• Welcome

    Travel trends by Global Great Hotels.

Saturday, 27 March 2021

Emirati Travel - Is it safe alone?


Emirati Travel…Is it safe alone?

Dear Readers,

In such times of uncertainty, it’s been a tricky blogging process, mainly since we still can’t actually go anywhere – although, having said that, on the day of writing this, we’re actually allowed to go to self-catering accommodation for the first time – if we live in Wales…However, we digress:  it’s a tricky business.  Therefore, we decided to do what we do best, dear Readers, and write from experience.

Today, we’re going to talk about our adventures to the Middle East.  More specifically the more well-known Emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.  Now, I don’t know about you, but a short straw-pole of the nearest and dearest raised very polarised opinions of these places.  Some think of it as a nouveau-riche sandpit, others think of it as a fascinating cultural adventure.  So if you’re up for some adventure with us, read on, dear Readers, read on.

Your Hapless Blogger had occasion to go to both Dubai and Abu Dhabi a few times pre-COVID.  One of the aspects we’re writing from today is the fact that she went there as a single woman, alone.  Don’t get us wrong, we’re not talking from some feminist point of view, just the fact that it was interesting, especially regards peoples’ pre-conceptions.




Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and the second biggest city (to Dubai).  Like me, you may have thought that Dubai had all the money, but in fact, Abu Dhabi accounts for 2/3 of the $400 billion UAE economy.  Having spoken to locals about this fact, it turns out that Abu Dhabi and Dubai are akin to old money and new money.  This is especially true of the more wealthy:  they see Dubai as trashy and common.  They wouldn’t dream of going there, and consider Abu Dhabi the centre. 

Your Intrepid Blogger flew, oddly, from Cardiff Airport – how hilarious is that?  You can actually fly from Cardiff Airport to Abu Dhabi!  Well, almost, you have a small stop in Charles de Gaulle, Paris.  So basically you get on the smallest aircraft in the world from a pretty tiny airport, and then get spat out again at CDG, one of the largest!  Having navigated my way to the correct Etihad lounge, I proceeded to watch what I can only describe as a “procession” of the most glamorous air hostesses I have ever seen.  It was like something you remember as a child:  air hostesses with perfect uniforms, perfect makeup, looking like models.  Not the grumpy Ryanair ones which fling you a flabby sandwich if you’re lucky.  Honestly, dear Readers, it was like a fashion show.



Now, I don’t know about you, but I have rather got used to Ryanair and Easyjet of late.  You tend to forget the glamour and grandeur of a jumbo jet!  Not going to lie, I wasn’t headed for first class, just regular economy, but even that, I have to tell you, was rather fab.  The last time I was in economy on a jumbo jet was a very long time ago, and they have seemed to improve the whole experience vastly.  From the leg room, to the tech.  The food was excellent, the wine was actually very good, and as it was a night flight, it was all rather wonderful.  They even told you which way Mecca was throughout the flight, in case you needed to pray.  They also had the most incredible array of perfumes the perfume houses clearly don’t bother to sell in Europe as we’d consider the solid gold bottles “too much”!  Nothing was “too much” here, and just as I remember in my distant memory, you could have as many glasses of wine as you liked!  Imagine that on Easyjet…actually, don’t…

It’s an odd experience landing in Abu Dhabi (and likewise, Dubai) as you really can’t see anything at all apart from sand.  There are no trees, or little houses dotted around with swimming pools and stuff, just sand.  Apparently, they spray the sand so that it doesn’t affect the aircraft landing.  Abu Dhabi airport is still quite basic, and everyone was in their Kandura, which is that long, white robe, the men wear.  And they were all male.  All the passport control personnel and customs, were male.  Not a female in sight.



Not knowing what to expect, I had booked a shuttle from the hotel to come and collect me (hindsight, dear Readers, is a great thing, and you’d be perfectly fine grabbing a taxi – and definitely better off!).  As this was in April, the first thing that shocked me (idiotically) was the heat!  Off we went, past Yas Island, to the hotel.  I’d chosen the Al Raha Beach Hotel – not for any particular reason other than it looked nice and it was really cheap.  On the way to the hotel, passing such places as Yas Island, the best way I can describe it, and bearing in mind we’re outside the centre, on the periphery, is a sandy building site.  It turned out that Al Raha was rather splendid, situated as it was on the coast, and next to Al Raha Mall https://www.danathotels.com/abudhabi/alrahabeachhotel.  The rooms are enormous, especially the bathrooms, and complete was balcony and view of, well, I suppose you could say the sea, but more like cranes…The lobby is truly fantastic, and once in, with the help of very attentive staff, and having had a sleep, I was truly impressed.

Not once did I feel worried being alone, and I would suggest this felt like a hotel in any country:  actually, with the sort of newly built grandeur, it felt a little bit like Vegas, if you know what I mean.  Your Hapless Blogger’s Less Hapless Friend arrived, also a single female, and off we went to the centre.  Now, again, perhaps a little bit like LA, it’s not like you walk anywhere.  Everywhere is pretty deserted, and your Hapless Blogger’s resident friend clearly knew the ropes.  The ropes to get around Abu Dhabi and Dubai, dear Readers, is one word:  Uber.  You just get your Uber driver, and if you really like him, you commandeer your Uber driver for the day.



The centre of Abu Dhabi was less dusty building site and more rows and rows of what they call “villas”.  These villas are identical box-like houses, and until you get close, you’re not sure if it’s someone’s house or a shop, or in this instance a “beauty villa”.  As mentioned, Abu Dhabi is much stricter and way more traditional than Dubai.  As a woman, you would get a taxi/drive/Uber straight to a Mall or a Villa.  Hence why they have so many malls.  With the beauty villas, they tend to be “women only” because many are extremely traditional, and simply wouldn’t come if men were allowed.  This includes male therapists, so therefore you’ll find very few in these places.  Very plain from the outside, with no windows, these are oases inside, with all sorts of treatments, and a buzzing atmosphere. 

All too soon, it was time to go, and the Less Hapless Friend, who was actually living in Dubai, suggested we drove there.  As it’s only a 40 minute drive, I agreed.  So off we went to her favourite haunt.  I 100% recommend driving from Abu Dhabi to Dubai at sunset.  We drove past the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque as the sun went down – simply stunning:  this is the biggest mosque in Abu Dhabi and has got to be seen to be believed.   Honestly, words cannot describe the scale.  I would really recommend, to get the best of Dubai, drive in at sunset, as the lights are starting to come on (remembering in these parts, it gets dark very quickly). It’s an awesome sight.



Although you may not like the idea of Dubai:  no history, very modern etc. etc. I challenge you not to be impressed by the splendour and engineering feats of excellence.  Honestly, dear Readers, it’s a sight to behold.  Immediately you enter Dubai, it feels different.  Much less Arabic and much more European.  Less of a building site and more finished than Abu Dhabi, it’s seriously impressive.  Thankfully, the Less Hapless Friend knew exactly what she was going, and we headed for Jumeriah Al Naseem (https://www.jumeirah.com/en/stay/dubai/jumeirah-al-naseem).  This is THE area to see and be seen.  Right next to the Palm, and right next to the sea, this whole area is a sort of exclusive stretch of meandering bridges over swimming pools and a mixture of hotels, restaurants and bars.  It’s pretty fabulous, dear Readers.  In fact, wandering around in the balmy heat of the evening, you could have been anywhere chic, from Puerto Portals to Puerto Banus.



I suppose the best part is that of course, being Dubai, it kind of has the best of the best of everything:  all exquisitely constructed and all shipped in, but still, you can’t knock it.  You enter the Jumeriah Al Naseem, which is effectively a hotel, again, just like Vegas, really, one kind of merges into another.  Inside the most stunning lobby you’ll see everything, from people in their traditional dress, to women dripping in diamonds.  And it seems that the later it gets the busier it gets.  Don’t forget, they don’t drink, so as you went through the lobby and beyond, people were partaking of a kind of midnight afternoon tea (not that it was midnight when we went in, but it was when we left) which was interesting.



We headed for a restaurant called Il Borro (http://ilborrotuscanbistro.ae/).  Readers, have a look at it:  it’s stunning.  Literally like an upscale Tuscan bistro, with all the atmosphere and the food to die for.  We spent the whole evening sitting at the bar, drinking Prosecco, and sharing burrata with truffle shavings and truffle pizza.  Amazing.  Why not.

All too soon, it was time for me to leave, and I headed back to Abu Dhabi and the Al Raha Beach Hotel.  The next day I left for the airport (it’s actually useful to have USD with you, as everyone seems happy to accept them), and had a nightmare.  Thankfully, I’d got there early, because (and apparently, this often happens with Ethiad) they’d overbooked the flight.  And not by a small amount.  It was a little bit like cattle being squashed into a small shed.  There were a lot of us, and not a lot of room.   Fortunately for yours truly, the airline gods were smiling on her that day, because they allowed me on (many people were being diverted all over the place), and we left for Paris.  Now, in typical Hapless Blogger fashion, I nearly mucked the whole thing up at the last minute.  Having got very lost trying to find my plane back to Cardiff, I installed myself near the gate.  Expecting to hear the call for my plane, I got out my laptop and began to work.  Assuming it was a bit delayed, I wasn’t really watching the clock, just listening out as I worked.  Until something told me I’d better check.  Yup.  You guessed it.  Everyone had boarded without me noticing, and they’d closed the flight.  Thankfully, as they didn’t want the hassle of getting my bag off, they grudgingly allowed me on, and there I was, running down the tube thing attached to the plane, laptop wire flailing about in the wind behind me…

Dubai

For reasons best known to herself, your Secretive Blogger then had occasion to return in August (remember, that, dear Readers, AUGUST), this time directly to Dubai.  I chose a direct flight this time.  After the Paris debacle, I didn’t quite trust myself not to miss the connection.  This involved driving to Heathrow Airport.  Main tip:  leave yourselves time.

This time it was Emirates.  Yes, the plane was nice and the hostesses glam, but not quite on the scale of the fashion show we had from Ethiad!  Still, it was excellent service, and we touched down this time at Dubai Airport.  Wow.  Singapore eat your heart out, this was IMMENSE and very, very smart.  And the passport control chaps in their long, white robes, should all have been on the front cover of GQ Magazine (if you know what I mean?!).  This time I wanted to be super close to the airport, so I booked the Roda Al Bustan Hotel (https://all.accor.com/hotel/B759/) again, very cheap.  And again, wow!  It was super.  I got there late at night, and I decided I really wanted a glass of wine (don’t ask), and again, because I suppose, it was a hotel, it was Dubai, off I popped to the bar, which they kept open for me, and didn’t ask a thing.



The next day, I had occasion, with the Less Hapless Friend, to visit some villas with her, so I saw Dubai by day.  Again, very different from Abu Dhabi.  Much more settled, and established, with villas, malls and long, straight roads.  I only mention viewing villas because, dear Readers, I have never been so hot in my life.  I kid you not, and remind you it was AUGUST, I was literally sweating from the backs of my knees!  Genuinely, never in my life have I encountered heat like it.  That evening we returned to Il Borro – because we had to, it was so good and so much fun.

The following day, I attempted to spend by the pool.  This is quite tricky.  As much as the pool was rooftop, and very lovely, the heat was quite indescribable!  That evening, I visited I met my friends in the Mall of Dubai, where we had hot sushi and admired the ski-slope.  Odd. 

The next day I returned, having had a much less stressful experience of being able to get straight onto the plane in the very swish airport, and managing to regain British soil without a Gallic blip…

So what are our conclusions of our two, solo, whistle-stop trips to the Middle East?  Fascinating places in their own rights, and stunning, awe-inspiring, thought-provoking and just a little be soulless.  There is much that lies beneath, and I’m not entirely sure you’d like to see it, but from my point of view, and as a single woman, not once was I worried or felt uncomfortable.

Take from that what you will, dear Readers, and until next time, allah maeak.


Share:

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Space, Man - Welcome to 2021...

 

Space, Man – Welcome to 2021…




Dear Readers,

I think it’s safe to say, that when we published our first “Space, Man” blog back in January 2019, little could we have imagined in our wildest dreams (or nightmares, depending on how you look at it) the situation we’ve found ourselves in today.  We were going to re-hash the War of the Worlds theme, but it seems a bit depressing, and I’m sure if you’re honest, dear Readers, we’re a bit fed up of the doom and the gloom!

So with heads held high, let’s have a listen to Space Cowboy instead:  https://youtu.be/OPkjnRIdQXQ and have a bit of an explore.  If you’re a follower of our social media channels, you’ll know how much we love the topic of Space, and indeed, the fact that our first ever blog post was about Space, is indicative of our interest.  As a first post of 2021 (we thought the last day of January was symbolic, as a getting over of the worst month, and all that) that we’d fly off into Space again, and catch up with the escapades of Musk, Bezos and Branson, our favourite Space Cowboys!



As a quick aside:  who saw the “Star of Wonder” or the Saturn/Jupiter Conjunction over Christmas?  Wasn’t it fabulous?  And how lucky were we to witness it?!

Anyway, back to our Space Billionaires, and despite the fact that the rest of us were having a nightmare of a time, 2020 proved a pretty good year for them, with Branson seemingly appearing to continue winning the race, SpaceX launching astronauts up to the International Space Station not just once, but twice, and even more exciting (but slightly off-topic) NASA managed to get a sample of an asteroid 200 million miles away from Mars.



Predicted for next year, starting with Mr Musk and his SpaceX, he’s hoping to send two more crews of astronauts out to the Space Station again, following last year’s success.  This is the slight difference with the Musk proposition, as it’s masquerading (some might say) as a tad more philanthropic than the rest of them, in helping with the greater good of scientific development…Since signing a deal with NASA (which we reported on last time) SpaceX will become a sort of shuttle, regularly carrying astronauts out to the Space Station.  However, not to abandon our idea of space travel, Axiom Space, a private company, has purchased a trip to the International Space Station for four people.  Three are going to be “citizens” and the fourth will be a former NASA astronaut, Michael Lopez-Alegria.  One of the “citizens” has been announced as a former fighter pilot.



Not content with the shuttle programme and the flying of seemingly paying passengers, tests are continuing on the Starship spacecraft, intended for one day flying paying passengers to Mars.  NASA is heavily involved with this, investing $135 million into it with a view to shuttling astronauts to the moon.  Musk reckons this’ll start orbiting at the end of this year, but that might be slightly on the ambitious side…

And we’re still not finished:  in typically philanthropic fashion, Musk wants to bring the internet to the masses – and we mean masses – but flooding the Earth’s orbit with satellites which will beam internet signals to ground stations in exceptionally rural areas.  Maybe less philanthropic being that the Federal Communications Commission contributed $886 million, and also that Musk would be in charge (effectively) of the entire internet…but does it matter?  It’s business, after all.



So what’s Branson up to nowadays?  Turning 70 this year isn’t slowing him down, no no, in fact, he’s speeding up – literally – hoping to take a trip to the edge of Space in his suborbital spaceplane!  The aforementioned spaceplane has made it into Space twice now, and after an aborted effort in December, Virgin Galactic are going to re-prise that test, fly another one, and then Branson will have his turn.  If all goes to plan, efforts will then double to get all the people who’ve already paid up, into Space.

Like all billionaires, focusing on Virgin Galactic wasn’t enough, and Virgin Orbit, the rocket company, has also been active!



And Mr Bezos?  What’s he been up to?  Well, Blue Origin is planning its first flight for the New Shepard spacecraft with paying passengers on-board this year.  Now, dear Readers, we’ve discussed this in the past, and we’ll discuss it again here for those who haven’t read our previous posts:  it must be remembered that Branson and Bezos are taking people to the edge of Space and back, not into orbit, like Musk.  So it must be considered whether this is space travel as we imagine it or not?  Is it just a very expensive way to get a bit weightless?  Either way, it’s lagging behind Virgin Galactic, as it’s still not opened up sales or announced prices yet.

So there we have it:  if you want to orbit, Musk’s your man, but you have to have super-deep pockets.  If you want to get a bit weightless, then it looks like Branson will get you there first!

Until next time, dear Readers, stay safe and keep planning those holidays!

Share: