The UAE, to me, is simply the ‘Desert’. I could not wrap my head around why most people spend several times returning to the ‘Desert’, after all how much of sand can one see!
So in planning our trip, I decided that 6 full days (20 November 2014 – 27 November 2014) would be enough to see the ‘Desert’ and once again the primary driving factor for us visiting the UAE was the fact that the Formula 1 (F1) Grand Prix season was so gripping, that the championship was going down to Abu Dhabi. Since we love combining the F1 with travel, we decided to get our fix of the F1 and at the same time see what all the fuss of the UAE was about.
Note: When you book directly with the F1 organizers, there are many benefits. Tickets from the track organizers are only marginally more expensive than sites like gootickets, bookf1.com, goticketsshop etc. but i think that there is more value for money. Only after booking our flights I had discovered that we had been given tickets for the pit lane walk on Thursday. Had I known that earlier I would have booked the flights a day earlier. Anyway there is always next year.
||Approximate Costs pp
|Pre booked Tours
||F1 GP Tickets
Prices are all in AED
Exchange Rate: R3.00 l 1AED
Note: Once again Googlemaps was used as our navigation system. Cellphone shops are easily found in all of the malls. Sim cards are expensive, expect to pay around 65 AED for the card and an 100 AED for 1 GIG of data.
The first thing that gets your attention, off the plane, is the heat. This was winter but 35 degrees later I felt as if I was in the heart of a South African heat wave. The temperature takes some getting used too, especially since the hotels, cars, and malls are all air conditioned. So there is this constant hot – cold environment that you are exposed too.
We took flight EK 766 as it is an overnight flight from South Africa. It departs at 22.20 and arrives at 08.20 the next morning and it allows you ample time to relax / sleep and be ready to explore.
Dubai has a variety of 5 star hotels at very affordable prices. In choosing a hotel I would advise that you choose the hotel based on the activities e.g. if you want sun, sand and beach then a hotel in the Palm would be the ideal location. We stayed at the JW Marquis Marriott in the business district. We stayed here for a number of reasons, firstly the hotel opened its doors earlier this year, it is the tallest hotel in the world, our aim was to explore Dubai and it is within a 5 minute walk from the metro station.
On arrival, at 10 am, our room wasn’t ready, so we opted to use the complimentary shuttle service provided by the hotel to venture off to the Dubai mall. On entering the vicinity of the mall it’s hard to miss the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world.
The view is so mesmerizing that we opted to have breakfast with it in the background. Looking at the menu, I almost fell of my chair, the food prices were ridiculous. Expect to pay 34 AED for simple plain eggs. That translates to roughly R 102 or about $10. The beautiful decorated muffins can start anywhere from 27 AED.
Mall of Dubai is beautiful on the inside and out. We walked around for almost 3 hours and didn’t even realize the time slip by. Walking from shop to shop, we started sampling the food, we had a taste of milkshakes from Kim Kardashans, Millions of Milkshakes store, then shared a slice of divine cheesecake, from the Cheesecake Factory, oh so yum. We stopped off at Project Cupcake and passed by Lauduree, where they sell the world’s best macaroons.
After all that eating, we decided to head back to the hotel and check in.
After a bit of relaxation, we headed out for supper to JBR walk. We took the metro. The card costs 25 AED. You have a choice of silver card or a gold card. The card is free and the 25 AED is loaded onto the card for trip use. The gold card allows you to sit in a special compartment, but each trip costs more. We chose the sliver card as we were still toying with the idea of renting a car. In retrospect we should have chosen the gold card. The metros are packed with the working class and you can barely breathe inside.
Grateful to exit the metro and be able to breathe again, we sat down at a restaurant called Chillies. The food was fantastic! The portions are so large so rather share unless you have a huge appetite. The pricing was also much lower than the prices we paid at Dubai mall.
After supper we headed out to Marina walk. This time we took the tram. Same scenario! We should have really taken that gold card! At the Marina, we walked around absorbing the evening beauty of Dubai.
We decided to relax at Steffano’s were we could enjoy the evening views over a Shisha ‘special’. The special costs 75AED and it lasts for two hours. I was so fascinated by the dedicated Shisha men who walked around with hot coal pots replacing the coals on the Shisha as they went off. I need to get one of those I thought!
After a full first day we headed back to the hotel, this time soliciting the services of a cab.
Day 2 started with a fantastic buffet at the hotel. Breakfasts at the hotel cost 280 AED pp, but luckily we had this included in our stay. We decided that with two day’s of driving to Abu Dhabi for the qualifying and Formula 1 race, a hired car would be our best option. The car rental costs 1100 AED for 7 days. When renting a car ensure, you have a copy of your ID, passport and international drivers licence that can be acquired from your local AA store. Do not rent a car from the airport as it is almost double the price rather rent from it from the hotel as the prices are more competitive. With fuel being around 1.75 AED/ Litre I would definitely advise the car hire route. I feel that more of a country can be seen when hiring a car. It’s important to note that they do drive on the right hand side of the road.
On entering Abu Dhabi we decide to visit the Sheik Zayed Mosque. I had read up on this incredible mosque before our trip and I knew this was something that I just had to see. The mosque was built with the intention of seeking positive interaction with other cultures.
On entering the mosque you are asked to collect an Abaya, which is a long closed cloak, from the administration building. There is no charge but they require a drivers licence or some sort of ID to be left on collection.
Since our friends were of Muslim faith, they showed us the process of wudhu (ablution), the procedure for washing parts of the body using water and explained the reason they do so. I stand corrected but my understanding is that on the day of resurrection Muhammad would be able to recognise his people from the white marks on the forehead and feet created by wudhu. It is also stated that those who do ablution well would be able to eradicate oneself of sins through daily washing.
After completing wudhu, we entered the mosque. I cannot describe its beauty not even the photos do it justice, the energy is just amazing, it’s something you have to experience yourself.
On either ends of the main Entrance there are two small hall looking rooms. They only have carpet. We sat and prayed it was I highly uplifting and spiritual experience.
After our spiritual stop we headed to the track. We have been to many races but I have to compliment Abu Dhabi on the event organization and management. Parking was easily marked, at every corner there were people to assist and direct fans. The staff were so friendly and helpful. Once again we opted for the pit straight seating as our friends were attending the F1 for the first time. I always feel that ‘first timers’ should experience the race start, race finish and the pit stops, it gives them he maximum adrenalin rush of attending an F1. The twilight qualifying was phenomenal. The only other race that comes close to this one is the Singapore night race. I was slightly disappointed as Lewis didn’t get pole.
After the high of the qualifying we headed to the Abu Dhabi Marina mall for supper. It’s situated on another island and took about about 40 minutes to get there.
We had supper at a restaurant called Hatam. Hatam is a beautiful Persian/Iranian designed restaurant that produces mouth-watering dishes. Don’t order too many starters as most of them are on the house. The food was very fairly priced; we paid 250 AED for 4. Stuffed to capacity, we headed back to the hotel. The eight laned highways look even more beautiful at night when its lit up.
Race day! Excitement instilled us from the early morning. We tried our best to get to the track early but with all the late nights it was impossible. We got to Abu Dhabi by 12 and decided to kill two birds with 1 stone. We were going to visit Ferrari world! Yay! We parked at the race track and took a bus to the YAS mall. This was also provided by the YAS Marina circuit free of charge. Once we got to the ticketing station we realized that this would take an entire day. As much as we would love to do this at 250 AED pp it did not make sense to enter the park for an hour.
To bridge the time we decided to grab lunch. Since the mall had just opened very few restaurants were open for trade. We decide to eat once again at Chillies. The food was once again great!
We got to the track at 3. We had missed the driver’s parade. We sat in the hot sun for almost an hour before the race began. For the first time I experienced the heat of the Middle East. The race was fantastic, once again organization and event management at its best! I love the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 and would advise anyone who wants to experience a Grand Prix to attend this one. Lewis won! Would be amazing to meet him Maybe next time
P.S I know I’m wearing a Ferrari top, the Mercedes ones are just not as beautiful as the Ferrari tops.
After the race we returned to the Dubai mall to continue our celebrations and have what was now becoming my daily dose of Shisha. The view of the Burj ,at night, is spectacular!
The late nights were now starting to catch up, so we slept in and barely made breakfast at 10.30. We took the shuttle to Dubai mall and done some shopping.
In the evening we headed to the old town. We used the car but parking was such an issue. You can, as an alternative, take the metro and exit at Al Ras Metro Station in Deira using the green line. No visit to Dubai can be complete without a visit to the souks. We continued shopping at the various souks (markets). At the Knife souk, costume jewellery, perfumes scarfs and make up can be found in abundance and the prices are relatively cheap but you need to be prepared to bargain hard. You can pay almost 40 per cent off the original asking price.
The Gold souk is a must. Never in my life have a passed through rows and rows of shops with beautifully designed gold jewellery. I am not a fan of gold but it’s hard to resist its obvious beauty.
After the excessive shopping at the souks we headed down to the river for a dhow ride. Once again parking was a nightmare. The dhow costs 1 AED pp, the gentle movement of being carried on wooden boat is very relaxing. We ended up in Bir Dubai and engaged in more shopping! At the end of the evening my hands could carry no more and we headed back to the hotel.
The morning started out hectic, we rushed for an early breakfast and took a cab to the mall as the bus service only starts at 9. We were finally going to the Burj, to see the view from the top! It was pretty easy to find the entrance which is near the Bloomingdales home store. We had pre purchased the tickets over the web (www.burjkhalifa.ae) the day before and collected the tickets right next to the entrance elevators of the Burj. Purchasing tickets on the web is the most ideal way to guarantee the time of your viewing.
With a height of over 828 meters together with holding the records for the highest observation deck, the highest habitable floors and the tallest structure, makes this a site that cannot be missed. The view from the top is breath taking, what’s even more astonishing than being on the 122nd floor of the tallest building in the world is that through the telescope you can view the development of the city.
After the excitement of being ‘on the top’ we headed back to the hotel and I decided to try out the spa. I kept reading about the famous Hammam experience (a Turkish bath) and thought I would give it a try.
The treatment costs 850 AED. I was led to an area which has two rooms. The treatment is conducted in both rooms. Firstly the therapist lathered my entire body in olive soap. I was then taken to the steam room and left there for 15 minutes. On return to my room I was scrubbed off. I had a vision, in that moment, of being a young child and my mother vigorously scrubbing my body after playing in the sand. I was quickly brought back to my present environment as warm water was poured over my body. I then indulged in a 30 minute full body massage, infused with rose scents. Feeling refreshed and rejuvenated I returned to my room to get ready for our pre booked tour.
My husband and I were collected at the hotel by the tour company, Ocean Air Travels and we were whisked away in an air-conditioned luxury 4×4 vehicle to the middle of the desert. We opted to pay an additional 20 dollars each to have the vehicle exclusively to ourselves. First stop desert quads. The place is overcrowded and I felt like I was in India at a local bazaar, with people who had no concept of a queue and took advantage of tourists. I opted to buy a scarf, as you are required to wear a helmet that’s probably been worn by several people who have been sweating in the hot desert. The quads are not included in the tour and we had to pay an additional 250 AED for 15 minutes. However, it is important to note that the clock starts when you get the ticket not when you hop on the quad, so we actually only got 10 mins! It was still an amazing experience.
Next stop ‘Desert Safari’. We entered the dunes in convey with 4 other vehicles. These vehicles were from various tour companies so this gave me comfort in knowing that all the tour companies provide a standardized service and we weren’t being ripped off by this tour company in particular.
It was a great idea that we choose the exclusivity of the vehicle as the turns, twists and slides on the dunes could send you crashing into people you don’t know…. That would be quiet uncomfortable. Around half way we stopped to view the sun set. Words cannot describe the moment. It felt like sheer magic to be walking in the sand dunes while the sun set in the background.
We were approached by what looked like an Arabian man walking around with a falcon. We were given the option to hold the falcon and take a picture, for 10 AED. Obviously, I could not pass up the opportunity.
We exited the dunes and proceeded to another desert site where we were welcomed for supper. All alcoholic drinks are charged for. The henna which is a non-permanent tattoo, is also done on a tent on the premises, the standard shapes are not exciting so in the name of enjoying the experience I opted for a longer design for an additional 20 AED. The design is done free hand by the very talent lady.
As we walked around soaking up the atmosphere, I opted to rather remove my shoes instead of being slowed down by the grains rushing in through the open holes. Note to self: next time where shorts and closed shoes. Whilst waiting for supper to be served we decided to have what has now become my daily dose of Shisha. Sitting on the cushions in a Boma styled area, Shisha in hand, under the moonlight with hypnotic music in the background in the middle of the dessert is a once in a lifetime experience.
Dinner was served, it consisted of a nice ensemble of Indian curry with barbequed chicken and lamb skewers, the South African word would be ‘sosatie.’ During supper we were entertained by belly dancers.
Honestly speaking the tour ended up costing much more than the initial $60 pp. and although you know you being ripped off, the experience is still incredible and I would gladly pay the price again to relive the stunning experience.
One would think after the tour we would have called it a night but instead we decided to have light snacks and Shisha at Wafi Gourmet at Dubai mall whilst watching the Dubai Fountain. So the show was a bit of disappointment, although the lights were mesmerizing it was over in 10 minutes, I guess after seeing the lights at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and this being Dubai I expected something much… ‘longer’…. I know… I know such an anti-climax exactly how I felt.
After supper my friend informed me that she had met a Brazilian crew and cast who were filming in Dubai and was invited to the set to watch the soapie being filmed. Although I have been to Hollywood set, I have never seen a set on location. We opted to tag along with her especially since it was being filmed at a well renowned hotel at the Palm.
On entry into the palm a feeling of excitement filled me as I realized that part of the bridge that we were driving under, was actually under water. I think the Palm itself needs a dedicated day or two! The excitement of watching the set being filmed soon wore off, as firstly, I don’t speak Portuguese and secondly, each take took forever, but not to ruin my friends obvious excitement we decided to let her enjoy it and we took a cab back to the hotel. The cab can cost roughly 50 AED from the Palm to Business Bay. I was happy to end the exhausting but fun day.
We decided to take our last day at an easy pace and found ourselves viewing Dubai’s outlet mall; I didn’t find the outlet mall too exciting. However if you must go, pass by the entrance because I found the best ice cream in the world, Turkish ice cream! It’s not just the ice cream it’s the way he makes it and serves you that completes the experience.
We also visited the local Chinese mall but I didn’t find it very different to the ones we have in South Africa. Think the Chinese malls are quiet becoming standardized. We left the malls empty handed.
Now, let’s talk about our last meal! Food throughout the trip had been incredible, but surely we saved the best for last!
The Cheesecake Factory
The prices on the menu are on the expensive side but each and every item that we ordered from the menu was cooked to perfection!
We ended the evening sitting outside Wafi Gourmet and having our old faithful Shisah and watching the sunset, I think a fitting end to our trip.
We woke up feeling like there’s still so much to do:
- Experience Sky diving in Dubai
- Spending a day at the Palm
- Spending a day at the World
- Relaxing on the beach
- Visiting the clubs
- Enjoying Water world
- Visiting Ferrari world in Abu Dhabi
- Spending more time smoking Shisha!
Dubai and Abu Dhabi can be explained as cities of glamour, glitz and technical innovation in the Middle East! I almost want to say that it’s the new Europe!
We left UAE with a promise to return
Coming up in January: Food for my Soul: An Indian Journey!
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