Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dubai Travelogue (part 7) - Closing the mall!

I would liked to have stayed for another musical show but it was already past 10pm. We thought of spending a little time in the mall before heading home. There was an area within the mall called "At the Top" - there was no one at the reception but my bro-in-law told me that this was where you had to buy tickets to go to the top of Burj Khalifa. The tickets were cheaper when booked online (around Dhs. 100 per person); buying it on the spot was very expensive (Dhs. 400) - am serious, not joking - 400 for taking a ride up the elevator (which would be pretty fast in skyscrapers) to view the city from above. "At the top" isn't exactly on top of Burj Khalifa; it is on floor 124 (the building has 160 floors). I felt the price was too high and was not keen on going to the top. I believe looking down from any skyscraper is the same - all you see below are toy buildings and blocks - World Trade Center in New York was special because that was the first time I looked down from such a height. I think it would be more fun and thrilling if they would have a glass observatory with glass floor projecting out from the building - it would be safe (as safe as the glass flooring!) and it might make you feel a bit jittery as well!

Coming back to our story... I didn't even have the option of going up because "At the top" was closed for the time being. It seems there was some elevator problem and they closed it down temporarily for a few weeks.

In the mall, many shops were pulling down their shutters - during weekdays shops closed at around 10pm while on weekends they would be up till 11pm or midnight. There was a huge ice rink inside the mall; the Dubai ice rink was an Olympic size rink. It was 10pm and yet the rink was full with people. There were seating arrangements similar to what you would see in a ice hockey stadium. The stadium looked beautiful under lights. Ice skating is something I've wanted to try out for long and I made a mental note that I should skate on this trip. There was this fear of how to balance on a single blade but when so many people are doing it, I should also be able to do it.

We knew that the Pajero was parked in D2 but didn't know where D2 was. All of these malls had multiple parking lots across floors. Each lot was divided into numbered areas and each lot had an escalator leading into the mall. On taking the escalator you would have a machine which would give you a slip that mentioned the parking lot you were in - just push a button and it would spit a small piece of paper with details. The machine was free but when we arrived at the mall, it was out of paper and wasn't spitting anything. Inside the mall, there were directions to parking areas but those were referred to by shop names - like "Carrefour parking", "EMax parking" and so on - the boards didn't contain the lot numbers and even the security staff didn't know which number was in which parking lot! And what fun it was - we walked from one end of the mall to the other end. On the way we crossed the Dubai Aquarium - this wasn'a small table sized aquarium; in height it covered almost 2 to 3 floors! You could see the fish through the glass panel from the outside itself. It boasted of having over 140 species of marine life.

Walking across these huge malls is very tiring and the Dubai Mall is amongst the largest malls in the world. My bro-in-law and I walked in front while kids and sister followed. They took short breaks along the way. At one pit stop, my bro in law also took a break and he seriously said, "If not for me you all would never have walked so much in this mall. See how many shops you get to see"!

To add to the confusion, all parking exits appeared similar. When we were almost at the other end of the mall, one security guard gave us directions to D2. "You have to go that way". He pointed in the direction by which we had come! Great - and once again we crossed the Dubai Aquarium - I even spotted a giant squid inside; it didn't seem like the fish needed any sleep; they were all pretty active inside! By now, almost all shops had closed and there were hardly any people inside the mall except security guards.

What an interesting day it was - we opened the Festival City mall early in the morning and we closed the Dubai Mall at night! At home, I drank fresh strawberry milk, saw IPL highlights for a while and jumped into my dream world.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dubai Travelogue (6b) - Start music!

Continuation of part 6 (previous post)...

The Dubai Fountain videos - split in 2 (first video is part 1) - had to reduce clarity to upload it; both are for one single song. Listen to both. The building in the background is a hotel.

I sat in awe - quite literally! Fabulous isn't it? And it is all just water and lights...

Dubai Travelogue (6) - The tallest man made structure!

What started as an aimless round of window shopping turned into shopping with a purpose - seeing branded sports shops, I remembered that I had to find a pair of sports shoe that fit me; in India it was pretty expensive, my size appears once in a blue moon and I'd hardly have any choice. But after checking a couple of shops I found that it was hard to get my size even here; it was quite surprising because many Europeans lived in Dubai. At around 9:30 or so we decided to move on.

In the last couple of days, whenever my dad called he would ask my sister and me whether we had seen Burj Dubai - the tallest man-made structure. Since this was on the way back home, we decided to check it out tonight. Actually Burj Dubai is called Burj Khalifa - Burj Dubai was the original name prior to inauguration. They say that the name was changed to honor Abu Dhabi which has helped Dubai during the financial crisis (Sheikh Khalifa is the president of UAE and Prince of Abu Dhabi and hence the name Burj Khalifa). "Burj" in Arabic means 'tower'.

I didn't really feel much of awe when I saw it from a distance - it just looked like a lean stick much taller than its neighbours. But as we approached it, I realized that it wasn't really a stick but much broader. We parked the Pajaero in Dubai Mall after hunting for parking space - they had this interesting concept of keeping electronic boards in each parking lot which indicated the free space available in the lot. And in each individual parking slot there was an LED on top which indicated whether that slot was empty or not - but many of the sensors weren't working correctly because I saw green lights in places where vehicles were present. Dubai Mall was just beside Burj Dubai and Dubai Fountain. This mall also seemed huge - we followed the arrows that led to the Dubai Fountain and landed up in the open space outside the mall. There were plenty of people on the steps and near the railing which bordered around the little lake which contained the fountain. This was a musical fountain which operated only when the music was on. And on our right was the grand Burj Khalifa. We went as close as possible, which was only as close as the security gate that was probably 15 meters away from the building! There was a tall fence preventing people from accessing the building - no one had occupied the floors yet; the interior was all dark. After taking a few snaps and videos (since night snaps didn't look great), we sat down on the lawn between the Burj's fence and the lake.

(Below video is the Burj Khalifa at night; to the right is the mall; I had to reduce clarity of the video to make it small in size)

A few minutes later, the lights on the railing went out and for a couple of seconds silence prevailed. Everyone turned their attention to the small lake. It isn't all that small - they say it is the length of two football fields and the fountain is among the world's tallest and largest fountains.

Lights shone upwards from the water and the music started; there were plenty of nozzles (called shooters) on the lake arranged in circles, arcs and lines. The music was beautiful, especially the build up in the middle, and the jets fired water in certain patterns to dance along with the music. I don't know what song it was but it was beautiful and spectacular. Every 20 minutes from evening till 11 at night the musical fountain would dance to different tunes. Not being satisfied with the first show we waited to see the next one. The memory card in my camera became full and I couldn't record the second one!
(It's time to catch my cab and I got to run - Blogger is taking too long to upload videos; I'll upload the Dubai Fountain musical videos tommorrow - do check it out)

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Dubai Travelogue (5) - Mall no.2 for the day

(Note: You can click on pictures to see the full size)

We skimmed through the Festival City mall for an hour not having anything specific in mind. I saw a Pierre Cardin outlet which had a sale offer. The price of shirts on sale was quite similar to that in India except that the brand was different. My sister asked me to pick up a shirt but I felt it would be better to check prices elsewhere. The mall was quite huge but since we had to get back home for lunch, we decided to return at 11:30. I spotted a ColdStone outlet just as we were searching for the main exit. It reminded me of the outlet in New York and I still remember my friend telling me back then that it was one of the best in ice creams. We hopped in and I ordered my favourite strawberry milkshake. Children don't like it when you buy something and they don't; so my niece got a vanilla milkshake. I won't tell you the price but I'll tell you how they made it! 3 scoops of strawberry ice cream, a few pieces of strawberry along with creamy milk in a blender - pure milkshake that was very thick and tasty. The guy even played with the ice scream scoop, tossing it in the air and catching it!

We hopped onto a Dubai Taxi that was waiting outside the mall - the driver was a Pakistani dressed in a formal suit with tie. This was something new - 10 years back you wouldn't see such professionally dressed drivers. The meter started at Dhs. 3 but there was a note stuck on the dashboard that read "In case meter is not operated, the ride is free. The minimum fare is Dhs 10"! Seeing my niece having a big cup of milkshake in hand, he politely said, "Please be careful. Don't drop it on the seat - the stain won't go". I took almost an hour to finish the milkshake - sipping it slowly and ensuring that I didn't let the chillness hit my throat directly; oh ya, I still did have a sore throat! I could hardly eat lunch - it was so heavy.

Our evening plan was to use the metro to 'Mall of the Emirates'. My sister had never used the bus or metro and so we called up the RTA (Road and Transport Authority) and asked them the route. We took a taxi to the Rashidya bus station from where we could take a metro train directly to Mall of the Emirates. In the station we bought a temporary red card, costing around Dhs 4 per head, that could be used for one travel. The metro was well maintained and clean - it reminded me of the metro at Washington. Even here the train route was called the "Red line". The difference compared to Washington was that here there were more staff and security available to help you in case you had any trouble with the swipe machines or directions. We bought the card, swiped it on a turnstile machine (you need to cross the turnstile to enter the area for boarding the train) and boarded the train. There were around 7 compartments and since this was the first station, all of us got a seat. Seats were comfortable and the entire train appeared relatively new. A pre-recorded voice announced, "The next station is Airport Terminal 3". There was a small TV in each compartment which mentioned what the next station was and there was a map that showed the list of stops on the red line.

(Picture: Mall of the Emirates) (Video: The metro)

Mall of Emirates was at the other end of Dubai - it would be a long metro ride! The train was just full - a few people standing and considering the amount of difference between taxi and metro I could see why; the same drive on taxi might have cost well over Dhs 25 but on the metro it cost just Dhs 4 or so. I enjoyed the ride so much that I actually dozed off for a few minutes! When we crossed over to the other side of Dubai and came close to the Burj Khalifa I woke up. There was a stop here "The next station is Burj Khalifa"; the tallest man made structure ever built. It stood pretty much in the center of the city and was towering over every other building nearby. It took around 40 minutes to reach Mall of the Emirates. There was another set of turnstile machines where we swiped our card and the money for the trip was deducted from the card.

A lengthy passageway connected the terminal station to the mall. We saw some mementos but didn't buy them (I guess I'm better than women when it comes to shopping - I take a lot longer time to assess and buy things!), hopped into a couple of electronics shops (DJ Sharaf, EMax were big players in this area) and also the food court for dinner. There was even a small rollercoaster for kids within the mall! You had a variety of food outlets ranging from McDonalds to typical restaurants. I decided to try Lebanese food. It took well over 10 minutes for the food to be prepared. When they placed the tray on the table, I felt it was a little less - a few pieces of chicken along with some french fries, hummus (it's a kind of cream made using gram seeds and sesame seeds) and some veggie leaves. Just as I was about to pick the tray, the guy at the counter placed 2 huge slices of bread on the tray (they call it bread but it was like naan with sesame seeds on top and very soft). Oh boy, and my bro-in-law and I together couldn't finish it; we ended up packing the bread! But certainly it is a cuisine that you should try out - hummus is yummy!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Dubai Travelogue (part 4) - First outting

Though we were now in Dubai and I had spent most of my years in Abu Dhabi, I still felt nostalgic to just be back in this country. There was still a decent amount of greenery in the city - almost all roundabouts were filled with grass and you could find roads also lined with trees; the place is supposed to be a desert but you would probably find more greenery here than what we see in Chennai! There were plenty of vehicles but no signs of smog in the air - maybe the use of cleaner fuel, efficient engines and petrol instead of diesel helped. My bro-in-law said that during peak hours traffic gets very heavy in certain signals but so far I hadn't seen a traffic jam.

My nose was feeling uneasy. It was probably the effect of alternating between complete AC indoors and heat outside. My throat was also a bit sore - falling sick in travel is really bad; getting treatment in a foreign land pretty much ruins your trip; vacation would then turn into sick leave! Maybe a good rest will do wonders. After a nice lunch at home, I don't know when I drifted to sleep - at night watched a little IPL (on a channel called CricOne), had dinner and went back to bed. Television service was provided through a service called e-vision by Etisalat (the main telecom provider in UAE) - service is similar to TataSky or DishTV out here but I felt the menu looked primitive when compared to TataSky.

In the morning, exercise here seemed a lot better than back in Chennai - maybe it was the centralized ac effect or maybe the spacious room or maybe it was something to do with the mind. The body felt a lot more flexible than usual. But my throat didn't feel any better - there was a slight pain and even a leaky nose had developed. I stayed the whole day at home spending time preparing a list of places to visit by researching on the internet about UAE (people often confuse UAE and Dubai - Dubai is just one of the main cities in the country UAE - United Arab Emirates). The other major cities are Abu Dhabi (the capital), Sharjah (just 20 minutes from Dubai) and Al Ain. Watched IPL, discussed places to visit with my bro-in-law and sister and slept.

Day 3 (Festival City)

By 8am, bro-in-law dropped us in Festival City on the way to office. Dubai Festival city is supposed to be developed as a city within a city. But the main attraction for now is the Festival Waterfront Centre which is like a large shopping mall with a lot of area being occupied by IKEA (an international furniture retailer) and HyperPanda supermarket. Our idea was to have the famous and cheap IKEA breakfast, roam around the mall and head back home for lunch. We thought that eating outlets would open for breakfast but we were wrong - IKEA canteen would open only at 9:30 and all shops were closed. There were a few cleaners, some visitors who probably landed here unaware of mall timings like us and some people who appeared to be regulars in this place - I wonder what they did with all shops closed. Half an hour my sister spent in making my niece eat her packed home food while I read "The 3 musketeers"; carrying a book in my backpack comes handy in these situations! We then took a few snaps in the mall, picked up a trolley in which my niece jumped in and we roamed around the mall looking to see which shops would open first. In the top floor, even the food court was closed. At 9am the employees had opened their shutters but they said they would start serving only at 10! On the way, I saw a 3D tv on display - the future of television; standing too close to the tv made the images appear in double; but if you went some distance back then you could feel the 3d effect - no need of special glasses! But I wasn't too convinced that moving images appeared in 3d; it would probably take some time to perfect the tv.

There was a cinema complex on the top floor and there was also a fitness center. Now it made sense as to why some people turned up so early out here! The mall was clean, large and similar to a US mall. At 9:40 we went to the canteen in IKEA where they served breakfast for Dhs 4 (currency is Dirham and 1 Dirham = Rs 12.5 approx). Well, please don't start converting the money and complain that Rs 50 is too much for breakfast - in Dubai Dhs 4 was relatively cheap. You could pick any 4 items from the tray -baked beans, potato wedges, sausages, omelettes and mushrooms. We picked the veggie items with extra potato wedges (potato wedges is like a large crispy French fry!). Baked beans was the best - its been long since I tasted it (it's basically beans soaked in a form of tomato sauce and it is yummy; you get this as a canned product in US and Europe). My niece and I emptied a few tiny cups of condensed milk that is supposed to be used for tea - condensed milk also tastes yummy but this one was skimmed milk and so didn't have the usual thickness of condensed milk. There were plenty of people in the IKEA canteen - many Westerners having sandwiches, sausages and tea.

My sister said that the mall had an abra ride - Abra is a traditional Arabic boat; the mall had a couple of Abras with motors to provide a free 10 minute ride. I was surprised that it was free. After asking a few people and referring to the signposts in the mall, we reached the abra place (spot the abra in the pic). But there were only a couple of staff over there and they informed us that the service starts only at 3pm since the Abra operators (drivers) were available only after 3. I chatted with an Indian employee, who worked in the Abra service for a few minutes before heading back to the mall. Communication was in Hindi and knowledge of Hindi certainly comes in handy because we can even communicate with Pakistanis since Urdu is quite similar to Hindi.

(This pic is the other side of the water stretch; to left of the pic is the mall)