patience. But the biggest challenge when traveling alone is people’s natural gift for ruining a photo. Of course, many of my friends are too in this category but at least I can ask nicely for a new try and help with indications. With strangers, that would be rude…. I can talk a whole day about these funny yet annoying fails that happened to me, like for ex. the best panoramic pic of Dubrovnik where my feet were cut off or the one with the RIP Blue Window in Gozo, Malta, (now gone into the see) where the natural monument, the window, the reason of the photo, was cut in half… Still, I never give up and eventually I get the photo I want. And so I did in Miracle Garden, though people were swarming everywhere at that hour.

Miracle Garden, Dubai

 

6pm

Evening: At the top

45 minutes of waiting for a bus that didn’t come change my plans for saving some budget using the public transport. I jumped in a taxi to get right in time in Dubai Mall, for my VIP entrance for At The Top of Burj Khalifa at 7pm. I got the ticket the day before, from an open office I saw in the mall, where people were waiting in line. I thought that must be the place. I almost had a heart attack when I heard the price: almost 100 euro. My credit card was in pain. Only long after I realised IT was a good deal, because most people go to see level 128. My crazy pricey ticket offered priority access and the chance to see Dubai from level no 148.

We were about 5 people in the line: two Russian women, beautiful and very branded, a French couple, both very tall and good looking, him looking more young. And myself, this time dressed for a helicopter ride + a drink in the highest lounge in the world, so nicely. On the other side, for normal tickets line, tens of people were waiting. ¬†We entered through a separate door after they checked our passes, the stuff repeated the check later. ¬†In a hall a long line of people were waiting. We passed by them and went further. It felt nice that VIP status. I very soon realised Burj Khalifa is not just a huge building of 160 floors, there are 160 levels of luxury and the most perfect finishes, the contractor save no penny when it came to materials¬†and designs. It’s spotless from what I’ve seen this entire private property where the only access is through the mall, buying a ticket, or the main entrance if you have a reservation at one of the restaurants inside.

We took two elevators and in seconds we were at level 148. From the moment the doors opened, it is jaw dropping. The lounge is small but cosy, with scattered light, candles and orchid as decorations. The closed balcony that surrounds the place offers views that makes you feel you’re on top of the world.

At The Top, Burj Khalifa, downtown Dubai by night

 

It was getting dark and I think it was the best moment, to see as the blue hour turns into night into millions of lights from the skyscrapers beneath and the multitude of highways and boulevards. What a city, indeed! I had to admit, I was impressed. An ambition made reality but with a good dose of good taste and elegance. I admired the views and I just couldn’t get enough.

At The Top, Burj Khalifa, Dubai city lights

Level 128, crowded and closer to the earth seemed quite ordinary after I finally decided to leave level 148. I didn’t even wanna take many photos. The best part here was that the water fountain, the Dubai Fountain started the show of lights and music and seen from above it looked gorgeous.

Due to the large number of people, the place feels very touristy, compared to the laid back and spoiled mood from the previous level. A souvenir shop covers most of the place, where the price for a box of chocolate gives you ideas that it might be gold, leaving a little room for an interactive floor made of a screen with image of the city above that cracks under people’s feet as they step on it.

I felt overwhelmed enough and I wanted to leave. Hundreds were forming an endless line to the elevators. Oh God, I will sleep here tonight… I thought. But my 100 euro ticket saved me, the VIP guests had priority using another elevator, smaller and faster.¬†Suddenly, adding this too, plus the whole experience, those 100 euro I payed for didn’t hurt any more. I’m glad that just by chance I made the best choice.

9pm

Dubai Fountain was playing the moment I got out the mall. With people filling every single place at the tables around, with waiters from the restaurants running with plates filled with dishes, with crowds gathered around Burj Khalifa lake, the music, the water jets up the sky, the night sky with the moon watching down to us. When the show of water and light stopped, the lake was completely covered with little lights, as a replica of the sky above.

11pm

The day was done, with every minute from morning till night spent so perfectly – Carpe Diem. A summer night mood was filling the city with its warm breeze.¬†In this city of so many worlds where all that money could buy has been build, created and raised from the desert sand, I wished I had more… not money, but time.

Next: Dubai day 3 – sunrise in the desert, Old Town, Jumeirah beach

Dubai – Best of fancy on a budget (Day 1)

Three days in Dubai proved me wrong. All I’ve been hearing about this fancy desert city is true. After three days and 3 nights¬†all I wished for was more time. I considered it artificial, too fake and opulent for my taste. Then I saw the best of Dubai and fell for it.


1.1.2020

Al Fahidi neighborhood, at my first glance that late afternoon, the first one in 2020, didn’t look like the Dubai I imagined. I woke up late after the exhausting NYE “adventure” the night before. It was curious to see Dubai by day. I draw the dark heavy curtains and opened the window to the little garden in front where a few dusty palm-trees were the only green spots on a limestone shade paint. On the wide vacant lot in front, in a cloud of dust, e few barefoot boys were playing football with a worn-out ball. Yalla, yalla (cmon) was all I could hear. A strong smell of frying hit me from what seemed to be the kitchen of the hotel, judging by the noise. I thought this must be a reason for the cheap price I payed for 3 nights in a city where New Years Eve makes hotel prices explode like its famous fireworks. But the room was nice, large, clean and the location was good, a few minutes walk to the metro station.

Behind the dusty palm-trees, the vacant lot and the hotel’s kitchen, the city was already up, ready to start a new year filled with life. The noise of the urban chaos was calling.

Spicy brunch

I love Indian food and I soon discovered I love the prices it has in Dubai too. Bhindi masala (dish made with okra) and chicken masala was the name of my brunch. A spicy brunch. I got totally lost in the tens of meals with names I could hardly pronounce listed in the menu of the first restaurant I saw on the street. The waiter stole me from the competition near by meeting me meters away from the entrance, in the middle of the crosswalk. I let him believe his strategy was a success when in fact my decision was taken the moment I saw the place with people eating on the terrace. At 2pm, 28C and a burning sun, coming from the freezing temperatures back home, I felt I will melt if I don’t eat fast. Though it was a hasty decision picking the restaurant, the food was tasty.

Dubai downtown

It was time to be wowed by my first day in Dubai! I took the metro and headed towards downtown. One thing no one told me about Dubai is that there are so many Indians, it makes you wander if that’s truly Dubai, UAE, Middle East.

When it comes to skyscrapers, modern architecture and infrastructure, Dubai gets all the 5 stars. And the downtown area stands as a prove for this. You could easily end up with a glazed look, mouth opened, eyes looking up the sky, among high structures of steel and glass. I admitted, it’s impressive but I’m not a fan of modern buildings with their cold minimal shapes. Burj Khalifa still is so high it makes you dizzy. It dominates the city like a crowned god of buildings. 163 floors. My apartment back home is at 8.

I hate malls…

“I’ll just take a look, it won’t take long… it’s just a mall.” It started like this. After 5h, dizzy and exhausted I couldn’t solve this mystery: where did all that time vanished?!

Dubai Mall, Dubai Downtown,

There are two reasons why I enter a mall, in my city, in any city: see a movie or get my coats from the dry cleaning. This was before I stepped in¬†Dubai Mall. It makes The Harrods in London or Galleries Lafayette in Paris seem like two little shops. This place is not a mall, but a wicked city where you enter in the morning and leave at night, wandering where did all that sunny day disappeared. From the butler at the entrance, the welcoming ladies offering sweets, to the 1200 large stores on¬†502,000 square metres, this place is madness, a shopping industry by itself and above all, it’s a time trap. A very pretty one that has everything inside: a hotel, an ice rink, an aquarium where people can go for a dive among sharks and leopard rays of who’s existence I had no idea before, a¬†VR Park, a lake with a water fountain, access to the highest building in the world from the largest mall in the world. Dubai seems to love superlatives. Shopping there is an true ¬†experience. Benefiting from the large spaces, the brands have built stories out of their shops. In Dubai Mall the stores don’t just sell, they entertain and spoil. The prices seem a bit higher for a few brands I usually buy but it still is a shopper’s paradise on Earth.

Dubai Mall, Dubai Downtown,

From the Earth to the sky: Burj Khalifa 

Seeing the tallest building in the world right outside the biggest mall in the world, moving your eyes from its base and all the way up to its top, it’s really something extraordinary. ¬†A blue huge pool in the middle of the desert, now downtown Dubai, stands for Burj Khalifa Lake. Why knot? If 218 millions where waiting to be spent. You can even take a boat ride in a traditional “abra”, probably the last reminder in that area of what Dubai was in times not that old: a poor fishing village. Right now the city looks like what all that money can built: artificial, as I used to consider it before, but so damn beautiful, as I was starting to see it.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai, downtown

Souk Al Bahar, the drop of tradition

I found it by chance, just wandering around Burj Khalifa, trying to find its best angle for a photo with the entire building. Or almost entire… This modern and luxury Arabian souk on the Old Town island brings back the magic in a place made of steel and glass. I spent long minutes admiring the details of Iranian hand made carpets and testing tens of luxury Arabian perfumes in precious bottles. The prices were just as precious too, up to 600 euro. Ehh…Dubai, places like that make me feel poor. There’s too much you can’t afford right under your nose.

Dubai UAE, Burj Khalifa

The golden hour and the orange sun rays turned the city into gold as the night was coming. I felt overwhelmed by so much I’ve seen.

Dubai Marina by night

In this city with many worlds, Dubai Marina is one of them. A Western corner in a rich city. Skyscrapers, restaurants, shops, the beach and the promenade. I had in mind the image of the tall buildings reflecting in the harbour and I got lost trying to find it. I was exhausted and ready to go back to the metro for the 1h ride to my hotel when, I have no idea how, I found it:

If by day, iron and glass looks modern, by night it looks the best.

Dubai Marina view by night

The Frame of dreams

The two sides of the city, the old and new are framed by The Frame, another¬†architectural landmark of Dubai. The name of this square building, called the biggest picture frame on the planet, reflects its shape,¬†150m tall¬†and 95m wide.¬†From my seat in the metro, at passed 11 at night, heading to the old (and poor I should add) side of Dubai, this day seemed like a fantasy. All the glitter and gold of Dubai gives a feeling of mixed realities, polishing all in happiness. But The Frame, no mater how big it is, can’t include all the 3.331¬†million stories lived each day in this city. My story, as a visitor fulfilling another destination dream, the story of the Filipino woman that was selling ice-cream in the mall, waiting for her dream, the stories of the rich and good looking of all races I’ve noticed on Fashion Avenue, living their dream…. and the stories of the Indian workers I saw right next to Dubai Mall, up high on¬†metallic scaffold, working in construction on January the 1st, building their dream.

A dream city that is made of so many different dreams, that is the big picture of Dubai.

Next: Day 2 in Dubai: helicopter ride, at the top of Burj Khalifa and more

 

 

Dubai – New Years Eve on the beach

The great journey of 2019 has arrived to its last steps. A year that turned many of my bucket list wishes into great memories: 13 countries, 9 for the first time, 2 visits in my beloved Paris, my first African safari. 32 flights above the clouds. My all time record year as a wanderer was beyond expectations.¬†And the last 45 minutes of 2019 didn’t disappoint as well: in a taxi, running on¬†Sheikh Zayed Road, the 14 lanes highway, leaving behind Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world and heading to Burj Al Arab, known as world’s only 7 stars hotel. I was excited, in Dubai. The very place where I wanted to be. The silhouette of the famous hotel was puncturing the dark horizon like an arrow.

As we got closer, I was too charmed by the white architecture of Burj Al Arab to observe we were driving now in a sea of people, all heading to Jumeirah Beach. The last 20 minutes of 2019: I decided to become a drop in that see of people dressed in white that will finally led me to another dream come true: New Years Eve fireworks in Dubai.

The rush from the hours before, when I landed in Dubai that evening, got me starving and thirsty. A few Indian samosas sold at a stall on the beach saved the night and a mango ice cream added the summer mood in December: it was my hottest NYE: 25C.

00:00 2020

Dubai New Years Eve, fireworks, Burj Al Arab

The fireworks were as promised: opulent, breathtaking and… long. Dubai, baby! A riot of colours surrounded Burj Khalifa, in the back but still visible from that distance, joined by the ones at The Atlantis, in the front, on the sea and in the middle, Burj Al Arab, right in front of me, became an explosion of lights and colours. The fireworks turned the sky into a paint contouring shapes of hearts and planets like Saturn. And down to Earth, for more then 10 minutes, thousands of heads were beating unanimously towards the sky and hands holding phones were turning the moment into memories and posts for family and friends.¬†The last minutes of the show turned the night into day. A day of colours, sang the thousands with a loud whisper: Awww…. And this is how the first 10′ of 2020 had passed, vibrating of light and joy.

As the sky became dark and silent again, that massive crowd instantly broke into pieces that had spread everywhere in just minutes. Indian families with 10-12 members were continuing their NYE picnic on the grass in the park near by. A group of men were now opening bottles of champagne. Others were sending NYE wishes on the phone. Toddlers were suddenly too tired to walk. The party on the beach was over. After the Emirati people, the Indian families were coming second in therms of numbers. The rest, Europeans, Americans just a few of them, many single.

It was too nice to waste the night and just take a taxi and go to sleep at the hotel. I wanted a long walk on the seafront. The beach was hidden by darkness but even though I felt the sea was there, so close, blowing its warm breeze towards the busy road. I checked Google Maps and it looked encouraging, I thought that at the end of one hour walk I will get close to my hotel maybe. Poor me!

An hour later, the cars and the people became more and more rare. It was even better, I thought. Beautiful white villas with large balconies and tall gates covered in Bougainvillea flowers were so quiet. Some tourists at a crossroads were trying to get one of the taxis that now were very rare.

30 minutes later I checked again Google Maps. It wasn’t my poor signal’s fault then: after 1h and a half it looked as if I walked for 10 minutes. I decided to walk towards the closest metro station. Close on the map… In reality, after another 45 minutes I ended up on an empty street where only a few Indian people were heading God knows where. I could see the suspended metro line, which seemed a good sign. But when I reached a complicated passage with no sidewalk I realised Dubai was not a city made for walking. On the contrary, it was made for cars.

I had no idea where I was and it was too far to get back from where I came. I asked a few guys, Indian as well, for directions. One of them explained, very polite and nice. Then he wanted to take a photo with me. Burj Khalifa’s silhouette was contouring in the front, probably very far away considering its height of 800m. At one point I became exhausted, walking like running by some sort of factory, the kind of area where no one walks ever even during midday. And I was thinking at my grandmother’s superstition: “What you do on NYE, you’ll do the whole year.” For me that would mean walk till you drop and get lost.

At one point in the front I saw the first signs that I was somehow getting close to the downtown and walkable areas. And people. And as sent from heavens, I saw a taxi, I raised a desperate hand and he stopped. I was saved! Thank God!

So I’ve learned, the hard way, my first lesson about Dubai. It’s not a walkable city. The distances are a killer!

The next episode of my fancy NYE in Dubai was one hour being trapped on¬†the great 14 lanes highway, Sheikh Zayed Road,¬†the road that crosses Dubai from one end to its other, as long as the coast takes you. That was really smth: 14 lines of absolute and stand still traffic jam. “What you do on NYE, you’ll do the whole year….” was the mantra that kept playing in my head, accompanied by the cries of my taxi driver who was cursing the madness of that night, swearing that he won’t ever work for another NYE and concluding:

– People are crazy!

The second miracle that night happened just out of the dark. The car started to move and just minutes after I was getting close to my hotel, in . I felt like home!

At almost 5am I entered one of the restaurants opened, the one with the largest terrace. I had a great welcome. I needed a fish to secure my luck in the new year.

– Is it fresh? I asked inside, where I was invited to choose the fish that was going to become by early dinner.

The long minutes of wait and a confusion (I asked for a salad and I received a bowl of veggies and yoghurt) let to a fabulous meal: the fish was spicy, as asked, fresh, crunchy and it worked perfectly with my mistake salad.

At 6:30am my night was done and my day was beginning with a deep long sleep. I had to get back my forces to see for myself what was all the fuss about Dubai, so far the city that wasn’t made for walking.

Next: best of Dubai