Tuesday, 29 November 2011

ABU DHABI: Enjoying the silence in the desert

In Abu Dhabi we went on a Desert Safari. We were picked up by bus and drove for about 1.5 hours until we got to the open desert. We were first given an Arabic coffee. They were explaining to us that if someone gives you a half filled cup it means that you are welcome but if you are given a full cup you are not welcome. Next we rode on a horse and a camel. This was all very nice, but the highlight of the day was definitely the quad biking on the sand dunes. You could drive up them at high speed but this meant it was a faster drop on the other side!! The quad bikes, however, were just a warm up for what came next.

We experienced the same but in a 4x4. A driver drives 4 people in a Jeep up and down the sand dunes at high speeds to crazy House music and your whole body is thrown about the car. The safari ended with a very nice buffet dinner and traditional tea. We then all sat together in the night’s sky around a fire and inhaled parfum of aood wood, which is a very rare and expensive wood, which when burnt the smoke is used as a natural deodorant and perfume.

Monday, 28 November 2011

ABU DHABI: Driving to Father of Gazelle

Next stop the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, which, in Arabic, means Father of Gazelle. It is a 1.5 hour drive by car. Getting there you cross some impressive bridges including Mussafa, al-Maqtaa and the Sheikh-Zayed bridge. The latter being one of the most expensive arch bridges in the world. It is 842 meters long and it is forbidden to take pictures of it.

DUBAI: Hop-on, Hop-off

We wanted to make sure that we saw everything in Dubai, which is why we booked a big bus tour for a day. We could jump off at any predetermined stop, look around and hop on the next one to see the other sights. This is actually a very good concept, but unfortunately they do not go into much detail about everything you see.

Dubai Creek, in the old part of Dubai, was interesting because they were still using old wooden boats to cross the river and get to the other side. The Jumeirah Mosque was unfortunately closed when we got there.

The Gold Souk was not what we expected. First of all there was no clear sign telling us where it was and as soon as we got there we got bombarded by street salesmen trying to sell us fake bags and watches. The most amazing part was seeing the largest gold ring in the world; it was 63.856 kg of 21-carat gold.

Jumeirah Park and Public Beach were quite nice. We had to pay a little entrance fee, but it was worth it. The beach was very empty, but clean and we had a lovely view of the skyline and the Burj Al Arab.

At the end of the tour we passed the Emirates towers which are, at 350 and 305 meters, stunning office and hotel towers.

DUBAI: The giant Burj Khalifa

The next day we went to the top of the Burj Khalifa which, at 828 meters high, the tallest building in the world. As it is next to the Dubai mall we had a look in there first. It was similar to those in the states, with the usual designer brands, but also some more local designers, as well as an aquarium, a zoo and an ice rink. Every visitor to the Burj Khalifa can go to 124th floor, which in the lift, takes only around 20 seconds from the ground floor! The view was absolutely amazing. At the top there is a gift shop and a vending machine which offers real “Gold to go”. We were there for the sunset, but unfortunately it was too cloudy to see it, however when night fell the view was even more spectacular. 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

DUBAI: A huge aquarium in a hotel

We had our first dinner at the Atlantis hotel, which is on the Palm Islands, with a beautiful aquarium in it, and is very luxurious. This part was just artificially built up with mountains of sand dumped into the sea, but when you are on it, it does not seem like that at all. We had a lebanese meal, and chose some of the different Mezzeh dishes. It was an expensive meal, but worth it.

DUBAI: Story of a taxi driver

Some of the taxi drivers were very chatty and talked about the beauty of the city and tried to promote it. One of the taxi drivers we met was telling us about his life. He was 29 and was soon to marry but did not even know his future wife! His parents had chosen her. When I asked him about why he does not look for a girl himself, he said that he had no time and he didn’t ever go out. He was very excited to meet her and to get to know her. For us, growing up in a European country, it seemed very weird that he first has to marry her before he can get to know her properly. A marriage is a commitment for life so for us it is more a matter of choosing the right partner.

DUBAI: Traffic & public transport

We found out very quickly that Dubai was built for the car, and you can’t really get around town by foot. There are a distinct lack of pedestrian crossings and pavements, many of which just ended for no reason at all! We were walking in circles and finally decided to get a taxi to get back to the hotel. Taxis are cheap compared with other countries, but having to use them every day can start be quite expensive.
You can also use the metro in Dubai, but we didn’t get a chance to use it and the taxis were more convenient anyway.

Probably nothing in comparison to before the economic crash, but there was still a lot of buildings under construction. You always saw the workers arriving and leaving in big white buses. We commonly saw window cleaners abseiling down the huge buildings; it must be an exciting job as long as you are not scared of heights! Some of the buildings looked dirty as a result of the desert sand. You can find areas of just sand where there hasn’t been any construction, and it reminds you that this whole city used to be just that! This makes it hard to believe how quickly this city was created.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

As-salam alaykum Dubai!

I spent my last holiday this year in the United Arab Emirates. I was always interested in finding out how people live over there and how the current economic situation is affecting the country. There are so many documentaries about the impressive hotels, but seeing everything with your own eyes is always more valuable.
Arrival at Dubai airport. Toilets in different countries are always an interesting discovery. The first thing you see after closing the door is a shower head next to the toilet. First you ask yourself if this is actually to have a shower, but very soon you realise what it is for...!

We quickly realised that a lot of Indians live in Dubai, and so our first meal happened to be in an Indian restaurant, although we didn’t know it at the time. We had a spicy side dish with some oily bread, and a cup of very sweet tea. Some Indians came and asked us several times if we liked the dish, and observed us watching it. It seemed as if they wanted to convince us that Indian food is the best food in the world, or maybe they were just surprised that tourists were eating there, as we were not staying in a very touristy part of Dubai.

We headed into the city to admire all the tall skyscrapers, the beautiful skyline of the Business Bay and of course the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. The city is quite spectacular, however my admiration was quite short lived, as after seeing the tall buildings and tourist attractions there is not really any historical culture to experience due to the relative youth of the city, as well as the speed at which it was built.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Servus Munich!

The huge building in the middle is the BMW tower.
I spent six months of my life in Munich and I had a great time, found new friends, tasted the fresh, dry Bavarian air, was comforted by the safety and cleanliness of the city, with its laid-back citizens. Bavarians often use the words "passt scho" which means that's alright, and love sociability with friends and colleges. Having a beer in a cosy beer garden after work is very common as well as walking through the city in traditional dress "dirndl" or "Lederhosen" through the city.
The tap water in Munich is very good quality because it comes directly from the Alps. All in all the quality of life is very high, people love eating healthily and working out, and having a walk in one of the beautiful parks, such as the English Garden or the Nymphenburger Park.

Food & Drinks in Munich

During my time in Bavaria, I tried out several restaurants, bars and clubs, so here is a short summary of what I can recommend, if you are there one time:

One of my favourite streets is close to the U-Bahn station "Universität", named Türkenstraße. If you want to have a nice breakfast or brunch, I recommend Café Puck. You will get a typical Bavarian breakfast with white sausages, sweet mustard and a pretzel, but you can just get a simple breakfast, like an omelet or croissant. Not far from here is the best ice-cream at Bellabeni, but during summer the queue is incredible long. There is not a large range of flavours, but each sort tastes unbelievable good. Another very good ice cream store is at the U-Bahn station "Rotekreuzplatz", Scarletti with a huge variety of home-made ice cream.

The fountain at Stachus.
If you fancy a simple drink or a small dish, I recommend Café Zeitgeist, also on the Türkenstraße. In the same are is one of the best Italians with the most delicious pizza and wine, "Bei Mario", Adalbertstraße 15.
Another very nice Italian is "LaBaracca", at Maximiliansplatz. It is well known for its inner architecture and the way you have to order...through an iPad! "Seerose" is another very good place for Italian food, at Feilitzschstraße 32, close to the English garden. This restaurant has just a few dishes on the menu, but all of  them are very good and not too expensive. A reservation is needed for most of the restaurants I have mentioned.

One of the best Indian restaurants I tried was "Sangeet", at Briennerstraße 10. The menu is large with an indication of how hot each dish is. A very good Thai restaurant is "YUM" at Utzschneiderstraße 6. If you drop by Leopoldstraße, you will find a lot of other very nice restaurants. This street is always busy and beautiful as it is between the "Münchner Freiheit" and "Odeonsplatz".

After a long day at work, it is time for a drink. If you love good cocktails, I mean really good cocktails, made by passionate mixers, then you should definitely go to "Pusser's" or "Negroni". If you feel more like a relaxed evening and want to sit in a nice lounge, I can recommend the "Bayerischer Hof" which has one of the nicest bars in Munich. If you have enough money in your wallet, you could go for a very good dinner as well in this five star hotel.