Trip Start May 10, 2008
Trip End Jun 15, 2008

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Flag of United Arab Emirates  ,
Friday, June 13, 2008

DAY 34 THU We booked ourselves out of Locanda Silva and dragged our luggage, a little heavier than when we had arrived, down to San Zaccharia vaporetto stop. We were actually able to help an American couple, less seasoned travellers than ourselves, who were heading towards the airport.

The vaporetto took an hour to reach the airport, chugging slowly past Murano, Ospedale and other islands we had either visited or at least passed before. At the airport Margaret learned to her chagrin that she wasn't entitled to any refund of tax. We were both most disappointed as we had gone to a lot of trouble in Munich (or perhaps Nuremberg) to complete the necessary forms.

We landed in Dubai at a little after eleven in the evening. It was a scene of chaos. I led Margaret to the visa counter because I had understood that we needed a free visa to stay in Dubai. I almost fell down a set of stairs while reading my arrival instructions using my reading glasses. To my surprise I discovered that we didn't need visas after all which was a great relief because the queues were extremely long. Only people of dark complexion need visas, it seems.

I rescued our luggage from the roundabout quite quickly, or at least most of it. My backpack didn't appear and I had to report it missing. By the time we got to the Metropolitan Palace it was after one in the morning and we didn't get to bed for another hour. We had been upgraded to a deluxe room, which was a pleasant surprise, however an irritating clicking noise emanating from the bathroom made it impossible to sleep. A maintenance man appeared fairly promptly after my call to the concierge, banged a few pipes, then left. The clicking noise returned ten minutes later.

DAY 35 FRI We rose reluctantly at half past eight and indulged in coffee in our room before taking a taxi to Deira City Centre Shopping Mall. I had suggested to Margaret that we walk as it looked pretty close to our hotel on the map. It wasn't, of course, and if we had attempted to walk we would have expired from heat exhaustion.

At the mall I finally found the Virgin Megastore I had been looking forward to for the last month. It was a major disappointment. More interesting was the huge Carrefour, the largest supermarket we had ever seen. Everything was unbelievably cheap and if I had been alone I could have filled another piece of luggage with bargains (all unnecessary but too good to pass up).

Another taxi ride took us to the biggest mall outside North America, the impressively named Mall of the Emirates. Claimed to be the size of seventy three football fields and containing over four hundred shops, the mall is most renowned for its indoor ski field. We were amazed to see people in ski clothes zipping down a mountain on skis and children hurling themselves down toboggan runs. There were even ski lifts. The Virgin Megastore in this mall was much more to my taste than its predecessor and I bought a number of really cheap CDs. Poor Margaret sat uncomplainingly outside while I indulged myself.

Back at the hotel I arranged for a man to fix our clicking problem and booked tickets for a tour of Dubai on the Big Bus the next day. We dined in the Lebanese restaurant, one of half a dozen in the hotel. For the first time ever we ordered entrées as well as main courses. We were starving and the menu seemed very cheap. We hadn't realized that the entrées would be the size of a normal main course and found ourselves struggling to make an impression on the real main course when it arrived. Although the food itself was indeed cheap, the beer and wine we consumed in moderation was horrifyingly expensive so that the bill ended up being at least as big as those we had suffered in Europe.

Margaret's second goal (the first had been buying Venetian Glass) was to relax for several hours beside a pool. The Metropolitan Palace boasted such a pool on its roof. We changed into our bathers in the changing rooms on the walls of which was a sign warning that it was a crime to undress in a public place. The sign warned that a pool dressing room was regarded as a public place. As I hurriedly disrobed I realized that I was committing a criminal act which could get me deported, if not executed. The temperature on the roof had dropped to the mid thirties and a brisk breeze caused us to shiver. After a short swim and a few minutes reading on banana chairs we returned to our room.

DAY 36 SAT I had set our clock to wake us at eight so we would be ready to board our Big Bus when it called for us between half past nine and ten. The alarm didn't go off and, because we were tired and as we had the drapes drawn to darken the room, we didn't wake until nine. We prepared ourselves as quickly as possible then learnt that the bus wasn't going to arrive until half past ten.

The hotel had arranged for the Big Bus Company to send a minivan to take us to the Wafi Mall where we would begin our tour. Our first stop was at the Al Fahidi Fort, otherwise known as Dubai Museum. This was a recreated fort containing exhibits which showed various aspects of Dubai's history and culture. The displays included graves in which skeletons, very old, lay curled in the foetal position as well as musical instruments and weapons from Dubai's tribal past. Other rooms contained very realistic figures of Arabs going about their business (cooking dinner, selling stuff).

A Big Bus arrives at each stop every fifteen minutes so it wasn't very long before we were heading for our next stop, the Old Souk. We were going to get off here and look for gifts for David and Tim however the bus barely stopped and we didn't have time to rise from our seats.

The Gold Souk was not as interesting as Margaret had expected. Even a quick glance at a shop window would attract the attention of the owner who would launch into a practiced though totally sincere sales pitch. They always knew who wore the pants in our family because they inevitably ignored me and targeted Margaret. We left the souk in a hurry, anxious to escape the persistent gold- selling people.

On the other side of Dubai Creek we were dropped off with the rest of the passengers to begin an hour long cruise up and down the creek by dhow. The dhow didn't have seats as such; rather we sat Arab- style on pillows. While interesting in places, we decided that a quarter hour cruise would have been sufficient. Dubai appears to be fairly new so apart from the odd mosque most of the buildings lining the embankment were business blocks. At one point the banks of the creek were jammed with boats of all shapes and sizes, mainly painted blue. Some looked like old Spanish galleons and probably were. We learned that these were trading boats from all over the Arab world and that their crews were not permitted to leave the docks.

At the Deira City Centre Mall we left the Red Route bus which had taken us on a tour of the central part of the city and boarded a Blue Route bus for a tour around the beachfront. It seemed that most of the stops on this, the longer tour, were at malls. We disembarked for five minutes at Jumeirah Public Beach to watch mainly white people cavorting in the surf. The only other time we got off the bus was at Souk Madinat Jumeirah where we planned to have a beer. I scanned a beer menu at the bar and told the barman that we would like to drink our beer on the terrace. He was horrified. Apparently it is perfectly legal to buy alcohol in Dubai and drink it inside the souk; it is highly illegal to drink it at a table outside. I made do with a Starbucks iced latte instead.

I managed to cause a small commotion in the narrow lanes of the souk by knocking over a brightly dressed mannequin. My attempts to implicate another tourist weren't entirely successful and I was forced to resort to humiliating myself by pretending to be Margaret's senile father (with rather more success). Souk Madinat Jumeirah was only slightly more interesting than the Gold Souk, though we were finally able to buy gifts for David and Tim. Margaret haggled with great skill, though she couldn't beat the man down from ninety five dirham to ninety which would have saved her the equivalent of a dollar thirty.

By now it was early evening and we decided to take the next bus all the way back without getting off anywhere. The remainder of the stops were at malls and of no interest to us. These shopping centres were obviously paying the Big Bus Company to advertise their attractions as the pre-recorded guide devoted fifty percent of his time to informing us of the number of shops each mall contained. Another forty percent was devoted to the hotels we passed and their tourist capacities. The remaining ten percent was spent in extolling the virtues of Dubai's ruling family, the Al Maktoums (praised be their names.

By the time we reached Deira City Centre Mall it was half past six. We were going to catch a taxi back to the Metropolitan Palace but a helpful guide outside the mall told us that there was a forty five minute wait for taxis and that we would be better off waiting for twenty minutes for a free shuttle bus ride to the hotel. Not only was this the quicker option but we also saved four dollars!

DAY 37 SUN First thing this morning a Sri Lankan man brought coffee to our room and enthusiastically discussed cricket (especially his admiration for Shane Warne, who I believe is a famous cricketer) with Margaret. As a cricket ignoramus I made what I hoped were appropriate noises where required.

I had been very thrifty when it came to tipping hotel staff since we had arrived, in fact I hadn't done it at all, which Margaret thought most ungenerous. I made up for it on our last morning by tipping the Sri Lankan man and the hotel porters much more than they expected. The former received two dirham (sixty cents) whilst the three porters shared another three dirham (one dollar).

We left Dubai and brought an end to our holiday with little regret. We were tired and anxious to return to our family and the familiar routines of life in suburban Sydney.
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