Friday, 1 November 2013

Living the high life Middle Eastern style .. Part 1 Dubai

Last week I set off on my first trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  When I say 'first' I know there will definitely be a 'second' and a 'third' and maybe more to the region. 

Dubai was never a place I fancied visiting as all that I had seen and heard about it made me imagine a world of opulent glitz and glamour quite removed from my reality. To be quite frank I had never even thought about visiting Abu Dhabi either! The fact that it was featured (with artistic licence) in the film 'Sex and the City 2' didn't inspire me in the slightest, especially since I knew most of it was filmed in Marrakech, Morocco!  However, all that has now changed and I can honestly say I was pleasantly surprised.

My first 'wow' factor was flying with Emirates on their A380-800. It's a massive aircraft and from the moment you step inside you feel the difference. Economy is like flying premium on other airlines and the entertainment system is state of the art. You can watch movies (from a selection of 100's) from the minute you sit down until you land and you can access wifi for a nominal fee. They have on-board cameras so you can have a birds eye view from the tail, nose and undercarriage. It was amazing seeing the lights of the runway in the distance and the approach through to the landing .. fascinating stuff! (I must admit to feeling a little nervous wondering how something that big can take off and land!) I now want to fly with them all the time! I wonder do they go to Caribbean??!! The food, the service and facilities were second to none .. I can't rate Emirates highly enough.

We arrived quite early in the morning and made our way to the hotel The Address, Dubai Marina right beside the Marina Mall. The staff were very friendly and hospitable, sorting out our room while we had a leisurely breakfast allowing us to check in a few hours early for no extra cost. We spent the 2 days in Dubai being tourists, visiting the Dubai Mall, watching the Dancing Fountains whilst marvelling at the world's tallest building the Burj Khalifa.  Seeing it rising endlessly into a clear blue sky was awesome and I suspect that on the next trip I may make it to the top, although I'm slightly nervous about that prospect too!  We also visited the Gold Souk and dined outdoors at the Madinat Jameirah where we had Persian food and a fab view of the Burj al Arab

I could easily spend a week there particularly at this time of year when the weather is cooler than the unbearable temperatures of high summer. I also quite fancy a little desert retreat for a couple of days! I look forward to my next visit in the not too distant future!

Take a tour on the Emirates Airbus A380-800 .. it's the first ever aircraft to feature on Google street view!

Living the high life in the Middle East .. Part 2 Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi was never on my list of places to go.  I knew nothing about the place and although I had heard of it, I had no real concept of where it was. It's just over an hour's drive south from Dubai and is the capital of the UAE. It is smaller (population under a million) and less ostentatious on the surface but don't be fooled, this place drips in gold.

We stayed at the InterContinental Hotel situated within 5 minutes drive from the Marina Mall and has it's own beach which was in redevelopment while we were there.  It has great views of downtown Abu Dhabi, and you can watch the sunset from the pool or various levels in the hotel. 

Our first afternoon was spent having high tea at the Emirates Palace a wonderful hotel complex which
has the appearance of having been around for a long time.  In fact it's less than 10 years old!

Emirates Palace
The building was designed by architect, John Elliott RIBA, who was Senior Vice President at Wimberly, Allison, Tong and Goo, an international firm specialising in Luxury Hotels. It opened in November 2005 but certain restaurants and spas did not open until 2006. The hotel was built by and is owned by the Abu Dhabi government, and is currently managed by the Kempinski Group.
The costs to build the hotel were 3.9 billion GBP or 11.02 billion AED or about 6 billion USD. The Emirates Palace occupies 850,000m² of floor space. Underground parking allows housing for 2,500 vehicles. There are two swimming pools and spas. The hotel has its own marina and helipad. The Emirates Palace is the second most expensive hotel ever built, only surpassed by Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

Prepare to spend at least 2 hours enjoying the food (and the cappuccino with the edible gold sprinkles) all beautifully presented. There was so much we couldn't finish it all so opted for a doggie bag at the end!  We took a walk around the complex .. the beach is private so we weren't able to go there but it would be a fabulous place to stay if you could afford to!
They even have a gold vending machine in the lobby if you feel so inclined to buy some.

We took a Big Bus tour around the city on day 2.  It's a great way to see and learn about the city and another architectural beauty is the Sheikh Zayed Mosque which also looks like it may have been around for a while but it too is only a few years old.  We also went to Saadyat Island and had lunch. This will be an amazing place when the development is completed.  The Louvre and Guggenheim galleries are under construction as well as many other attractions.  The bus tour also offered a shuttle service to visit Yas Island which is home to Formula 1 racing and Ferrari World, but we didn't have the time to go on this occasion. There's always next time!