Some time before Christmas, Deena and I watched, and enjoyed, all ten episodes of a documentary series about Dubai International Airport. This, allied to an already existing interest in the desert city sparked plans for a trip to see it all for ourselves. Thanks to Netflights we soon had a week booked in the Dubai Grand Hyatt for the end of March 2014. As is the case most years, January and February went in a blur and before you knew it holiday time was fast approaching. Therefore with our suitcases packed, Dirhams (UAE currency) obtained, iPad charged and visitors guides/maps readied the morning of our trip soon arrived.
Our flight was direct from Glasgow to Dubai on Emirates. Departure time was just after 1pm, and as is traditional with holidays we were at the airport with nearly three hours to spare. For me the holiday really feels like it’s happening when you get to the airport, and so even if it means hanging around for 2-3 hours it’s still seems like you’re on your way i.e. it’s still exciting!
Our chariot to the Middle East was a Boeing 777-300ER, the workhorse of the long haul Emirates fleet. Seating was mainly 3-4-3, although on our way out we bagged seats towards the tail of the plane where four rows of 2-4-2 meant we could sit without bothering a third person. Seats were slightly angled away from the window but this meant plenty of space to stick hand luggage between seat and window. Leg room was surprisingly good as I was able to stretch out both under and to the side of the seat in front. Other than the odd ripple of mild turbulence the flight was very smooth and the food and general level of service was excellent.
Our flight lasted just over seven hours and arrived in Dubai with our watches showing 8:30pm. This though was in reality 12:30am as Dubai is four hours ahead of GMT. It was therefore approaching 01:30am when our pick-up dropped us at the steps of the Dubai Grand Hyatt. After checking in we made our way up to room 469 to be met by what was probably the poshest room I’ve stayed in. The bathroom was decked in marble, gold fittings, tiled floors and featured his and her’s sinks. The bedroom was very large with a huge King sized bed. As we were still hungry our first meal in the UAE’s show city was room service, and very nice it was too.
When we arrived at the airport the previous night we were informed of a 09:00am meeting in the hotel lobby with the local travel rep. Considering we didn’t hit the hay until gone 02:30am the chances of making this meeting were never very high. I did at least email them to say we wouldn’t be coming and they understood. However, we still got up relatively early and made it down to breakfast before 10:00am. Breakie was included in our package and it took place each morning in the hotel’s ‘Market Cafe’ restaurant. It was a buffet service which had offerings from many different countries. Being safe I stuck with bacon and eggs (veal bacon as of course pork is off the menu in Dubai).
The plan for our first day was to suss out the metro system, plus a possible visit to the Dubai museum – both were achieved. The driverless Dubai Metro system has two lines, a green and a red. Handily, the green line has a stop called ‘Dubai Healthcare City’ which was a five minute stroll from the hotel. We therefore headed here and bought a ticket to get us the two stops to Bur Juman. The idea was to get to a main junction i.e. busier station than Healthcare City, and sort out some form of ticket to last us the week. The answer was a ‘Silver Nol’. For the princely sum of 20 Dirhams (about three pounds) we purchase a silver coloured credit card pass ticket which comes pre-loaded with 14 Dirhams worth of credit. The most anyone can spend on the metro in any day is 14 Dirhams i.e. once you’ve spent this all your journeys are free for the rest of the day, which is nice. Worth pointing out straight away that the metro system is an incredibly cheap way of getting around with journeys of several miles costing barely 70 or 80p.
With our Silver Nols purchased we then moved up one station to Al Fahidi and set out to find the Dubai Museum. As is traditional with Deena and I, we of course proceeded to walk 180 degrees in the wrong direction. Eventually we clicked and returned to Al Fahidi before continuing in the correct direction towards the museum. This museum was in an area called ‘Bur Dubai’ and it isn’t the area where all the jet setters and film stars live – it was more of a working man’s/old Dubai. Eventually after another few wrong turns we finally found the museum. Once again it was ridiculously cheap with entry only 3 Dirhams (50p).
The museum was set in the grounds of an old fort and was split into overground and underground sections. Above ground were bits and pieces of an old house and windtower. A couple of rooms held artefacts and some models of Dubai when it was just a small settlement by the creek. The main part of the museum was underground and therefore out of the sun. Haven’t mentioned the weather so far but needless to say it was sunny and warm with the temperatures hovering between 30-33 degrees. Out of the sun the museum wound its way through several rooms of exhibits, reconstructions, videos and a shop. In all we spent around an hour at the Museum which made it very good value for our 50p.
After the museum we had a late lunch at a nearby cafe before winding our way back the hotel. Dinner on our first night was had at the Market Cafe.
Only being in town for a week we had things planned for at least the first few days i.e. ‘the must sees’. The next of these was the ‘Mall of the Emirates’, which as you may know is a very large shopping centre home to all of the biggest names in the retail business. Even though the Dubai Mall is bigger, and in some ways better, it’s the Mall of the Emirates which is the one which seems to be known around the world. Hence we came here first. This involved a trip down the red metro line and afforded us a distant glimpse of the famous seven star hotel, the Burj Al Arab.
The thing which the Mall is possibly most famous is ‘Ski Dubai’. Being Dubai there is of course never any snow so the city decided to make some of its own, as you do. It really was quite a bizarre sight to see all the excited Arabic children rushing around in the snow, sledging down winding, icy runs and all wrapped up against something they rarely experience – freezing cold (temp is maintained at around -3 according to a digital display). Elsewhere chairlifts trundled up and down the slopes as snowboarders raced their way to the bottom. As I said a bizarre, whacky sight but one clearly enjoyed by the locals as it was absolutely packed.
Back at the hotel we enjoyed our daily trip to the spa – steam room, sauna, hot tub, pool i.e. the usual jazz, before once again dining at the Market Cafe. As it happened this was our last evening meal at the Market as we began to get more adventurous as we settled into Dubai, and hotel, life.
As hinted at in Day 3, the other ‘super mall’ in Dubai is the Dubai Mall. This is actually the bigger of the two malls and had two distinct advantages for us. Firstly it was half a dozen stops closer on the red line, and secondly it was right next to another of Dubai’s must see locations, the Burj Khalifa (more of that later). Within the air conditioned confines of the mall we once again wandered for a couple of hours past some of the most famous names in shopping. Has to be said most of the really expensive looking shops were empty as entry is likely to lead to a wallet soon shorn of several thousand pounds. Being in the Middle East we of course had to try some of the local cuisine and I must say the two portions of Cod and Chips purchased from the London Fish and Chip company were absolutely delicious!
Outside the mall one finds the Dubai Fountain and to your right the Burj Khalifa. The world’s tallest building is a staggering sight up close although you need a flexible neck to see all the way to the top! Sadly we didn’t realise you need to book up months in advance for a trip to the Observation deck on level 124 so we had to content ourselves with simply gawping in open mouthed wonder at the shining marvel.
Back at the hotel our spa session was followed by a meal in ‘Wox’ a Vietnamese noodle bar. Next door to ‘Wox’ was an Indian restaurant called ‘IZ’, which would feature over our next couple of nights.