Hello! I know it has been a very long time since my last post and I apologize for that. Let’s just say that all this silence over the last few months was triggered by an epic soap-opera level of drama that served as eye-opening for me as to the true nature of the aviation industry.
I digress! The Roaming Pilot is back online. If you’re a regular reader you’ll notice some pretty significant changes, mostly in that I won’t be writing about pilot stuff very much. However, you’re going to be very pleased to read on because I am now going to be “Roaming” even more! I’ve taken a job with a great company in a great location doing a great mission. It’s launched me, what I feel, is years ahead of my career track if I had pursued traditional paths.
For instance, I had the opportunity this past weekend to visit Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai has been on my bucket list of places to visit since they unveiled the Burj Khalifa and also because of two other influence. Click to read on –
I remember reading about the Burj Khalifa back when it was still being built in early 2008. Back then I thought it was called the Burj Dubai, or simply just “The Burj”. Given how tall it is, you could very well call it The Burj and it would still fit. Burj in Arabic is Tower in English. So it is, roughly, The Khalifa Tower (or Tower of Khalifa). Shortly afterwards though I saw a video of two base jumpers break into the construction site and jump off of the tower under construction. I’m not a base jumper but I was blown away by the images from their daring jump and that really set it. I wanted to see this massive tower. Burj Khalifa Illegal Base Jump.
The second thing that really inspired my interest in Dubai was an episode of The Amazing Race I was watching, when the contestants had to go into Ski Dubai and, I can’t really remember what they had to do in there – but I was floored. There was an indoor ski slope in the middle of the desert? I told myself that I would absolutely see and ski there. With this weekend now closed out – I can say proudly that I checked off this bucket list item, perfectly. Though I would have probably benefited from having a little bit more time, even just one more day, in Dubai – I don’t feel like I flew away without having really delved into the area. I’ll be back in January when I run the Dubai Half Marathon – so I’ll get to see more then!
Part of the reason I was going to Dubai was because I had run out of time on my visa in Kuwait, they only last 90 days, and needed to leave the country for a few days in order to come back in and legally renew my visa. This was a great opportunity for me to take some time and get some R&R. Though originally it was going to be a few days long, the trip got cut down to just about a day and a half. The other reason I was going to Dubai was to courier some equipment to a company down there.
Seeing as I had just spent the last 90 days in a dry country (Kuwait) I readily took advantage of a cheese and fruit tray offered up with a bottle of red wine on the Emirates 777-300 I was riding to Dubai. Not bad for Economy grub. I am really becoming very fond of Emirates Airlines.
Upon landing the very modern and easy to navigate Dubai International Airport was a breeze to get through. I spent a bit of extra time with customs explaining what exactly the parts where that I was transporting but ultimately they waved me on through *whew*. My base for this quick trip was a short drive down the road – at the Holiday Inn Express. I totally forgot to take pictures of the room, but it was very swanky, comfortable beds, awesome bathroom. My one complaint would be that they didn’t have any outlets near the bed for charging my phone. So it charged across the room. That’s really it. Great place, and at roughly $60USD a night, probably one of the more affordable hotels in Dubai to stay at.
And of course the most important feature was the well appointed gym, though small, it had everything you would need/want to get a travel pump.
After a really quick workout, a shower, and some map checking I hailed a taxi and went to visit the home of a long time facebook friend. We met up with a small group of people at their home on the Emirates Gold Club and enjoyed an evening of story telling, jokes, pizza and a few drinks. I was so caught up in meeting online friends in person for the first time that we never did take photos. I’ve got to work on that. I did however snap a photo of one of my destination targets for the following day. From the taxi, from anywhere in the city, the Burj Khalifa stood out prominently in the skyline.
After wrapping things up with some truly great people, whom I feel will turn into some long time friends I hailed a taxi back to my hotel in preparation for my planned all-day long roaming of this massive city. Really, 24 hours to see it all, isn’t enough time to see it all. Before turning in I hit my hotel bar for one more – tall – beer.
The next morning started off with a couple bowls of cereal from the included breakfast, and some toast and coffee. I knew from past experience that I would be going full speed ahead with very little time to eat a real meal for the rest of the day so I made sure to make breakfast count, it was going to be fueling the lions share of todays adventure.
A quick walk from my hotel was the Emirates Airlines headquarters building, which was impressive in its own right. Attached to it was the metro station I needed to get to the Deira City Centre, where the first leg of my Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour would start. The closest station to my hotel was located in the mall parking lot. The navigation of the metro in Dubai couldn’t be more simple. Once you figure out the zones and trips system the automated kiosks for purchasing tickets are a breeze to navigate. There are two cars dedicated to just women and children, one gold car, and in the whole station and on the trains there is no smoking, chewing gum, or eating and drinking. Making this one of the most modern, and most clean metro systems I’ve ever been on.
I should probably take this moment to tell you that I did a bit of research obviously before traveling to Dubai, and back in April when I was in Paris I did a similar bus tour. I recalled that their advertising mentioned that they had a Dubai bus tour and so, in order to most effectively get around the whole city I decided to book the tour for Dubai. The company is called Big Bus Tours and they have locations all over. It’s an easy, convenient way to get around the city. THAT being said, I think if you are going to be coming to Dubai and want to do something similar – I’d suggest using the competition – City Tours Dubai. It is the exact same thing, with the exact same routes, and the exact same included excursions. There are a few glaring differences between the two. The City Tours one is operated by Emirates group, they have twice as many busses which is very important to mention. More often than not I was waiting at a pick up zone for one of the “regularly scheduled” 30 minute pickups the Big Bus Tours advertises, with other passengers, for upwards of 45 minutes to an hour for a bus to arrive, all the while we would watch one or two of the competitor busses come and go. If time is limited, than you don’t want to burn it up standing around waiting for a bus to show up. Also, every now and then the Big Bus bus that would show up would have an un-enclosed upper deck. In the heat of the summer, with a full lower deck, you’re forced into a pretty hot and sweaty situation. I never saw a bus from the competition without an air conditioned top deck. So for comfort and convenience – got with City Tours Hop on Hop off tours.
13. My map for the day. I downloaded this before arriving to use it to plan my stops.
As a nod to Big Bus, they were phenomenal in Paris. Best by a long shot. But traffic in Paris is easier to get around in, the monuments and points of interest are closer, the history of the city is so rich that even when being driven longer distances, the tour is pretty engaging. In Dubai, that’s not the case. The city, as an attractive destination, is relatively young. So instead of long trips dotted with points of interest, you’re spending a lot of time in traffic jams at lights. This is again a point where Big Bus would benefit from a few more busses in the rotation.
Also – in Paris the music accompanying the tour narration was varied, and included several tracks, which made for a nice variety. Big Bus Tours in Dubai has one and a half tracks. I say “half” because 98% of the time you’re hearing the one track, and very rarely do you get the other track. It makes for a tedious audio experience, you don’t want to miss the tour narration, but you don’t want to listen to the same scimitar riffs over and over again.
14. My chariot for the day. One of the air conditioned top deck busses. Great in the summer. The exposed upper deck was nice in the morning and in the evening with the breezes.
15. See where it says “mind your head” up front…I definitely hit my head…on that sign.
17. The Burj Khalifa in all its glory. The Dubai Mall sprawls underneath it and is currently going through an expansion to add another 1,000,000 square meters to it. This side is the new Opera district going in.
18. The Jumeirah Mosque, the only Mosque non-muslims can visit. I wasn’t dressed appropriately for a Mosque visit so I’ll try and get in on this tour next time I’m in Dubai.
19. The famous Burj Al Arab, look up at the top you can see the prominent helipad. The hotel offers an Air Limo service and will fly you from the airport to the Burj. There is a reception area up there for elite check-in status.
So, based on the guidance of the bus staff on the ground, I modified my plans and decided to take the Beach tour first, to go to Atlantis to do the Aquarium. They made it sound like I would need to get there early. It’s big tank, but a short walk through. I should have stuck with my Old Dubai first plan. Lesson learned. So, hit the old Dubai stuff first. Really of course this comes down to preference. If you like a tour that stops at a lot of malls, and drives past a lot of cool architecture over one that takes you to the old heritiage sites of Dubai, then do the Beach Tour first. I’m not a mall person, and not a shopper, so this route was all but lost on me. With the one stop I wanted to do – the Atlantis, being the only one IMO worth stopping at this trip. (The Mosque and Mall of the Emirates too, the Mosque as mentioned above, and the Mall as mentioned below).
21. Atlantis at the Palm
22. Yours truly, in front of the Atlantis at the Palm. For posterity sake.
23. There is no shortage of fancy cars in Dubai.
24. And if you’re feeling like buying one of those fancy cars, you can make a gold bar withdraw from these convenient gold dispensing atm’s.
The bus ticket includes an Aquarium ticket, so I’m not sure how much it costs to get into The Lost Chambers without the bus ticket. This is a pretty easy to find Aquarium in the Avenues shopping and dining section of Atlantis. The whole thing is tricked out to look like you’re walking through old chambers of the lost city of Atlantis, littered with Atlantian technology, like communication chairs, and scepters. As for the Aquarium, the main viewing tank is massive with tons of species of marine life in it. Each large tank features a cushion seating area in front of the glass for you to take a load off and take it all in. The Mall of Dubai has an Aquarium and a Marine Zoo (two different things apparently – I heard that they were bigger/better than Atlantis).
28. The main chamber
After finishing the Aquarium I caught another bus from the drop off point, my intention now was to meet back up with the red line at one of the stations where the routes match up and get on with my old city tour. At this point it was getting really hot out and traffic was getting thick. I was a bit bummed that I had changed my intended routing for the Aquarium and will stand by my assertion that if you’re doing Dubai in a day – you can skip Atlantis. It’s a hotel, with a mall.
29. I also hit my head on that sign too.
30. Transfer of busses! Now I’m the only one up top because it’s an open air top and hot hot hot out! (I’m kind of used to it, I did just spend the summer in the Middle East heat.)
32. The new route took me closer to the Burj Khalifa than I had been all day.
33. The Dubai Museum entrance. Admission is free with the Big Bus ticket. The museum is actually underground, this fort is one of the original structures of Dubai and was built near the Dubai Creek and coast as a defense point against pirates and raiders, etc.
34. Traditional Dhow, or ship, of Arab design.
35. First stop, the Old Souk. Souk, in Arabic, translates to market. This Souk is one of the older ones still standing in Dubai from early times. It had modernized with the city relatively, and most of the shops are air conditioned with open air store fronts. This is the entrance to the Old Souk, and was restored a few years ago to resemble what it would have looked like in traditional times. This Souk is part of three Souk’s that line the banks of the Dubai creek, each one specializing in one specific item of trade. Though you can find a little from all of the Souks in each, as well as souvenirs, and electronics. The Old Souk is supposedly the textile Souk of the city. Which you will notice, driving to and from the Souk – the area is full of textile and fabric shops. This is a great place to buy souvenirs suck as scarves and ornate fabrics.
38. These water taxis are actually part of the metro system and are used to cross the Dubai creek between the Souks. I used the bus, but this is a cool and convenient way to get across the creek. And during rush hour…probably more than twice as fast.
The other two Souks that are part of the Creekside Trio (which I’m pretty sure is also a band name) are the Gold Souk, and the Spice Souk. Unless you’re looking to shop for jewelry or gold I’d say skip the Gold Souk. It’s very much caught up with modern times and isn’t the ornate and traditional Souk I pictured in my head, with mountains of gold bits, smoke, tarps and…well…ok maybe my imagination wasn’t very practical. But never-the-less, the Gold Souk is just a huge area of town filled with gold shops and jewelers. Do stop if you want something gold (unless you hit the gold bar atm earlier). I opted to pass the Gold Souk and head to the Spice Souk.
40. Old Souk, as seen from the other side of the Dubai Creek
41. The entrance to the Spice Souk
43. It was very aromatic in all the passageways.
44. Frankincense and Myrrh
45. Little hidden courtyard in the back of the Souk
46. I came across something I’d never tried before. Anything new and strange is wroth a try. Plus it was hot out, and this was cold. Camels Milk Gelato.
47. For the record, Hazelnut Camels Milk Gelato is delicious.
Time was running down on the bus tour. That’s one point I forgot earlier when I was talking about the short comings of this tour in Dubai, the busses all stop running beore 7pm. So given how long it takes to get from place to place, traffic delays, etc. Really you are going to be crunched for time. My next stop was very well timed, I made the very last Dhow Cruise for the night. Also included with my bus tour ticket.
48. The Upper Deck seating area for the sunset Dhow cruise down the Dubai creek.
49. I opted to sit up front to get some unrestricted views. Plus, the temperature was coming down at this point, so being in the direct sun wasn’t too hard to bear.
50. Some more traditional Dhow’s. They’ll use these boats to ship cargo as far south as east Africa and all the way up into Iran, their merchant fleet operates much in the way it did centuries ago. Except the cargo has changed to include washers and dryers, cars, and assorted technologies.
51. River cruise just got 2x better! Join me on the Lido-Deck! Which…is…um…we only have this one deck huh? Fun enhancers provided by Heineken. A note to any Heineken rep reading this. If you want to sponsor my travels and have me write more about your global beer presence – use the contact form on this site. Because, that would be really cool.
52. Old meets new. Modern building line the side of the Dubai creek mixed in with the old Souks.
53. This is probably by far the nicest wooden boat I’ve ever seen. The “Touch Wood” motor yacht. This was one of MANY wooden yachts lining the banks.
54. The water taxis are typically loaded with people and merchandise and just weave in and out of traffic. Much like the cars on the highways.
55. The sun has set, and the bus is no longer running. So after the boat tied back up I got myself a metro ticket and took charge of the rest of my evening. I still had two major goals for my one day in Dubai.
My first target was the Mall of the Emirates. I’d seen it earlier on the bus and had made a few mental notes about where I was going to need to go when I got there. The metro station links right up to the mall and in no time you’re in and amongst the stores and shoppers. Shopping is never my mission.
56. THIS IS WHY I’M HERE
57. All geared up at Ski Dubai and at the base of the slope! Check this goal off the list! Years in the making and I’m finally here!
58. On a chair lift. In the desert. In the summer. About to SKI!!
59. Dubai in the summer officially has more snow than Coeur d’Alene had all lost winter.
60. They even have a Mountain Haus lodge about halfway down the run that serves a mighty fine hot chocolate.
Ski Dubai also has a fun experience area for families that include a small luge, and a place to MEET A PENGUIN. I did neither, but will probably do both next time I’m here. About $60USD (UED 200) gets you two hours of slope time and all the gear you need. That time went by fast, and I was doing 3 minute runs so I got a lot of snow time in! But, as the clock was winding toward midnight and Dubai was about to turn into a pumpkin I couldn’t lallygag for too long in the snow – I still had one more place to see.
61. Finally made it to see the Tallest Building in the World! This is such an impressive building. Cool fact, same design team as the Freedom Tower in NYC.
62. I took my dinner at Joe’s Cafe, which has a patio that overlooks the dancing fountains. Probably one of the best, affordable views of both the tower and the fountains at night, well worth the warm air to see both in full glory during shows. The fountains go every half hour and the performances vary, so it’s always captivating. Highly recommend you see these go at night.
Ok. In closing, Dubai is an amazing city. It is massive, it is new, it is modern, and that modern city is laced with old charm and very cool history. It is still a relatively new tour destination is my impression. The dominance of retail outlets and the shopping culture of the Emirates and their Gulf neighbors is prominent. This is a shoppers paradise. Anyone that has a bug for architecture will be in awe at the amazing work they’ve done over here – it’s a “Gotta see it in person” kind of place. The summer months can be a bit stifling over here, so if you are planning a visit come in the winter months (January is nice, plus I’m running the Dubai Half- Marathon, so come cheer me on). If time is short, do the hop on and hop off bus tour. The metro system is remarkably well maintained, easily navigated, automated, and expanding every day.
There are a few things I didn’t get to do, the friends I have living in Dubai told me to do the City Walk and Marina Walk and I just ran out of time, if you’re a foodie (like me) this is where you’ll find the cuisine. Though there is no shortage of restaurants in Dubai, and every hotel and mall boasts a staggering array of options. Every taste can be sated here. I would have liked to have seen the raceway (also on the Amazing race) and the Flamingo lagoon, as well as going into the Dubai Museum. There are things for me to do when i go back. If you’ve got two or three days in Dubai, than you’ll be able to see most, if not all, of the really top notch attractions.A few extra days will also let you do a desert safari and visit Abu Dhabi which is a very short trip from Dubai.
It’s great to be back, I’m going to be posting more as I roam more. Be sure to follow me on social media you can find The Roaming Pilot on facebook, I tend to announce my travel plans there ahead of time. If you’re on twitter or instagram go ahead and follow @nick_thepilot and if you’re a reddit user /u/nick_thepilot
Until next time!
P.S. Emirate Airlines, that offer I made to Heineken above, totally goes for you guys too – if you feel like you want to sponsor a travel blog. I’m your man!