FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Chilling out in Dubai

Posted in Dubai, United Arab Emirates by folkestonejack on April 21, 2019

The penultimate stage of our homeward journey saw us land in Dubai at 5.25am after a 14.5 hour flight from Sydney, stagger through the long queues at passport control, collect our baggage and then take a cheap taxi to a hotel in the city. Our choice of hotel had a lot to do with the availability of an early check-in rate that allowed us to crash out in our room at 7am. It was good to escape the heat – it was already hot and forecast to hit 37 degrees in the afternoon.

The other benefit of our hotel was a rather splendid rooftop terrace with a stunning view of the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world. The Burj Khalifa was inaugurated in 2010 and has a recorded height of 828m (2,717ft) and more than 160 stories. The record might not last that much longer as the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia is expected to reach a height of 1km (3,281ft) when construction is completed in 2021.

The view of the Burj Khalifa from our hotel

Early in the planning process I imagined that we would check out the Etihad Museum, the historical district and the Burj Khalifa. As the trip drew closer we pared this back, balking at the cost of the high level views from the Burj Khalifa, then wrote off almost everything after discovering that our energy and engagement levels had been zapped. It seemed that holiday mode had been well and truly switched off, so we just took it easy from that point on.

The wind-down included one of the most enjoyable meals that I can remember – a ‘Fifty flavours of Vietnam’ brunch at Hoi An, a Vietnamese restaurant located in the Shangri-La. The combination of superb food, a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere and exceptional service from every waitress made for a perfect couple of hours. Just what we needed at this point of the trip.

On being seated we were presented with a menu and at first expected that we would need to choose. Instead, waitresses brought out small dishes of every starter from the menu, followed by a traditional noodle soup with chicken, then small dishes with every main (including an exquisite and incredibly tasty portion of sea-bass marinated in onion and ginger) served with a large bowl of fried rice and finally a couple of desserts. I guess you could say that it was a bit like a Vietnamese tapas or an 18 course banquet.

The Dubai Metro

Although we didn’t go to the top of the Burj Khalifa we certainly got a terrific view of the building from the rooftop terrace of our hotel as the sun set and the lights of the city switched on. It was ever so slightly terrifying looking over the edge and down to the Dubai Metro line crossing the spaghetti like tangle of the motorway!

Our time in Dubai might not have been as packed as we expected, but this proved to be the perfect chill out ahead of our final leg – an eight hour flight to London.


A little luck in Dubai

Posted in Dubai, United Arab Emirates by folkestonejack on March 30, 2019

Our travels had brought us to Dubai Terminal 3 at the mid-way point on a journey to New Zealand to visit family and see a little more of the country. The first leg, from London Gatwick to Dubai, saw us arrive perfectly on time and in a suitably exhausted state for a night’s recovery in the airside Dubai International Hotel. However, opening the curtains the following morning brought the unwelcome sight of thick fog and the news that many flights had been severely delayed or even cancelled.

Our Emirates A380 for the journey from Dubai to Auckland

The Emirates flights covering the 8,823 miles to and from Auckland are among the longest commercial flights in the world. The outbound leg from Dubai tends to be a little shorter, clocking in at just over 16 hours, compared to 17 hours for the return. If you travel to and from New Zealand you will probably flown plenty of long flights, but somehow the extra couple of hours on this routing pushes me through a psychological barrier. In short, I have been dreading this leg of our travels for some time!

The in-bound flight from Auckland (EK449) this morning had been diverted to Dubai World Central International Airport due to the fog, followed by a 22 minute flight between the Dubai airports that effectively saw it arrive at the right airport three and a half hours late. Taking that into account, along with the many other delayed flights on the boards, we felt extremely lucky to be boarding more or less on time. Although our flight (EK448) left around 90 minutes late, most of that time was recovered and we landed just 20 minutes behind schedule.

Landing in Auckland

The flight was made considerably less painful by a late upgrade that gave us a little more space and the novelty of drinking cocktails in the bar on the upper deck mid-flight. As a once-in-a-lifetime experience it was pretty neat and ensured that we were a little fresher than usual when we stepped off the plane and into the welcoming arms of family in the terminal. Time to chill out and relax!

One day in Abu Dhabi

Posted in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates by folkestonejack on November 2, 2017

Our travels have brought us to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, for a one day stopover. It was not a destination I had ever planned to visit but proved to be an intriguing place to spend a little time.

The schedule gave us a full day to explore the city between an early morning arrival on an Etihad Airways A380 from London and a late night onward flight on to Bangkok, with a little sleep at a conveniently located airport hotel (Premier Inn). My challenge was to string together a selection of sights that would keep my heat-averse travelling companion satisfied and my sanity intact!

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

My normal instinct is to get around by public transport but after consulting the timetables I realised that our itinerary was only going to work by hopping from sight to sight by taxi. Thankfully, these are plentiful and inexpensive. The first of these took us from the airport to the stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in plenty of time to join the first walk up tour of the day, before the worst of the heat.

Although you can wander around the mosque on your own, the tours organised by the mosque take you to areas off the main walking route and provide some fascinating facts about this modern marvel. Our tour guide, Aisha, helped us appreciate the astonishingly beautiful detail of the building and understand the reasoning behind aspects of the design that would otherwise have passed us by.

The mosque was completed just ten years ago but in a short space of time has become one of the most iconic images of the emirate. The first sight of the 82 domes and 4 minarets is enough to astound, yet that is nothing compared to the beauty of the interior. The first indication of this came on stepping inside the arcades with their 1096 columns, each inlaid with semi-precious stones. Beyond that, through some pretty cool sliding doors, we came to the foyer and prayer hall.

The largest chandelier to be found in a mosque

The main prayer hall is quite simply stunning from floor to ceiling with highlights being the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet and largest chandelier to be found in a mosque. The carpet, which used a considerable quantity of New Zealand wool, was heavier still – it weighed in at 40 tons before it was shaved to create prayer lines. In contrast, the chandelier seems relatively light at around 12 tons and even includes a hidden internal staircase for the cleaners!

Aside from the obvious cultural highlights of the mosque I was fascinated to discover that one of the minarets contains a library. Indeed, the only library to be housed in a minaret. The collection holds some 7,000 titles and uses Library of Congress classification and AACR2. Strange to find something so familiar in such an unexpected setting.

A view of the Emirates Palace from Observation Deck 300

After leaving the mosque we found it easy enough to pick up a taxi from the parking lot (a queue of taxis were ready and waiting). Twenty minutes later we arrived at the Etihad Towers complex for Observation Deck 300, a viewing platform on the 74th floor that offers superb views of Abu Dhabi’s cityscape, startlingly blue waters and surrounding islands. Sights visible from the 360 degree gallery included the Marina Mall (2001), Emirates Palace (2005) and UAE Presidential Palace (2016). Our 85 AED tickets included a 50 AED refreshments voucher which covered a couple of mocktails.

We didn’t have to stray too much further for our lunch, heading to the Rosewater restaurant on the second floor of the complex for a luxury buffet, a bit of a splurge at AED 192 per person when the service charge, municipality fee and tourism fee were added in. However, it was well worth the price – an impressive spread, wonderful flavours and superb quality.

After lunch we took a taxi across town to Qasr Al Hosn, a stone fortress constructed in 1761 that was formerly the royal palace. The historic site is currently undergoing restoration but next door you can visit a rather wonderful exhibition which tells the story of Abu Dhabi and its people. The video captures from the older generation were fascinating, especially the tale of how to treat Scorpion bites by cutting out the affected area and squeezing out the poison. Yikes!

A section from the intimidating gates that led into the fortress

It only took us around half an hour to walk through the museum but in that time we learnt so much. I was particularly taken by a series of photographs tracing the transformation of Abu Dhabi city over the decades, revealing just how recent the towering developments have been. In the 1980s the fortress was relatively un-overlooked whereas now skyscrapers look down from all sides. The final two rooms showcase some clever audio-visuals that bring the history up to date and reveal the plans for the future.

The final stop on our air-conditioned day of sightseeing brought us to Dalma Mall, thirty two minutes away by taxi, for a game of glow in the dark mini-golf which was a fun way to round off the day before heading back to the airport by taxi (easily picked up from the front of the mall).

It was great to get a little taste of the city, so different to anywhere else that I have been. Unfortunately, we were a week too early to see Jean Nouvel’s stunning Louvre Abu Dhabi but it’s good to have something to go back for…