Gap Year Days 201 – 212
After two busy weeks in Jordan, we were looking forward to getting to the United Arab Emirates. Dubai is, well, not quite a second home, but a place we know and are comfortable with. We were looking forward to some less challenging days. Even more exciting was that our eldest daughter, Bailey, was flying in for a few days.
This was my fourth visit to Dubai. The first one was in 2008 and was a visit that we assumed would be soon followed by us moving there. We looked at houses and schools and explored a city which was just one big building site. Cranes adorned almost every building. The Burj Khalifa was not yet it’s full height and Dubai Mall still under construction. We loved it! Unfortunately the move didn’t happen, but that first visit to Dubai was where the travel bug bit me!
We may not have made the move to the United Arab Emirates, but just months before that first visit, my cousin Emma and her family had done just that. So when we visit we stay with her out in what passes as the suburbs. Not only do we get to catch up with family, we see another side of Dubai that is not just shiny buildings and fast cars.
I was extra eager to get to Dubai this time because it finally meant I could get both my iPhone and iPad fixed. I had managed to break the screens on both of them within a couple of weeks of each other in Bulgaria and Macedonia. My iPad had bits of the glass actually missing, so I was barely using it in case more fell out. My phone screen was completely shattered, with the top half almost unreadable. Trying to navigate with it had been even more challenging than usual.
The only issue is that neither of the Apple stores in Dubai are anywhere near Emma’s place. I knew I would have to drop off my iThings then go back later that day or the next day to pick them up again. We decided to spend the first two nights at a hotel, and the ones near the Mall of the Emirates were cheaper.
We arrived in the evening and went straight over to the mall. We visited the mall five times over the next forty hours. Unlike most visitors to Dubai, I was not there to shop, and managed to buy nothing except food and Apple repairs.
For those who know Dubai, Emma lives at Silicon Oasis. On all our previous visits we have mostly travelled to and from there by taxi. This time we tried public transport. Catching the metro is easy. It’s easy to buy a ticket, easy to find where to go and easy to travel on the modern, clean trains. But the metro doesn’t go to Silicon Oasis. We had to get a bus. Luckily a bus leaves from the last metro stop, so we made our way there. We missed the walkway that conveniently linked the metro station with the bus station, and did a whole lap around the building to arrive in time to see our bus leaving at the other end! We eventually arrived, taking almost two hours to travel what would have been 30-40 minutes in a taxi. Cost was about a third of the price though.
The area Emma lives in is very suburban. It has streets of similar houses (think Edward Scissorhands!) and is predominantly populated by western expats. That means it’s familiar and easy, with many Australian neighbours to meet and chat to as I would at any other friend’s place at home. This also means it’s sheltered from some of the realities of expat life in Dubai. Most expats are not western, and unfortunately there is still much about Dubai that depends on the colour of your skin. We got a small reminder of it on our first day here. While walking in with me there were no issues, when Simon left to grab some groceries, he was questioned and asked for his workers pass on his return. He was stopped by security simply because of his Asian appearance!
Friday in Dubai (and many other Muslim countries) is the start of the weekend. No sleeping for this busy household though, with kids sports happening early in the morning before the heat of the day sets in. Even though it is substantially cooler in November, it is still around 33-35 degrees Celsius. So off we go to cricket training! Cricket is Simon’s sport of choice, and the worldwide headquarters of cricket’s international body, the ICC, is in Dubai. Right where cricket training was. Often international teams are here using the state of the art training facilities. Unfortunately not the day we were there, but boy, wouldn’t our juniors in Australia just love to have these facilities to train with! No daggy old pitches in the middle of a school oval here!
Then the wait for Bailey was on. While this was not her first time travelling to Dubai, or even her first time travelling without parents, it was her first time leaving the airport by herself in Dubai. In the past we’ve had more than one taxi driver not know where they were going. All was good in the end, even if Bailey did get in a limousine not a taxi! That was half our fault though, because we said not to get a normal taxi, but a lady-taxi. Her limousine driver was female, so Bailey thought that’s what we meant!
One of the things about the United Arab Emirates is that women and men are not equal as it runs under Sharia Law. There are many examples where this is not great, but every now and then, as a female, it has its benefits. One of those benefits are special taxis with female drivers only for ladies. They are the pink taxis that are around town. Another benefit are the ladies carriages on the metro. This section is usually not as crowded as the general sections, and there is only a line on the floor to divide it from the men. We would jump on the closest door, then Bailey and I would stand on the empty side of the line, and Simon would squeeze in amongst the men on the other.
Another time this was a benefit was catching the bus to Abu Dhabi. We looked into a few different ways to get there, including hiring a car, but in the end we decided to catch the public bus. It was 25dhs ($9AUD/$6.80USD) each way in a comfortable three-across coach with wifi and it was at least double that for three of us to get there and back any other way. We arrived at the bus station and were pointed to a line to wait in. It was a few minutes later that I noticed Simon was the only male in the line. Across from us was a much longer line, coincidentally all male. Hmmm. When the bus turned up, all the women and families (like us) were allowed to board first and were seated at the front of the bus. The men’s line was then boarded, but the bus was full before they all got on, so some had to wait for the next bus.
The main reason we went to Abu Dhabi was to go to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. All I have to say is “wow”! The place is simply stunning. If you are thinking of having a look, definitely go. I will likely go back again next time we are in the area but at night to see it all lit up. Entry to the mosque is free, and don’t worry if you are not wearing the right clothes, you will be given a robe with hood to put on for your visit.
Like to visit Abu Dhabi but don’t want to catch the public bus?
Click here for a tour of Abu Dhabi from Dubai including the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Back in Dubai we decided to do something none of us had done before – go skiing! Dubai is well known for having an indoor ski field at the Mall of the Emirates. We had seen it during each one of our trips, but had never been inside. We decided to go with the package that included everything. That means we got a ski lesson, got a behind the scenes visit with the penguins, could zip line and luge before enjoying lunch and hot chocolate. This was definitely not cheap, but we did spend about five hours there. While it was great fun, it became uncomfortably cold for me. We had been given gloves, boots and waterproof clothing to wear, but the clothing was not padded or warm. Most people will probably be okay with it, but I get cold really easily.
Oh, and I just have to add, the staff photographers at Ski Dubai are either super flattering or super blind. Bailey was asked if she wanted a photo with her SISTER! Made my day!
Want to meet the penguins like we did?
Click here for tickets to Ski Dubai’s Penguin Encounter
While we were down that end of town we called past the public beach nearby. This beach has a great view of the Burj al Arab. We were surprised to find a large sign advertising the opening of the new Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi. I would have liked to have gone, but it wasn’t opening until a couple of days after we left. That will be for next time I am in the area.
Dubai Mall was next on our list! I know it sounds like we only visited shopping malls, but these places are so much more than just malls. We were only inside the mall long enough to walk from the metro station, as here we wanted to watch the musical fountain display. We have done this each of our last three visits to Dubai (it wasn’t happening during the first visit!) and it is still enjoyable to watch as they regularly change the music and the fountain display. It happens every evening at half an hour intervals. We watched two performances this time, one was traditional Arabic music, the other was the song “Heroes” but in Spanish.
Even though the sun had gone down, our day was not yet over. We had one more stop. I had come across an ad for Dubai Garden Glow. I haven’t read much about it anywhere, either beforehand or since, but we thought we’d have a look. Basically it’s a whole pile of colourful displays lit up. There is also a dinosaur park with life-sized dinosaurs that move and make noises. We didn’t see it, but they do a dinosaur parade each evening too. For an extra fee there is also an indoor ice park, which again we didn’t see. The park is much bigger than I was expecting it to be, and we spent a good two to three hours wandering around having a look. By the end our feet were sore and it was definitely time for a good sleep.
Want to see this spectacle for yourself?
Click here for entry tickets with included transfers
Click here just for entry tickets
If you have a few minutes spare and are driving past, stop off at Sheikh Mohammed’s Zabeel Palace. Visitors can’t go in, but the entry is pretty spectacular. The real draw card though are the peacocks. There are dozens of them that live here. While during our November visit they were still growing their tail feathers, a visit in spring would have then strutting around putting on a fantastic show.
Our last day with Bailey was spent, well, for lack of a better word, shopping! Yep, hanging out at the malls again. This time I did buy something – I spent a whole 15dhs ($5AUD/$4USD) on a pair of jeans on sale. For some reason since we’ve been travelling my clothes seem to be shrinking, so these were to replace a pair that were getting a little uncomfortable! Couldn’t have anything to do with all the food I just have to try!
We farewelled Bailey, and about three kilos of my luggage went with her. I will not be needing any of my warmer clothes in the next few months, and we are meeting up with our other daughter before we head back to Europe. My pack is now about 12kg, and it has made such a difference. It also means if I ever do decide to buy some more clothes, I have room!
After Bailey left we spent a few days mostly catching up on sleep, catching up with family and catching up on work. We did visit one more attraction though, Dubai Miracle Garden. I have seen a lot about this online, in blog posts and Instagram so wanted to check it out for myself. We were there on the day after it opened for the winter season after they have refreshed it and added new displays. Most elaborate of course if the Emirates A380, fully covered in flowers.
Even though we were there late morning, it was already quite hot during our visit. While there are areas under shade to sit down, while walking around we were in full sun. As the weather cools this should be less of an issue. Due to the heat we were there for no more than 90 minutes, and that included sitting down for a drink. Some of the displays are pretty cool, but it was also possible to see where some were not yet in full bloom. The theme this year is sunflowers, and they were everywhere but not always in flower.
While Dubai Miracle Garden gets much acclaim, I actually preferred Dubai Garden Glow, for something quite whimsical just to look at. It is much bigger, easier to get to and cheaper to visit.
As we left the United Arab Emirates, we got the chance to visit the one Dubai airport terminal we had not flown from – T2. While I knew there was a T2, I didn’t realise it was completely on the other side of the airport, looking across the runways to T1 and T3 in the distance. This terminal is where all the low cost carriers fly from and is very different from the bright airy Emirates T3 opposite. It was absolutely packed with people, but still efficient and clean. Our break was over, and it was onto another brand new country.
We will always go back to Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. There is just something about the place which fascinates me. All those years ago when I spent months researching have stuck with me, and if the right offer came up, I would happily move there in a flash. It is also a convenient stopover place between Australia and Europe, and while Emma is living there, a day or two stopover makes perfect sense.
Long gone are the days of Dubai being a cheap location. Someone has to pay for all that glitz, and it’s the tourists! It’s only going to get worse next year when a GST is brought in. If you are on a budget, then steer clear of alcohol. With the United Arab Emirates being a Muslim country alcohol is mostly available only in high end western hotels. As such it is not cheap at all. We went to the Barasti Bar on our last night and beers were about $17AUD ($13USD) each.
Wifi in the United Arab Emirates is fast and pretty much everywhere. There was free wifi in all of the malls, airports and restaurants. If you have a local sim, there was also wifi on public transport and in the metro stations.
Dubai really is getting better for public transport. On our first visit taxi was pretty much the only option, but now there is the Metro, the buses and down around the Dubai Marina and the Jumeirah Palm there is a tram. These are all built with walkways and airconditioned spaces (including bus shelters!) to make using them in summer still possible.
Hilton Garden Inn Dubai Mall of the Emirates
6A Street,P.O. Box 393971. Dubai Al Barsha, Al Barsha, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Ibis Mall of the Emirates
Sheikh Zayed Road, Al Barsha, near Mall of Emirates, Al Barsha, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Doubletree by Hilton Hotel and Residences Dubai – Al Barsha
Opposite to Mall of the Emirates, Al Barsha, PO Box 72584 Dubai, United Arab Emirates
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.