January 25, 2008 to February 11, 2008
The flight to India was the longest flight I ever took. Toronto to Dubai, UAE was 13 hours and 5 minutes. Dubai to Mumbai, India was about 3 hours plus a wait of about 3 hours between landing in Dubai and take off for India. I would recommend flying first class with Emirates since you actually get a seat that fully reclines to almost a bed where you can get a good night's sleep. I will definitely look into the price vs. comfortable sleep.
Day one in Mumbai:
Exchanged $950 CAD at the airport and in return received stacks of money (36 rupees per $1CAD) like you would see in the American gangster movies. I truly felt like I was up to no good. After hiding all the cash into my camera bag we went to get a prepaid taxi. That in itself was interesting as we were able to bargain the price down about 40rs. Finally at 3:30 am we were on the way to the hotel in Mumbai in the the Fort area. Whenever I tried to talk to the taxi driver he would start talking in his language so I just gave up. He was circling the area close to the hotel for about 20 minutes while talking to himself. Finally he decided to stop and ask someone for directions. I didn't really care that he was taking so long as the taxi was paid for and I was actually enjoying seeing Mumbai at night. It was 5am when we reached the hotel. I gave him a tip which he was grateful for and went inside the hotel.
So what do you do in Mumbai at 5am with little sleep? You bet! Take a 2 hour train ride to Neril. From there I purchased tickets to Matheran for a small gauge train that takes 1 hour to climb the hills of that area. The scenery was great. A lot of red hills/mountains and even a small lake. The train ride was great in itself as within the one hour climb we stopped about 3 times at tiny mountain stations where you could purchase juice, cold drinks and of course chai. Upon arrival in Matheran and petting some local dogs we made our way into the village. There are no cars, motorbikes or bicycles allowed in the village. Everything is either drawn by horse or manpower.
I took this shot just behind the rail station in Neral.
Railtrack curving around the mountain as the train climbed.
Another view from the train.
People washing clothes in the stream.
View of the farms.
Every time I passed shops or street vendors I was promised a "special" price and usually I was their first customer so I had to buy something for good luck. There were also horse rides available which also involved a tour of the village and sights. Even though I'd love to ride a horse I thought that walking around would be a better idea as it allowed freedom to do and stop anywhere.
Mountain view from between the tree branches.
Interesting contrast of a house and the mountain view.
When we were ready to go back to the loud and busy Mumbai we found out that going back with the "toy train" was impossible as the tickets get booked up 3 days in advance. The only other option left was to walk 45 minutes down the mountain to a taxi parking lot. It is possible to hire a horse and go down.
So we shared a taxi with some Indian tourists. We needed 5 people according to the taxi driver so we had to wait. After about 5 minutes he said he found someone. Four of us got into the back seat which was extremely tight and at the front sat a man, his wife and child plus the taxi driver. I guess the 5th person was just an approximation. The more you can fit into the car the more money you'll get. The taxi ride down the curvy road was very scary. The taxi driver was probably going a little too fast and taking turns with a little too much speed. The minivan (not like our minivans, this was about two thirds the size of our minivans) swayed at every turn. On one side I saw rock and on the other a nice view of the red mountains and if I looked down I could see how far down the bottom was if we made a wrong move.
I was glad to get out of the death mobile at the rail station in Neril. The train ride to Mumbai was when I realized how tired I was from the plane trips and all the walking in Matheran. I could not keep my eyes open, but I knew I had to stay awake to keep an eye on my camera gear. During the train ride I was thinking how nice it would be to lay down in that hotel bed and just sleep. After arriving to the CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) station in Mumbai we headed over to the hotel room for a 'nap' before dinner. The small nap lasted from 18:00 to the following morning at about 6:00.
Day two: Mumbai: Monday
Did I mention that I changed clothes to sleep? No. That's because when I hit the bed I didn't move until there was daylight. I felt dirty, but I must say it was worth it. I even dreamed that night. After showering and putting on fresh clothes, and I cannot tell you how good it felt to put fresh clothes on we made our way down to the cafeteria for breakfast. The breakfast was simple. I had one egg over well with two pieces of white toast (I have not seen whole wheat in India at all) well buttered and an orange juice. I think it was the best breakfast I had. At least that's what I thought at the time considering I did not eat anything since lunch the previous day.
Taj Mahal Hotel. One of the most expensive hotels in Mumbai.
We headed towards the Gate of India where we knew from our guide book that the ferries to Elephanta Island departed. One thing I noticed when we arrived at the Gate of India were the huge balloons for sale. They were very neat and the sales men tried their hardest to make a sale, but my answer to them was always "No thanks." and if they persisted then I'd ask them "What will I do with this balloon?". Usually that stopped them from trying any more. At the ferry dock we were informed that the Elephanta Caves are closed on Mondays.
Part of Gate of India under construction using bamboo scaffolding.
Walking around the Gate of India we were stopped by a tourist guide who of course gave us a "special" Western price for the tour. We decided to take it since it would be the quickest way to get oriented with places of interest. The tour itself was fairly rushed, but it was a good start to figuring out places that were more interesting to spend extra time on later.
A contrast between apartment buildings and slums.
On the tour we stopped at a garden where I found an interesting butterfly.
After the tour we decided to go to the markets. The sidewalks were definitely something that needed to be watched as there are many cracks and uneven stonework. Some curbs were also about one foot tall. Definitely not like our North American curbs, and if you didn't watch your step you'd be in for a nasty surprise.
This is just one exapmple of how bad some sidewalks are in Mumbai.
Took this shot while waiting to cross the busy road.
CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) during rush hour.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus was the busiest rail station I've seen. There were people coming in and out at all times. I have not seen the station empty or even semi-empty. Even at 5:00 in the morning there were a lot of people at the station. The building is built in a Gothic style designed by Fredrick Stevens and completed in 1887. It was renamed in 1998 from Victoria Terminus (VT) to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, but the locals still refer to it as VT.
Ceiling of the CST ticket sales.
Architecture of the CST.
Rush hour, main entrance to CST.
Ferries resting after a busy day.
Lady carrying recyclable materials.
After much walking we picked up our luggage from the hotel and headed to CST. From there we took an over night train (at 23:00) to Goa (Old Goa station). Reservations for the over train are recommended as the train fills up 1-2 months in advance. A new online reservation was made possible for one car where you may do the reservations up to 10 days ahead of time. The train journey alone was definitely a great experience. Every 5-10 minutes there would be vendors going through the hallway selling sandwiches and tea. I really liked the tea vendors as they'd yell "Chai chai chai...". You could also buy water and chilled juices. The bathrooms were clean and you had a choice between a "western style" bathroom and the squat type.
Day three: Panaji, Goa
From the train I could already see Old Goa.
People collecting something along the tracks.
Tunnel into Old Goa.
Inside the tunnel.
The train arrived at the station the following morning at about 10:00. We decided to go with a rickshaw. The total cost from the station to the hotel was 170Rs (~$4.75). Of course it was definitely a "special" tourist rate. The Panjim Inn was very tastefully furnished with antique furniture. The rooms were painted pink and the bathrooms tiled with broken tile mosaics.
A very colonial room with high ceilings and wooden doors.
View from the balcony.
Window inside the room.
Across from the hotel was a good and cheap restaurant. Veggie somosa.
After dropping off the luggage which was not much our next stop was getting some food. I spotted a restaurant across from the hotel, Cafe de Ria. The food was great and the prices were even better than at Panjim Inn. After lunch I needed some camera stimulation. I was so eager to use my camera in Panaji. I knew that I would see more signs of Portuguese colonization than the hotel itself. In what I think was the city center I found a white painted church with many stairs leading to it, Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
A stairway up a hill usually leads to a nice view.
I was not dissapointed after climbing the stairs and turning around to see the view.
A government building after renovation.
Walking around Panaji I found signs of Portugese colonialization.
Another view coming down the other side of the hill.
Could not resist this shot.
The most prominent church in Panaji.
Neatly parked motorbikes.
Lady carrying her recyclables.
Another shot I could not resist.
Panjim Inn where we stayed had a nice balcony where I could enjoy my cappucinos.
Deer that has chicken pox?
Day four: Old Goa and beaches of Goa
After getting some rest we had breakfast and went to rent a scooter. The scooter was 300Rs per day (~$8.35). Main priority was of course taking the camera to some great places. Going through Old Goa was great. There were a lot of old churches in a small area which made the sight seeing very efficient. I of course could not resist petting the local dogs. I was told that I should stay away from the animals in India as they are dirty. But seriously, who could resist those faces when all they wanted was a pat on the head or a little scratch behind the ear. Of course the dogs usually insisted that I continue the patting or scratching.
A statue greets visitors at the Church of St. Cajetan.
Church of St. Cajetan.
Intricate ceiling work of the church.
Beautiful bird I found watching me.
One of the puppies I was playing with near the Ferry to Divar Island station.
Not sure if anyone lived there.
Found these old structures behind a church.
Chapel of St Catherine.
Basilica of Bom Jesus.
Convent & Church of St Francis of Assisi on the left and Se Cathedral on the right.
After taking pictures of the churches and the area we continued towards the beaches of Goa and Fort Aguada.
One of Goa's beaches.
Part of Fort Aguada.
Rough stone stairs.
In Fort Aguada, while buying ice cream, a lady with a child came begging for money. Since we don't like to give money to beggars we purchased an ice cream bar for the child.
Child eating ice cream.
Elephant I met while exploring Goa's beaches.
Rough beach front.
On the way from the fort I saw an elephant with some monks. Of course I had to stop and take pictures. The elephant was painted with patterns and it was very leathery to the touch. As the day progressed we had to head back and extend the scooter rental one more day since it made sightseeing fast and efficient without depending on a driver.
Finshing boat at Chapora.
Close up of the fishing boats.
Light house at Fort Aguada.
Leaving Fort Aguada I spotted an elephant on the road.
Day five: Spice farm and countryside
Going towards the spice farm we got to ride through villages and small cities where tourists are not common. Winding roads through hills had some great views of the surrounding areas. The earth was an orange-red hue. The entry to the spice farm was 300rs per person. You could also purchase an elephant ride at the farm. I decided to pet the elephant instead. I collected a few fruits from the ground, went over to the tied up animal and fed them to her. She extended her large long trunk towards me and picked up one of the fruits I had in my palm for her. After she finished them all I could not help wishing I had some bananas for her.
Vanilla bean pod.
Close up of a tropical flower.
Coming back from the spice farm I took a picture of the road signs which consisted of some rocks and a metal drum with a cardboard sign. The sign and rock barrier were primitive, but they worked. The traffic directed around the obstacles.
Road work signs.
Winding road in the hills.
Coming back through Old Goa I definitely wanted to finally get to the ruins I could see from the train when arriving at the Old Goa train station. I personally prefer to visit ruins of building than ones which have been restored. The ruins usually have a story to tell where the ones which have been restored hide their secrets. The ruins were of the Church of St Augustine. The property was enormous. While exploring the ruins I found ongoing excavation work of the ruins. Women would pick up the reddish soil in large bowls and put them on top of their heads and walk a few feet to hand it down the line to another waiting woman. I could hear laughter and the sound of gossip while they would pass the burden to the next in line.
Old Goa: Church of St Augustine Ruins.
Floor of St Augustine.
A worker's child sleeping among the ruins.
Women would carry sand from excavation work that was going on in the church.
Day six: Panjim, Goa market
On the sixth day I wanted to see more of the water front and to explore the city. Walking blindly through allies and streets usually leads to something unexpected. I was pleasantly surprised to find a fairly large market. It was flowing with people looking for goods to purchase. I of course bought fresh bananas. These bananas I knew were never refrigerated to get to the market as they are grown locally.
Market in Panaji.
Great colours at the market.
Bananas for sale.
At this point of the trip I was still not used to everyone staring at me. I don't know if it was because I had a big camera with a large white lens or because I was a foreign woman or the combination of the two. It was definitely making me self conscious. There were a lot of flowers, fruits and vegetables for sale. Going inside the market I found a fish section. I don't think I've even seen as much choice in China Town compared to this market. They even had shark for sale. The most interesting and ugliest fish I saw was Bombay Duck. At the end of exploring we went back to the hotel and I had a nice cappuccino and continued reading my book (Brother Odd by Dean Koontz).
Fish: Bombay Duck. A very delicate fish once fried.
Flowers at the market.
At the end of a long day I had my cappucino.
Cafe de Ria. It's really more of a restaurant with great food.
The train from Old Goa to Mumbai was at about 16:00. Getting a taxi that would not try to scam us from our tourist money was tricky. We were willing to pay 150Rs which still was a lot, but the taxi drivers did not want to agree to anything lower than 170Rs. So walking along a street a minivan taxi stopped and asked if we need a taxi. So I said that we're going to the train station and we will not pay more than 150Rs for the ride. He said that he wants 200Rs so we said no and 150Rs was all we were paying. Surprisingly he agreed and in the taxi he admitted he was going that way anyway to pick up some passengers. So we both benefited. At the train station there were many stray dogs. They were all dusty with the reddish soil which made them look dirty, but it's only soil. So I started doing my rounds and petting all the dogs that came to me. I made three friends (2 black and 1 fawn). They were following me around until the two black dogs decided that they will follow some backpackers and see if they have any scraps of food. The fawn stayed with me and I think only because he was getting some love. As I was scratching behind his ear his eyes would start to close and he would lean closer to me. When I stopped he would put his head under my hand so that I realize that he wants some more petting. I went to sit on a bench to wait for the train and he followed me and hopped on the bench and sat beside me. How can you resist not petting such an insistent dog.
On the train the "Chai chai chai chai..." and "Veg sandwich, non-veg..." sounds were familiar. Finally at 23:00 the vendors stopped walking through and some of the passengers began their light snoring followed by deep loud snores. Luckily I was so tired that it did not bother me and I finally dozed off.
Day seven: Mumbai and Elephanta Caves
We had no problems finding the Grand Hotel by following the guide's map. The hotel was filled mostly with businessmen. The hotel brochure mentioned that most of their rooms have a view on the sea, but they forgot to mention the view was blocked by a ship yard. I only cared for a place to sleep and somewhere to get washed. After leaving the bags we went out and headed towards the Gateway of India to take the ferry to Elephanta Island. The tickets for the ferry were 240Rs for two. The guy selling the tickets tried to scam me out of 10Rs, but I insisted he give me the proper change. I had a feeling that he was expecting me not to notice as most tourists probably don't check to see what change they received or he thought that some don't know how to count. The ferry took about one hour to get to Elephanta Island.
At Elephanta Island an old boat greets the tourists.
A boat waiting for the tide to come back.
Elephanta Island ladies who asked to be photographed for 10Rs.
Going up many stairs I was greeted by many monkeys. Unfortunately I did not have any food I could throw their way and I did not feel brave enough to pet them either since I was warned that they can bite. Finally reaching the top and going inside the caves (which are temples dated from 450-750AD) was like stepping back in time. There were a lot of carvings out of stone in the walls of various gods. Some of them were damaged and some were intact. There was also a water basin which most likely stored rain water for the temple. On the way down the stairs towards the ferry I purchased a few stone work items which I had to bargain down to 50% the asked value.
Climbing the stair up to the Elephanta Caves monkeys wait for tourists to throw them food.
The cave-temples are dated between AD 450 and 750.
Carved out of rock.
Amazing feeling to be in something so anchient.
Inside the cave-temple.
One of the carved gods.
A less visited cave-temple.
Climbing the hill I found some cows enjoying the shade.
It was a tough climb due to the heat, but worth it.
View from the boat after leaving the caves behind.
Gateway of India.
I was so hungry after all the climbing and so when we reached the Gateway of India we headed to the Taj Mahal Hotel to find something to eat and of course my ulterior motive was to experience the hotel staff and facilities. I found the hotel to be immaculate. The staff were very friendly and helpful. The restrooms had their own service personnel to pass you the towels, apply some hand lotion or clean the facilities for the next user. At Shamiana restaurant I had a great cappuccino which had a hint of Indian spices. I decided to choose an Indian flavored dish (I was in India after all). The meal was simple, but very well presented. After the meal I wanted to have an iced coffee at Barista Coffee. I became addicted to the nice blend of cold coffee, chocolate syrup and vanilla ice cream.
Enjoying a cappucino at Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
Chicken Tikka pita. Great presentation of a simple dish.
Day eight: Last full day in Mumbai
People living along the rail track.
Walking around the city I tried to capture various points of interest. Crossing the rail tracks I spotted families living in little shacks. The rail tracks were being used as a bathroom since there is no running water in the shacks. There were many buildings that were old looking on the outside and definitely looked like they needed some renovating. Certain areas had open sewers between buildings with rats walking around in search of food. The open sewers spilled out onto the sidewalk and the road.
Another shot of the apartments.
Spices for sale at a market in Mumbai.
Open sewer between buildings. There were rats walking in there, but the picture does not show it.
Animal driven carts are still used in Mumbai, but only aroung the market areas.
The main reason for this day's tour was talking pictures of the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat. This is the largest human powered washing machine in Mumbai. It's been in operation for over 135 years and the clothes and linen are usually brought in from hotels. Our next stop was the Banganga Tank which had a lot of colorful temples in a very small area. There were people bathing and college kids played cricket on one end of the tank. Walking back to the hotel to drop of some items, I found a cow strolling the street. She definitely looked like she was on a mission and knew exactly where she was going.
Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat: a 135+year clothes washing place.
View from a bridge of the Dhobi Ghat.
Man washing a shirt.
Drying in the "fresh" air.
A rest house at the Banganga Tank.
Another shot of Banganga Tank.
Barista coffe shop had a great iced coffee. I was hooked!
United Arab Emirates
Day nine: Getting ready to leave India and arrive at the Dubai Airport
Going to the airport was definitely exciting as I was ready to leave India and experience the lavishness of Dubai. Everything at the airport was very orderly and no one was cutting the lines or standing around the counter in a big crowd. The check in was very quick. I was disappointed to find out that there was no Duty Free shop at the airport where I could purchase a few things before leaving India. There was a sign promising one was coming though, so maybe next time I will get my chance. Getting on board was familiar with the stewardesses wearing their Air Emirates headdress and welcoming everyone with smiles. I put my precious seven kilogram camera gear in the over head compartment making sure I took my iPod out just in case I decided to listen to some music. The chance never arrived as I found the movie I did not finish on my flight into India (Elizabeth: The Golden Age). I fast forwarded the movie to the point I left off on and continued watching. The food arrived and slightly interrupted my involvement in the movie. When the movie finished I found another movie I did not see yet, Sicko. This was one of the features I liked about Air Emirates. You have your personal LCD and a choice of over 100 movies including American, Indian and Arabic. There were also shows and news you could watch.
As the announcement that we were getting ready to land came I was getting a little restless and could not wait to pull out my camera and take some pictures of Dubai. Going through customs was not interesting or welcoming. I'm not sure if any customs are interesting, but this was most definitely the least welcoming. After getting a big fat blue inked stamp in my passport declaring that I have 60 days before I have to leave the country we proceeded to getting the luggage. After locating the luggage I went to stand in line (there was only one person in front of me at the cash) to change my money. As he left a local Emirati jumped the line and barged in front of me. I was not particularly impressed with this behavior, but knowing that a lot of the Emiratis' are not exactly nice to foreigners working in their country I figured it must be just their standard behavior. Another window opened just beside him so I went in and changed my Indian currency at which the teller (who was Indian) was surprised, he laughed actually. I told him that I just came back from India and this was all I had left. So with a smile on his face he exchanged the money. Then I gave him $200 CAD to exchange and I guess I also peaked the interest of the Emirati beside me as he was intently watching and listening to our exchange.
Outside in the fresh air I saw the signs for government taxis. We had to show the driver our guide book map to show him where the hotel was and he found his way. I was rushing to be rid of the baggage and be out and about as soon as possible. The only problem was that the sun was quickly setting and any photo opportunity was diminishing quickly. It had to be put off to the following day.
Day 10: Dubai city, the gold and the sand
Deira Gold Souq.
300 gold shops are located in the Souq.
First thing on my list was going to see this famous Gold Souk. The Gold Souk is known for its gold and the fact that it is home to more than half of Dubai's gold stores (over 300 in the Souk). Approaching the entrance didn't give me the impression that this place was going to be significant. As I stepped inside I was in awe. So much gold in such a little space. Every store had their wares out and when I was window shopping the sales men would wave to me to come in and some even came out of their shops and asked for me to have a look inside. Next stop was the spice Souk. I was a little disappointed and possibly due to having been to the gold Souk I thought the spice Souk would be as impressive. The Deira Old Souk mostly reminded me of a big dollar store. Instead of spices they were selling cheap made in China plastics. After making a few turns I found the spice shops. I could buy anything from cocoa to saffron to incense rock. The bags of spices definitely made me take out my camera.
Spices at the Spice Souq (Deira Old Souq).
More colourful spices.
Checking the watch we had to hurry back to the hotel as we had a date with someone who was picking us up for a desert safari. This was probably the biggest highlight of the trip to Dubai. Sure the sky scrapers and architecture is nice, but the desert was something I have never seen or experienced before and only seen on pictures or movies. After getting into the Toyota Landcruiser and talking with the driver about Dubai he turned out to be a very nice young guy who enjoyed "dune bashing". There were two other couples with us. I was in the front seat which allowed me more insight into his personality and of course I could ask a few key questions. He would not answer my question of "Have you ever flipped the car?", but said to ask him after we were done. That did not make me nervous since I previously found out that he's been doing this for over six years. Finally arriving at the meeting point where we were supposed to meet about 20 more vehicles he released the pressure in the tires to about 15psi. The other cars were about 15 minutes away so we went into the desert to get a head start.
Wild camels walking past the Bedouin goat farm.
On the way I saw some wild camels strolling the sand dunes past the Bedouin goat farms. The dune bashing was similar to being at sea except the up and down motion was more intense. He would rush up the sand dune and then turn at the top of it and come down again. A few times he went up the dune straight up and then he would go down the other side of it, almost like a rollercoaster. That definitely gave me some butterflies in my stomach. One attempt resulted in getting stuck in the sand. The car frame was sitting on the sand while the wheels would spin in the sand. Everyone got out except the two Iranian women. I almost run out of the car as I knew this was a golden opportunity to take photos, it was getting late in the day and I did not know when we would be stopping again. The guys tried to dig the car out without success (I was glad for my own selfish reasons). I sat on the warm sand enjoying the sunlight and pointing my lens at the sand blowing in the wind.
Sand blowing in the desert.
C'est moi! Taking a picture of...
...our car stuck in the sand. We had to wait to be pulled out. What a great opportunity to take pictures!
Sand and more sand.
I was surprised that it was quite cool in the desert and I needed a sweater. When I put my hand under about two inches of the fine desert sand I found it cool. I found the driver standing on the sand dune calling the caravan of cars for help. About four vehicles arrived after about 5 minutes. One of them went up the dune behind our car. They took out a line and connected the two cars. I found out later that in order to take a car out out of the sand you have to gain a little bit of speed and yank it out, otherwise the car doing the pulling would just spin the wheels in the sand. After the little unscheduled stop over the caravan of cars went to do some more dune bashing. I must admit that I was getting close to vomiting from all the up and down motion. The key to holding my 'cool' was looking at the horizon and not at where the car was going. Picture taking was impossible with all the shaking and I was afraid that I would bang the lens into the window so I had to resist the urge even though there were some amazing opportunities. The sun was setting and the driver suggested that we stop so that I could take some photos. I think he read my mind because I really wanted to stop, plus I needed a break from the dune bashing.
Our saviors came and were toying with our driver while he stood on the sand dune waiting for them.
Sunset in the UAE desert.
Another shot of the sunset.
After the brief stop we headed to a desert camp where we had barbequed goat, chicken and beef to choose from along with some flat bread and salads. The music was lively New York club style that definitely made me move. Once the music cut out a belly dancer came out to dance during dinner. After I finished eating I went for a walk outside the camp and to sit on the cool sand enjoying the stars. Two camels were sitting surrounded by the caravan of cars. One of the camels was hit by a car and was not happy to be touched. The other camel welcomed my petting and scratches behind his ear. The camel was very soft to the touch and since it was laying down I decided to inspect his feet. His feet were very soft and wide.
As the evening rolled closer to an end everyone started getting ready to leave. I found my group and we headed back to the car. Coming out of the camp the driver decided to take an alternate route through more sand dunes. Dune bashing at night is definitely more exciting as you don't know what is behind the dune until the lights shine down as the car is going down.
I took this picture at night close to a camp.
Day 11: Exploring Dubai and meeting a friend
Waterfront in Dubai at the corniche.
This day was fairly uneventful. In the morning we took a walk to the water front to see "The World" construction under way. The World was constructed in the sea to resemble the world map when viewed from a plane. At around lunch time we met up with my friend's brother that I met when he came for a visit to Canada. He took us to a nice Lebanese restaurant. There was so much food on the table that even after being full it seemed like the table was still full of food. The food of course was great and I had fresh squeezed guava juice. That's one thing that I really liked about the Emirates. When you order a juice it is always fresh squeezed. After eating we went to the gold Souk to purchase a few items.
Food at a Lebanese restaurant.
Day 12: Dubai and Abu Dhabi
A building from 1961.
View from Park Hyatt Hotel.
A view of Bur Dubai from the hotel.
Grounds of Park Hyatt Hotel.
The hotel is Moroccan styled.
On the way to Park Hyatt Hotel I noticed a building from 1961. I chuckled to myself because I found a historic building in Dubai. Most buildings have been built in the last 10 years and of course are still being built. We took a taxi to the hotel and as we entered the hotel grounds it took about 3 minutes of driving to finally reach the main lobby. The hotel's grounds included a golf course and private residences that were maintained by the hotel. When the taxi driver stopped at the hotel a gentleman opened the taxi door to let me out. At the hotel I asked to see the Avis car rental representative. While waiting for the formalities to be done and signed, I had a chance to explore the hotel's grounds. Everything there was tastefully done and all the staff were very friendly. I ventured out the back of the hotel through their bar area into the marina. I could see Bur Dubai from the back and could appreciate the architecture of the hotel. The car was double upgraded from my second cheapest choice to a Caprice. After the usual scratch and dent check we were on our way towards Bur Dubai and then Abu Dhabi. I decided to stop at a construction area in Bur Dubai to take a closer look at some of the buildings being built. I had an eerie feeling of a ghost town around me. There was no sound of people and most of the buildings were empty. There were a few restaurants at the bottom of the buildings and I suspect that they were frequented mainly by the construction workers.
Bur Dubai and the light rail system under construction.
Everywhere I looked there were signs of construction.
Bur Dubai is constantly under construction.
World's tallest building is still under sonstruction.
The Mall of the Emirates was also on my list of places to visit list. I wanted to see the famous ski resort inside the mall. I parked the car on the top most parking level and on the way into the mall was offered a car wash while I shop, which I declined. The mall itself was home to brand name stores and designer goods. The mall was definitely for the rich. After a quick bite to eat we hurried back to the car to get out and take a drive through the desert to Abu Dhabi which is about 170km away from Dubai. The road was great. No pot holes, no cracks and no garbage on the street. There was a lot of palm trees planted along the road which have to be regularly watered. Approaching Abu Dhabi I noticed the biggest mosque I have ever seen. The mosque grounds were still under construction, but it was open for visitors. It is home to the largest area rug in the world. I think I enjoyed Abu Dhabi more than Dubai as the waterfront was very pleasant and I think it felt a little more relaxed. After the sun set we made our way back to Dubai and on the way I decided to stop and see Burj Al Arab Hotel since I didn't think that I'd have a chance during the day.
You can go skiing at the Mall of the Emirates.
Another shot of the ski arena.
Abu Dhabi: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque opened in January 21, 2008.
Entering Abu Dhabi.
Just as in Dubai, Abu Dhabi has architecturally interesting buildings.
View of Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi marina.
Emirates Palace Hotel.
Gateway to the hotel.
Burj Al Arab Hotel.
I took this shot of Bur Dubai from a residential neighbourhood.
Day 13: Sharjah City
In the morning I was ready to go and get the car from the overnight parking lot. My goal was to drive in the desert and go sit in the sand some more. Driving was very relaxing. I made a few blind turns here and there (the best way to explore is to do it without a map). I didn't think I was in any danger of getting lost. When I started seeing sky scrapers peeking from the sand I decided to stop to walk bare feet in the warm sand. I spotted a lizard, but he was too quick and buried himself under the send where it's much cooler.
Civilization creeping into the desert.
Sharjah City is a cheaper living option to Dubai.
Finally getting closer to the city I could not confirm that it was Dubai. The unique sky scrapers were missing. Driving into the city I saw a sign for Sharjah and my jaw almost dropped. There was no escape now as I was too far inside. I was told that this was the city that had the worst grid lock. I was not disappointed. Going into the city was butter smooth, but looking at the opposite traffic I knew it was not going to be easy. I turned into a side street hoping to get to the water front and as usual my navigation skills didn't let me down. From this vantage point I could see the city of Sharjah being built right in front of my eyes. Various sky scrapers and apartment building to house the work force of Dubai. Next item on the list was getting out of the city. The sun was high up at noon and had to open my window all the way to let the heat in. I do not like air-conditioning and rather have the heat. Plus I knew that the following day I was flying back home to snow. It took 2 hours to drive 200 meters. I have never seen or experienced anything like this before. There was no accidents or closed streets, it was just normal everyday noon hour traffic. After getting to the highway we decided that the car had to go back and that walking and taking a taxi was definitely a better option. I looked forward to dropping the car off and made a point to remember to have a chat with the hotel's door man to find out some more details about working in Dubai. He told me that he was there on a contract and was originally from Nigeria. The hotel provided him with a living space and so he does not have to commute to work. I'd definitely not mind working there if I could live at the hotel.
Buildings under construction everywhere.
Sharjah is also known for having terrible grid lock.
Road build for future expansion.
Picture of Deira taken from a ferry.
Along the Dubai Creek merchant boats are waiting to be loaded or unloaded.
Creek side of Bur Dubai Waterfront house architecture.
Wooden doors of shops.
I stopped to play with the kittens.
Alley between shops.
More Arab architecture.
Birds enjoying the sunset.
Tight spaces reminded me of India.
Back on the ferry to Deira.
Evening picture of Bur Dubai.
Dubai Creek and Bur Dubai.
Ferris wheel in Dubai.
Back at Sadaf hotel we found a Saudi national drunk who was throwing his money around and pointing his hand at everyone and saying "I'll kill you!" and "Pow pow pow". He definitely fit a stereotype of a radical. I found out from the waiter (who was from Morocco) that the Saudis always come to Dubai to drink and have "fun" and that usually they misbehave.
Over all I found Dubai to be a very pleasant place and I definitely felt like I was in a 'Western" city. Of course I tried to respect their culture by not wearing shorts or short skirts. I found most of the people who worked there to be very pleasant and helpful as compared to the locals whom I found to be rude and stuck up.
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