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pjf (2464)

pjf
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I run Perl Training Australia [perltraining.com.au].

I help with Melbourne Perl Mongers.

I spend an awful lot of time talking about Perl, and have had my picture in the Australian newspapers with a camel. That's rather scary.

Journal of pjf (2464)

Saturday June 20, 2009
06:27 AM

Dubai Adventures - Day 1

[ #39154 ]

Dubai Adventures - Day 1
I'm posting my adventures out-of-order, apologies for any chronological confusion caused. The events in this blog post happened yesterday.

Last night I flew back to Dubai after my stint teaching Perl in Saudi Arabia. On the flight one of the Emirates stewards recognised me from my Australian flight, and we shared a few friendly words. Another seemed to take a shine to me and somehow produced the best coffee I've had all week; I suspect they have an espresso machine hidden away somewhere that they only bring out for special occasions. As such, even though my flight arrived at 2am, I was awake and happy.

Dubai airport has free wireless, which is something I am deeply grateful for. Using the amazing power of VoIP I called home (where it was a sensible time), and had a lovely chat with Jacinta. Amusingly, the call cost me much less than if I were in Australia making the same call from a mobile.

Eventually, with my e-mail updated and my social meter refilled, I caught a taxi to my hotel. It's a three-star apartment hotel in the Bur Dubai district, which I had picked because it was cheap, and looked like it was close to busses, souks, and the museum. I arrived, and pretty much collapsed into bed.

The hotel is right next to a mosque, and I had heard from a few reviews that one can expect to be woken up with the call to prayer. Sure enough, a few hours after I had gone to sleep, I could hear soft, dulcet tones calling the faithful to awake with the first light and gather for prayer. I stirred only a little and smiled; the call was very soft, and very musical, this wouldn't cause me to lose any sleep at all. Then the mosque outside my window started its call to prayer, with the volume cranked to eleven.

Looks like I'll be waking at first light tomorrow.

The hotel itself been really good. Being an apartment-hotel, I have cooking facilities, the most important for me are a kettle and microwave. It also has a washing machine, and I've taken the opportunity to wash some of my clothes. My biggest complaint is that like many hotels, it does have in-room Internet access, and it costs a fortune. There also seems to be an expectation that guests leave their keys at reception when leaving the hotel (maybe people have lost or disappeared with them?), but since nobody has taken the time to explain that to me, I've been taking my keys with me.

Today I woke reasonably late, enjoyed a long hot shower, and prepared myself some maps to help me get around. I'd figured that on my first day I'd explore the local district (old Dubai), and on the second day I'd explore further away (new Dubai). A few people had mentioned that walking in Dubai in the middle of the day is unwise, but I like walking, and I like hot weather, so how bad can it be?

About 45'C (113'F) and humid is the answer. I had packed plenty of water, and stuck to the shade, so I got a few good hours of walking in before I decided to find a bus-stop for a rest. Bus-stops in Dubai are wonderfully civilized, since they're air-conditioned. Unfortunately mine didn't have wireless access.

The main problem with trying to see Bur Dubai during the middle of the day is that everyone else is smart enough to go and do something else when it's that hot, and so with the exception of lunch venues and supermarkets, eveything was closed, even the malls! This was a bit of a disappointment as I had found the museum, but it was also closed. I hope to get in early tomorrow.

While I was in Saudi Arabia, my colleagues there told me that more foreigners live in Dubai than locals. I now believe them! Exploring Bur Dubai felt more like exploring India. I too was obviously something peculiar; I was a westerner, I had long hair, and I was walking in the middle of the day in Dubai. Any one of those attributes was out-of-the-ordinary, so at times I felt that I was positively head-turning.

To be honest, I enjoyed the attention. Most of what I was were smiles; a few people asked where I was from, and what it was like in Australia, and why I was walking in the middle of the day when everyone sensible was out of the sun and having a rest.

Walking through Bur Dubai took me to the fabric souk, but most of it was closed. I'm not much of a clothing/fabrics person, so that didn't bother me too much. It also took me to Dubai Creek, which is a fascinating and enchanting throng of activity. Water taxis dart back and forth, larger dhows and other vessels travel up and down, and somehow nobody collides with anyone else.

From here I returned to my room and had a snooze, but my evening walk took me back to the creek. I took a water taxi across for the standard fare of 1 dirham (about $0.30), and set out to explore Deira, the old parts of Dubai north of the creek.

In Bur Dubai, there were an endless number of shops. I walked along "Computer Street" and past "Bank Street" in my travels. I found streets that were filled with eateries, and filled with clothing stores. In Deira, the streets were also filled with shops, but it felt like they had been randomly generated. There's be stores selling mobile phones, car tyres, bedding, motorcycles, computers, food, movies, whitegoods, furniture, electronics, beauty products, and fish, all next to each other. Many seemed to have equally random names, my favourite of which was "Moist Flower Electronics". The streets were twisty-turvy little things, and I soon found myself lost, and not for the first (nor the last) time that day.

I don't really mind being lost in other cities. It means I get to see things I didn't plan, and in Dubai in particular, I can always hail a taxi to take me back to my hotel. So I continued onwards, hoping to find the Gold Souk that I had marked on my map, but really happy with anything.

I eventually found myself at the Hyatt hotel and its attached mall, because I wanted a break from the heat, and I had discovered my map of Dubai had lacked public toilets. Inside the mall was an ice-skating rink, and while I didn't skate, it sure was nice to be in a cool environment again. Most other things were closed, so after I had made myself more comfortable, I decided to go exploring again.

Without too much travel, I found myself at the Dubai fish market, a place which I was able to discover by its unique scent alone. In Australia, I'm used to fish markets generally being indoors, and air-conditioned. I think the market had one air-conditioned building, and that was filled with people in the process of preparing the fish for sale (sorting, gutting, filleting, etc). Most of the other stalls had generous amounts of ice to keep the fish cold.

I honestly can't do the fish market justice with words. There are people everywhere. There are fish, everywhere. The quantity of fish and people dwarfed anything I've seen in Australia.

The most striking image of the market was outside, where a huge line of sharks were lined up outside; I can only assume for transport, since nobody seemed to be buying them. While it appeared that were once on ice, the ice had since melted, so it felt like I had walked out into some strange land where dead sharks are a natural feature on the pavement. I couldn't help but snapping a few photographs, and some of the locals (who had also been photographing them) started a conversation with me. Apparently it's this busy every day, and that if I think it's hot now, I should try coming back in August!

From the fish market I wandered along the foreshore, which seems to be an extremely popular location if you're male and from south asia. I got to see the port and some large cargo vessels, but it wasn't particularly scenic. I crossed the road and visited "Gold Mart", since Dubai is renowned for its gold markets.

Gold Mart, as I was to discover, was not the Gold Souk, but a collection of jewellery stores. At this point I would discover that a great many store owners thought I might like to buy a watch, or a belt, or sunglasses, or numerous other items that I wasn't interested in.

I left the Gold Mart, and a guy by the door assured me that he had the greatest collection of pirated and counterfeit goods I could wish for. I walked down the street, and at every corner I was offered a fake rolex for sale. I eventually found the Gold Souk, which really is awesome, but I could hardly move without someone approaching me with offers of counterfeit merchandise. To the vendors' credit, they were always very up-front about the lack of authenticity.

The Gold Souk is home to the world's "heaviest gold ring", which is a glittering monstronsity that weighs about as much as I do. It also really does have a massive amount of gold on sale, in the form of ingots, chains, rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and many other forms. It was very sparkly.

From the Gold Souk, I made my way back to the creek, and discovered a stall specialising in perfumes and incenses. As my mother-in-law put in a special request to bring her back some frankincense, I took the opportunity to investigate. I could get a small amount for 5 dirhams, a reasonable amount (100g) for 15, or a huge amount (500g) for 55. I opted for huge, and haggling, and got the price down to 45 dirhams, about $15 for 500g. I actually have no idea if that's a good price, and probably should have haggled more.

With the frankincense in my inventory, and the hope that I can bring it through customs in my head, I caught another water taxi across the river, and walked back to my hotel. On the way, I discovered an Internet cafe close to my hotel that assured me I could plug in my laptop, at the rate of 10 AED/hr (about AUD $3.30/hr). While that's more expensive than downtown Bur Dubai (2 AED/hr, or 4 AED/hr if you want a seat), it's a lot less expensive than the paid hotspots (15 AED/hr), and considerably cheaper than the hotel (35 AED/hr). I suspect I'll be visiting that cafe a lot.

My day ends with blogging, coffee, and a soak in the bath. With Day 1 of Dubai over, I've walked somewhere in the realm of 15km, and spent about 100 dirhams (about $35 AUD), excluding the hotel. Tomorrow, I plan to visit the museum early, and then head south to new Dubai.

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  • There also seems to be an expectation that guests leave their keys at reception when leaving the hotel (maybe people have lost or disappeared with them?),

    I encountered that in a hotel in Amsterdam. Although the receptionist said it was because people lose their keys, I wondered if it was also a security measure to prevent people from copying them. (They were magnetic stripe keys, but I suppose they could be reverse engineered.)