United Arab Emirates: Dubai
Oman: Muscat, 23.12.2012 - 04.01.2013
We are ready to travel again in order to escape the long cold and long night that are typical of Norway at this time of year, and we thought that Dubai and Oman would be great places to explore. We arrived in at two in the morning and thought that things would go fast, boy were we wrong, we lined up with everyone else but noticed that our line was moving very slow. Things were not just slow but we were almost the last out. But things did not stop there, after we picked up luggage I was suddenly chosen to X-ray my luggage to get out of the airport! Weird. Things could only get better, not, we hit every traffic light on the way to the hotel, which is only 10 minutes away, and traffic lights in Dubai take a long time. In the end after a lot of bla bla at the hotel it had taken us almost two hours to get to our room, but we did get a upgrade on our hotel room! ZZZZZZ.
After a late sleep in we decided to hang around the hotel so after breakfast we got comfortable in the sun, from our hotel we looked across the Dubai creek and further in the distance the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, surrounded by other skyscrapers. After sunning and swimming it was time to explore the area. Next door was a large shopping mall with lot's of cafes and restaurants, as it was also Christmas time there was plenty of extravagant Christmas decorations. While walking around we also found our hotel had one of those fancy swimming pools that are made out of glass so it looks like you are swimming in the air. In in the evening it was time to get out and about so we took a taxi to the old city Al Souk Al Kabir. After eating dinner in the old city we walked through the old city, which was very empty at night, where you get to see how the arciture was in the past before you pop out on the main street with loads of cars, flashing signs and people everywhere. As the night was still young we decided to take a walk around the mall area next door to see if we could find a nice sweet to top off evening meal. After enjoying our sweets we walked around a bit found out that in a short time the water show was going to start so we wait and the show started with blaring music and a interesting twist to the water. This water show used a water blower that shot out a fine mist where they project various pictures at different locations on Dubai Creek, very nice but very loud!
Waking to a foggy morning we were a bit worried but the fog slowly disappeared and by the time we stepped into the taxi things were looking better, Our taxi dropped us at the Dubai Mall, the world's largest mall. As it was early in the day the mall was not so crowded and after we passed the large aquarium (which was filled with lots sharks, rays and hundred of other fish) we came to our destination the entrance to the Burj Khalilfa. If you are in Dubai remember to book in advance on the Internet as the ride to the look out platform is usually fully booked at all times of the day. The elevator ride to the 124th floor is in two stages. Arriving at the 124th we were me by an amazing view out over Dubai and the surrounding area it seems to be always a bit hazy but the view was still good enough that you can get a good overall view.
There were a lot of people on the the 124th floor so once we had our fill of the beautiful view we joined the queue what we thought would be long wait to get back down. To our surprise a young lady steps out door in a little corridor and then quickly gathered about ten of us and we all proceeded down the corridor to the private elevator that normally take guest either to the hotel or to the top floors. Our first stop was on the floor where the restaurant is located for the hotel guests and the last stop was at the lobby of the of the hotel, we did not see a lot but it was very interesting to see a little of the other parts of the building that other did not see. We eventually arrived at the bottom and it was time to take a look at the huge fountain area that had nightly water, light and music shows and an even larger and spectacular New Year show with lots of fire works.
After a quick lunch at the base of the Burj Khalifa it was time to find a taxi this was not an easy task in the worlds larges Mall as they were not found in the front where we arrived they were to be found one level down in the garage. Next stop the Burj Al Arab (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burj_Al_Arab) well almost, we were dropped off at a very touristy area close to the hotel that was made to look like an old Arab shopping mall with lots of shops and restaurants surrounded by man made water ways, nice but touristy. After wondering around a bit we walked over to the Burj Al Arab where we stopped at the gate this was understandable as there were several buses there dropping off tourist to take picture and to matters worst it was the drop off area for a large water park. Enough if was time to get back to the hotel and rest a bit before Christmas dinner.
It was Christmas eve so it was time to try something difference and that would be Bateaux Dubai, a dinner cruise on Dubai Creek. We had heard about this dinner cruise from a friend and it sounded really good with a good chef from South Africa, a five course meal, live music, Santa hats (very important), welcome drink and a cruise. The boat was almost fully booked so there were lots people in a festive mood on board and they were not disappointed, we slowly moved up and down Dubai Creek while the different courses were served and we had time between the courses to step out on deck to enjoy the view and the peaceful evening. In the distance we could see the Burj Khalifa but the area around the Dubai Creek was full of life and lights, after a wonderful night on the boat we were once again back to the starting point and soon on our way back to the hotel.
After a late night we slept in a bit so after a late start it was time to organise our flight to Oman, you will probably ask yourself why we are doing this now? The answer is that Jorunn thought it would be great to take a bus so we could see the desert on the drive from Dubai to Muscat. When we asked at reception about buses to Muscat they thought we were crazy but in the end found out that there one bus company and you had to be there at 06:00, well before dinner we took a taxi there and getting lost we found the place. What we found was a tiny office with two large men sitting on a couch that was on it's last leg and behind the desk sat a large man in a dirty, not so white t-shirt. This felt weird as we were dressed in our fancy clothes for dinner, it all felt a bit shabby and cheap, we realized that a 6 hour bus trip wasn't that tempting, and in the end we decided to catch a flight, and got that booked.
Later that day we met up with a friend of Jorunn's that she had worked with earlier who now lives in Dubai with his wife and two children. Sameer picked us at the hotel and drove us to their home on the 18th floor of one Dubai's high rises where we met his wife and two children and had some tea and cakes before we left for Dubai Mall for dinner. We ate dinner at restaurant that served local food so we had a great meat while talking about life in Dubai which was hard as the restaurant was very busy and loud but in the end we were satisfied and it was time for the nightly water show. Now this was a water show, unlike the other water show we saw this one had many fountains with different coloured lights and pulses of water that shot high into the sky with blaring music in the back ground, fantastic show! The area in front of the fountain was packed with people and all the restaurat areas were full and if you looked to the right you could see the Burj Khalifa dressed in lights towering into the sky.
Time to move on so we packed up our things to get ready for our afternoon depart but we still had time for some time by the pool and a bit of lunch before heading off to the airport saying goodbye to Crowne Plaza and the large IKEA close to the hotel.
We arrived in Muscat in the evening so there was not a lot to see and getting out of the airport was quick and easy compared to Dubai, taxi's were just outside the door and there were fixed prices so there was no haggling over prises. We had a 40 minute ride to the hotel so the drive put the pedal to the metal for the first 15 minutes in a hairy ride before we hit the traffic at which the driver decides that its time for some entertainment and turns on a DVD with American wrestling on a little built in DVD player up front, with loud sound on so we asked him to turn it down. When the traffic started getting lighter and the speed was increasing but DVD was on and he watching it while driving so we told him to turn it off which he eventually did. We finally arrived at Oman Dive Centre which is set in a peaceful cove 20 minute or so south of Muscat with a big sandy beach and a big swimming area. Our room (hut) was pretty much farthest from the reception so we walked down the walkway along the beach surrounded by rocky hills that you could see in the moonlight. Our stay included breakfast and dinner and it was dinner time when we arrive it was time to taste the goods, to our surprise the food was excellent, which is not always the case with many buffets, after a short walk on the beach it was time for some rest.
With no sun we decided to go to Muttrah Souq, which is one of the oldest market place in the Arab word, our friendly taxi driver took us on a 15 to 20 drive taking us past the royal place, a very large mosque and the countries government builds before we reached the old city of Muscat. Our taxi driver dropped use in the centre of town and even gave us a mobile phone to him to take us back to the hotel, nice surprise, it was grey and windy day and some things were closed as Friday is a day.Our first stop was at Muttrah, with the old markets with shops that carried anything from jewellery to spices and had beautiful coloured leaded glass in the ceiling at the intersections of the shopping streets. After orientating ourselves we walked along the seaside, the city was very different from Dubai and had a much more Arab feel to it, our first stop was at the local fish market which was very active and had lots of fishermen there showing off their catches and many were eager to buy. Next stop was the fruit and vegetable market, this area was not very large but still crowded so we did not spend a lot of time there. The museum was closed so we walked around a bit, had some lunch and later took a walk along the sea side which is well known and has lots of stone carvings, we also pass under the old stone fortress that sits high on the hill ove looking the harbour reminding us of the way things use to be.
The sun came out the next day and things were much brighter, there was still a chill in the air but still warm enough to lay in the sun, after lunch I found out that the weather had calmed down enough that the boat would be going out so I could get at least two days of diving in, time to say hello to the fish! The next day I was up early and got my kit together while Jorunn slept in, we went south past the Shangra La Hotel (very fancy and expensive) and after about 15 minutes ride we reached our destination and it was time to get wet. The visibility was still not that good after the storm, but we had 4 good dive at Purple Haze, Plug Point, the Wreck, and Cockleshell. Things to see: turtle, cowtail stingray, lot's of moray eels (I even got the chance to swim with a large honeycomb moray eel, the video is on YouTube) and lot's more.
Our last days were spent mostly laying in the sun but we did take the time to climb up the hills that overlook the coastline outside our little cove and the hike was well worth it as we got a spectacular of the surrounding area and we could see far into the distance up the coast. We spent Christmas in Dubai and now it was time for New Years Eve in Oman, we did not know what to expect but there were many things happening that evening, even in the middle of nowhere. It started off with a fantastic buffet meal (I do not usually like buffet meals as they're not always that good but we were surprised again at the quality and variation of the food) and as we ate three large bonfires were lit and DJs were getting things starting on the dance floor spreed out in the sand. I had met a boy about 7 or 8 that stopped me after dive and asked me what I had seen and that evening we met again and I promised him I would show him my picture so he could see what is what I saw. At the table was mom, dad and two brothers so things took a little time. We stayed and talked until midnight (we found they work for IKEA! now that's the second time this trip with the IKEA connection, is this a sign?), now as I said earlier we were close to the Shangra La Hotel and that was a major plus as they put on a great fireworks show that lasted a pretty long time and it was amazing with big explosions with fantastic colours and designs. Sadly our time was up so after catching the last bit of sun it was time to head back to Dubai. One week without wifi was actually great !
We arrived back in Dubai in the late afternoon and this time we had booked a hotel (Holiday Inn) farther south this time, sadly right next to the motor way but we were one block from the metro (very spacey) and one block from the Mall of the Emirates, home of ski Dubai (yes you can ski in the desert if you really want to). From the top floor of the hotel we could see Burj Al Arab and a little further north The Palm Jumeirah, a man made archipelago in the shape of a palm that stretches out into the ocean and also houses a large hotel.
After departing the spice market we walked along Dubai Creek on our way to the Metro where we saw many boats that are still used to transports goods in the area and was a shape contrast to the tall office buildings and luxury hotels in the area. While walking we also noticed that there was a lot of activities on the creek as the creek was also used to ferry locals and tourists up and down the creek just like the old days.
After hopping on the Metro our next stop was the Dubai Mall (this is when we found out about the long walk from the Metro) first to have lunch and second to see the water fall and last to do the last bit of shopping. The water fall was worth coming back to as it starts from the top of the mall and falls 24 meter the fall is also 30 meters across and has numerous statues of divers that look like they are into the pool below.
That evening we walked to the Mall of Emirate as there were no interesting places to eat around the hotel. At this time the mall was even more crowded so we hurried along as fast as we could and finally found the Cheese Cake Factory where we were greeted by many staff members and after a short wait we were escorted to a table with a view of Ski Dubai (not funny or was it?). For those of you that do not what Ski Dubai is it's a indoor ski centre in the middle in the a mall in the the desert, how fun, but not for as this was a reminder of what we were flying home to the next day, yes it was time to go home and to dream of new adventures.