4/12/10 - 9/12/10 28 °C
Our last evening in Istanbul was very pleasant as we visited a place called The Han Restaurant where we sat on the floor among a pile of pillows and ate our traditional meal from a low table while drinking local beer. After this wonderful experience we made our way back to the hotel to start packing for the first leg of the trip home.
We awoke Sunday to a freezing and overcast day (predicted top of 11oC with blustery wind) which was OK as we’d had such good weather for most of our trip. It was time to leave the European continent for the final time so Liz was not happy and used every excuse possible to avoid discussion or activity that would mean she had to go home (for some reason she doesn’t want to go back to work). Eventually, with much prodding, she was packed and ready to go and we took our transfer to the airport – supplied by our hotel. The AND Hotel was excellent with a well appointed rooms, great location and very friendly and helpful staff.
At the airport we had to go through security as soon as we entered the terminal; I was questioned about a small fruit knife in the baggage I was going to check in and Liz kept setting off the metal detector (we think it was the underwire in her bra!) but eventually got through. On check-in Liz joked with the staff, kindly volunteering for an upgrade to help them out - a guy from Emirates was staying at our hotel and said that our flight was full. Passport control was crowded but straightforward, although Liz was trying lots of ploys to avoid leaving (“I’ve lost my passport, I didn’t get my passport back when we gave it over at the border on the way in”, and so on…) and I was thinking about getting security to assist in removing her from the country but a quick body search soon revealed her passport. We grabbed a light lunch and used the last of our Turkish Lira in the Duty Free shop before making our way to the check-in gate where we needed to go through another security check – this time I was fine but Liz set off the detector again.
We arrived at the gate and were very surprised and pleased when the staff gave us our new boarding passes, yes they upgraded us to Business Class!! They called the First and Business Class passengers to board straight away so off we went leaving the “peasants”, aka economy passengers, behind to queue. Arriving at our seats (you know the one’s we usually salivate over as we go past on our way to cattle class), where we had heaps of overhead baggage space and massive seats that reclined all the way with motorised footrests, lumber support etc. As soon as we sat we were offered some champagne and checking out all the controls while we waited for the rest of the plane to load. As soon as we lifted off we were given hot towels and then they started feeding us a continuous stream of snacks, food and wine for the next four hours. I had decided I was going to accept everything they offered (except the Turkish and Arabic newspapers) and Liz tried to keep up but in the end when they offered her a hand dipped chocolate she was so full she refused!
Our flight from Istanbul to Dubai was only four hours but we milked it for all it was worth. Just prior to touch down we were given our fast track passport/customs pass and once on the ground we disembarked first – luxury. The fast track line at passport control was quick and then reality struck as we waited at the baggage carrousel – our bags were the last to be unloaded (no Business Class tags for priority) and then when we went through the “Nothing to declare exit” at customs but then we were randomly selected and screened anyway (luckily no problems).
We had organised a transfer to our hotel a few weeks previously when we booked the hotel, however there wasn’t anyone to meet us at the airport so Liz called and was told they had no record of the request. They suggested we take a cab as it would only cost about 40 dirham (UAE Dollars). We got to the taxi OK but the driver wasn’t sure of the location of the hotel so asked another driver and still managed to take us on an 80 dirham ride to the other side of the city and the wrong hotel (same hotel group), which we didn’t know until we tried to check-in. Liz was getting worked up by now and after an intense discussion with the hotel they managed to find a driver to come and collect us. So after getting off the plane at 9.30pm we actually arrived at the hotel at about 12.20am. Oh well.
You’d think that would be enough for one night but no, upon settling in our room Liz tried to turn a light and blew the entire light circuit. So she called reception and they sent up a man who fiddled for a while and reset the breakers so we had some lights. It was after that we decided that we should go to bed; I went to have my shower but guess what? Only lukewarm water but I let it go as by now it was after 1.00am.
Monday morning we started very slowly because of our late night, Liz thought that perhaps the hot water issue would have rectified itself by now so she tried the shower but still no hot water. This is when she snapped and called reception and asked for the duty manager to come to our room. A few minutes later he arrived with the concierge, bell boy, head of housekeeping and another guy. Liz set about letting them know how unimpressed she was with the lack of hotel organisation and poor maintenance, (also lack of towels I forgot to mention previously), and now there was no hot water! The duty manager was extremely apologetic and proceeded to check a switch near the bathroom door clearly labeled “water heater” asking if we’d turn the hot water heater on? Very red faced we said no! Apologies flew in both directions and everything seemed to be settled as they left. Only half an hour later an impressive fruit basket was delivered courtesy of the management and the water was hot so Liz was a happy camper.
It was almost midday before we left the hotel; we’d spent some time booking a few tours at the tour desk in the lobby. We walked to the “creek” which runs through centre of the city and happened upon a guy touting for a creek tour (Liz thought he may have been an illegal operator) but we took him up on the offer. It was a great way to view the city as we slowly motored along the creek checking out the boats along the banks, from ancient dhows to state of the art motor cruisers, and viewing the new buildings – even the old buildings are only about thirty years old. After the cruise we checked out the textile souks (markets) near the creek and like markets everywhere they tried very hard to get you into their store and sell you everything they could.
We needed to rush back to the hotel to be in time to be collected for our tour. This was difficult because it was hot, 28oC – so it took it out of us. Finally we made it back to the hotel but upon arrival we were told that there was a change to the original plans and we’d be doing the City Tour now and the Desert Tour tomorrow evening. So a very quick drink and we were piled into a mini bus and off to visit the city.
Over a four hour period we visited a number of places including:
• Jumeirah Mosque – the most photograph building in the city, also one of the oldest (31 years – in Turkey we saw Mosques that were build in the 1500’s, this city is very new!)
• The sandy beaches of Jumeirah.
• Burj Al Arab, one of the few seven star hotels that exist in the world. It was designed to resemble a billowing sail. It soars to 321m and really dominates the beach front.
• We had a quick trip across palm island (first man-made island in the UAE and in the shape of a palm tree) and a visit to the Atlantis Hotel (massive 1500 room hotel with water park – Aquaventure), Dolphin Bay, and The Lost Chamber (65,000 specimen aquarium with Atlantean relics and ruins).
• The Dubai Marina
• Drive by of the Skeikh’s Palace
• Visit to the world’s largest mall (The Dubai Mall) and the world’s tallest building (Burj Dubai – 800m high), where we watched a fountain light and music show)
Tuesday was a busy day as we’d organized a couple of tours and wanted to do some last minute duty free Dubai shopping before our flight home the next day. Firstly we were booked for a tour and breakfast at the most iconic hotels in Dubai; the Burj Al Arab. This internationally renowned hotel sits right on the coast at Jumeirah and looks like a sail – complete with helipad off the side. While not a hugely tall hotel, especially by Dubai standards, it is one of the few seven star hotels in the world.
We were picked up from our hotel and driven to the Burj Al Arab which was a good start but we hit a snag as the drive had copied the reservation number down incorrectly and the security at the gate wouldn’t let us through. Eventually it was solved with some common sense put into practice. Once at the hotel we had been told to go to reception and they would organise the guided tour. Snag number two - the hotel doesn’t organize tours (tour companies should supply their own guides to take visitors around the public areas) but Tanya at reception took us up to the next level and explained about where we could go within the hotel, how to get there (some elevators only went to restaurants or accommodation area and some were express to the top) and most importantly how to get to the breakfast restaurant.
So we made our way through the public areas visiting firstly the lobby which is very elaborate and has a number of fountains as well as a massive atrium (hidden behind the massive white ‘sail’ seen in all the photos. Secondly we visited the Al Muntaha Restaurant which is located 200m above the Persian Gulf, offering a panoramic view of Dubai. It is supported by a full cantilever that extends 27m from either side of the mast, and is accessed to a panoramic elevator. The other main restaurant, the Al Mahara ("Oyster"), is located on the bottom floor and is accessed via a simulated submarine voyage, it features a large seawater aquarium, holding almost one million litres of water, but we could only view this one from the door as they were setting up for lunch service.
We had a 9.30am breakfast booking which turned out to be the most amazing breakfast of the trip – it was a buffet with first class service throw in. The buffet had 5 areas and included absolutely something for the visitor from every culture – I won’t go into it in detail, it would take too long – let’s just say the chef did a good job with my eggs and Liz’s omelet even delivering it to our table and so did the guy who made me fresh waffles and ice cream (handmade vanilla). Every time you got up to get something from the buffet our waitress would clear the dishes, replace some cutlery and neatly fold out linen napkins before asking us if we’d like some more juice. We did get a funny look when we said we didn’t want tea or coffee (but that happens everywhere) but Liz did make the waitress happy by asking for a hot chocolate instead which was delivered in a small pot with enough for 2 cups. We really took our time over a delicious and truly unique breakfast.
So we’d had our self guided tour and breakfast and now it was time to leave. Our driver had given us a card with a phone number for our pickup and told us that reception would call for us but by now we were a little skeptical. Luckily Tanya was still on the desk and she was more than keen to make the call for us. She rang the tour company and proceeded to firmly discuss their interesting tour offerings to her hotel (boy was she good!) and organised our pickup. She then walked us to the car chatting with Liz (who had told her that she taught hospitality and how good Tanya was at her job).
Once back at the hotel we quickly got organized and grabbed a taxi to go to the gold and spice souk (markets) where we looked about and were amazed at the amount of gold and silver that existed in such a small area – we even saw guys weighting small gold bars (about 15cm long, 5 cm wide and 2cm thick) in his small shop. Having wandered around for a while and soaked up the sights and sound it was another taxi ride back to the hotel to get ready for our desert safari tour.
The desert safari is, according to everyone and everything you read, is a must do when you travel to Dubai. It involves driving about an hour south of Dubai in a Landcruiser and then going off road through the dunes. Our driver envisioned himself as the next world rally champion as he flew along the road on the way out of the city (if we’d had wings we would have achieved liftoff) and then really flew when driving on the sand, up and over large dunes, across the side of them and smashing down drop-offs (I wouldn’t want to buy these cars second-hand). When I think back about it I should have known it would be rough because the car had a specially fitted roll cage and the brochures all talked about dune bashing – I think the dunes have been bashed into submission!
After dune bashing for about 40 minutes I felt like a James Bond martini (for the uninitiated shaken not stirred), and we made our way to the camp (supposedly one of about 70 that exist in that area of the desert which are use by tourist groups) where we spent the rest of the daylight riding a camel, Liz getting a henna tattoo, and relaxing whilst soaking up the atmosphere waiting for dinner and the entertainment. The dinner and entertainment where OK but nothing to get overly excited about and by 7.30pm we were in the car and heading back (about 20 minutes stop at souvenir shop/garage to get the tyres re-inflated for highway travel) and we arrived back at our hotel about 9.00pm.
That evening Ashlee arrived in Dubai to accompany us home to Australia (she realized that the UK is a cold and miserable place in the winter – and the Brits thought they were sending the convicts away to a bad place!) which was wonderful and a great surprise for her brothers and grandparents.
Early Thursday morning we rose and made our way to the airport for our flight home but here we hit another snag as we were seated all over the plane. We’d gone online previously and made our seat allocations and when Ashlee had checked in at London the previous day, the attendant confirmed that we were all seated together for the Dubai to Sydney part of the trip. On checkin at Dubai we found that mysteriously we had all be placed in three different economy sections on the plane. Liz did her best to try and get us all seated together again, she was even willing for all of us to be moved up the business class in order to get those three seats, but to no avail. Eventually she managed to get 2 seats across the aisle from one another in row 31 with Ashlee stuck way up the back in row 49 – both Liz and I made visits to her during the flight.
So after five and bit months we returned to Australia feeling happy but wishing the journey hadn’t ended as it had been so much fun. Hamish met us at the gate and was surprised to see Ashlee with us and we bundled onto the train for the 2 ½ hour journey back to Newcastle where Lachlan was ready to collect us and drive us home to Salamander Bay.
Home at last but there will be a next time!