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.

Wise words

A very dear and wise friend said we should celebrate we’ve reached the grand old age of 60 without suffering from any serious illnesses, ailments or injuries. Well, there’s no point in receiving words of wisdom if you don’t act on them. Her birthday was the month before mine and she rejoiced in style at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.

Where did we want to spend January? My beloved and I were of one mind – Australia. Now, it’s a big place. You’d need a year to do it justice. We had five weeks, several of which we’d be spending watching cycle races. Now, come on, you didn’t seriously think we’d head Down Under without taking in the first race of the 2016 WorldTour season did you?

My beloved and I both enjoyed our trip to Australia in 2010 for the World Championships when we visited both Melbourne and Sydney. It would be unthinkable not to again include them on our itinerary, plus there’s the Sun Herald Tour and The Great Ocean Race to see. We’re taking our bikes so, even though internal flights in Australia are pretty cheap, we’ll be travelling by car and taking  in some of the coastal scenery and vineyards.

In no time at all, I’d sorted out our itinerary and booked everything. It was time pleasurably well spent. There’s nothing I love more than a spot of planning and preparation while my beloved is just happy to turn up.

We’re staying in a mix of hotels and self-catering apartments so that we won’t have to eat out all the time.  I also needed access to a washing machine to cut down on the amount of clothing for my beloved otherwise he’ll be counting the number of days we’re away and packing the same number of t-shirts, socks and underpants. He does NOT travel lightly.

We’re flying Emirates with an overnight stop in Dubai which should make the length of the flight a bit more bearable. Of course, I’ll spend a lot of the flight sleeping. I have my cashmere blanket, eye mask and headphones which I’ll plug into the music channel, pop on my Do Not Disturb sign, and get my head down. I’m pretty much the perfect frequent-flyer.

If bored, I may scroll through the entertainment options to see if there’s any cartoons I’ve not yet seen. I watched the latest Minions’ movie en route to New York in November – adorable. Surely, it’s time for Toy Story IV or Happy Feet III? Just a suggestion!

By my standards I’ve not organised too much while we’re away as we’ll be out on our bikes as much as possible. I have made a couple of restaurant bookings but some of the ones I wanted to visit have only tasting menus, and not a la carte, none of which meet my specific dietary requirements. However, this won’t be a problem given the vibrant dining scene in Australia.

If the trip is half as much fun as I’ve had planning it, it’ll be fantastic. Anything more will be a bonus.

Postscript: Thanks to iffy WiFi – surely the bane of all travellers – my posts are on delayed transmission.