Saturday, February 06, 2010


So, this time 4 years ago I was just settling into my new office and apartment in Beijing. 4 years, fuck, where did the time go?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bye Bye Sun.....

Oracle: Sun Acquisition A Done Deal

Well, I can't say that it was always happy days working there (got to the point where the only time morale went up is when they announced more layoffs), but is still sad to see it go. Spent 7 1/2 years of my life there, straight out of college.

All that remains for Oracle to do now is to send me out my cheque - they're apparently buying out the shareholders at a price of $9.50/share - a lot better than the $2.50/share it got down to at one stage, but a lot less than the $124/share I got my options at back in the Dot-Com days.....

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I saw an update from one of my friends this morning that they'd been married 3 years today (congrats Mick & Vicky BTW :-P), and that got me thinking, is coming up to 4 years now since I went to China. I took a look back at my first few blog posts here, and I found out that yesterday 4 years ago is when I picked up my Chinese entry visa!

4 years eh, damn, still feels like it was only a few weeks ago! That trip to China was probably one of the most interesting 2 months of my life. For most of it I was waaay out of my comfort zone but it was scary in an exhilarating way! Plus I got to see stuff that I'd never have thought of going to see myself, and all at Sun's expense! :-) Would still love to go back at some stage, but would be a heckuva difference going back as a bog-standard tourist....

Shit, am reading back over my old blog posts on my Beijing trip here, and am starting to get nostalgic. Now I wanna go back! :-(

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Last Day

Friday dawned, the last day of our trip, and the first day of the local weekend. As it was the only day that Enda would be free to show us around, we were heading out to the desert for the day. But first, we were going to try something that we hadn't done yet: go to the beach. We headed off early fromt eh hotel on the complimentary shuttle bus, and were at the beach by 10am. Already it was 30 degrees! Michelle doesn't swim, so we rented a sunshade for her to sit around under while I went in for a dip. The water wasn't as warm as I was expecting: it wasn't nearly as chilly as my xmas day dips, but there was still a bit of a shiver when I walked in - nowhere near as warm as the water off Bali or Singapore. Then I re-discovered how much the sun really doesn't like me - I'd managed not to get burned so far on the trip by liberal applications of factor 40 sunblock, but in the 15mins I was in the water and getting dried out after, my shoulders and back were already starting to go a bit pink! Sometimes I think I must be part vampire or something....

After our little sojurn in the sun, we hopped in a taxi and headed over to Enda & Joanna's place. Before we headed off, we decided to go for brunch in a local cafe that they frequented. Like most places in Dubai, there wasn't an emirati in sight, all the patrons were ex-pats and all the staff were indian or filipino. Good food tho! Fortified for our journey, we hopped in Enda's big fancy jeep, and headed off.

Contrary to what the movies would have you believe, most deserts aren't just big huge sand dunes, and on the way out we saw the various kinds, scrubland, rocks, and yes some sand (but of various colors). Our destination was on the eastern side of the peninsula, a place called Hatta in the mountains, where there are a series of pools (it seems Enda has a set itinerary for everyone that comes visiting, and this was the desert destination....). About 90mins out of Dubai tho, we hit a bit of a snag. The border between the UAE and Oman isn't straight, and on the way to Hatta you dip in and out of Oman a few times. Normally this is no problem, the only way you know what country you're in is by the flag on the flagpole of whatever little village you go into on the way, but occasionally the 2 countries have a bit of a diplomatic spat (or as enda called it, "a dick-swinging contest") and they close off the borders. So, at one point between one patch of sandy nowhere and another patch, we got stopped by a roadbock manned by a few bored-looking army dudes with M-16s and a humvee with a roof-mounted M60 manned by another equally bored-looking soldier. They were checking IDs, which was a bit unfortunate as, not expecting that we'd need htem, we'd left our passports in the hotel and Enda & Joanna had let their local ID cards back in the house. We could get through that roadblock no problems, but the guard told us that while he could let us though, we'd have problems with the guards on the other side of the road when we got back, and we mightn't be able to get back in without IDs. This wasn't all that good, as Joanna's visa had actually expired 2 days before, and so if we got stopped she was screwed. When it comes to zero tolerance, the emiratis make the NY cops look like irish gardai, and while she was ok so long as she was in the UAE and had her ticket home, if she went out and they checked her on the way back in she wasn't getting back in, period. So, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and we did a u-turn and headed back to Dubai.

On the way back Enda decided that we'd go back a bit more of a scenic route, so that we could get a better view of the Dubai skyline. So, we turned off the main road and took a detour through the desert. Along the way, we saw a herd of camels so we took veered off into the desert so we could get a closer look. I had my new big shiny camera, but Joanna, being a fashion designer, had an even bigger one, so we both started snapping away while the other 2 looked at us as if we were mad. After that, the next stop was to see the skyline, which we were seeing at right-angles to the way we came in from Abu Dhabi so we got to see it all, as all the big-ass skyscrapers pretty much was along the side of Sheihk Zayeid Road. Even from this distance, the Burj Dubai was head and shoulders above all the rest, nearly twice as tall as any of the other ones.

Once we got back into the city, we headed for The Palm Jumeira, the man-made islands in the shape of a palm tree. You were allowed drive out on it as far as the Atlantis hotel, the big 5-star hotel at the end (about a mile out from shore), but if you were a resident there, you were able to take the monorail - the bloody palm has its own public transport system! Thing is, once you're on it, it doesn't actually seem like it's any different from any normal island, the only way you can see the shape of it is from the air. After seeing the Palm, we headed out for Jumeira Beach, which was as close as you could get to the Burj Al Arab as you could get without paying. The place is so bloody exclusive (well it would be being a 7-star hotel and all), you can't just walk in and take a look around, you have to book a meal or "afternoon tea" - and at 80 quid a head for afternoon tea, we decided to give it a miss (even if it was an all-you-could eat buffet, which sounded like a good challenge to me - could I eat 80 quid's worth of buffet food?). We got to the beach just as the sun was setting, so the view was quite impressive - and the beach was cool enough to walk on, even better! :-)

After that, we headed back to Enda & Joanna's place to change and go out for dinner. On the way out, my parents had given me their leftover dirhams from when they were over (about €100 worth), on the understanding that I used some/most of it to bring "Little Enda" and his fiancee out for a meal. So, we grabbed a taxi and headed back to the Madinat Jumeira, a huge shopping/eating/entertainment complex near the Burj Al Arab. Place is so big and swanky they don't have streets, they have canals and water taxis to bring you from shop to shop and restaurant to restaurant! We weren't sure whether we'd be able to get into the hotel bar, place was one of those ones where if you're not one of "the beautiful people", you're probably not getting in, and while we weren't exactly scruffy looking, we didn't have a designer label between us. We blagged our way in tho (the trick is to walk fast and look bored apparently), and soon found the down-side of the "good life" - over €35 for a round of 4 drinks, 2 of them being beer!

After our lovely posh drinks, we wandered around the souk, a very up-market version of the souks in the old town, and Enda showed us the infamous stall where my mother had managed to haggle the stall owner into giving her a lantern at what was probably below cost price the year before (she'd thought she got one for Dh35 the day before at that stall, so she wouldn't give in until she got it at that price, turns out after she'd got it for Dh70... Never haggle with my mother!). Unfortunately there were no lanterns there that I could bring her back, but there was a shop around the corner which was selling xmas decorations so we got a few in there for the ppl back home. We also got some bars of camel chocolate - chocolate made from camel milk, which is apparently extra-creamy!! Once the shopping was done, we decided to go for food. Problem was, there were too many choices! We sort of narrowed it down to a Mexican place, a Cajun place, and an Italian place. We tried the mexican, but they were full up - we could have waited for a table, but we'd be waiting something like 45mins! No-one bar me was really brave enough to try the Cajun place, so we decided to go for the safest option, the Italian. Food was fairly OK, nothing overly spectacular but adequate. Afterwards, we hung around for another drink and then decided to leave, as me & Michelle had to be up at around 4am to catch out 5am bus to the airport. So ended our little adventure in Dubai!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Getting out of Dubai

On day 4, we decided to do something a bit different: my cousin had mentioned that you could get to the neighbouring Emirate, Sharjah, by taxi. But first, I had a little bit of business I wanted to take care of. So, we headed out shopping again! First stop was the Wafi Mall. This is a smallish (by Dubai standards, huge anywhere else) boutique shopping center. The translation of "boutique"? Bloody expensive! Imagine a shopping center with an Egytpian motif (i.e. shaped like a pyramid with fake-egyptian heiroglyphs and statues all around the outside), where the cheapest shop there would be along the lines of Chanel or DKNY. I've been on some of the most expensive shopping streets in the world, Rodeo Drive in LA and Via Condotti in Rome, but this was like someone decided to take these streets and turn them into a 200-outlet shopping mall. The easiest way to gauge how upmarket it was is that there were no price tags on anything - the old "if you had to ask, you couldn't afford it" syndrome! Another way to gauge it was the parking: when we pulled up in our taxi, the valet parking area beside us had porsches, bentleys, rolls royces and propping up the bottom of the price pile, a BMW jeep (must have been the janitor...). As Michelle put it, it was "a whole shopping centre that makes brown Thomas look like Penneys" (Irish ppl will get this analogy) :-)

After browsing in Wafi for a bit (because we ain't going to do anything else there, like actually shopping!), we headed back to the Dubai Mall. As we had a fairly decent idea of the layout this time, we split up again and went off to do out own thing. I really only had on target in mind tho: the Sony centre, where I decided to pick up that camera I'd seen on my last trip, a Sony Alpha 230 DSLR. It's not the biggest and fanciest and most feature-rich of the entry-level digital SLRs, but it's one of the cheapest, the lightest and, as I was getting it with a second lens, 4Gb memory card and a carry case, it was about €100 cheaper than I'd get it at home!

After meeting back up with Michelle (who also had a pretty productive shopping experience), we headed back to the hotel. After plugging my camera in to charge, we went outside and hopped in a taxi to Sharjah. herein came the first little glitch, that no-one had mentioned: as the taxi would be going outside Dubai into a different emirate, there would be an automatic Dh30 added to the fare. Well, isn't too much we figured, so why not? So, we headed off!

Now, the impression I got from Enda and from our guidebook was sort of a small, rustic little hamlet of a place, the sort of small middle-eastern town like you'd see in the movies. Wrong! If anything, it was more built-up than Dubai, but with all cheaper, slightly run-down looking apartment blocks. The only way we knew we were actually outside of Dubai was when the taxi meter clicked up an extra Dh30 and we passed a sign saying "Welcome to Sharjah"! We were thinking that the taxi driver was taking us a bit of a scenic route, as it seemed a few times like we were doign big loops to end up a bit further down a road wed already seen before. then, to make it even better, we passed the bus station and he idly informed us that if we wanted we could get the bus back for about Dh5! This at the end of a Dh150 taxi ride! :-(

We'd asked the taxi driver to take us to the heritage museum, as from the map that pretty much looked like the center of all the touristy things, so he dropped us at the side of what he called "the historical area", which apparently had a load of museums etc in there. We deiced forst tho to head to the Al Hisn fort, which was a few streets over to see that first. When we got there, it was obvious that all of the pictures we'd seen of it had either been extremely well-positioned or just out-and-out photoshopped - the fort was in the center of a traffic roundabout and surrounded by 10-or-more-story apartment blocks! Well, we were there, so we might as well go in, eh? Oops, big sign on the door: "Closed for renovation from July 2008" - agh! So, we went back to the historical area, which we soon found out was about as interesting and as full of stuff to do as the heritage village in Dubai! There were hardly any signs up on any buildings as to what they were, and the few things we did find were closed (and not for lunch, this was about 4pm). About all we found was the covered souk, where we soon discovered that (a) the stalls had nothing but the usual tourist tat and (b) we were the only ppl there that didn't look like they worked there! No pressure to buy anything there, like! After beating a hasty retreat, we eventually found the heritage museum - it seems that while we'd asked our taxi driver to drop us off at the museum, he had dropped us off at the far end of the "historic complex" to it, and we were coming at it from the back! After going in, we again discovered we were the only tourists again - and looking at the visitors book, we were the first visitors in a few weeks! No wonder the receptionist dude looked so happy to see us!

After that, we decided to find our way to the bus stop rather than sending another taxi driver's kids to school, so we started walking. Thing was, we had a vague idea where the bus station was, but not how far it was, and there weren't a huge amount of taxis around to get us there. So, I had to ask some old dude sitting outside a shop for directions. The conversation went something like:

"Sorry, can you tell me is this the way to the bus station?"
"Bus station, yes"
"How far is it from here?"
"How long to walk there, 5 mins?"
"5 mins, yes"

So, that could either be them agreeing that yes we were going the right way and that we were fairly close, or them not actually understanding English and just repeating the last few words of whatever I said (which is a trick I've done myself when abroad). Luckily for us, it was the former :-)

So, we got on the bus and headed back, and yes it was a lot cheaper than the taxi, and yes we realised pretty much straight away that the taxi driver had indeed taken us the scenic route.......

As soon as we got back to the hotel, we pretty much had to jump straight in the shower and head out to Enda's place, where we were supposed to have dinner with them before heading on to a table quiz in their local pub. As we were running a tad late due to the bus, dinner was a slightly less than leisurely affair if we wanted to get in in time for the quiz! The pub itself was your typical english pub abroad, complete with wood panelling, fake london bus/tube signs, shite music and an obnoxious DJ. The beer at least was genuine though - not a bad feat for a country where you're supposed to have a license to drink alcohol, and where the police can and do raid pubs and nab anyone drinking without a license! We managed, all beer aside, to come a fairly respectable joint 3rd (which would have been just 3rd if we'd won the argument with the DJ about one of our answers), and wandered back to the hotel around 2am - not a bad night out for a dry country!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Dune Bashing and Belly Dancing.

Day three started out pretty easy, Michelle wasn't in the mood to do very much so I headed out to try to find the electonics souk I'd seen on the map, as I was in search of a cheap iPhone and a new digital camera. So, I boarded the abra and headed back across to Deira where I got happily lost in the little windy streets for a while before I found my intended destination. Unfortunately, when they said "electronics" they meant exactly that, it was all electronic parts & hardware shops, with a few mobile phone shops thrown in for good measure (but no cheap sim-unlocked iPhones) and no camera shops. After finding my way back to the hotel, we had lunch in the hotel restaurant and then got ready for the main event of the day: the desert safari! We'd booked this the previous day after seeing an ad for a safari in a leaflet in the back of a taxi that was nearly Dh100 cheaper than the one the hotel were trying to flog us.

Unusually for these kind of things, our driver was actually early - we wandered down at about 1:45 to see where we could wait for him, and he pretty much arrived in the door just as we got there! We got in the jeep, and after a little bit of haggling over the price, we set off to collect the other people in our group. These turned out to be a Brazilian couple on their honeymoon, who had arrived in Dubai the night before at 9pm and were leaving for 2 weeks in Thailand at 2am the next morning. Talk about a whistle-stop tour! They had pretty much "done" Dubai that morning, had spent it racing around in taxis seeing all the sights they could (which was more sights than we'd managed to see so far!). So, our little party was now complete, and off we went into the desert.

It took us about an hour to get out where we were going, and one spot of sand looking pretty much the same as any other to us, the only way we knew we were there is when the driver suddenly veered off the road into the sand. We only went in about 500m into the desert, where we met up with 2 other jeeps, and we stopped for about 20mins while we waited for another jeep to meet up with us and while the drivers let some air out of the tires. Naturally, everyone spent pretty much the whole time taking pictures. After that, off we went!

After a while it became obvious that the guys weren't just haring around the desert at random, they had a definite track that they were following. Nonetheless, it was quite an energetic ride! We were the third jeep in line in our little convoy, and about half the time you couldn't see the jeeps in front as you were either staring at the sky as we ramped up the side of one dune, or staring at the sand seemingly rushing up to meet you as you slid down the other side (sometimes nearly sideways on some of the bigger dunes). Definitely not a ride for someone who suffers from motion sickness! You were thrown about the place in the back of the jeep as we zoomed around, and as I had the center seat all I had was a lap belt so I had to wedge my knees in the backs of the seats in front of me to avoid being thrown around like that dude in the Road Safety ad that was on TV a few years back.

Follow the leader...

After about an hour of this roller-coaster ride (about only 5 mins of which was spent with the jeeps traveling straight and level) and just as the sun was starting to go down, we arrived at our encampment for he evening - a "bedouin village" where we were going to get our BBQ and night's entertainment. Apparently the entertainments on offer were camel rides, quad bikes, watching a desert sunset, dune boarding, sheesha pipes, a BBQ with unlimited (soft) drinks and a belly-dancer. Sounds pretty good eh? Well, the first thing on offer was the camel rides, but we decided against this after seeing that (a) you went around in a circle about 100m wide and (b) you had to pay Dh50 each for the pleasure. So, instead, we decided to watch the sunset. As the encampment was in a dip between several sand dunes, we had to climb the dunes to see it. Unlike at home, there's no twilight to speak of, the sun starts going down
and then 5 mins later, its gone - you can actually see it moving as it goes down. Last time I saw that was down in S Africa. Me & Michelle were nearly the only people to bother watching this tho, as all the other tourists were still getting their pictures taken with the camels :-)


After the initial camel-induced frenzy was over, there was about an hour where nothing happened - apart from them opening up a few stalls full of touristy crap in the hope that we'd be bored enough to buy something! While we were waiting, me & the brazilian dude from the jeep decided to try the dune boarding - which consisted of grabbing the snowboard left lying up against one of the huts, picking a steep enough sand dune, and trying to figure out out for ourselves - in the dark :-) Only fell once, which wasn't too bad, until I realised that now my hair, pockets, etc were all full of sand.... After that, we were able to get dressed up in traditional bedouin garb and get pictures taken with a falcon, which I did. There was also a bar, which surprisingly enough was selling a full selection of alcoholic drinks (you got the soft drinks for free, but had to pay for the booze). Then, eventually, the entertainment started.

The first thing on was a couple of whirling dervishes - guys who pretty much spun around in circles while doing mad acrobatic stuff with umbrellas and various colored skirts that they had tied around their waist. That was fairly impressive - I would have lasted about 1min of spinning without wanting to fall over and probably puke, but they kept it up for a good half an hour non-stop and managed to do an entire well-choreographed routine as well! After them was a girl doing that usual spin-two-balls-around-yourself-on-a-rope thing that you see ppl doing in the crowd at pretty much any music festival you've ever been at, except she was dressed up and was spinning balls of fire on the end of chains, so I suppose that makes it traditional. Then, there was a break for the BBQ, which consisted of a couple of lamb kebabs, chicken skewers, some sort of possibly-vegetarian curry with rice, and some othe stuff i couldn't recognize. Tasty enough, even if the chicken was a bit on the black & crunchy side. After that, was the belly dancer. Was a pretty good show, apart from the bit near the end where she grabbed some "volunteers" from the audience. Much to Michelle's amusement, I was one of the ppl dragged up. Let's just say I won't be changing careers and taking it up professionally any time soon..... Turns out as well that the dancer was from eastern europe! :-) At the very end tho she got a bit more than she bargained for, she tried to get up a few ppl up, and ended up with a few slightly (or more than slightly) drunk indian guys who pretty much decided to do their own thing, and they were joined by a few more ppl (coincidentally, the ones that had partaken of the booze at the bar), and I don't think any of them even noticed when the bellydancer finished up!

Me, blending in

After the belly dancing was over, the lights went out and things wound up for the night. We all got in the jeeps and headed back. I though that we might go a bit slower over the dunes as it was pitch black out, but no! The driver just turned on his lights and went hell-for-leather like before! It was only about 1km to the nearest road/dirt track tho, so wasn't too bad - but I'd called shotgun on the way back so I got to see how close we actually came to all those bushes and rocks along the way.... We stopped off once on the way back at a service station so that they could re-inflate the tyres (and coincidentally so the station owner could hawk us more tourist crap), and were back at the hotel for about 10pm. On the way I got chatting to the driver and it turns out that not only was he a local (pretty much the first we'd met!) but he also was only volunteering for the desert driving for the fun of it - the company we booked though only paid his petrol costs and that was it. For the last bit of the day, we decided to take a detour before we went to the hotel: the brazilians we were with had said that the only thing they hadn't managed in the day was to go across the creek on the abras, and as the abra station was only about 200m from our hotel, we decided to show them where it was (and where the souks were, if they wanted to do some shopping). So, after that, it was back to the hotel, and bed- it had been quite an eventful day!

Dubai, the Old Town and the New

Before we knew it, our alarm clock was going off and our first full "proper" day in Dubai was beginning. We'd decided that as we'd paid for breakfast that we might as well get up early enough to get it, so the alarm was set for 8am to give us plenty of time to wake up, get showered and ready and get breakfast before it closed at 10am. And quite a nice breakfast it was as well, once you get over the slight strangeness of the "sausages" being chicken and the "bacon" being veal - well, we were in a Muslim country, what are you going to do? After breakfast, we decided to head down to the Heritage Village, at the mouth of the creek, while the day was still cool enough to be able to go out walking (a "mere" 28-30 degrees at 10am!). So, we walked the kilometer or so down by the creek-side to the Heritage Village and the neighboring Diving Village. Well, what can I say, they're free in and they're still not worth the price of admission. Maybe in the afternoon there may have been something going on, but at 10:30 in the morning they were ghost towns, apart from us there were 2 guys repairing a wall and 3 very bored stall-owners who couldn't even get up the motivation to hawk us their tourist crap. So, if you have the Lonely Planet guide to dubai, you can pretty much skip the last third of their "Heritage & History in Bur Dubai" walking tour, you ain't missing anything :-P

All was not lost however, on the way back we still had the Sheikh Al-Maktoum house, the Sheikh Bin Thani house and the Architecture Museum to go to. We deliberately had left those until the way backas it meant we'd be inside in (hopefully) air conditioning on the way back when it would be starting to get hot! The Sheikh Bin Thani house was an islamic center, which could pretty much be summed up as "See, Islam isn't that scary, it isn't that much different from the Bible really, and the Qu'ran got a lot of sciency bits right that scientists are only figuring out now". The Sheikh Maktoum house then was mostly a photography exhibit of what Dubai looked like back in the 50s before the building boom took off. Place made Waterford look like a metropolis! The architecture museum, well, pretty much does what it says on the tin really. After browsing around in those for a while, we sauntered back to a restaurant near the the Bur Dubai abra station for a spot of quite tasty lunch (which we picked at random from the menu as we hadn't a clue what anything was!) before heading back to the hotel to regroup before the afternoon's exertions.

Dubai in 1952

In the afternoon, we decided to see the "other" side of Dubai, so we hopped in a taxi and headed out to the Dubai Mall, what is probably the biggest shopping centre in the world. Imagine 1200+ shops, an ice skating rink, an aquarium and 2 waterfalls, all under the one roof! You almost expect someone to greet you on the way in, giving you your complimentary map, compass, and sherpa guide! On the way there you also get to appreciate the Burj Dubai, the world's tallest tower at 160 stories. Is so tall that it still looks big 15km away, in the old city center! But back to the shopping. When we got in, we wandered around a bit and then decide that I'd just be cramping Michelle's style, so we separated and agreed to meet up back at the skating rink in an hour. Thing was, an hour would just about give you enough time to get your bearings in the place and figure out roughly where things were, never mind do any actual shopping! Place has more shops than Dublin city, and is about the same size as Dublin City Center from Parnell St down to Stephens Green - but on 3 floors and all under the one roof!

The aquarium in the mall

As we were meeting Enda again, we just went for a bit of food and then wandered around a bit more before heading out with hm to watch the fountain show. Maybe by now you might have gotten the idea that everything has to be bigger and better in Dubai, well, this even applies to the water fountains! Between the Dubai Mall and the Burj Dubai, there's an artificial lagoon, which has a dancing fountain. If you've seen "Oceans 11", you'll remember the dancing fountain at the Bellagio hotel at the end of the move, well, this being Dubai, its like that only bigger and better (the highest water jets in the world, naturally). Is quite impressive, I'll definitely say that!

The dancing fountain (click to play)

After the water show, we headed to the rooftop bar in the Assembly Hotel, a puny building of a mere 60 floors situated beside the Mall. Or rather we tried to, the prick bouncer wouldn't let us in with sandals on (some things are universal no matter where you are, and bouncers being assholes is definitely one of them). Luckily, Enda lived around the corner so we headed back to his gaff, me & Michelle borrowed some shoes, and we headed back again :-) So, we got to see Dubai by night from the bar (quite nice), the dancing fountain from above (looks better than at ground level), and despite being 60 floors up, we still had to crane our necks to see the top of the Burj Dubai across the lagoon! Seeing Dubai by night from above sort of reinforced that wierd felling I had about the place when I was coming in on the bus: it's all big buildings and bright lights and modern shiny things, but as your eyes travel out to the horizon, it's like someone drew a line and just erased everything beyond it: unlike most cities which just sort of gradually straggle out to the outskirts so you can't really see where the city ends, with Dubai there a definite line where the city ends and the desert begins again. Or maybe that was the mojitos talking. Anyway, after a hard day's touristing and shopping, it was back to the hotel to get ready for the next round - the safari!

Dubai - getting there is half the fun

Well, I promised myself I wouldn't do with the Dubai trip like I did the Warsaw trip and procrastinate on updating my blog to the point where I don't want to bother writing it any more, so here we go :-)

As usual, whoever said getting there is half the fun never took a long-haul flight. We decided to go direct with Etihad rather than having a 4hr stopover in either Heathrow or Amsterdam, but that meant leaving at 8pm on saturday night and getting in around 7:20am on sunday morning. So, we lose one whole day of our 7 days, and we also miss the weekend in Dubai (their weekend is friday and saturday). We could have had a 5pm flight on the friday which would get us in early on saturday, but that would have meant taking another half day and Michele didn't have the hols to take that. The flight itself was an eye-opener after flying for so long with the likes of Ryanair and Aer Lingus: first we didn't have to pay for our bags and we had a 23Kg allowance, then when we got on the plane, we got free food and as many drinks as we wanted, the food was actually tasty (I've had far worse Lamb Koftas in restaurants over here) there was an in-flight entertainment system, and the hostesses were actually attentive and friendly! The only issue I'd have is that with all the stuff you got, the flight was almost too short at 7 1/2hrs: You took off, you got fed after a while, you watched one of the many movies on offer, then you only had about 3hrs to try to get some sleep before they woke you up for breakfast. I'd almost prefer a longer flight, as I only got about an hour's sleep! :-)

We arrived into Abu Dhabi airport anyway, roughly on time at around 7:20am and with only an hour's sleep under our belt.

When I got in, I discovered I had a problem: my phone didn't work, so I had no way to contact my cousin Enda to let him know we were in, so that he could meet us off the bus! I'd had an idea that this would happen, so I went off looking for a kiosk that I could be a pre-pay local SIM card in. Bit of a problem: the kiosk that used to sell them was closed down, and the shop that was open was only selling bill-pay SIMS that'd take a day to activate! Luckily, we figured out that it was the network I was roaming on - bit of advice if you're going to Dubai and roaming with Vodafone: don't let your phone automatically pick the network, manually select Du over Etisalat.

After that little kerfuffle was sorted out, we got on the complimentary Etihad coach for the 1 1/2hr trip to Dubai anyway at 10, and set of. Michelle promptly fell asleep on my shoulder, but once I'm awake and it's bright out that's it for me sleep-wise, so I just got to stare out the window at the passing scenery. Was my first time seeing "real" Desert, and my first reaction was "wow, tide's gone really far out hasn't it?" :-) Eventually in the distance I started seeing tall buildings, and then finally after about 45mins on the bus we got to Dubai. My first impression wasn't very favourable I'm afraid, there were lots of really nice really huge skyscrapers, any of which would be a landmark building in any other city (especially here, where our tallest building is a puny 16 stories) but they were just sort of plonked there on either side of Sheikh Zayeid road with nothing else around them - with some of them, if you looked at the gap between the buildings you could see the desert starting again about 100-200 yards back. So, it sort of almost had a movie set feel, or that it wasn't a city as such but more like someone decided to start a collection of really tall buildings with no real interest in giving them a proper setting.

Dubai from the road

Enda collected us off the bus anyway, and brought us in to our hotel. We'd definitely picked a good location: in the center of the "old city", directly across the road from the Dubai Museum and about 2 blocks from Dubai Creek. There was only one small problem: despite the fact that I'd specifically asked for an early check-in, our room wasn't ready, and wouldn't be ready until 2pm (and this was around 11am). So, Enda decided to take us on a quick whistle-stop tour of the area before he had to go back to work. So, we went on a very quick walk through the Bur Dubai souk, the Hindu Temple, down by the creek and ended up in a little restaurant in Bastakia, the former Persian quarter which now consisted of renovated buildings acting mostly as restaurants and art galleries. Here, I was introduced to what would become my drink of the holiday: fresh mint lemonade. We needed the drink and the sit-down, it was about 36 degrees and we were still dressed for irish weather! After Enda headed back to work (complete with his "care package" of rashers, sausages and black pudding), we pretty much just sat in the hotel lobby and tried to stay awake until our room was ready, which it finally was around 1:30pm.

Once we hit the room, we pretty much collapsed on the bed for a 2hr "power nap" before showering and heading out for a more leisurely stroll around the city (Enda had sort of forgotten that we were fresh off the plane and had been awake for nearly 20hrs straight and had set a rather brisk pace). This was one of the reasons I'd have preferred to arrive in the evening: our first day was pretty much a wash-out as we were too knackered and disoriented (and hot!) to so anything really. Around 7pm, we met up with Enda again, and his fiancee Joanna. They took us out on a tour of the souks, the textile and the tourist souk in Bur Dubai (the area we were staying in), then across the creek on board the little water ferries called abras. They were interesting: imagine a rickety little 15-foot boat with a bench down the middle and a bit of an awning and the "pilot" standing up in the middle. They pulled up to the dock, didn't bother tying up, you climbed on board, sat on the bench facing out the way, paid your 1 dirham (about 20c) and ye set off. There was a fair bit of competition for berths so occasionally you'd have a few abras bumping off each other or off the dock while they jockeyed for position, like a water taxi version of bumper cars - not for the faint-hearted but quite fun!

One of the abras on the creek

On the Deira side of the creek, Enda & Joanna took us up through the spice souk (which looked like one of the Harry Potter films should have been set there) and the Gold Souk (entire streets looking like a Mr.T costume party) before getting some food at a street vendor. I was actually a tad bit disappointed with the souks, I'd imagined they'd be a sort of cross between the stalls I was used to from the Silk Market in Beijing and the slave market scene from "Gladiator", but it was all nice and clean and proper, with proper shops on the side of the streets. After that, we sort of had to call it a night as we were knackered, so we headed back across the creek in the bumper-car abras and were unconscious pretty much as soon as our heads hit the pillows.

The Bur Dubai souk

Thursday, November 26, 2009

LA Story

This time 9 years ago, I was on the road to LA, barreling down Highway 5 from San Francisco in our rental car with U2 blaring on the stereo. Me & Bones were over working in Sun HQ in Mountain View and we had a long weekend to kill, so we flipped a coin to see where we'd go for it: heads LA, tails Las Vegas. It came up heads, so we booked a hotel and off we went. My first (and last) ever thanksgiving dinner was in a restaurant opposite Mann's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Over the weekend we almost went to Disneyland (too expensive and wud take a whole day of the 3 days we were there), Universal Studios (closed just as we got there), and did get to the Hollywood sign, Rodeo Drive, Hollywood Boulevard, La Brea Tar Pits, and Malibu Beach, along with getting lost along the way a good few times (bloody first generation in-car GPSes.....). I wouldn't call it he highlight of that trip to the US, but was a fairly good weekend.

Man, where did the time go eh? Is 9 fecking years ago......