Yet another postcard from Dubai

It was early February and once again we were in Dubai, ostensibly to attend an exhibition onto which we’d tagged a few days’ vacation. Although it had been sunny at home, it had been very cold and a bit of warmth is always much appreciated at this time of year.

Twin Towers: one’s a hotel, the other’s government offices

We’d returned to one of our favourite hotels, one stop on the Metro from the World Trade Centre where the exhibition is being held. I had booked the flight and hotel well in advance, using soon-to-expire miles to upgrade to Business Class, as I knew it’d be my beloved’s first long-haul flight after his hip replacement. As they say: “The early bird catches the worm.” In this case, it was a great deal on the hotel room and flight.

The Museum of the Future under construction nearby

This time last year I’d watched the week-long Dubai Tour which has now been folded into the UAE Tour, starting later in the month. With no cycling to watch, what was I to do? How would I entertain myself?

Dubai embracing Chinese New Year

While my beloved worked, I whiled away my days around the pool, on the beach at Jumeirah or in the bookshop. Shopping holds little allure, particularly now the same shops are everywhere. I’m a huge disappointment to my two siblings, both dedicated shoppers. However, the opportunity to spend hours in a bookshop with English language books is too golden to pass up, plus this one in the Dubai Mall has one of the biggest selections of cookery books I’ve ever seen. And, yes, a few made it back to France in my luggage.

The fountains only dance at night, floodlit

Usually, during the exhibition I’ll join my beloved, and any clients, for dinner in the evening. But this time he had a colleague lecturing at the exhibition so I left the pair of them to entertain the clients.  This enabled me to chill all day and enjoy a spot of me time. Such a treat!

Like France, the UAE is big on civic art

I decided some pampering was in order, including a pedicure at a local beauty salon where I was the only Westerner. I was shocked at how rude the Middle Eastern customers were to the largely Eurasian staff. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you is my motto.

Hotel lobby early morning, embracing Saint Valentine’s Day

Of course, once the exhibition was over, I got my beloved all to myself. Typically in the evenings we’d dine at a few of our favourite spots plus try a few new ones. Thursday evening is the start of the week-end in Dubai and we managed to secure the last table at a restaurant adjacent to the hotel where we considerably upped the average age of its clientele!

You never know who you’ll bump into in Dubai!

It was a largely Mediterranean style menu with Asian overtones. We had a fantastic meal, definitely another one for our list. The only slight downside was the music. We loved their selection but it was way too loud, too loud to talk over. And, although we’ve been married for more years than I care to own up to, we still enjoy a good chat over dinner.

Brunching

The following day, I’d booked brunch at one of our regular haunts, the nearby Ritz Carlton. As you know, my beloved and I are keen brunchers. We brunch all over the world. This was on a par with its sister hotel in Chicago but with better weather and a BBQ. The seafood was superb and I much enjoyed the lobster. The trick with brunch is to wear comfortable clothing; I favour trousers with either loose or elasticated waists. You also need to pace yourself.

Lotus eating in style on Jumeirah Beach

We spent our last week-end largely lazing on the beach. The temperature was just perfect and it was fun watching the bird life. Aside from the gulls and ubiquitous pigeons, there were some hugely amusing song birds and one with an orange bum and Elvis quiff. I suspect the birds were on the lookout for leftovers from beachside snacks but most days there were slim pickings. The staff would quickly dart out to pick up the used plates as soon as any customers finished eating. Didn’t stop the birds circling, probably more in hope than expectation.

Not a bad view from the bedroom window

As you know, I love sunsets and sunrises. There’s something quite magical about sitting on a really sandy beach  – ours at home is stoney – to watch the setting sun. One minute the world’s aglow and the next minute the sun’s slipped below the horizon and darkness reigns.

Burj Al Arab from Mina A’Salam

Dubai lit up at night is also a sight worth seeing with its most prominent buildings lit up against the skyline. Although there are plenty of magnificent skyscrapers, my favourite buildings are the mosques with their traditional carved sandstone or tiles exteriors, domes and minarets. I also love hearing the haunting, five-times a day call to prayer.

Forthcoming delights

We’ve made many visits to Dubai over the years but have never ventured to Abu Dhabi. This time we visited both the Blue Mosque and the Louvre, but those visits are tales for subsequent posts.

Postcard from Dubai: 5 places I visited

I’ve visited Dubai plenty of times, largely for business with a few days of pleasure tacked on. This time my beloved’s Dental Exhibition coincided with the Tour of Dubai – how great is that? – giving me my first taste of live racing this season. We stayed in the same hotel as at this time last year. It’s in a great location, reasonably priced, with truly helpful staff, all the amenities you could need, large clean airy rooms and, even better, I scored an upgrade.

I did help my beloved assemble his stand, it’s not something you can do on your lonesome but thereafter headed off to watch the cycling where he joined me for its last two stages.

1. Sky Dive Dubai

The six days of racing started each day from Sky Dive Dubai which is near to the Dubai Marina, a 30-45 minute trip by Metro, tram and shank’s pony from where I was staying. However, I didn’t mind as I had a great view of the ongoing developments en route. I’d not previously visited Sky Dive Dubai which, as its name suggests, is for sky diving – not something I’ve ever fancied trying. We witnessed an aerial diving show on the Saturday with some divers gently floating to earth while others plummeted out of the sky. The latter have discouraged me from even contemplating having a go.

Each day’s stage start was held here. It’s a dead-end road beside the Marina, with large grassy areas and an outdoor gym which is popular with joggers, dog walkers and gym bunnies. None of whom seemed much interested in their space being colonised by loads of fit guys in lycra. The teams were all staying in the nearby 5* Westin Hotel having been flown in Club Class on Emirates. A nice treat for guys more used to Ibis, Kyriad  – and that misnomer  – Premiere Classe hotels and EasyJet steerage.

The area also provided a fitting backdrop for the racing particularly with the skyscrapers looming out of the early morning mist. The facilities in the start zone were excellent and aimed at encouraging families to spend the day watching the action on the big screen while the kids amused themselves on a variety of attractions. There were also plenty of food and sponsors’ stands. In truth you could count the spectators on the fingers of one hand in the days leading up to the week-end but the locals came out in their hordes on Friday and Saturday (Arab week-end).

2. Kinokuniya Bookshop – Dubai Mall

Easily one of my favourite shops in Dubai and one of my favourite bookshops worldwide. That’s praise indeed as my first port of call anywhere is generally a book store. My two younger sisters would be horrified to learn this was the only shop I visited in Dubai.

Kinokuniya is a Japanese owned group with shops in Japan, USA, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, Taiwan and Dubai. The shop in the Dubai Mall is a whopping 6,500 square metres and it stocks more than half a million books and over a thousand magazines in English, Arabic, Japanese, French, German and Chinese. It also has a wonderful selection of stationery – another of my weaknesses. It has the largest selection of cookery books I have ever seen and I can happily spend  – and did – hours browsing through the various sections. I had deliberately left plenty of room in my luggage to bring back a few books which naturally enough included two cookery books – a girl can never have enough!

3. The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC

This hotel is just a block from where we were staying. We ate in one of its many restaurants last time and this time had two very enjoyable meals in its Bar Belge. Now, if I like it so much why didn’t I stay in it? Experience has taught me that when I’m watching live racing, and my beloved is working at an exhibition, we spend very little time in the hotel and are unable to enjoy its many benefits. So why pay for them?

Both times we ate early to benefit from Bar Belge’s Happy Hour prices and much enjoyed our seafood dinners which were no more expensive than at our own hotel. On our second meal there we struck up a conversation with our waiter who came from Bangalore, a city my beloved knows well, about cricket and his mother’s search for a suitable bride for him. He very kindly gave Richard a freebie dessert of Belgian waffles, speculoos ice cream and warm chocolate sauce.

4. City Walk

The final day’s stage of the Dubai Tour finished in City Walk, an area we’d not previously visited, just a short stroll from our hotel and the Dubai Mall. Walking anywhere in Dubai tends to be tricky, most people drive or take a cab, but I like to walk and am undeterred by the pavements that end abruptly the wire fencing down the middle of many roads.

City Walk has a distinctly European vibe probably catering for Dubai’s large expatriate community and I felt quite at home with many familiar names such as Galleries Lafayette, BHV Marais and so on…….Again, it’s a family friendly area with plenty of attractions for all ages.

5. Al Hallab

My beloved’s clients in Dubai originally hailed from Syria and, last time, they introduced us to a fabulous Syrian restaurant a couple of blocks from our hotel but, sadly, it has moved and neither they or we know where it has moved to. Their default restaurant is a Lebanese one with four locations in Dubai that serves equally fabulous food.

Arabs love groaning tables, do not expect or even try to finish everything. You need to leave something to demonstrate their generosity. Because I don’t eat meat, they order me a load of separate dishes which I couldn’t hope to finish even if my beloved decided to help me out. Fortunately, my regime excuses me from dessert. We’ve now eaten at three of the four branches and they’re all equally excellent.

Of course, there’s loads more to see and do in Dubai aside from the short list above.

Postcard from Dubai: Part II

The heavens opened as we drove to Melbourne airport for the first leg of our journey home. The intensity of the storm was such that our flight, coming from Auckland, was diverted to Adelaide and finally set down in Melbourne some five hours late. By this time, having eaten a light meal and read all the magazines, I had fallen asleep in the Emirates lounge. Once on board, I was back in the land of nod about 10 minutes after take off wearing my “do not disturb under any condition”  sticker on my bedcover. I had even skipped my usual glass of bubbly. Swathed in my cashmere wrap, eye patch on and earphones in, I slept for a good eight hours before waking, browsing the updated entertainment on offer, listening to a few new albums and taking a stroll down to the A380 bar – surely one of the best reasons for flying Emirates. On a 14 hour flight, the opportunity to walk around and stretch one’s legs is a godsend.

The time soon passed and as two of the few passengers without a connecting flight, we sailed through customs and collected our luggage. I had taken the precaution of booking two cars for our luggage as the van I’d booked on the outbound flight hadn’t materialised and, after wasting 20 minutes or so we’d been loaded  into two cars. This time the staff insisted they could get all our luggage into one car. They tried and they tried but they couldn’t! Saying I told you so in these circumstances affords me no pleasure whatsoever. My taxi driver, clearly the taxi equivalent of a supermarket trolley with a wonky wheel, went rogue and tried to deliver me to a sister hotel, despite me having given him the correct hotel name and address.

Thankfully, despite arriving ahead of check-in, our room was ready and they gave us an upgrade. Before unpacking, my beloved wanted to check on his stand. So we walked down the road to the Trade Centre after a swift beverage at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Lucky that we did, because he was missing two exhibit cases which I then had to pay for in cash. I have my uses. My reward was lunch at a Syrian restaurant just round the corner from where we were staying. The food is not too dissimilar to Lebanese though the spicing is subtly different.

Monday evening, after setting up and readying the stand, we felt too tired to do anything other than watch a spot of tv. After flicking through the channels, we found one showing the final stage of the Dubai Tour aka The Marcel Kittel Slow. The commentary was in Arabic but who cares, it’s cycling. The sole commentator barely paused for breath during the final 25km. We understood little, apart from the riders’ names and places along the route. He was wildly enthusiastic a la Murray Walker and much amused us with his pronunciation of some of the riders’ names. He was clearly conversant with riders such as Viviani, Nibali and Cavendish but had trouble pronouncing others, such as Cobrelli and Degenkolb. Our favourite however had to be “Jungle Bob” better known to most of us as Bob Jungels. We were also tickled by Eeezal Bernaaard, Mooovistar and Quickastepa.

After a good night’s sleep, we rose early to catch up on work. Disaster! The hotel’s WiFi wasn’t working. Fortunately, it was working two doors down where we went for breakfast. We spent the next three days working. Unbeknown to us, the weather was dry but not overly warm or sunny. My beloved’s distributor took us for a splendid dinner in a Lebanese restaurant and we returned to the Syrian restaurant for dinner on our final evening. I managed to fit in a deep tissue back massage where I was pummeled all over. I feel better now but then I could barely hold back the tears, it was so painful.

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All too soon we were up at the crack of dawn for the last leg of our journey home. The five-hour flight was relaxing, I slept through most of it (again). Just after lunch, we were back home to the cold and rain. ‘Fraid so, not even the Cote d’Azur has been left unscathed by the Arctic conditions in Europe. It was great to be back.

Postcard from Dubai: Part I

We eased ourselves into our trip to Australia with a stopover in Dubai. Not our maiden visit by any means, though many of our previous trips there have involved a mixture of business and pleasure. That said, we did spend a wonderfully relaxing Christmas and New Year there in 2003, staying at The One and Only. This time we were only there for four days and, of course, my beloved scheduled a day long business meeting.

Still, that left three days R&R which was just long enough to check on Dubai’s ever-changing skyline, mooch around one of its many malls and indulge in a spot of sunbathing around the pool and down at the beach. It’s no exaggeration to say we’ve already done Dubai. We’ve had many trips into the desert, sailed around Dubai Creek, visited the old town, gold and spice souks, the Palm, and watched the tennis, golf and horseracing. We’ve visited various areas of the city, spent way too much time in the exhibition centre, plus stayed and eaten at lots of hotels and restaurants.

My sisters “discovered” Dubai over 20 years’ ago and they still regard it as the perfect holiday destination, providing that beguiling mix of sunshine and shopping in a safe, 5* environment. It’s true that Dubai has lots of positives including great weather, fantastic hotels, a very safe environment for women on their own and families. Plus, there’s plenty to see and do for the whole family.

Now let’s head back to the start of out trip. As regular travellers, we know the drill at Nice airport but they seemed to have stepped up security since our last visit a week or so ago. Customs deemed my sealed plastic bag of liquid samples to be too large and insisted the contents had to be decanted into a smaller one. Our iPads had to go through Security open and my beloved had to dismantle his camera and lenses. I was tested for traces of explosives. But it’s hard to feel aggrieved when you know it’s for your protection. As anticipated, the Emirates flight passed smoothly and I caught up on all the latest cartoons: Finding Dory, Secret Life of Pets and Kung Fu Panda 3.

In Dubai our upgrade fairy godmother smiled on us again and we lucked out with a junior suite on the Executive floor of the hotel which gave us access to the Executive Lounge where we ate breakfast, afternoon tea, cocktails and canapes for free!  That’s right, we didn’t spend a single dirham outside of the cost of our room!

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The hotel had a shuttle bus to the Dubai Mall where we marveled at the many opportunities to melt one’s credit card. We both quickly tired of the razzle, dazzle shops and, after marvelling at the aquarium, gravitated to the top floor which houses an amazing bookstore with quite possibly the largest collection of cookery books I’ve ever seen, and that’s going some. It leapfrogs over Dymocks in Sydney, Barnes & Noble Union Sq NYC and Waterstones in Picadilly London right into my top spot.

Of course, no trip to the Dubai Mall would be complete without heading outside to watch the fabulous orchestrated fountain display. I now have a confession to make. We’ve never been up the Burj Khalifa largely because I don’t like heights, at all. I spend most of my time in Dubai avoiding those omnipresent glass  lifts and steering clear of floor to ceiling windows.

I lazed around the pool on Sunday while my beloved was at his business meeting. Yes, It’s a working day in Dubai. The lazing about continued over the next two days albeit down at Jumeirah Beach where I paddled along the shoreline and read a few books in the shade. So there you have it, idleness aplenty! All too soon our break was over and  we were on our way to Melbourne.

Unlike last year, we didn’t score an upgrade on the flight to Melbourne, I hope my fairy godmother is saving that for the overnight trip home. This time, having already exhausted the cartoons, I plundered Emirates’ excellent music selection and dozed. I can sleep pretty much anywhere, anytime.

And we’re off

Our trip got off to a great start. We had decided to break our journey overnight at the hotel in the Dubai airport. When we checked in we were upgraded to a suite. Extra space is always welcome but for me the star turn was the massage chair which gave my back and neck a great work out. Just what you need after a longish flight.

After a slap up breakfast for my beloved, and fresh fruit for me, in the gi-normous Emirates lounge, we boarded our flight for Melbourne and were upgraded to first class. This trip just gets better and better.

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My beloved frequently gets upgraded, thanks to his fine array of airline loyalty cards. Our last upgrade together was on an overnight flight from Dubai to Frankfurt where I found myself sitting across the aisle from Rafa Nadal and Uncle Tony. I should add Nadal is smaller and better looking in the flesh than he appears on television, and he has a lovely shy smile.

I first tasted first-class travel back in the mid-80s on a business trip to the Far East and, largely due to competition from the Middle-Eastern airlines, it has since much refined its offering.

When I first flew with Cathay Pacific I have to confess I surveyed the small cloakroom and concluded if you wanted to join the mile high club you’d both have to be contortionists. Well, no longer! I’m delighted to report that the first class facilities on Emirates include no less than two cloakrooms and two bathrooms for 14 flyers, the latter with a shower and dressing room. I’ve had smaller hotel bathrooms. So did we join? That would be telling!

Of course, the real beauty of first-class is SPACE, each seat is a suite. There’s more than enough room for all your bits and pieces, a spacious chair/flat-bed which also provides a variety of in-chair massages, your own bar, snacks, a wide tv screen, WiFi and all the usual bells and whistles you’d expect if you were paying £6,000 (return) for the priviledge. A bit of a bargain since my debut first class flight in 1984 was £2,600. Thank you Emirates, you’ve gotten my birthday trip off onto a fine footing.

Postcards from Dubai I

My days have fallen into a similar and comfortable rhythm. I breakfast with my beloved before he heads off to the exhibition. I spend an hour or so reading all the freebie newspapers, including The Financial Times in the hotel lobby. My enthusiasm undiminished by the proliferation of bad news, I head for the gym to wear off last night’s dinner. A quick hour in the sunshine and then back to the laptop to write a blog entry for Velovoices. She’s a demanding new mistress and, with events coming thick and fast, it’s time-consuming just keeping up, let alone getting ahead. I’m trying to profit in my cycling-club free moments to bank a few blog entries.

Job done, I treat myself to a cup of coffee and a spot of people watching. Dubai’s a fascinating place. Over 85% of the residents hail from elsewhere and I like trying to guess where they’re from. As the various Arab gentlemen stroll around looking quite magnificent in their traditional robes, the kandura, I can tell from their headwear from whence they came.  The ladies are more difficult as most wear a slimming, black abaya, often beautifully decorated with embroidery or crystals.  Many also wear the face concealing niqab, so very handy if you’re having a “bad  hair” day or you’ve an outbreak of spots. However, it’s essential that you find time to do your eye make up so as to look alluringly enigmatic.

I then stroll back to meet my beloved. We discuss his day at the exhibition to the strains of the call to prayer as the sun sets, which I always find quite haunting. Dinner is mostly with clients or friends. We eschew the ubiquitous buffets on offer in many of the hotel restaurants, electing to head out on foot or by monorail to find something more traditional. I enjoy middle-eastern food, why come all this way to eat Italian?

My beloved and I have been visiting Dubai for the past ten years, largely on business trips, and have stayed at a number of different hotels. But, with the horrendous traffic jams, it makes sense to stay as close to the World Trade Centre as possible to ease his working day. I’m quite happy pottering about the area. On previous visits I’ve been into the desert, around the creek, walked along the beach, visited the mosque, watched Nadal play tennis and Tiger Woods play golf, window shopped in the malls, mosied around the gold and spice souks and wandered around the art galleries and traditional village. I can’t claim to have seen and done everything that Dubai has to offer but I’m slowly getting there. Here’s one of my favourite sights, the Burj Khalifa Fountains.

But don’t take my word for it, check out what else Dubai has on offer here:

Interactive map of Dubai

High rise cycling

Krystian Herba World Record Stair Climber

I’m in Dubai for the cycling. Yes, I do know the Tour of Qatar starts next week and, no,  I haven’t got my dates and dunes jumbled.  Extreme Polish cyclist Krystian Herba was in town to break records – Guinness Book of Records. Yesterday, to celebrate the second anniversary of the world’s  tallest hotel, he climbed 2,040 stairs on his bicycle in a new record time. The previous record of 2,008 steps was set four years ago by Zhang Jincheng,  Xavi Casas and Javier Zapata in the Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai, China.

The 30-year old Herba’s attempt was eagerly anticipated and he set off from the hotel lobby at 11am, after a countdown by hotel guests. He then took to the stairs  of the 72 floor hotel on his customised, Euros 5,000  saddles-less ROMET bike and – without setting so much as a toe to the ground – used his upper body to hoist himself and his bike up each flight of stairs.  Accompanied by his eight-strong support team – including his brother – he climbed 23 floors, took the lift back down  – still on his bike – and then climbed a further 68 making a total of 91 flights. He had hoped to achieve this feat in around 1 1/2 hours but he completed the mind-bogglingly strenuous task in 1:13:41!

As soon as he’d achieved his target, Herba somersaulted over his handlebars and landed on his feet to give a dramatic flourish to his amazing achievement and wow the waiting crowd of more than 50 people. He put his strength down to the fact that the hotel restaurant served excellent steak which he’d been eating regularly to build up his strength ahead of his attempt. The hotel’s management were equally delighted with the historical attempt which has garnered many column inches of publicity for the hotel. Adam Krzymowski, the Polish Ambassador to the UAE said

“It is very important for me and the Polish community. I drove all the way from Abu Dhabi just to watch and congratulate him on his efforts.”

After completing the challenge, Krystian Herba said:

“What I just accomplished was a defining triumph in my career and I cannot express how happy I am to be able to get the new world record at Rose Rayhaan by Rotana, the tallest hotel in the world. This is indeed a dream come true for me!”

Herba who’s been riding for 18 years, started stair climbing in 2009 and this is his seventh tower climbing adventure. The others took place in Europe and he’d previously only managed 1,212 steps. So this challenge was a big step up. He’s apparently in talks with both representatives from CN Tower in Toronto and Taiwan’s Taipei 101. But Herba’s set his sights on the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building which is also in Dubai.