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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

UK to Philippines

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | Tuesday, 12 January 2010 | Views [1276]

Mon 4th Jan - The day of departure finally arrived. The day started with an early morning alarm call from Shiera back in the Philippines at 6:15am. Hadn't planned to get up until 7:30am, so that was a little premature, but nice to hear from here, even thought I was half dazed.

My mother walked to the station with me and waved goodbye. That is the bit the hardest to cope with. Not knowing when I will return is an empty feeling when you are leaving. I have had to come to terms with it now, having done it so many times.

The train to Manchester Airport was efficient with no hold-ups on the way. What is nice about Manchester Airport is that right outside of the railway terminal is the Rail link bus stop and I walked straight onto the bus and, being the only passenger, the driver whisked me straight to Terminal 3. It did mean that I got there much earlier than I had thought.

I decided to take my guitar with me this time and had bought a travel case for it. I was concerned as to how they would treat it at check-in, but I was so lucky. The lady said it would be £28 to check-it in, but she thought I could carry it on to the flight free, as it was only half full. She confirmed it and I was a happy man. So got it all sorted and off to Departures to wait...a long wait now as my FlyBe 7205 flight didn't leave until 13:50. Not long after finding a seat, I was joined by a lovely lady from Singapore, who was a Behavioral Psychologist for children there. We had a lovely chat until her flight was called. So many experiences in common . She was 50 just before Christmas and had gone home to celebrate it with family. The terminal then emptied as everyone boarded their flight and I was the only one left. I decided to move to the other direction where the main bars and restaurants were plus bureau do change to swap my pounds to Euros, and grab some lunch whilst waiting for the flight gate to be announced. Last few pennies...now what can I buy for 62 pence? Absolutely bugger all is the answer to that question. The cheapest item is 75 pence. So it will end up in a donation box somewhere.

Flight BE7205 was aboard a cute little 78-seater Q400 Dash 8 with real propellers (well carbon fibre ones). They let me carry my guitar on board and put it in the 'wardrobe' during the flight. A nice journey with super views of the snow and ice covered grounds over both the UK and France. It had cleared by the time we reached Paris, but temperatures were still cold at -5 degrees C on landing.

We arrived at 4:25pm (move forward to GMT+1), after the longest taxi run I think I have ever known. Quick Passport Control and out into Terminal 1. I needed to get the RER B line signposted at 'Paris by train, which leaves from Terminal 3. A Shuttle train covers the journey between the two. 8.5 Euros to 'Gare du Nord' as opposed to 50 Euros by taxi plus 2 Euros per baggage! I have no idea how the taxis do business at that rate?

They have Auto machines for buying train tickets, but nobody seemed to be able to get them to work with a credit card, so went to ticket booth instead.

The trains arrive regular enough on Platform 24 and mine left at 5:15pm. Arrived at Gare du Nord, now in darkness as night fell during the journey. 

Now for some fun....I had no idea that the 8.5 euro ticket actually covers the whole journey through to when you get off....including any journeys on the Metro lines. So there's me searching around for either a ticket booth or a ticket machine, with none in sight. And even more frustrating was that I could hardly find a single person who spoke any English. One girl eventually gave me a clue, and I thanked her and set off to the Metro. First line 5 to get to 'Gare L'Est' and then on to Line 7 to Crimée. The instructions I had printed off were good and I had no trouble finding it. St. Christopher's Inn on Rue de Crimée.

Staying in a 10 bed mixed dorm. It is a swanky place with clean well thought out beds. Each with electrical sockets and lights and secure under-bed storage. Just need your own padlock. I even got my guitar case in it, it was so big.

Quick change and downstairs for dinner. They do a 6 Euro half board dinner if you book before 6pm, but I was too late and they didn't have enough left, so had a pizza and a pint of beer. Expensive at 13 Euros total.

 

Tue 5th Jan - Breakfast is included in the price. Simple continental spread of bread, jams, cereals, Orange juice and tea/coffee. Also, there was a free sightseeing walking tour at 10am around most of the famous sights, so I decided to join it. We had to catch the Metro to the main meeting point at ‘Saint-Martin’ in the 'Latin Quarter', so called as the Sorbonne university is close by and in the past all communication and teaching was in Latin. The company running the tour were called Sandeman’s and there so many people arrived that they had to split into three groups. Ours had 34 in it. For three and a half hours the tour visited most of the main attractions in the area and what we didn’t visit, the guide talked about so that we could make our own way there. A really good talk on French history over the past 2,500 years so that everyone wasn’t totally in the dark over how Paris got to be the way it is. Having been here before I always find it a beautiful city to walk around. Everywhere has so much character. The Louvre is famous of course, as are many of the Palaces, plus the grand Opera house, The Pont-Neuf (new bridge), The Tuilleries gardens, and the Ile de la Cite. The older parts are open and attractive with the main thoroughfare leading down the Champs Elysees to L’arc de Triomphe being a dramatic way to finish the tour. Under the arch, which is accessible via an underpass, is the eternal flame to commemorate the ‘unknown Soldier’. There are a few stories about how this has reached the eyes of the media over recent years. One story is when an Australian guy decided to urinate on it to put it out. Another group decided to try and roast some hotdogs on it and that put it our too. So it isn’t a eternal as it should be!

After the tour finished I went off, joined by an American guy, to see the Eiffel tower. The queue was 4 hours long! And they had closed off the top level for the whole month for maintenance. So visitors could only get to level 2 anyway. 4.5 Euros for that!

It had been a long day of walking, with only a 25 minute stop at a Starbucks for lunch, and so I was really tired and headed back to the Hostel for a rest. Luckily, no matter where you go on the Paris Metro it only costs 1.6 Euros. There is a block pass system for 10 trips, but it isn’t worth it if you’re only here for a few days.

I booked dinner for 6 Euros at the Hostel for 7pm and then went out for a walk afterwards. The local area isn’t that exciting, but there is enough for an evening out. Plenty of restaurants of every nationality I could think of, and all about the same extortionate price.

Wed 6th Jan - Montmartre. Blanche station right opposite the Moulin Rouge. One of only two windmills left in Paris. Nothing much during the day, but lit up at night. The Feerrie show has showings at 7pm and 11pm. Cheapest is 80 Euros for the 11pm show with no beverages. Dearest is 180 Euros! Need smart dress, shirt/tie, no shorts. Walked to Sacre Coeur (Sacred heart) cathedral. The best view of Paris on a good day. Today it was snowing and so the view wasn't clear, but nice all the same. There is a funicular train between the top and bottom of the Butte (hill) for 1 Euro, but it is easy to walk it, albeit a bit slippy today. I decided to complete the loop back to the Moulin Rouge, which goes along the main road and the Pigalle area. This is famous for its attraction in the past for artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec and home to the seedier side of Paris. Today it is full of numerous sex shops, peep shows and live 'performances'. I am sure it is a different atmosphere at night, but during the day it was a bit subdued.

Was so cold I couldn't stay out much longer and went back to the hostel for the rest of the day.

Thu 7th Jan - After a session on the internet in the morning, I felt the need to do something with my last day in Paris, so went to the Louvre. 9.5 Euros entry charge. Aimed straight for the Denon wing of the building to visit the famous 'Mona Lisa' by Leonardo Da Vinci. As is normally reported, it is a diminutive painting with a lot of hype surrounding the reason for her demur smile. I do have my own opinion about it, albeit not likely to be accepted by the world's art critics. I reckon she had just had a seriously active passion session with her lover Leonardo. And in those days they didn't have cameras...so there she was...recovering and trying to put on her best smile whilst he caught her on canvas. Under her breath she is muttering to herself...will you get on with it, I need the bathroom! Well...the actual version isn't so clean as that!

A nice walk to the 'Place de La Bastille', where nowadays there is a column surmounted by a gold statue to commemorate where the Bastille used to be.

Back to the hostel and some social time chatting with other travelers from faraway places....Argentina, Michigan USA, Finland to name a few. Could have stayed for ages as it was a nice group, but had to pack my things. In some ways it was ok cos I ended up with another group in the dorm room chatting for a bit.

Fri 8th Jan - Time to move on to Dubai today. I had another disturbed night's sleep when some guys came in and out all night. This hostel is a nice clean place, but it seems to have some of the most inconsiderate travelers I have known. Oddly enough, and I am not being biased...the worse ones are the French students. They don't care at all if they disturb anyone. There is a standard issue that most travelers will make comment on. The French do not like English. They will go out of their way often to not be helpful, even though they do speak English, and can be very dismissive towards you if you don't speak some French.

I had had breakfast and was out of the hostel ahead of my plan, and was I glad that I was! I got to the Crimée Metro station to buy my first ticket to Gare Du Nord. Put my money in...out came the change and no ticket. So I then decided to wait for someone going through the barrier and run in behind them. Bundled with my guitar and baggage wasn't successful as they are very narrow. So I had to climb over!

Arriving at Gare du Nord....the tickets for the train are outside of the main central area, so I had another go at squeezing through behind another passenger when the automatic gate opened....successful this time. Then the RER ticket machines stopped working and everyone had to wait. Went to the ticket office instead and got my ticket, then re-entered the building and off to platform 43 to wait for the train. An electrical fault occurred somewhere and that messed up the trains, which were now all running at least 30 minutes late. The train system in Paris is old and showing signs of wear. Over the past few days, the Metro trains I have been on have randomly stopped for a few minutes or so. The usual comments you here are about how bad it is getting. The electronic displays were in French only, and so are tricky to understand if you don't speak French. After asking a few other people, got one guy to help. Getting on the right train is an art when it is chaos! When it finally arrived all hell broke loose when we all...baggage flailing around...squashed our way into the carriage. It is a long way and have to get a seat. That was fun as there wasn't much space left. One woman got hit on the head by a suitcase when one guy tripped trying to get it into the overhead luggage. She was not too happy!

The RER B train arrived at Terminal 1 and then the next bit of fun....the inter-linking train to Terminal 1 building. Shoe-horned in and being jostled the whole way as it winds its way up and down and side to side was tricky. People were falling over luggage and complaining all the way.

At this stage I was sweating as it had been hard work with the luggage I had. Out into T1 and off to Hall 5 for the Air Baltic check-in and ahhhh...some time to relax until check-in opened. Had to re-distribute some items to get the weights sorted. 10kg carry on only. I was the first in the queue and they were really nice. Got my guitar as carry on luggage again, so no additional costs.

There were some security alerts that came over the tannoy, with people leaving luggage where they shouldn't and walking off. Some people are so stupid, considering they should know better about leaving anything unattended. Someone even left a bag at the security counter in departures and that stopped the process for a while.  Got to gate 72 with plenty of time to relax and listen to the regular announcements about left baggage and apologies for the delays it was causing.

The first stage of my journey today is aboard Baltic Air BT 692 heading north west to Riga in Estonia (west of Moscow), with about 90 minutes stopover before continuing south east on to Dubai. Estimated journey time is 2 hr 10 minutes to Riga. Which sorts of compensates as it was supposed to be 2hr and 35 minutes. Must be downhill then!

The flight was delayed leaving and we didn't board until 14:20. I hadn't really given it much thought, but it dawned on me when I boarded the plane when they were giving out Russian newspapers. I thought I was going to be unfortunate when a Russian guy sat next to me with his screaming young daughter. Luckily she ran off to sit with her mother, but then started screaming again.

We didn't take off until 2:50pm, 40 minutes later than planned. That meant a squashed time to board the next flight in Riga. I was starving now as a hadn't had that much for breakfast. Carrying so much luggage, and not being able to take anything through security checks etc makes for a long time without food. On-line you have the opportunity to pre-book a meal too, so it arrives earlier than everyone else's. So I was sat next to two people tucking into a warm meal and I was starving. Had to wait a while for the trolley to come around so I could buy a meal too. Enough to feed a sparrow for a few seconds and costing 9.75 Euros, it was actually ok, redeemed by the red wine I chose to have with it.

It was weird to have just left France and the aforementioned language issues, to be surrounded by Estonians/Russians and hearing a new language. All part of the travel experience!

Move forward 1 hour to Estonian time....6pm and thick snow on the ground...and night time too. Odd to see mountains of snow maybe 4 metres high piled at the side of the runway.

I was just connecting and my next flight to Dubai BT791 was due to leave soon. Actually, it had been delayed too, and was now leaving at 19:25, which I was happy about as I had wondered whether there was going to be enough time to transfer my luggage. Not that obvious where to go at first, but Riga is a small airport and easy to work out. Gate D1 was ok with a small snack and drink stand. Tashkent was just about to leave and it all felt very Russian with fur coats and fur hats in abundance. Another currency here, but they do take Euros.

It wasn't long before they began boarding the flight. I had been allocated a seat right next to the main door and so had loads of leg room for a change. As soon as the door was closed for takeoff, the cold went and the warmth appeared. And that was the last time for a long while I reckon I will see snow and feel so cold. When I emerge from this flight in 6 hours time, it will be into the heat of Dubai, and back into maybe 28 degrees C. 

Sat 9th Jan - it was nice to arrive into warmth, albeit at a silly time of the morning. Dubai airport is massive and the queues were long. Not thinking much of it, I joined what seemed to be the shortest queue. As I scanned around, seemed as though everyone else I could see was holding extra pieces of paper with their passports, apart from me. I was a little worried that I had missed something important. Turned out not to be the case, and the British are one of the few nations admitted to the UAE without visas....phew...

Baggage arrived ok and then exchanged as much of the surplus currencies I had left from the UK and Europe into Dirham (£1=5.9 AED or Dhs, $1=3.8 AED or Dhs. And 1Dh = 100 Fils) and then headed out for a taxi. The airport levies a 21 Dirham fixed fee on the taxi meter. It is only 3 Dirham outside of the airport! I was to stay at the 'Golden Sands Apartments 3' in Mankhool, which seems easy enough to find. I had booked three nights, but check-in wasn't until 2pm theoretically. I was hoping they would let me in earlier as it was now only 4:30am. They agreed on a compromise of 8am so that they could prepare the room. Whilst I waited, I was able to avail of the free Wi-Fi internet in the 1st floor restaurant and café. As it turned out, there was a lovely girl from the UK who was a resident jazz singer at one of the Medina bars, who was looking for some company and came over for a chat.

Once I got into my room I was impressed. A nice comfortable apartment, with kitchenette (cooker, fridge) and lounge area plus cable TV. I should have gone to bed to catch up on some sleep, but I was eager to get out and explore the city.

One thing that becomes apparent with this city, is its scale…it is vast and the map doesn’t do it justice. There is a lot to show on a manageable map and it turns out to be about 5km per inch! Heading north form the Monkhool area leads to the district that brings in the tourists…massive hi-tech buildings, luxury shopping malls, and to the east, the Jumeira beach and the famous Burj Al Arab hotel, with its sail shape…more on that later.

For now I decided to head off on foot to check out the new Metro system. Breakfast in McDonalds…where else? 18 Dirhams for a ‘Big Breakfast’ plus free Orange Juice. Onwards with my walk…Another thing that becomes apparent here, is that Dubai is still being built! Every direction I looked I could see cranes and various stages of works going on. Only part of the Metro is open, but there is an extensive bus system in place and that looks easy enough to use although I didn’t bother myself. Dipping into one of the Metro terminals was smart and tidy as expected here. A team of guys polishing the tiled floor to a bright shine. Security guards also smart and efficient. Some of the entrances look like an armadillo shell…very stylish design.

In the distance I could see downtown Dubai….the location of the famous ‘Dubai Mall’  and the more recently famous ‘Burj Al Khalifa’, which is now the tallest building in the world at 828metres. And…getting excited here…it only opened to the public on 4th January, and I hope to make a visit. More later. Today’s mission  was the Burj Al Arab. Started walking the general direction and realized after a while that it would probably take me a whole day to get there, so abandoned the idea and jumped in a taxi. Got the driver to drop me off at the beach with a nice view of it. Pure white sand, gorgeous inviting sea and a gently breeze…great to be back at the seaside…especially somewhere special like this. The Burj al Arab is stunning. Glistening white sail shape and massive when you get up close. The one pain though…and only apparent when you try to get close to it…is that you cannot get close to it! Unless you have a reservation for a room or dinner, security stop you at the gate. Lots of disappointed tourists standing there and complaining to the guard, as if he can do something about it. He must have to put up with this all day? Why they don’t do a tourist ticket and guided tour of the place is beyond me.

Tried to walk to some other places along that area, but it is the same again…cannot get in anywhere, so gave up and jumped a taxi back to the Hotel to take a break. The hotel has a free swimming pool and sauna for guests. I was the only person using the pool, as it was now in shade and a little chilly. Was refreshing though.

Back out in the evening to the Bur Jaman Mall and a great Indian Meal. The staff were all from India and it was nice to chat to them about my own experiences of travelling in their country.

The thing about going out in Dubai at night is the colourful buildings in the downtown area. The ‘Big Bus’ company do a sightseeing tour of Dubai. One during the day for 220 AED, and one at night for 100 AED. I might do the night tour whilst I am here?

I was getting really tired now and retired to the hotel and hit my bed…out like a light in seconds…Zzzzz….

Sun 10th Jan – One objective today…to visit the ‘Burj al Khalifa’. The new tallest building in the world. I was told that it was so busy, that it might be so busy that I couldn’t get in for a couple of days. Decided to take a risk and go anyway. Caught a taxi to the Dubai Mall which is where it is situated for 30 Dirhams, and dropped off at the Grand entrance.

Easy enough to work out what to do, as it the ticket office is located at the Food court in the Lower ground. The queue was massive, but I wasn’t deterred. Turned out to be really lucky and got a ticket for the 2pm visit for 100AED. You can buy an immediate access ticket, but that costs 400AED. Don’t see the point in paying that amount out to save a few hours wait. I only had to lose about 2 ½ hours before returning. This mall is superb, even for a shopaphobic! There Is just about everything you would imagine there to be….including an open air ice-rink! The ‘Gold Souk’  is beautifully design in traditional arched style, with decorative lanterns and lots of glitzy jewelry shops. Time to take a break and some lunch at Café Nero adjacent to the ice-rink and then head off to go up in the world! People watching in a different country is an interesting experience. Of course, here in an Arabic country, lots of things are different to other countries. Groups of ladies pass dressed in the usual black ‘Burqa’, with only their eyes visible though a slit. Many are covered completely. The men dress in the long white ‘Dishdashas’ robe and ‘Gutra’ headdress (held in place by the crown-like ‘Agal’). I think it is very elegant for of dress, and appropriate in this type of climate. Nowadays of course, it is more common to just see everyone in westernized dress. I think it is a sad loss of tradition personally, but I understand progress and the wish to fit it. Where would the shopping malls be if everyone wore traditional clothing…they would have to shut down!

There is a really good display in the waiting area, with interactive displays…the sort you don’t need to touch..just wave your hand nearby and it changes…hi-tech! They make much noise about this building being much bigger than any other building on earth…the previous tallest was building 101 in Taipei…Burj al Khalifa is 828 metres.

Passing though security and baggage checking into the main access area. At present visitors are only allowed to the 124th level at around 450 metres. The building is still being finished and evidence is all around of that. Inside the lift is a really nice graphic display with surround screens detailing the story of the tower. Having been up some of the world’s other tall structures including the Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur, the Pearl tower and world finance centre in Shanghai, it is great to get a bird’s eye view of the city. The heat makes it a bit hazy, but what it does confirm is what I have already commented on…Dubai is still being built. From this viewpoint there seems to be so much construction in every direction. Maybe another 20 years and it might be near finished???

One lady that I got chatting to was visiting whilst her husband was working. He actually worked in this building and she had some interesting facts to tell. Apparently their biggest fear is fire…no surprise there….but there are no fire escapes! At locations in the building there are safety areas that can hold people for upto 48 hours during an emergency…but no direct escape. The building will never be full. The maximum they anticipate is 75%.

I was thrilled that my visit had coincided with being able to come here. It only opened on 4th Jan, with public access on 5th Jan….how lucky am I?

After the excitement of visiting the Burj al Khalifa, and having already spent some hours walking around the mall, I Was getting tired, and thought of going to the cinema to while away a few hours til darkness, but decided that I had done enough today and escaped into the open and jumped a taxi back to the hotel to recover.

The lady jazz singer I had met when I arrived had left me what food she had left. So I was able to make a pasta dinner in the kitchenette. Saved a little on eating out and was a nice relaxing evening of watching TV, catching up with world events, and playing my guitar. Main event seemed to be the snow back in the UK and across Europe. I was lucky to leave when I did as it seems to have caused chaos. The other main even seems to be the opening of the Burj Al Khalifa. Reinforcing the fact the timing of my visit here was a lucky one.

Mon 11th Jan - Lazy start today with breakfast in my apartment. I felt the need to make the most of my last full day here I had done the more touristic parts of Dubai, which only left the Creek to do. Around 45minutes walk from the hotel along Mankhool road. The creek is the waterway that separates the north and south bans of Dubai, with the water flowing out in to the Arabian gulf. As with the rest of Dubai, it is flanked by some great buildings, but its main theme is the open plan promenade along the waterfront. The Massive British embassy seems to dominate part of it. Restaurant and tour boats line the whole front. As it was only early afternoon they were all quiet, readying themselves for the evening. The spicy aromas emanating from them were very tantalizing, and got my appetite going. Another feature near to where the road joins the waterfront, is the culture centre. A camel was lazily chomping on some grass, and not many people around, as it was closed for lunch. Could still have a look around at the old style Arabic building though.

Lunch was at the lovely ' Local House Restaurant' on Al Fahidi road: set in relaxing cushioned and shaded typical Arabic style outdoor area and traditional music as accompaniment. I had a nice vegetable curry and rice. The waitress happened to be from Manila. Small world isn't it! She was working here for a year, having been for 3 months already.

With a blister growing on the sole of my right foot, I didn’t want to do much more walking in the heat, so had to go for damage limitation and head back to the hotel. I had seen enough anyway. 

A nice dip in the pool to soothe my blistered foot and could hear the unmistakable sound of a Scouse accent…for those who don’t know what that is…it is an accent from Liverpool and surrounding area of the UK. I had a nice chat with them. A young couple with their son and her mother (also known as child-minder…they were open to admit that is why she came). Even though I don’t care as much I used to for travelling on my own these days, it is nice when I get the chance to pass the time of day with some nice people. It is one way of learning something about places that others have been. It is very easy to be isolated otherwise. Another lady was here on a football conference for a couple of weeks. There are plenty of ordinary tourists that come here, but it seems that a high proportion of visitors are working in some way whilst they are here. Another guy had been on a climbing venture to try out some new equipment for a few weeks and was taking a break before heading home. All sorts of people…

I was slightly disappointed when I read in the hotel information pack that every dressing table was supposed to be marked with an arrow showing the direction to Mecca (or Al Qebla / Al Ka’abah), for their Arabian guests. Searched and couldn’t find it. Now where exactly is Mecca from here?

Had to go out again in the evening for one last glimpse of Dubai at night. From Trade centre road there is a nice view of the Burj al Khalifa in the distance. Periodically it sparkles. Very dramatic idea I think. I can imagine it to be pretty up close, but it is too far to go tonight.

Tue 12th Jan – This evening I return to Manila via Kuala Lumpur with Malaysian airlines. As I don’t reckon I will be getting much sleep over the next day or so, I stayed in bed as long as I could, then checked out at noon. It gave me plenty of time to avail of the internet and relax in the cool of the restaurant.

Until my next posting then…..

 

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