Monday 7 May 2018

STOP OVER: United Arab Emirates

The UAE (not to be confused with the EAC... from Finding Nemo), was our stop over on our way to Italy. We purposefully chose this as our stop over and purposefully chose it to be 20 hours. In hindsight, I may have made it a longer stay over to just catch up on sleep plus have enough time to see what we wanted. It wasn't enough time for both. We made do with our choice though!

But back to the stop over...

Firstly, the 14 hour flight was pretty horrible. Like, I barely survive 3 hours between the two ANZAC nations, let alone frickin 14 hours locked in a plane in the most uncomfortable chairs ever. I tried to be optimistic but guys, it was just impossible. No matter what position I sat in, no matter how many different ways I moved my head, I never had a decent enough sleep.

As a parent, my first priority was Hadrian and of course at the end of the flight, he merrily would tell us it was a good flight and he had a good sleep. Yeah... no kidding! You had your legs sprawled across me and you're a twig sitting in a roomy chair.

But no matter, we survived and made it there safely. Didn't know what to expect of Abu Dhabi when we landed but knew we wanted to get to Dubai. In hindsight, I would have considered flying straight to Dubai. It would have saved a lot of time we spent travelling between the two places. Time we needed for sleep.

We also checked our luggage in to the final destination (Milan), choosing not to get it out in Abu Dhabi only to check it in again. So everything we could possibly need in 20 hours was in our carry on. I packed our togs for the pool I knew was going to be at our hotel later that day and most of our electronics, toiletries we would need and that's it. If we showered, we changed back into the clothes we were already wearing. Gross, yes but it saved us space in our carry on luggage and it was only temporary and thankfully, none of our flights were delayed so we didn't have to sit in our grossness for longer than we had planned.

UAE in general

We were prepared for the possibility that I would have to cover up while being there. I had taken a shawl with me in case I needed it for my head and covered my arms (just half way) and covered most of my legs. Turns out some places they do have rules for at least covering up your arms and most of your legs so I'm glad we thought ahead on that. I didn't see everyone doing that though but I didn't see anyone policing it either. We didn't go to any mosques so I didn't test my theory with head coverings in more sacred places.

We were also told they were not very big on PDA. Thankfully, after 14 hours on a hot plane, we were not very big on it either!

Nathan also covered up his legs... just in case.

When people say it's a desert over there, they are not kidding. It is basically miles and miles of flat desert with some cities built here and there. Even the sunshine seemed like it was filled with specks of sand.. making it seem like it was misty, yet with the sun shining bright and no clouds. Literally, no clouds. It felt like what we would assume Tatooine would be like.

View from the plane

There are a lot of mixed cultures there as well. A lot of foreigners call this area their home and because it has become a tourist destination, everything is both in Arabic and English with everyone understanding you in English. Or maybe it's because we were only in the tourist areas...

I had made a commitment to make an effort in my travels to make eye contact with people and thank them and have conversations with them, even just small ones. I tried that here but it felt like, to me anyway, that I was to be seen and not heard. It is a very male dominated area and it felt a little odd to me. But at the same time, if that is their culture then so be it! It's not affecting me and it means I can put my feet up... win-win.

I did find that the airport officers came off as a bit serious and grumpy. But after thinking more into it, what if we're just over precious and expect small talk? Yet at the same time, I don't like small talk so what should I be complaining about? So I shrugged this off that perhaps we are just different. I know other cultures that can be blunt with little small talk or tiptoeing around people so perhaps they are also the same. Just don't get offended if they don't ask how your day is when talking to you.

One time though, one female worker we came across was joking around with Hadrian and it threw us off a bit because we were not expecting small talk and jokes! So I suppose, through all this back and forth, just expect both sometimes and roll with it...

Their food was very cheap. Perhaps not in a restaurant at the mall - because we never made it to one - but it was still cheaper than we expected. When we bought food from the local convenience store in the airport where we expected it to be ridiculously expensive as it usually is, it was less than half of what we would have paid in NZ or Australia. I assume in their supermarkets, it is even cheaper.

RELATED: Abu Dhabi Airport

Driving in the UAE

It was our first experience driving on the right hand side of the road (and by our, I meant Nathan because... too chicken and also, not 100% sure if females could drive there but turns out they can so I'll just say I was chicken). Driving on normal, straight roads are easy peasy... follow the leader and all that. When it came to not following someone or around roundabouts where we would usually turn left around them while the UAE turn right around them, it threw us off a bit. The busier areas we went to were the hardest.

And the drivers there... well, basically indicators were optional. We would point out people indicating because it was so rare to see. Thankfully, the roads were pretty good and pretty wide and straight forward.

Their main highway had a speed of 140km/h most of the way! 140!! And nearly everyone hit that speed except us, who stayed a lot in the far right hand lane!

Dubai Mall

This is one of the places that have the rule of covered shoulders and covered knees. Thankfully we were safe. We did see people not following this but perhaps if you were to visit here, be on the safe side and follow those rules. Just in case.

The colonel comes to the rescue
By the time we arrived there, we were literally dying of malnutrition, dying of lack of sleep and as much as I wanted to try new food there, we didn't want a cranky kid or our first stop to be full of hostility so we ate KFC. Judge us all you like but it kept us all happy and that's all that mattered! Plus, their spicy fries were delicious!

In the carpark of this mall, I felt the hottest I have ever felt in my life. For reals, it was unbearable just to get to our car. Just thinking about it is making me sweat... But parking was free and no time limits from what we saw.

Everything you could possibly want to look at was in this mall. They even have a taxi service around the mall which I wish we used but we didn't.

They have an aquarium and an ice rink and a kids zone and shops galore... and restaurants aplenty. And a beautiful fountain outside (that apparently is copyrighted so you cannot take photos of it - although I don't think enough people know that rule and still do it anyway... but we were warned so we didn't). And the tallest building in the world also in/above it. More about that later...

In-mall Aquarium - part of the underwater zoo

The shops here are higher end ones. You won't see a Kmart here so I basically did no shopping there at all! We actually never stepped into one shop the entire time.

Burj Khalifa

This was one of Hadrian's must dos on his bucket list. We had to choose between going up this or going to the aquarium or something else. He chose this and this was the only thing we really had time and money to do. And it was worth it! Even when we had to go through metal detectors in separate male and female lines (actually, it was no big and my line was shorter so sucked in boys).

We only get to go up to Level 124 and 125 out of 150ish levels. Only - like I should expect to go to the top.. please.

We spent nearly 2 hours up there looking at the sandy-misty looking sunshine and no clouds and the amazing city built around it and the man-made islands on the coast. So many different angles to see but soooo many people up there, you were basically waiting in line to get to the front of a window to take a photo before moving along for the next person's photo op. We would have stayed up there longer had there been seats to sit on. But there weren't and complaints of sore feet were getting closer and closer together.

Before we left, Hadrian did a VR climb of the Burj which made him feel like he was in Mission Impossible. I bought a postcard (my only purchases I've allowed during this trip) and Nathan bought a keyring (his only allowed purchases) but then by the time we got to our hotel, he had lost it *insert palm face*.

Dubai from the sky

Costs for going up the Burj Khalifa varies depending on the time of year you go and the time of day. Their peak hours are between 4pm and 6pm which makes it more expensive. Off peak times are any time before and after those times. When we went, at the beginning of May, it was also within off peak months and at an off peak time so it was slightly cheaper. If converting to NZD, it was approximately $50 per adult and slightly less for a child under 12 (with under 4 free).

Their opening hours are from 8:30am until midnight. But according to the guide, you could technically stay up there after midnight but would have to walk down the 124/125 flights of stairs. Yeah, no thanks!

Burj Al Arab

Had we not had a car, I wouldn't have been able to visit this amazing place
- even from the distance we did. It was on my to do list after it introduced me to Dubai back in the late 90s. It was chaos getting there through traffic; we were only there for mere minutes; it was ridiculously hot; Hadrian had lost the plot by then; but it was worth it to me! If I could have, I would have dipped my toes into the ocean while I was there but I was already pushing it!

UAE Petrol Stations

Our final stop was our hotel but before we were down for the final few hours before our flight, we had to fill up our rental car and return it.

First of all, service stations are few and far between. You'd think there'd be on at the airport but it's about 5km away and when we finally made it there, the line of cars was ridiculous and I remember seeing every service station the same.

In NZ and Australia, you get out of your car, fill the car up, go inside and pay for the petrol. Or you pay at the pump before filling up and avoid going inside. You'd be lucky to have it any other way.

They don't do that here. You basically don't leave your car. Which is good for the laziness in me but we had no idea and had to watch everything that everyone did in hopes it would give us an indication of what to do. Just to add to the new experience, we had a car that did not have a lever to open the petrol cap. We basically had to do a quick search through the manual so we wouldn't hold up the line that was fast moving.

Finally we get to the petrol pump, what seems like one worker working on every single pump, comes up and takes our request, fills our car, we give them either our cash or card and they do it all for us next to the petrol pump (which used to be the way it was done before, even in NZ but times have changed, yo). But after we gave him our card, the guy yells out "What's your pin number?". Like, bro... I ain't yelling it back. So Nathan gets out and tries to pay himself. Doesn't work. Worker is blase about it and continued working through the cars still waiting in line. Nathan goes to another machine across the courtyard and it worked which means the machine he initially used was faulty.

We get ready to go and we see the cars ahead of us pull over before leaving the service station and there are a lot pulled over ahead of the car so we think, are we also supposed to do that? But instead we gap it before we look more stupid.

FYI: UAE petrol prices (as at May 2018) was AED2.37 which is NZD$0.91!


Our hotel stay at the Premiere Inn Abu Dhabi Airport was exactly what we needed. Even though we were there for such a short time and our sleep was very minimal, we were able to have a swim, a spa and a much appreciated shower.

The hotel was basically part of the airport so we could walk straight to our departure gate. I'd definitely recommend staying at a hotel attached to the airport for any long lay-overs. So easy.

Fantastic night view of Abu Dhabi from the Premiere Inn

TIP #1:

We rushed through the airport to get to our car and be on our way. We shouldn't have. We didn't have to rush and rushing through it all meant we were on the road faster, trying to navigate after the fast pace of going through the airport customs. Not ideal for someone with high blood pressure!

Slow down and take your time. In a new country with new laws and culture, just get through customs, relax and only leave when you're ready. We learned our lesson and on our next flight, we did exactly that... we slowed down and it made a huge difference.

TIP #2:

Like I said before, follow the laws. Even if you don't know if it will be policed. Cover up everywhere you go, keep your hands off each other. Not so difficult.

TIP #3:

The Dubai Mall was enormous but we had to choose carefully what we had time to do and not do. If you are going only to Dubai, then sure.. go for gold, spend the entire time there if you wish. If you are limited, don't rush yourself (or your family) around to catch everything. Choose one thing, make that the one thing that counts and let the others go. I don't regret that we only chose one thing and barely scratched the surface of the rest of the mall.

TIP #4:

As much as I wish we had flown straight to Dubai instead of Abu Dhabi to save us the travel time in between, in a way I'm glad we didn't spend our entire stop over in a mall. We were able to see the little cities along the way, the desert homes built in between the big cities and the beautiful mosques spotted along the highways as well as the locals. And now we know how to fill our car up with petrol if we are back there again!