Day two in Dubai we decided to head to the Aquaventure water park at the Atlantis Palm resort and we were so glad we did. We briefly explored the impressive hotel before making our way to the water park. The cue to get in was massive and therefore we were expecting the cues for all the slides to be massive as well but we were wrong. At most we had 5 people in front of us when waiting to go down a slide. Most slides we could just turn up and ride away without waiting in any line. This is because there is so much to do at the water park and its so big that everyone is spread out. In addition to the main slides, there are tons of little beach style areas with lounge chairs, there is a children's area with calmer slides, there is a "rapids" attraction where you float all around the park and pass through little rapids. We were brave and tried out the "Leap of Faith" which is basically a completely vertical slide and very scary! You end up going through an enclosed part of the shark tank as well. Lets just say we only had enough courage to go on that slide once. One of our favorites was the "shark attack" ride where you end up in an enclosed case in an aquarium and float through with all the fish swimming around. It was a very neat and unique idea. We tested out our new waterproof camera and got some fun photos as well!
This was our first "honeymoon" type activity that we did and it felt quite relaxing although I was getting quite nauseous near the end with all the being thrown around! We were really happy that we decided to spend a majority of the day here and thought it was worth every penny of the overpriced admission. It felt like the Disneyland of water parks.
We then went to Madinat Jumeirah which is this area near the water that is made to look traditional. It was next to the water with lots of nice restaurants and a traditional souk with merchants selling lots of souvenirs and clothing and so on. After browsing the restaurant menus, we found a nice Lebanese restaurant to sit down and have dinner. We chose to sit outside and as they sat us, another waiter from another restaurant in the area (we couldn't even see where the restaurant was) came over with a menu and said that the outside space is for all the restaurants to share and that we can choose from his restaurants menu as well. It was a very awkward and uncomfortable situation because we specifically liked the look of the menu (and prices) of the one we chose so we had no interest in eating from anywhere else. He seemed quite desperate. The waiter from the restaurant we chose came by to see if we were ready and the waiter from the other restaurant just stood right beside him and then started showing us every single page of his restaurant's menu to try and get us to pick something. He told us that they have "nachos, burgers, wings" and other foods we were not interested in. It was so uncomfortable and awkward and not a very pleasant dining experience because we felt a bit bad for rejecting him but we chose the restaurant we chose for a reason. Once he got lost, we started to enjoy the atmosphere. Our meals were MASSIVE and our bill came to something crazy like £12/$18! We couldn't believe how cheap it was especially considering the setting of being by the water and with a view of the Burj Al Arab (the famous 7 star hotel that is shaped like a sail) in the background. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.
On our final full day, we decided to start off by taking it easy and lounged by the pool. We worked on our tans for a couple of hours (oh yes, life is tough) and then we got ready to go visit the world's tallest building: the Burj Khalifa. We were so glad we pre booked this before we even started our trip because all the time slots to go up were sold out for at least the next couple of days. This attraction is called "At The Top" and it takes you to the 124th floor of the building. The elevator shoots you straight up and really builds it up with dark and futuristic lighting. When the doors of the elevator opened and we got out on the 124th floor, our knees immediately stiffened and locked up. We were terrified and found it difficult to get ourselves to the edge of the windows but we got there in the end. The worst bit was the exterior part that had wooden beams on the floors that were bouncy and creaky and didn't feel safe at all. We got the views and photos we wanted from the exterior bit and then got the heck inside. We chose a perfect day to go up because it was very clear and you could see a lot of the famous buildings. We managed to capture a photo of me heel clicking as well!!
We then went back down to earth and wandered around Dubai Mall- the world's largest mall. We got some more cheesecake chocolates from Patchi and we tried these amazing buns called Papparoti which are basically a warm bun with a caramel and coffee flavor coating and a filling of butter that oozes out. It's so naughty but soooo good! So much for losing weight on this trip!!
We watched the very impressive Dubai fountains some more and then I got a call from Farhan whom I went to high school with. He currently resides in Dubai and we met up and went for a coffee. Crazy to think it has been pretty much 9 years since we have seen each other! But very cool to be meeting up on another side of the world!
Today we depart Dubai and arrive in Kathmandu. So we are basically going from one of the richest countries in the world to one of the poorest. It will be a crazy culture shock and we can't wait! From hereon in, we will be slumming it. Lets just say our hotel in Kathmandu cost £3 a night. We will have to sleep with our mouths closed so no creepy crawlies find their way in!
As mentioned, Dubai has been an interesting city. The city itself is absolutely MASSIVE and then so is everything within it! The world's tallest building, the world's biggest mall, huge luxurious hotels...it's definitely not a place for backpackers (we got PLENTY of stares when we were traveling with our backpacks). But we did enjoy it and it felt like a "honeymoon" place to be in as we got some sun, some swimming, nice meals etc, relaxation. But it may as well have been Vegas, Florida, Beverly Hills or all 3 combined. All that is missing is a Cheesecake Factory...or so we thought!!! We researched it a bit late and realized there is one here, and not just any but the world's biggest (but of course). We are completely kicking ourselves for not researching this before we departed! But I guess the cheesecake flavor chocolates from Patchi satisfied our cheesecake cravings for the time being.
So now we are at Dubai airport, terminal 2, one of the dingiest terminals we have been in (besides maybe Heraklion!). Check in was an absolute nightmare with only ONE agent checking in TWO international flights with only 2.5 hours to go! They finally got some more staff on about half an hour after and for some reason we got pulled out of the middle of the cue and put in the beginning of a new one. We felt really bad bypassing everyone but I think it's because we had only backpacks and everyone in front of us (all Nepalese men), had massive amounts of luggage and cardboard boxes so we must have been easy to move?? We were starving so we were just happy to be checked in. We enjoyed one last sinful meal (which I wont mention what) and now Perry and I are becoming vegetarians for a majority of the remainder of the trip (even though I don't eat much meat as it is) and certainly for the rest of the week as we are doing a trek and want to be in tip top condition for it (ie, no diarrhea and upset stomachs!). So here is to city 3, country 3 of our honeymoon adventure and to no more meat for a while!
We arrived in Dubai in the wee hours of the morning. Passport control took ages but we didn't mind because we didn't want to arrive at our host's too early. We couldn't believe how slack the passport control process was. They didn't ask any questions and didnt even make us scan our eyes. And luckily, all was good with my visa.
We hung around the airport because we didn't want to wake our host up. Luckily there was free wifi so it allowed some Skype time with my family in Canada. When it was time to make our way to our host's apartment, we got on the metro.
The metro is in the "top 10 attractions in Dubai" list as voted by travelers on tripadviser. We understood why. You can see a lot of Dubai's famous buildings from it (like the Burj Al Arab and the Burj Khalifa). It runs along a very long strip called Sheikh Zayed Road which many of the sights are located near. Because it is primarily above ground, it provides a lot to look at. It is also spectacularly clean. It was quite hazy out when we first got on it but cleared up after the morning.
We met a nice lady from Ottawa on the metro. And when we got of the metro at Internet City, this man started showing us the way to the exit and to the cabs. He was from India and has lived with his family in Dubai for the last 13 years. He flagged a cab for us but the driver said he didn't know where the address was and then he flagged another one and that driver said it was too close for him to drive. So we said we would walk it as we were not having luck with the cabs and (thought we) wanted the exercise . The nice man that led us to the cabs said that he works right across where we were headed so he led us in the right direction. It was so nice of him. So far it seems that everyone is super friendly- except the cab drivers!
One thing we noticed immediately about the newer part of Dubai is that everything is just MASSIVE! Dubai itself is massive and it takes a while to get from one point to another but everything within it is also massive. The roads sometimes have 6 lanes, the sidewalks are so wide and they seem even wider because no uses them so you feel like an ant when you have a huge space of sidewalk and surrounded by large buildings. It is definitely not a pedestrian friendly city but the metro is VERY efficient (and air conditioned). All the maps we have looked at are also very misleading because everything looks really close but it takes ages to walk to a place that looks like it is across the street on a map. We are sure getting our exercise and blisters on our feet to prove it!
Another thing we felt about the more modern part of Dubai is that this is quite a strange city. It is so modern and seems really artificial at times. You really can't tell if you are in Dubai or London or America. It seems like a combination of Las Vegas, Florida and London...but that is judging by the buildings and Dubai Mall as Dubai Mall has every UK and American chain imaginable (we've come across Boots, Waitrose, WHSmith, New Look, Debenhams, Forever21, Top Shop, you name it, it's there!). Also, they are just building and building and building. There is so much land being built up. I would love to come back in 20 years and see what it looks like then. We have passed through a ton of construction zones today.
We ended up at the mall as we wanted to visit Burj Khalifa- the world's tallest building- and this is located at Dubai Mall. Now, the world's tallest building is UNREAL! It hurts your eyes to look up at it (although that probably has something to do with looking right at the sun) and when you compare it to nearby buildings, it really makes you wonder how in the world they built something that tall. It does not look real. We booked a tour to go up to the observation deck on Wednesday so we are quite excited for that. I might need some vertigo pills though! In front of this building and The Dubai Mall are musical fountains designed by the same people that are responsible for the fountains at the Bellagio in Vegas. We watched one show to some Arabian music and it was so awesome. The water goes so high that we ended up getting some heavy mist from the fountains splash us. We will definitely go back for more shows though as it looks spectacular, especially with an amazing building like the Burj Khalifa in the background.
So Dubai Mall is quite a dangerous place when it comes to food!! There is a Tim Hortons, a Hummingbird Bakery, a Cold Stone Creamery amongst other guilty pleasure foods (although we haven't come across a Cheesecake Factory) but our favorite is a very swanky chocolate shop called Patchi. My friend Diana brought us some chocolates from this chain when she visited the UAE and we were hooked-especially because they make this amazing cheesecake chocolate variety!!! So we stepped foot in one and bought some cheesecake chocolates an also a pistachio cream one. Mmmmmmm so good!! There were also tons of chain restaurants that you can find in the UK and America like TGIFridays and Macaroni Grill and Rainforest Cafe...like I said, you would never guess you are in Dubai by being at this mall...oh EXCEPT that every single shop sign has its Arabic equivalent written next to it...even places like Subway and WH Smith have a logo written in Arabic. I would love to know if they are literal translations.
We also stumbled across the Dubai Mall Aquarium. We didn't find it necessary to go in as there are huge observation areas scattered throughout the shops. We were there at a perfect time as we saw a bunch of scuba divers in there and what were they doing?? Window cleaning!!! Now that is an exciting job to have, scuba diving amongst sharks and exotic fish in order to clean the inside windows of tanks.
We also visited the older part of Dubai and this looked quite different from the newer part. It's the area where the gold souk and spice souk are. The buildings are quite old and crowded (much unlike the modern part) and there is evidently a large community of Indian residents. Tons of shops that cater to Indian goods and also tons of curry restaurants. This area got us excited for India!! The souks were pretty cool but its basically shop owners stopping you and asking you if you want a "pashmina, Ali baba shoes (which I actually really want but am waiting for India to purchase), purses, watches, perfume etc". Perry noticed that they always target the women even if he is standing right beside me. Some shop owners did try to get him in a traditional headdress though! No luck!! The gold souk had some beautiful jewelry. I especially loved the bangles but of course this place was not of much use to us at the moment as we are on a backpackers budget.
One thing that has surprised us about Dubai is that it is not as expensive as we thought it would be. Sure the hotels can be quite luxurious and some of the attractions like the water park at Atlantis and the aquarium are really overpriced but the food and transportation is ridiculously cheap! A day pass for the buses and metro is under £3/$5 and the water taxis that got us around the old part of Dubai were about 20 cents each way!! Crazy!! So now we think we completely overestimated how much to bring here which means we will probably have enough left over to spend an afternoon at the Atlantis waterpark (which has a slide that runs through the shark tanks!!!) or to go for a nice meal...or maybe to just convert to another currency for the rest of the trip.
Although it is quite a different city, we are still enjoying it and seeing the world's tallest building is worth it alone. Oh yeah and the heat is awesome too. Tomorrow we plan on visiting the waterfront area, but maybe we will splash about in our host's pool for a while. Our feet wouldn't mind some R&R!