United Arab Emirates – Dubai

Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014

We did the too-familiar wake-pack routine and then headed to the nearby money exchange. We previously thought we were genius seasoned little travelers by yanking an excess of Croatian kunas so we could exchange to Turkish lira once we arrived, however we were quickly informed Croatian kunas aren’t in the greatest demand in these parts.

So we transformed our kuna into the no longer recognizable, but hallmark most uncreative colorless currency in the world ($USD). Nonchalantly I asked if he would also adopt my Tanzanian shillings. He laughed an Eddie Murphey laugh, and that was his only response.

We made one last run down the main drag and James ended up getting one last of his favorite iskender kebaps. Funny, I remember him being pretty upset that I drug him to the “dumpy” bus station where he enjoyed “whatever that Turkish man” gave him. It was at that gritty bus station that apparently had the best authentic Turkish grub.

Like the other three dozen flights, we were incredibly late. The journey to the airport took over an hour, and we had budgeted a solid 10 minutes. So Emirates wasn’t pleased when we showed up after the check-in and luggage counters had been closed for some time. We hauled through security and jumped right on the plane.

It was both of our first time flying Emirates, and I think if someone asked me about them, I think we were taking about a restaurant not an airline. We had a 3 hour, 45 minute flight, and the meal occupied 90 percent of the total flight time.

Hey, they are pioneers of mindful eating in the air, I suppose.

Before 10 p.m. we touched down in UAE, our passports received some fresh ink and we said hello to Dubai. The whole airport is white and I swear could be made of real marble. All of the immigrations men were wearing their white dishdash (taub) and keffiyah.

We jumped onto the pristine metro toward the Mall of Emirates. You have to weave your way through the mall in order to get to the taxi stand, and two backpackers cruising through this grand sparkling dripping-rich mall was probably a first for this country.

In any place I know exists (including ‘Bellevue Square’) if you aren’t dressed like you are ready to step onto a catwalk then the only attention you will receive from salespersons or mall staff will be unwanted or they stay glued to your side because they think you are about to steal everything in sight.

Nope, this is the country of hospitality. At first I was worried UAE could only have that reputation because of the visitors that travel there; mostly all of them have money, a lot of money. That or they pretend to have money, or they are delighted at the idea of spending money they don’t have.

Either way, everyone has the universal impression of MONEY. We definitely weren’t sending out that vibe, and our backpacks were for sure the cosmetic giveaway.

The mall employee came up and kindly asked, ‘Would you like me to help you store your luggage?’ Are you kidding me? He didn’t judge, he didn’t hate us for decorating his mall with a taste of the real world. He was incredible. We smiled and asked for the taxi stand. He pointed us in the correct direction. We stood in the taxi stand with people anchored by too many shopping bags.

After a short ride we checked into our hotel, Ramada Chelsea Al Barsha. Again in the lobby we had zero chance of qualifying for a Where’s Waldo page. While uppity ladies in the lobby seemed pretty disgusted at the traveling trash that just tumbled into their hotel, the staff were once again beyond genuine and hospitable.

It was nearly midnight so we made a plan for the following day and had the best snooze in the comfiest, cleanest bed this side of the world.

Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014

Alarms went off at 9 a.m. which was setting us for complete failure to catch a 9:30 a.m. shuttle. I was beyond frustrated with a crap fever and flu at the most inopportune time possible as I was looking forward to this segment of the trip since last January. After throwing a quick shit-fit, we were on our way to the Mall of Emirates.

After exceeding any GPs sensible recommendations on flu medication dosage, we were hitting the slopes at Ski Dubai.

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Ski Dubai is an indoor ski park. You would think it would be some Chuckie Cheese garbage with a few confetti sprinklings of snow so the passerbyers in the many windows looking into the arena from the restaurants, shops and hotel could be entertained.

Heck no, this place is freaking awesome.

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You pay about 160-200 dirham and get a jacket, pants, boots, and your ski or snowboarding gear. You are handed a little key card that tells you when your two hours are up and they release you into the pit crew outfitted frenzy.

So I boarded and James skiied. We loved it and had a blast. In fact, I tried to convince James we should do it again before we left UAE.

Proudly we had planned ahead and booked reservations for Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world for 3 p.m. Well, we were cutting it close and frantically bought metro tickets and hauled to the Mall of Dubai. The metro machine didn’t accept my card so the security man came over to help.

Well, I thought he was going to help. I told James to run ahead to grab our tickets to ensure we make our reservations. The ‘nice’ security man quickly became mean. After explaining my innocent mistake and the fact that I can quickly hand him the 2 dirham difference ($0.54), he announced proudly that my ticket was invalid and I would be fined for violating metro policy.

Ok cool, can I pay your excessive fine and be on my way, please?

Nope, he wanted me to stand in the corner like I was in detention to make sure I learned my lesson. After his ego-meter was satisfied, he accepted my credit card, made me walk back and forth through the stupid silver wind turbine stall thing while holding up all metro users.

After being incredibly embarrassed I sprinted off to find the world’s tallest building. You think it would be pretty easy to find, yeah? Ha, you take a tour of the Mall of Dubai for about 25 minutes before you somehow end up there.

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The building is amazing and the views are beautiful.

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We stayed up on the observation deck for over an hour and then made our way back down to walk around the exterior of the mall to see the building from below. We stopped at the grocery store in the mall and grabbed stuff to eat for the first and only time we would eat that day.

We headed outside and walked into a thick crowd of people anxiously shoving each other to get a view of the soon to fire fountains. We found a spot and had our picnic while watching the fountain show, twice.

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 We ended up jumping back on the metro toward old town and strolled through the market. I ended up buying some cute clothes that of course won’t fit in my backpack.

After a night at the market we headed back to our luxurious suite to pack up, chill and get ready for the most anticipated day of this whole trip (for me!)

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