Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.

Part II - Dubai-ous Adventures

   05:20am arrival in Dubai. Wandered about a mile in the mall-like airport until I found the in-terminal hotel, in which Winrock had been good enough to book me a room for my 24 hour layover. Some minor malarky checking in, as my name had apparently been put on a reservation as "Kenneth" Fricke.
   I'd read that if you leave the terminal you can't get back in until three hours before your flight, but several of my livejournal / facebook friends had said they didn't think this was a problem, so I asked the front desk girl and she said it "probably" wasn't a problem.
   Perhaps I should have given more weight to the fact that her nametag said "trainee" on it while I considered this ringing endorsement. Nevertheless, I decided to boldly chance it!

   Dubai gets very high marks for ease of access to the city from the airport. One can walk right out of the terminal and into their raised light-rail line. And unlike Amsterdam, which had such a mind boggling assortment of incomprehensible ticket options and transport lines that I was nearly reduced to weeping, there's pretty much one linear line and straight-forward ticketing. I bought a one day pass so I could hop on and off as I pleased.
   First place I headed to was the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa (world's tallest building?). I'm not generally a fan of malls but I was lead to believe this mall was the eighth wonder of the world. All the lists of "things to do in Dubai in 24 hours" list it. I found it to be.... just a great big mall. With an ice rink (in which people were playing ice hockey when I passed), and a big aquarium full of sharks.
   I'd been hoping to get some Dubaiean food for breakfast but all the mall fare was typical mall fare: there was a Subway, a Johnny Rockets, a Baja Fresh, etc etc and of course Starbucks and McDonalds. There may have been a middle eastern fast food chain there, but nothing that seemed remotely authentic. I struck out for an area just outside the mall marked "Old Town" on a map and found it full of some very beautiful architecture in the style of ancient palaces on a massive scale, with man made lakes and fountains and pricier restaurants... ie it was a new, "improved!", entirely fake "old town." Above all this the Burj Khalifa tower loomed way up into the sky.
   Finally, starved, I settled on what I took to be a quality French style bakery cafe called "Paul" ... though I'd later see smaller iterations of the same place back in the airport and now suspect it too is a massive chain. Are there rules forbidding non-chain places from being in malls? Nevertheless my bread tasted fresh and if I recall correctly they even had "American style" coffee, ie brewed, which was a welcome relief since other than the coffee I make myself I hadn't seen brewed coffee in well on seven months (!!). (If I recall incorrectly, it was a different place that had this option).

   As to "the Burj," it was something like $30 to go up to the observation deck, and booked up throughout the day already anyway. Would have been a fun thing to do if only to say I'd done it, but oh well, I get a complementary sky-high view of the city on take-off and landing anyway. Though a testament to how tall the building is: after takeoff it was awhile before we were level with the top of it!
   Interesting fact: I've also never been to the top of the Empire State Building.

   By this point I didn't quite remember what else, if anything, had been recommended for "24 hours in Dubai" so I looked at the map and decided the marina sounded as good as anywhere. It was a fair bit down the line, which gave me a chance to actually see the Burj from far enough away that the top and bottom could be held in one's field of vision at once, though at that point it was already starting to disappear into a whitish haze which I imagine must be sand.
   Passed through some districts with names like "Internet City" (and a number named after banks) and finally arrived at the Marina. There was a second grove of high rises here, though nothing rivaling the burj. Nearby the sail shaped 7-star hotel could be seen on its man-made island. The artificial palm tree shaped peninsula-thing was also nearby, and while we're on the subject I saw the artificial island archipelago in the shape of the world from the sky as I departed -- didn't look like much had been build on any but one of the islands though.
   Marina was disappointingly lacking in amazing ultra-yachts (they must park somewhere else) or other particularly interesting vessels. I trotted past all the swanky marina-front cafes (all looking pretty sleepy, maybe it comes more alive in the evening?) and eventually came to the beach. Beach was quite lovely with soft white sand and crystal clear water. Don't expect to go surfing there though, being in the Persian Gulf, the waves are all a bit small. Crowded with beachgoers, with an interesting mix of bikini clad European tourists right next to a group of women in dour black robes with only their eyes showing, the addition of fashionable overly-large sunglasses obscuring even their eyes. These latter women didn't go in the water, though their nearly-naked children frolicked readily in it. Camels ambled past, mounted with tourists, and a nearby little skydiving airport on yet-another artificial peninsula periodically sent its patrons buzzing up into the sky. I rolled up my pantlegs, took off my shoes and walked down the beach knee deep in the surf, wary of getting my numerous electronic accoutrements wet.
   Presently, I sidled up to a bar on the beach and purchased myself an overpriced tropical froo-froo cocktail to consume while I contemplated my surroundings. (and by overpriced I mean "still cheap by Australian standards." Someone had advised me that Dubai was "one of the most expensive places in the world." I don't think this person had been to Australia)

   Would have liked to go back to the hotel to regroup and review what else was worth looking at. Dubai loses some points in that other cities I've fallen out of the sky into usually have tourist information brochures that tell you where the interesting places are. I saw no tourist information brochures or desks or anything anywhere, they seem to think you've come to Dubai, you must know what's here. But it occurred to me that going back to the hotel would at the very least entail going back in and out of immigration, and that sounded like no fun at all.
   So instead I scrutinized the map and my attention was drawn to an area around a bend in the Dubai "Creek" (actually a navigable river) that had a lot of place names with "old" in them and seemed like a likely place for the older part of town. Sure enough I found a sprawling bazaar in the area filled with natives and almost devoid of tourists. Unlike the bazaars in many other middle eastern cities I've been too, no one seemed interested in hassling passersby to come in and purchase their wares. Bored shopkeepers instead sat on the front steps of their little shops idly texting away, a truly timeless scene. The lack of being hassled makes it quite pleasant to stroll through canopied alleys and narrow labyrinthine streets of the bazaar.
   On the riverfront dozens of interesting cargo vessels were lined up -- about the size of small fishing trawlers, but made of wood, with wide bodies and huge deckhouses / aftcastles , and the front section loaded with heaps of boxes or bails of everything from boxed televisions to fruits or tires.
   I took a number of pictures of them, but I have not yet deciphered the mysteries of my new Nikon D200 DSLR. Pictures appear to have been on a non-optimum shutter speed, but I can't figure out how to adjust it, and can't look at them on my computer as at the time I was taking photos in RAW and all any of the programs currently on my computer have to say about that is WTF.
   I did find that I liked the way people reacted to my DSLR photo taking better than point and shoot photography -- where people noticed I was taking a picture and felt compelled to pose they at least did so in a serious manner, whereas if people see you wielding a point and shoot they'll typically stop what they're doing and give you a stupid grin, pretty much ruining the picture.

   Finally found my authentic restaurant -- by the river there was a likely looking place called "Baljeel Al-Arab's Guest House" that had a menu full of delicious sounding local food and delightful rooftop seating. By happy coincidence I timed it right so I was there enjoying my meal just as the sun was setting into the hazy horizon over the sea.

Return to the Airport
   After this delightful dining experience I was quite cheerful as I headed back to the airport, I'd probably have been whistling if I could.
   The guy looking at boarding passes before one enters the security area stopped me, trying to point out that the flight said 0500 and it was clearly 7pm, that my flight had already left. I tried to point out that it said "0500 April 4th," ie the next morning, and the passenger behind me reiterated this in Arabic, but the security guy seemed to be having serious trouble wrapping his mind around this metaphysical proposition. Finally he changed his tack and said he couldn't let me through because the stub on the ticket was mostly detached at this point (after being in my pocket all day), and I'd need to go get it reissued at a ticket window.
   So I went over to the nearby Emirates ticket counter but they pointed out it was actually an Egyptair ticket, for which I'd have to go to the other terminal.
   So I got back on the light rail and road it down to the other terminal. Tried my luck with security again but was once again told I needed a new boarding pass. Went to the check-in area to find there was no Egyptair check-in desk. Went back to security, they told me I should go back to the "Danata" desk and where to find it. Bounced around like a pinball for awhile as various desks denied being the danata desk or said they weren't the danata desk I was looking for. Finally I cornered two girls behind a danata desk with nowhere left to hide, and they desperately pointed to a stern looking woman out on the floor and said she was the supervisor and only she could help me.
   "the ticket stub shouldn't be a problem at all, it's not an issue ... but they won't let you check in until three hours before your flight." she informed me. I did my best to look like I was about to angrily explode and cause a scene and explained once again that I had a hotel room booked in the in-terminal hotel and was not going to sleep on a chair outside check-in.
   Finally she relented, or at least decided to let me explode somewhere else -- she said she'd print me a new ticket but emigration "without a doubt" wouldn't let me through.
   Cruised through security with my shiny new ticket. Next up... emigration! Got in one of the many lines but about halfway through, whereupon I could finally clearly see the officials at the terminus of each line, I began to seriously regret my line choice. The guy serving the line to my left seemed to be having a hilarious time with each and every person going through, whereas my line ended in a dour looking woman with a frown. Seriously considered changing lines but I figured that would look really suspicious. Do they keep an eye out for things like that? It seems like the guy seen changing into the more easygoing line, esp when already halfway through, definitely automatically qualifies for a full body cavity search. Plus I was already halfway through the line, and you know how slow those emigration lines can be.
   Finally got up to the desk, poised to be as disarmingly unsuspicious as possible. You'd think I was smuggling drugs how concerned I was about getting through emigration without hangup. She took one look at me, gave me a sour look, and turned around and exited the control kiosk. Uh.
   A young fellow replaced her. "Excellent" I thought to myself "he's mind won't be settled into it yet, he'll be as prone as one could hope for to miss such a detail!"
   He leafed through my passport, frowned, gave me a displeased look, and said "it's wet."
   "Uh, yes, sorry." (it had been in a lower pocket in my pants when I was frolicking on the beach)
   And with that he seemed satisfied he'd done his duty to give me a hard time, stamped it, and waved me through. You'd think they'd have found my subsequent cartwheels of joy a bit suspicious. jk.

   Though it seems unthinkable that the two terminals wouldn't be connected, at this point I was expecting anything that could go wrong to go wrong, and as I walked what felt like a mile to the other end of Terminal 1, where I believed I'd find a connection to Terminal 3 (there appear to only be two terminals, 1 and 3?), the complete lack of any signage about terminal 3 began to alarm me. What if they weren't connected? What if I'd spent all that time getting into the terminal that my hotel ISN'T in????

   But of course they were. What felt like another mile to the end of Terminal 3, and I about limped into the elevator up to my room. Ahhh my room at last .... why isn't my key working? Urgh!
   Back to the elevator, down to the lobby and.... nearly hyperventilated when I found the lobby standing room only with what must have been 150 arab persons trying to check in. Waded into the crowd and pounced on a staffmember whom I found momentarily vulnerable. When they looked up my account on the computer they asked me "You're not 'Kenneth' Fricke?"
   Anyway they did something to the key and said it should work now. Went back up to my room... door still wouldn't open. Nearly screamed in frustration.
   Stormed back down to reception. This time they apparently performed some strongly magick and it actually worked. Finally got into my room, about three hours after I had initially entered the airport.

Tags: air travel, middle east, travel, travelogues
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