A Travellerspoint blog

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Pre-trip Chaos

all seasons in one day 20 °C

Two weeks ago during our Caribbean cruise Dave received an urgent e-mail from his old Lafarge Canada boss, who is now Regional President for Lafarge's Aggregate & Concrete operations in the Middle East based in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Long and short Greg wanted to know if Dave would come out of retirement and head up the HR function in his Region for three months until the person designated for the job could be transferred in and take over. After a lot of thought (about 3 seconds) he got back with the "Talk to me" message. To make a very long story short (many changes in the documents they required for a visa, changes in the type of visa, changes in place we will stay) we now have visas and have booked flights to depart for Dubai on April 16th.

We have been madly setting up a new laptop, loading apps on the iPad2 and other technology, getting prescriptions filled, completing income tax filings, renewing expiring credit cards, getting the house organized and looked after, lawns and beds cleaned up from winter and ready for spring, organizing bill payments, cancelling the paper, researching the culture, weather, and geography of the UAE and trying to tie up any loose ends. We are sure that we will have missed some things - but hopefully nothing that will cause much damage.

Posted by DavidandHazel 06:15 Archived in Canada Comments (3)

The Adventure Begins

Travel to Dubai

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On Saturday, Apr 16 about 7pm we boarded an Air France jet after waiting in the very comfortable lounge at the airport. The flight was a bit bumpy but the service and food were excellent. We watched The Social Network and then both fell asleep until we were ready to land. In Paris it was 2 am EST and 8 am where it was a lovely, sunny morning – about 12 degrees. They are a good 4 weeks ahead of us in the growing season – the fields are growing, the grass is green. We found the Air France Lounge and settled in to wait for our 1:30 flight to Dubai.

The Dubai leg was a 6 hour flight. We watched True Grit and ate another amazing meal. We arrived at the hotel around midnight local time. Clearing customs was a bit of a wait and when we got there they told us that we had to go to another floor of the airport to obtain the originals of our visas (they don’t accept photocopies). It is quite efficient – someone in the country has to sponsor you to obtain a visa. When they create the visa they retain the original and they send you a photocopy (pdf) which you use to travel with until you get here. Then you pick up your original.

Our residence is a very nice 2 bedroom apartment with 3 bathrooms, a big kitchen, and a large dining/living room area and 2 small balconies. The internet is wired so we will get a wireless router to provide access for the laptops, iPod and iPad. We got hooked up, figured out how to work the TVs, unpacked and finally got to bed about 2 am.

Dubai Harbour from the Dusit

Posted by DavidandHazel 22:45 Archived in Canada Comments (2)

The First Few Days

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We are slowly settling into our new life here. Dave was fast off the mark and started work at 8 am the first morning we were here. He finds work a bit overwhelming in these early days because the office is in the middle of a move, there is a mountain of work, he has to get his communications technology set up, etc etc etc. It is frustrating but he has already been able to start grappling with some issues and to make him self useful. He really likes his new colleagues and is happy to be working for his old boss again.

Hazel has been spending her days getting organized in the little apartment. We had to get a wireless router to link up the laptops and Apple products. Every day she has been going out and walking in a different direction to try to locate stores and learn the lay of the land. We are in a very trendy tourist area so there are some very expensive "Yorkville-type" stores with a lot of upscale home furnishings and designer clothing as well as a huge number of restaurants. The grocery stores are mostly little convenience stores although there are a couple which might be as big as the very smallest grocery store at home. We have not found anything yet approaching the size of one of our Loblaws, Fortinos, or Metro - and don't even think of a Costco or Superstore. We know there are larger stores to be found but we need a car to get to those areas. Fortunately David picks up his rental car later today so we will be much more mobile now.

In the evenings we have been walking around to find a restaurant to have dinner. How different the night activity is from the day activity. In the day time a few people are out and around but are mostly tourists. It is so hot that unless you are headed for the beach, you don't stay out too long. In the early mornings you will see joggers (mostly young westerners) but by mid day everything is very quiet. As soon as the sun sets though with the cooler temperatures the people emerge - and you see lots more of the local people, well at least people who live here longer term. All the restaurants have large outdoor seating areas - usually much larger than the areas inside and some don't have any seating inside at all. The seating is varied with a lot of it being "living room" style with large armchairs and low coffee tables. There are more people in native dress - the men in long white robes and women in black chadors or abayas. Most wear a black head scarf as well and a few with the veil or niquab. The majority are in western attire though because the vast majority of the population here are not natives. The native Arab population is only about 10-20% of the people living here. The other 80-90% are "temporary" workers who have to be imported to do all the work that needs to be done. Everything from construction to hotel staff to municipal workers are imported labour. One report we read said that there are more each of Pakistani, Indian and Phillipean migrant workers than natives. Since most of the Arab states don't allow outsiders to gain citizenship they are all in effect migrant workers. The atmosphere is bustling, people are walking along, talking, and sitting smoking in the restaurants! The hookah is very popular here - and they are large - about 3 feet tall and quite ornate with a large glass continer at the bottom and a metal cup at the top for the glowing coals. They are supplied by the restaurants. Last night we saw one restaruant which advertised that they were free for the ladies that night. Alcohol and tobacco are reversed here. You don't see any alcohol being consumed in restaurants - and you do see lots of smoking. Both men and women seem to enjoy the hookah which is also called shisha. It seems to be a very social time with people sitting around in these very comfortable chairs, chatting, sipping coffee or fruit drinks and smoking. The other noticeable thing is that there are a lot more children out at night than we are used to seeing and they are out quite late.

Posted by DavidandHazel 22:15 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (2)

The First Week

Starting to Feel At Home

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We are ending our first week here today on Easter Sunday. Sunday is the start of the work week here - Friday is the Sabbath and Saturday completes their weekend. Fridays are very quiet with no construction activity. The stores are all open though and they are busy with shoppers. While you don't see many people outside on the streets, you do see plenty in the air conditioned malls and there seem to be malls everywhere.

Dave picked up his car on Wednesday and the getting lost began! Even with a GPS it is difficult to find your way in this place. There are so many roads under construction that the GPS is often incorrect too. This city has not been built on a box like grid and the roads curve all over the place so it is very easy to become disoriented. When they laid out the city they had all the space in the world therefore they had the luxury of being able to design the highways and major roads in such a way that there are minimal stops on major arterial routes. but lots of circular on and off ramps so you frequently find yourself doing several large circles as you try to get to a building only a stones throw away. The goal is to keep traffic continously flowing rather than stopping and starting at major intersections.

Another very interesting aspect about the Dubai streets is that there are no house or building numbers! You just go to a street and look for where you want to be. All the big buildings have names but no number. One night Dave had trouble finding a cab who knew where our hotel was - if they don't know, they won't take you. All businesses and hotels only show a P.O. Box number on their brochures and business people only have a P.O. Box number on their business card, not street address, it is very weird. There is no such thing as a local postal delivery- snail mail seems not to play a big role in communications here. We have yet to see where someone might post a letter - there are no mailboxes on the streets and no post office signs in stores or anywhere else. We're not even sure there is a public postal system beyond services like UPS and the private couriers. Perhaps by the time this city started to be built in the late 1980s and early 1990s there was no real need for a traditional postal system? We will put that one on the list of things to find out.

Now that we have a car the exploring is proceeding in earnest. On Friday (local sabbath) we drove out to the Palm Jumeirah which we can see from our hotel. This is the man made development extending out from the city coasline into the Arabian Sea in the shape of a palm tree. It is HUGE. The trunk is made up of a four lane divided highway with a canal dividing the two sets of lanes. Two lanes run North and two run south. Running along each side of those 2 lane roads stretch good sized upscale apartment buildings - about 10 stories high. You then come to the area where the fronds branch off - there are 8 fronds on each side each with a name and a letter. Each frond has a row of very upscale villas in a variety of configurations ranging from average size houses to major mansions. From the mainland to the top of the stem is roughly 6-8 km. At the top of the stem you enter the most beautiful tunnel (goes under a section of the harbour) we have ever seen. It is 3 lanes of traffic in each direction with beautifully tiled walls and soft lighting. It is probably 2-3 km long. When you emerge you enter a long crescent shaped roadway which encircles both sides of the palm fronds. At the very apex you find the fabulous resort of Atlantis with its Aquaventure park. Have at look: http://www.atlantisthepalm.com/ All along the east and the west crescents large opulent resorts are being built. Several are already occupied while several others are in various stages of construction.


Atlantis from The Crescent West

Next blog post will be about the amazing Mall of the Emirates which is only 5 km from our hotel.

Posted by DavidandHazel 10:23 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (2)

Mall of the Emirates

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About 5 km from our hotel to the east we found the Mall of the Emirates. As they indicate on their website, www.malloftheemirates.com:
"Mall of the Emirates features 520 international brands, including department, fashion, lifestyle, sports, electronics and home furnishing stores and the largest Carrefour in the city. The compelling family leisure offerings include a Magic Planet family entertainment area, a 14-screen multiplex cinema, the world-renowned Ski Dubai, a five star Kempinski Hotel, The Pullman Dubai Hotel, the Mall's 500-seat DUCTAC community theatre and accompanying arts centre, and over 85 coffee shops and restaurants."

The first thing we noticed was that in the large and well organized parking garage (free for the first 4 hours on weekdays and free all the time on weekends which are Friday and Saturday) was that there is a thriving little business of people washing cars right in the parking spaces. They have little individual carts with all the necessities including a little water sprayer-they barely dampen the surface. Of course cars don't get too dirty here - they mostly get dusty as there is no rain to create mud - and don't even talk about salt, slush or snow.
Car washing in the parking garage.

We have since noted this car washing in other parking garages with the same yellow and green carts and uniforms. Uniforms are very popular here. Many fairly low level jobs provided uniforms to their employees. Remember most workers are Indians or Pakistanis who are paid very low wages so a uniform is a real perq. Lord knows what many of them would be wearing if they didn't have the uniform.

Once in the mall we were overwhelmed with the size and scope. Even reading the directory signs is a challenge. First you have to find the English side and then figure out where you are. The Arabic side is interesting because they read backwards to us. They start at the right and read to the left. The main entrance is truly magnificent. Neither the web site nor the picture below can really do it justice.

Mall of the Emirates Atrium

Even more amazing was Ski Dubai. It is quite a large section on the side of the mall. We saw that from the outside the roof looks like it is covered with aluminum - probably to reflect as much heat as possible. The place was quite busy - with a higher percentage of Emeratis than you find in the general population. They rent all the snowsuits and helmets and boots of course. It was interesting to see how many children were there. I found it quite humourous to see an Arab woman complete with the long black abaya in a black topcoat with a helmet over her head scarf watching her children. They had sleds, there is a bobsled-type area that the kids were shooting down in inflated tubes, and there was a larger straight slope area where the kids were rolling down in giant inflated "hamster balls". If you look closely at the third picture below at the top left of the slope you will see them.

Play area

Bob Sled type runs

Ski hill from the bottom (note the inflated "hamster balls" for the kids to roll down in)

There are large windows on two levels of the mall to view the ski hill. Many others were as facinated as we were to see this amazing sight.
There are a number of upscale restaurants which have even better views of the hill.

After leaving the ski area we found a store called Carrefour - which is like a Wallmart Superstore. You can get groceries and all kinds of household goods. It is large and perhaps a little more upscale than Wallmart. We were able to find a coffee maker and some other kitchen things for our apartment. We have a feeling that we will be back there more than once.

Posted by DavidandHazel 19:27 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (1)

A Surprising Turn of Events

First hand experience with the Health Care System

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We have not posted a blog recently because Dave became ill - very ill. It all started with just not feeling well one evening to coming home from work the next day at noon and going right to bed with a fever. For those of you who know Dave, he is never sick - and even if he is, he never stays home from work. At this point I knew we had an issue. He developed chills with the shakes like I have never seen before. These alternated with extreme sweating to the point he had to change clothes and bedding. Along with that he started to develop a headache which became so bad it was doubling him over with pain. We went to an excellent clinic and found a great GP. At the start he thought, as we did, it was the flu. As symptoms worsened we went back to him and he ran a battery of blood and urine tests and sent Dave for a chest X-ray and an MRI. The Health Care System is excellent here - you can get immediate emergency response when you need it. We went for the results of the tests the next day and the doc arranged for Dave's immediate admission to a great hospital. He came home from work ill on Thursday - he was in the hospital the next Tuesday night. The chest x-ray showed a mass in a lung. The MRI showed lesions in his brain. The blood work showed a significant infection.

In the hospital they put him on IV drugs to reduce fever and stop the shaking and sweats and also to deal with the pain. They gave him oxygen because by the time we got to the hospital he was short of breath. They also put him on 2 antibiotics again using an IV. Within less than 24 hours he had other chest x-rays and another more specific brain MRI. While they haven't said much yet it is our impression they think it is pneumonia. For the first time tonight, 24 hours after admission, Dave said that he feels better. He was even interested in having dinner.

We have been in very close contact with Dave's sister, Joni, who was instrumental in ringing the alarm bells early and getting us moving to getting medical help. She also has been an invaluable resource in advising us on questions to ask and steps to take.

We have been pretty impressed with the Health Care System here. Anyone with a work visa is covered by law by their employer. The clinics and hospitals are modern, clean, high tech, and very personable and caring. Also, what is amazing when we are so familliar with the high costs of US medical care, the costs here are really quite reasonable - or have been so far. A day in a semi private room costs 600 AED - about $150 Canadian. Prescriptions seem less expensive but we have not compared apples and apples yet. If you don't have local insurance it is pay now, claim later which is the plan we are on. We have been treated with courtesy and very promptly. There is little waiting because being late is very rude in this culture. If you have to wait, they are in to explain the reason and to provide any other information which would be helpful. Even though many people don't speak English well, it has been very easy to get by in English. We are truly fortunate to speak the international language. As one of Dave's friends said: "You picked a great place to get sick in". How true.

They are very conscious about contageous diseases here. In order to get a work permit you have to have a medical which includes blood tests for HIV and Hepatitis and a Chest X-ray for TB. Because they are concerned Dave might be contageous, they have moved him to a room alone - so he is in a lovely large semi-private room by himself. Initially he was in a room with another man they also think could have been contageous so they quickly moved to separate them. Dave was quite pleased because the other guy had lots of relatives and cell phone calls going on.

Here they have no objection to cell phones in the hospital room. They also have WiFi available for purchase if you wish it. Another interesting thing is that they have a room service menu which you can order from if you don't like the choices on the regular hospital menu. This comes with a cost but it is quite reasonable. Each menu offers about 4 choices for several courses of your meal. One course seems to be Indian food, one or two European offerings, and one other with is likely Arabic food. We have just been ordering what we recognized! So far Dave has found the food tasty and fresh. We haven't seen jello yet!

Posted by DavidandHazel 21:01 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (2)

A Quick Update

Good News

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By the end of the day yesterday the medics had confirmed that they believe that Dave has a bacterial pneumonia and he is responding to treatment although a little more slowly than they had originally hoped. I can tell you that by the end of the day he was noticeably better. The significant signs were twofold - he asked for his laptop and he was getting bored.

The doctor also confirmed no brain cancer which had been their great fear when they learned that he had had prostate cancer. They are still going to do another MRI today to have another look at the brain because there are some little vessel blockages which they now think might be caused by cholesterol. Dave's friend, Alex Mercer, commented that the really good news is that they have determined that David DOES have a brain!

We are hoping he will be home Sunday. I'll only have a couple more days in the Dubai Derby!

Posted by DavidandHazel 21:13 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (2)

Happy Mothers' Day to all the Moms out there

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Dave came home from the hospital yesterday, Saturday to continue to recuperate at home. Thanks again to all of you for your messages of comfort and support - we certainly did appreciate knowing you were out there! Just to prove his is alive and kicking - here he is outside of the "Inpatients" entrance of the Welcare Hospital


Now our life will begin to settle into a routine again and we can resume exploring our environment and this facinating culture. Dave now has a work visa and we are in the process of having mine renewed. We will have to leave the UAE - probably cross the border to Oman and then turn right around and re-enter to obtain the visa. If Dave is feeling up to it we may spend a little tourist time there - but the drive may be taxing enough for him as he gains his strength.

We are thinking of all our motorcycle friends this morning because they are having their monthly meeting and perhaps the first ride of the season afterwards because it is supposed to go up to 16 and be fairly sunny according to my weather report! Here it is getting hotter and dustier but is pretty well the same as it has been every day since we arrived - 35 and hazy. The haze is from dust suspended in the atmosphere. The sky looks white rather than blue many days and all the buildings in the distance look like they are shrouded in fog. Some days it even smells dusty outside. They tell us that the summer is so hot your sunglasses fog up!

Hope all the moms out there enjoy their day!

Posted by DavidandHazel 03:09 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged david Comments (2)

Daily Life in Dubai

The mundane things...

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While this modern bustling city looks like many we see in North America, there are some interesting differences in the daily life. We have already mentioned that in the summer it is very hot so you see few people outside. They dash from air conditioned cars to malls to homes. At night they emerge to eat, chat, walk around and smoke.

Supermarkets are much the same as we find in North America but a closer look gives some interesting insights. There is a separate section of the meat department which sells pork - and it is clearly marked as selling pork and for non Muslims only. Most of the prices are surprisingly similar to those we find at home. There is a very large selection of teas but a much more limited selection of coffee. There is more espresso and lebanese coffee but not much of a selection of the regular type of ground coffee we find at home. There is a HUGE selection of different types of honey compared to home and quite a large sweet section of snacks, cookies, cakes, candy and jams. There are plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit. Berries are very, very expensive but you can find about 8 different types of mangoes. Oranges are very cheap. After you select your produce you take it to a little counter to be weighed and priced prior to going to the cashier. Even individual heads of lettuce or those English cucumbers have to be individually priced. The dairy counter has lots of soy products as well as milk but the milk comes in smaller containers and has a very short shelf life. It is hard to find cream. They have full fat milk (homogenized), low fat (like 2%), and skim. I did find "double cream" milk which was like our light cream (5%). There is lots of yogurt and a good selection of cheese.

Laundry must be a focus because there are lots and lots of bleaching products - probably for those sparkling white robes many of the Emerati men wear. There are also a number of products advertised to "keep your blacks black" for the women's garments. We have not seen public laundromats yet - that may be due to the area we are living in - a very trendy part of town. The washers and dryers are very different from home though. They have a single combination machine which both washes and dries. The machines are small and frequently front loaders. After your laundry has finished its wash cycle the machine beeps and then you can select the dry cycle. I found that the little machine took a long time to dry and it wrinkled the garments tremendously - so I just dry some and hang or drape the rest on the balcony. Lots of people have little drying racks for clothing. It is so hot that things dry quickly. The odd thing is that the dryers have no vents. They have some sort of a condenser unit to extract the water - clearly this is not as efficient or as effective as the large dryers we have at home. I guess you don't miss what you have never seen. Most of the grocery stores are small by Canadian standards and several are of UK origin as are a lot of things here. In several of the mega malls there is Carrefour which is a French chain and in many ways quite similar to a WalMart superstore but with the clear emphasis on groceries.

Posted by DavidandHazel 11:17 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (1)

Changes in Plans

We are coming home early!

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Dave found out that his replacement will be able to take over earlier than expected - so we will be heading home June 17! It is a wonderful experience over here but we really miss our home, family and friends and are quite pleased with how this is working out.

The ongoing saga of renewing visas has changed again. We won't have to cross the border to Oman for me to obtain mine - but I did have to go for a blood test and x-ray today. At first they didn't want to give me a visa at all - you can imagine how pleased Dave was with that piece of news! Every office here has a PRO - Public Relations Officer - whose job it is is to navigate through the bureaucracy and regulations. He returned to the visa office with Dave and they waited to speak to the manager in charge who gave approval quite quickly. He accompanied me today when I went for the tests.

On the health front, Dave is improving every day but still tires easily and gets winded. We went for a follow-up appointment at the hospital on Saurday so they could do more x-rays and make sure Dave was indeed on the mend. The doctor told him that it was one of the worst cases of pneumonia he had seen in a long time.

In the next blog I will be writing about the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall and have already loaded some pictures in case you are interested.

Posted by DavidandHazel 00:39 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (3)

The Burj Khalifa and The Dubai Mall

Two world record-breakers in one day!

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After 33 years of holding the record for the tallest structure in the world, the CN Tower was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa here in Dubai. When you get a chance, you might find it interesting to google it or simply go to www.burjkhalifa.ae They have an excellent website which provides lots of additional information. The Burj is more than a tower - it is an enormous commercial, hotel and residence building which is located right beside the largest shopping mall (aka shopping mall and entrtainment complex) in the world - The Dubai Mall. The Burj is over 160 stories high. The observation deck is at floor 124. In order to go higher you need to live or work there! We saw that when they were building it they had as many as 12,000 workers on site.

The Burj Khalifa - the Tallest Building in the World

The Burj Khalifa - the Tallest Building in the World

We took this shot from the car on the Sheikh Zayed Highway.

The Burj is located on a beautiful site with several water features including, of course, the world's tallest performing fountain - some 900 feet long and which shoots water up to 500 ft in the air.


This is a photo I downloaded from the web site as we were not able to see it at night in its fully-lit glory with the music which accompanies the show which runs every half hour.

You access the elevators to the observation deck from the Dubai Mall which I will talk about later. They control the number of visitors by having you reserve tickets. If you reserve (and you are encouraged to do that on line) it costs 1/4 of what it costs if you go and ask for immediate access. Many of the time slots are sold out and so you might not be able to get immediate access anyway. Admission is 400 AED if you are in a rush or 100 AED (about $25) if you book ahead. Typical of the paperwork required for everything here - I booked on line and paid for the tickets with a credit card. I then had to print off the receipt (luckily I could e-mail that to Dave and ask him to print it off because we have no printer here) and we had to go to a specific ticket counter with the receipt and PHOTO ID. Then Dave had to sign our receipt that we printed off and give it to them so they could issue our tickets. Can you imagine what would happen if Ticketmaster went through all of that?

The elevators to the observation deck are - you guessed it - the fastest in the world. They whiz you up 124 floors in seconds with no sensation of movement except your ears plugging up a couple of times. They have fancy lighting to try to distract you from the numbers counting up more quickly than you can read them.

Once at the top you look down and see:

The scrolls in the water are the water fountain. The flat structure at the very left is the roof of The Dubai Mall.

If you look forward - eastwards you see the skyline of downtown Dubai with all its skyscrapers and the Sheikh Zayed highway running between them. The airport is several miles off in this direction. Up and to the left is the Arabian Gulf - lost in the sand fog.


Walking around the observation deck you look north at the Arabian Gulf and then west towards the Palm, Jumerian Beach and the Marina area where we are staying. Again all are lost in the dust fog. You can just see a shadow of the Arabian Gulf at the top of these 2 pictures.


If you look up from the observation deck this is what you see:


And just to prove that we really were there:


This is the view down at the bottom again in front of the fountain area.


We then went to explore the Dubai Mall which not only houses hundreds of stores - both very high end (Armani Casa) to ones we see at home (Aldo Shoes) but also has a full size hockey rink and a full sized "Aquarium and Underwater Zoo" and a couple of other attractions we did not explore (Kidzania and Segaworld).

The mall is spectacular - huge high and wide hallways with rotundas that are amazing.


The Mall is divided into areas - "Fashion Avenue" is one, "The Gold Souk" is another below:


The Gold Souk seemed to have more diamonds than gold - we didn't get the price on this diamond-encrusted Soccer ball though.


The place is so large that it doesn't seem at all crowded - and it is interesting to see the mixture of Emerati and visitors.


The Emerati are a very family-centered culture and often have their children with them - and often it is the dads who are managing the little ones.


We walked along and ran into this magnificent 3 story fountain with larger-than-life sized figures of divers.



We walked further and found the hockey rink which they were just flooding.


Yes, that is a large video screen at the end.

In another area we found the Aquarium and Underwater Zoo which we went into and visited - it is 2 stories high and has many fish and sea creatures in it from all over the world. The front plexi glass panel holds the Guinness World record for the largest piece of plexiglass.


After all this exploring we had a snack at one of the many, many food courts and headed home to put our sore little feet up.

Posted by DavidandHazel 00:44 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (4)

The Ibn Battuta Mall

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After Dave leaves for work in the mornings, Hazel usually goes down to the pool about 9:30 for an hour in the sun. That is about all you can take here because of the heat. It is usually about 35 in the mornings rising to about 40 by noon. We have found that recently the humidity has been climbing as well. It wasn’t as humid when we first arrived. Now the humidity is so high that your glasses and cameras immediately fog up when you go outside. One day we noticed that there was a lot of condensation on the outside of our windows. The condensation accumulated to the point that it started running down the windows - it looked a bit like it was raining!

We are now at the time of year when people really avoid being outside. We noticed that the outdoor dining areas are also largely empty in the evenings because of the heat and humidity. These people are innovative though – a number of the outdoor seating areas are being enclosed with plastic – or even glass with tent-like roofing. They have giant outdoor air conditioners blowing cool air at the seating areas. Nonetheless, there are many more people sitting indoors than there were a month ago. Only the die-hard shisha smokers seem to be outside!

Hazel met a nice British woman named Judith at the pool a couple of weeks ago. Judith took Hazel under her wing and took her out on the metro to a lovely local mall – the Ibn Battuta Mall. Ibn Battuta was a famous Moroccan explorer of the 1300s who travelled more widely than any explorer until the modern times. The Mall is divided into the areas that he explored (China, India, Egypt, Tunisia, Andalusia, and Persia) and is decorated that way.

Entrance to the Ibn Battuta Mall and Residences

The Egyptian Court in the Ibn Battuta Mall

The Egyptian Court in the Ibn Battuta Mall

We went back on the weekend so Dave could visit as well and found a good range of shops from large British stores (Debenhams), a very large hypermarket (Geant) to many others that we recognized (H&M, Starbucks, Columbia). Shopping is truly the #1 indoor sport of Dubai.

Inside the Ibn Battuta Mall

Inside the Ibn Battuta Mall

Fountain in the Ibn Battuta Mall

Fountain in the Ibn Battuta Mall

Posted by DavidandHazel 07:26 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

Old Dubai

Bur Dubai and Deira

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Dubai originally formed as a fishing and pearl diving village and was located around a small river called the Dubai Creek. It became a center of commerce and trading gold, spices and textiles. Way back in 1892 Sheikh Maktoum formed a trading agreement with the British government to permit a full tax exemption to all foreign traders - that agreement continues to this day making this Emirate truly a hub of trade and export. To support the trade over the years they created a large port which has been dredged and is now the largest deep water port in the world.

Areas on both sides of Dubai Creek developed and are characterized by very narrow, winding streets lined with shops selling everything from spices to textiles and buildings with square wind towers. The creek today remains an area of very active shipping with many small and very decrepit boats tied up often 3 deep along the waterfront.


Thousands of people commute across the creek each day on small boats called abras for the nominal fee of 1 AED - about 25 cents. They load about 20 people onto each abra and set off whenever they are full.

An abra ready for passengers.

A full abra setting off across the creek.

We then went to find the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House but it was closed until 3 in the afternoon because it was Friday - the sabbath. It was prayer time and many people were in the local mosque – we could hear the prayers from the outside. Even the security guard had left a notice saying he had gone for prayer. The father of the current Sheikh and Leader of Dubai used to live in this house before it was turned into a museum.

Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House

We returned the next day to visit the Dubai Museum. This was very well done with a number of exhibits showing past life and times of Dubai. They also had a number of boats and also archaeological artifacts which have been found in several "digs" in the area.

Dhow outside the Dubai Museum

Inside the Museum scene - drinking coffee and smoking the shisha

An Arab school - probably in a mosque

Leading a camel - note the khanjar at the belt - a traditional dagger.

Posted by DavidandHazel 07:30 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

The Burj Al Arab and the Souk Madinat Jumeirah

More amazing sights in Dubai

sunny 39 °C

Perhaps tied with the Burj Khalifa and the Palm Jumeriah for sights that exemplify and identify Dubai is the Burj Al Arab. This is the magnificent sail-shaped hotel built on its own island in the Arabian Gulf.

The Burj Al Arab

This is the first and probably only 7 star hotel in the world. It has 202 two floor suites which are serviced by a team of butlers providing 24 hour service. There is a Rolls Royce chauffeur service ready for patrons along with in-suite checkin. Suites start at US$1500 a night plus a 20% tax. The building rises an imposing 321 meters making this a beautiful focal point for miles around. You are only able to access the site if you have a reservation for a suite or for dinner at one of the many high end restaurants.

The Burj Al Arab as seen from the Souk Madinat Jumeirah

Just along the Arabian Gulf between the Burj Al Arab and the Palm Jumeirah is the Souk Madinat Jumeirah. This is an amazing shopping area (what else?) which has been constructed to re-create a traditional souk. The maze of little shops and restaurants is constructed around a series of waterways and canals. You can have a ride on an abra through the canals.

Inside the Souk Madinat

Hazel in front of the waterway

Posted by DavidandHazel 07:49 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (1)

The Public Transit Adventure

Dubai by boat and rail

sunny 42 °C

Now that we are into our last 2 weekends here we really started turning on the sightseeing jets. On Friday (the first day of our weekend) we boarded the Dubai Ferry (looks more like an upscale tour boat) for a trip down and out of the marina area and then up and along the coastline, through the Palm Jumeriah, past the Burj Al Arab and up along the coast past the shipyards and finally up into the Dubai Creek - all places we have visited by car but not seen from the water side. The trip takes almost 2 hours and cost about $13 each. What they call Dubai Creek is a large inlet that extends probably 5-7 km inland, where there is lots of shipping traffic. It is far from what we would normally call a creek.

The Dubai Ferry - a sleek craft which carries 100 passengers.

Inside the Ferry it looks like this. This is the "Silver" class section - the Gold Class is up front and looks a bit like business class in a plane complete with very large chairs and side tables.

We left the marina area where we also happen to be living and all its skyscrapers...

Went out to the Arabian Gulf and up past the JBR - Jumeriah Beach Residences - all those sand colored buildings are the JBR and the little white building on the right is the Sheraton. There are a number of big name hotels in the same complex.

We headed away from land and over towards the Palm Jumeriah development with all of its resorts and upscale housing developments. Here are a couple of the homes at the end of one of the palm fronds. They reminded us a bit of some of the gorgeous homes on the canals in Ft. Lauderdale. These all have spectacular beachfront and it is all open - no fences.

We passed in front of the beautiful Atlantis Resort and got a look at its waterfront as well.

We next passed the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab - the 7 star hotel with the helipad at the top on the other side - see previous blog.

and the wave-shaped Jumeirah Beach Hotel which is right next to it. There are so many hotels and resorts with "Jumeirah" in them that it is VERY easy to get confused.

We continued on up and into the Dubai Creek where the ferry docked. Now it was our task to find our way back home which must be a good 25 km away. We had been told it was very easy - just take a water bus (another part of the excellent Municipal transit system) across the creek and then walk over to the Metro Station and catch the Metro back to the Marina. They were absolutely correct - it was not only easy, it was very inexpensive.

We boarded the water bus - this is what it looked like on the inside - it would carry about 30 passengers.

Dave on the water bus

Dave on the water bus

We walked about 5 minutes over to the Metro Station. It was a welcome relief to get into the air conditioned comfort and out of the 40+ degree heat. Here is what it looked like inside as we were waiting for the train. Even the floors are done in beautiful inlaid patterns of stone.

The system mostly runs a hight elevated track system that follows the main arterial roads but there are parts particularly in the older part of the city that run underground like a conventional subway. The trains are electronically controlled and driverless although they do have conductors who roam between the cars checking your pass.

You initially buy a metropass card at one of the ticket booths at any of the stations. You then load it with however much money you want to put on it. There are no cash fares, it is electronic card or nothing Fares vary with how many zones you go through and they are very inexpensive - especially if you go silver class instead of gold class. Yes they even have "Business Class" on the Metro. Business Class is the front car of the train and has big comfortable seats like an aircraft with little fold down tables. Gold Class is about double the cost of Silver Class but is still cheaper than the Toronto subway. When you walk into a station you pass your Metro card over the card reader at the electronic turnstyle and it opens and lets you go through. If the conductor is in your car she/he may ask to see your pass, especially if you are riding in the Gold class car. When your ride is completed and you go to exit the station you pass through another turnstyle with a card reader. It reads your card, calculates your fare in accordance with how many zones you travelled and deducts that amount from your electronic account on your card. The card reader also displays how much your fare for that trip was and how much money is remaining on your card. It is truly a marvel of electronics. The trains are super modern, clean and comfortable. They are also very quiet so must ride on rubber tires or something similar. We had been given a couple of "gold" cards so we travelled in the gold coach which is first car of the train. The second car is for women and children and the last 3 are the silver class.

The trip was quiet, clean and fast and we were back to our departure point to pick up our car and do a quick shopping trip. Tomorrow we are going to make the 120 km treck down the highway to Abu Dhabi to visit the Grand Mosque and Dave's friend Kevin Fearn and his wife Donna.

Posted by DavidandHazel 20:46 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (1)

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