Dubai: Day 1

So you know how a lot of travel magazines say that it is just wonderful to not have a plan when traveling and just walk around, watch people, and discover new places? Yeah, I don’t get that. Like at all. 😀 It seems to me that I’m constantly don’t know what I’m doing and there is a thought at the back of my mind that I’m probably missing something spectacular, which is just around the corner.

So my trip to Dubai is mostly a story of how not to travel as a future reference to myself. I’m nowhere relaxed enough to go with the flow. 😀

So what happened was that Norwegian opened a new route from Helsinki to Dubai and you could get flights really cheap. They repeated the offers a few times, so while I didn’t get excited right away, the repetition of the ad in my Facebook feed did the job. So when I saw the offer of 145€ for roundtrip to Dubai in August, I started raking my brain for whom to ask to come with me. I tried my boyfriend, but he flat-out refused, a friend I often travel with has already went to Dubai a few months earlier, a couple of friends I was considering had trips scheduled around the same time. So as a last resort I called my sister, who said yes. While we normally get along just fine, traveling together just doesn’t bring the best out in either one of us. But I was out of options and I really wanted to go. 😉

I was looking for hotels to stay in and there is for sure no shortage of options, but the prices are seriously high. I found a hotel, which seemed decent enough with the price just a hair below 900€ for the 6 nights stay, but decided to wait until my next paycheck to book it. Meanwhile I sent a message to my friend, who is living in Dubai and asked her whether she had time to meet when we’re in Dubai as I haven’t seen her in years. We first met in 2007 when we both did an exchange semester in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. She answered that she would absolutely love to meet during our stay and even more she kindly offered for us to stay at her place during our stay. So I said that I would love to take her up on her offer so we were lucky enough to have accommodation sorted like that.

I always have plans of planning my trips and mostly I do it. This time it has been quite hectic at work and I was sick for a couple of weeks, so I just managed to leaf through the Lonely Planet guidebook and figured that I’ll have time on the plane to do the plan as it’s a 7-hour flight.

Also my friend pointed out that we booked our flight with arrival very early on Sunday (2:50 a.m.) and leaving super early on Friday (4 a.m.), we didn’t manage to include the weekend, which is Friday and Saturday in Dubai. So some planning in advance would have been smart. Apparently Dubai is famous for its very very amazing (and expensive) brunches, which are served on Fridays. Well, my plans of planning the trip on the plane didn’t quite work out as I just fell asleep on the plane and spend the hours in the coma-like state instead of doing any planning. I also searched for some vegan-friendly restaurants (my sister is vegan) and bookmarked them on my laptop, but of course I forgot to transfer bookmarks onto my iPad, which I took with me. So yeah, well done me…

But we arrived in Dubai as planned and went through security and got our visas on arrival. The staff at the immigration counters were, how should I put it…, non-communicative. I don’t think they said hello to anyone and the guy just pointed up when he wanted for somebody to look into a small window, which was probably some facial recognition thing. We took a taxi from the airport to my friend’s home, which cost about 90 dirhams (23€). You can also take a metro, but we were exhausted and of course didn’t research this option at all. Taxis aren’t really that expensive in Dubai, so it is a good option for transportation.

When we got to the friend’s apartment, we talked for a little bit and then went to bed. The next morning we woke up around 11 and had breakfast. My friend has then texted me whether we would like a ride to Dubai Marina and we said that of course as we didn’t have any better plans. So she took us there and left at the Marina Beach, so we could start our city exploration there.

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Marina Beach

The beach seemed really good. A lot of people were tanning and some were in the sea. I’m not really a beach person, but for the first time in a ling while I wished that I would have my swimming suit with me. People were wearing bikinis and short tops and shirts. I think that Lonely Planet Dubai guidebook was too much on the safe side in terms that it said that you should wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees, but you could see a wide variety of clothing being actually used. Not many people were wearing micro shorts with a skimpy top outside of the beach though. Also, there is air conditioning everywhere, so you do get cold, so I always carried a pashmina with me.

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Marina Beach

There were some guidelines on how to behave, which basically asked not to wear just the swimming wear outside of the beach area, avoid overt public displays of affection and asked to be considerate towards others.

They also had a sunscreen station with SPF15 and SPF30 sunscreen guns. How cool is this?!

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Marina Beach

We got some ice cream from a shop nearby and just sat outside enjoying the weather. It was +30°C, but the air was dry and it was windy on the beach, so it was rather pleasant.

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The Ice Factory

From there we walked a bit back on the promenade, which had shops and cafes on both sides of the road. We heard that it is possible to take a ferry and have a sightseeing roundtrip, which would take about an hour, so we headed towards the Marina Mall ferry stop, which wasn’t that far away.

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Dubai Marina

So we got there, saw that there would be a tour in 40 min, bought tickets and visited the Marina Mall while waiting. Here my sister bought a new pair of sunglasses because she had left her sunglasses at home. It’s not that we have needed those in Finland in months… The tickets cost 50 dirhams (13€) per person and the tour would take one hour. When we got back, we realized that the tour in in a modern boat with air conditioning while I thought that it would be on one of the old-style boats where you sit outside and enjoy the weather. Well, that’s what you get for not researching this stuff in advance…

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When we got back, I snapped a picture of our boat (left) and the boat I wanted to take (right). I’m still not sure if they are different companies or one boat does one route and another boat has another route.

But as we had tickets, we got onboard and there were quite nice seats and as I mentioned, the air conditioning. There was also a first class, which was separated from the normal class by a door. It seems that in Dubai there is always some extra service available for an extra price. First class, fast track, higher viewing deck, etc.

The boat ride in itself was pretty good as you get a good view of the marina.

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Dubai Marina
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Dubai Marina

You get a view from the sea on Burj Al Arab, which is known as the “7-star hotel”. There is of course no such thing as a 7-star hotel, but the journalist, who wrote about the Burj Al Arab hotel was so excited by what the place had to offer that he said it would have deserved 7 stars, so the name stuck.

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Burj Al Arab

After the boat ride, we still didn’t have any plans. Surprising, I know. But we saw that there is a metro station not too far away and we could take it to Dubai Mall, which is supposed to be the world’s largest mall. We thought that this was as good a plan as any, so we headed towards the Jumeirah Towers Metro Station. Dubai is really not designed for walking, but we found the way. 🙂 Luckily all metro stations look the same, so once you’ve seen one, you can spot other easily.

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Overpass to Jumeirah Towers Metro Station

We bought Silver Nol cards for 25 dirhams (6,50€), which are rechargeable travel cards. For initial pay you get 19 dirhams of travel value and the card itself costs 6 dirhams and is valid for 5 years. You can top it up on any metro station. The cost of the trip depends on how far you are going. I think the most expensive trip we took cost 5 dirhams.

We first got into a Gold section by accident, which is the first class. We moved from there to the next car and it turned out to be for women and children only. This is something I haven’t seen before, but in fact we traveled a lot in those sections as they were generally not as crowded as the other sections of the metro train. It was funny that on every trip there was some unsuspecting guy, who got first really confused as to why he was surrounded by women only and then hurried to another section when somebody pointed out that they are in the wrong section. But you would be surprised how many men missed the signs even though they were everywhere.

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Dubai metro
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Women and children only

We reached Dubai Mall station and it was something like 10-15 minute walk from the station to the mall itself. There are the passenger conveyor belts, but it is still a pretty long way to walk.

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Finally reaching The Dubai Mall

Ok, I fully believe that the Dubai Mall is the world’s largest mall. It is huge. It also has every label and every franchise ever created. 🙂 We’re not much into shopping and the prices here were even higher than in Finland, so this is not a place to get a bargain. But this is a place to buy something fancy. 🙂

Also of course it has a huge aquarium, which was pretty cool. You can look at it from s distance or you can buy different types of tickets. We bought the cheapest one available, which cost 100 dirhams (26€) per person, which wasn’t really worth the price in my opinion. For this price you get to walk through the aquarium tunnel and there were a couple of additional activities, but for the life of us, we couldn’t find them. Of course we could’ve asked, but to be honest, I was only interested in the tunnel. 🙂

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Dubai Mall Aquarium
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Dubai Mall Aquarium (tunnel)
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Dubai Mall Aquarium
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Dubai Mall Aquarium

And of course in addition to shops, the mall itself is really made for wow effect. I’m not much of a mall person, but even I had to admit that this one had everything! 😀 It also had free wifi, which was very useful.

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Dubai Mall
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Dubai Mall
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Dubai Mall

My friend has texted that she wouldn’t be able to join us for dinner because she had a work emergency and as we were quite hungry at this point, we just decided to find a restaurant at the mall. We ended up choosing a place called Eataly, which was a mix between a shop that sold all kinds of Italian produce and a restaurant. They are not exactly vegan-friendly, but a lot of places do want to accommodate your requests and they can leave some ingredients out or substitute them with something. We never had any issues with this nor “not possible” answers from the staff. The service in Dubai is very good. We had a pretty nice dinner there. The only “downside” was that the portions were quite big, so we were stuffed by the end of the meal with no room for dessert. Mocktails, two starters and two main courses cost 330 dirhams (85€).

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Eataly

After dinner we headed home where my friend made us some real cocktails. You can get alcohol in Dubai only from hotel bars. If you’re local, you can get a liquor license with a certain limit for your alcohol purchases, which is based on your income and there are shops where you can buy alcohol for personal use. Apparently these liquor license limits aren’t strongly enforced or at least not everywhere, so if you’re living in Dubai and not Muslim, getting alcohol is not a problem. 😉 It is expensive though.

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