Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Wheels on the (Big Red) Bus…

(you know the drill…click on the pics for a better view)

Corey had meetings (the REAL reason for our trip) to Dubai, so for two full days I was on my own to explore.

I had done some research on tours and the pricing.  The offers were pretty standard: City Tours, Beach Tours, half day, full day, and then, by luck…I struck GOLD…nooo that’s later…I struck RED.

The Big Red Bus Tours of Dubai.

What could be MORE perfect than to be shuttled to the cities attractions.the tours cover ALL of the above…half day if I want, full day if I want…city, beach.  I was IN.

I found the cost reasonable.  $60USD for 24 hours, $80USD for 48 hours.  The bus picked up right at WAFI…one of the popular malls which was conveniently right next to our hotel.

The premise of the tours is “Hop On/Hop Off” As the bus travels a circuit, you just tour the city at your leisure. I am NOT a Big Red Bus Tour (BRBT) novice, having been on one in Hong Kong and London. It has proved to be a good touring solution in the past.

Now, let’s get one thing clear.  It’s not REALLY 24 or 48 hours.  The buses run from 9 am to 6 pm ish.  Night tours are extra.   There are a couple LAWS on the BRBT….if you lose your ticket you “lose your ride.” Next…when the time stamp on your ticket says it has been 24 or 48 hours you are OFF THE BUS.  No questions.  OFF.

I chose to grab a 48 hour ticket. 

IMG_2517 The tour comes in Eight languages…sigh.  No “American”  Well, I guess I would have to listen to it in “English”.  Every time the guide said “color” I would envision “colour”  I could handle it.


IMG_2598  There is a “proper” way to ride the BRB. If you have any doubts about this, just look at the conveniently displayed stickers!  Psst… the green check indicates proper BRB behaviour (look at that…I’ve been on the bus 5 minutes and I’m already spelling in “English”).

The BRB has two routes, the Red Route (city) and Blue Route (beach)

My first day out I chose the City Tour.

My first stop was the Dubai Museum. Along with the “hopping on and hopping off” the tour tickets come with “extras”   At this stop there is an optional walking tour that I thought would really help me get the lay of the land.

IMG_2518Dubai was a fishing and pearling village back in the day.  There is evidence everywhere of how important fishing and shipping are to the area.

Here is a picture of the fort itself:


IMG_2525 “The Creek” cuts Dubai in half and really is the lifeblood of the area.

There were some pretty cool excavation examples:

IMG_2532 This is a lady buried. And next to her:

IMG_2534 A couple buried together. (click on these..they are cool)

After moving through the museum (the timing was perfect – I was done just in time for the walking tour!

This tour is done twice a day.  There were eight of us.  I was surprised that more did not take advantage of this!  Our guide was Jennifer and she spoke perfect English.  She gave us some tips about the city (haggle haggle haggle) and plenty of history.

This is an Iranian Mosque.  You can tell because of how ornate it is. 

IMG_2553The whole building is mosaic.

Here is an example of another Mosque…much plainer:


We walked through the fabric souk (market).  Most of this area is wholesale only.  Store after store with bolts of fabric inside and out. 

IMG_2547There were so few shoppers I have to wonder how they stay in business…well, at least there were very few “physical” shoppers.

IMG_2549 The buildings are not “original” but have been restored in a historically accurate way.  The sticks you see were actually used to hang laundry!  They openness you see in the towers help cool the buildings in the summer heat (and BOY does it get hot there…up to 46C (SEE…1 hour on the tours and I am actually thinking in Celsius…damn “English’)

We continue to walk along, cross The Creek in a water taxi:

IMG_2561 These are used extensively….this guy is taking a little snooze, but normally he is quite busy I am sure.

Next we visit the Spice Souk.  IMG_2570

IMG_2571 IMG_2572

ANYTHING you want…you can get here.  In the second picture…the “ball” things up front are dried lemons.  Next to that is Hyacinth…good for high cholesterol and hyper-tension. One of the biggest sellers is Saffron.  You know…the spice that “by the pound” is pricier than gold?  They have tons of it and even advertise it as a “good gift”.  I blew that one.

Next, we move to what Dubai is known best for :  GOLD

IMG_2581This ring is in the Guinness Book of World Records AS the BIGGEST ring in the world!  I’m thinking it’s a ring that will fit an elephant…but, ring it is!

Hong Kong has a bunch of gold.  Hong Kong as a million jewelry stores…but there is something special about the Gold Souk.

Dubai is best known for its 22k gold.  It is an amazing color. Very different from 14k.

Next, the jewelry is (a little bit) negotiable.

The gold is so much more accessible with it hanging from rods, store after store.  Inside each store there are counters and back rooms, with gold all ready to be eyed, touched, tried, purchased.


After the tour, I said goodbye to Jennifer and made my way back to look at some souvenirs.  I saw plenty of Pashminas…but quite honestly I see tons of them here in Hong Kong and Shenzhen.  Quite honestly, so much of what I saw, I have seen before.   I passed.

Here are a couple of shots from the water taxi:


The Creek is also a huge artery for ocean shipments in the region.  I was amazed at how much freight is moved on these old wooden boats!  They go all over the area and as far as Africa!


I spent the rest of the day “hopping on and off” at my leisure.  The only stop I found disappointing was one of the Heritage stops…it was an area that comes alive at night, so not much to see there.

The BRB took me right back to the hotel.  Even after 7 hours of touring and all that hopping, I had not reached 10,000 steps.

Annoying!  But I was tired!  I settled into the lounge for tea and a look at my pictures

The BRBT was a great success.

Tomorrow:  The Beach Tour!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Luau in the Desert

First…I WISH I had more pictures for this…but then, when I think back…the real high point of this night WAS the Sand dunes and the desert!  (Well, as I re-read was not really the high point..but it was the most picturesque part of the evening just for the sheer reason that by the time we got to the dinner portion...the sun was almost down.)

After we were done sliding, unsticking and generally having a terrific time in the sand, it was time to go to the “village in the desert” for dinner, henna tattoos, camel rides and “experiencing” local life.
How did we know about the village?  WAY off in the distance we could see rows of lights…one of the riders in our car asked our driver what the lights were. He answered “it’s a village”…to which she responded…”OH, that must be a village in the desert”  

Not sure what her first clue was?  Could it have been where we were? (Dubai).  Could it have been where we had JUST been (the DESERT)…or maybe the SAND in her shoes gave her the answer she sought.  Well, she was VERY astute and our car headed that way.

We first saw a “walled” city…and everyone who worked the event was male dressed in traditional garb.

We were kind of just let loose by our driver, so Corey and I made our way to the super-hard and heavy pillows that surrounded low tables.  Naw….not too interested in sitting there….so we made our way to a Gazebo.  MUCH easier on the back.

We were given appetizers….a vegetable roll up, fruits, a nice snack.

The henna tattoos had me especially interested and I made my way there before the crowds figured out where to get that done.  I chose to have it put on my arm vs. my hand since I wash my hands so much, I was hoping the tattoo would last longer.
IMG_2516 The tattoos are floral…and this took her all of 30 seconds to do!  (there never would be a line)  It turns out she was one of two women we would see that evening.

Notice it is BROWN Henna….We learned our lesson from Mexico and the use of black henna…just ask Kirk…it was NOT pretty and involved oral and topical antibiotics and a mark on his arm that lasted 6 months…good parenting at it’s best.

The Tattoo was included in the price of our evening….I wish I had had one put on my ankle.
Interestingly, there was alcohol there…I guess this is a bend towards tourists.  I had a not bad glass of wine.

Next came a belly dancer.  Just one…which was interesting b/c she had a HUGE stage to cover and she did it well. I’m not sure how they get their hips to do all that work while the tops of their bodies stay perfectly still..but she managed it beautifully.

This is where I turned to Corey and asked him if the guys thought we were silly for doing this ride and dinner.  To which he responded:
“Well, it’s just like a Luau…but it’s in the desert”  Fair Point!  I’ve been to plenty of Luau's on Maui.  It is a way to share culture.

…and then…here came a pretty big part of the evening…

A Camel ride..yes…also included in the price of our evening.

Here are the pics…and STOP LAUGHING right now…b/c I share most things…I will share the “Gooberest” picture of the night…Corey is still laughing.
IMG_2481 IMG_2483Can you see in the 2nd picture I’m just laughing hysterically?

First…yes, they have mouth covers.  My sister bets that THESE guys have never        miss-behaved but since Camels have such a bad rap….ALL have to wear them. They actually remind me of skull caps for noses.

(we aren’t sure what the specky things are…the flash was picking up something)
Soon…off we walk
IMG_2485 The shadows we cast were pretty cool…but the flash wiped them out
IMG_2487Here’s me throwing the “Shaka” sign for our friend Doug
IMG_2488I spent the ride “talking” to my camels.  I apologized for my weight…chatted to them about their nose caps…I’m odd…no two ways about it.  I talk to ALL animals…like these camels (or the cats in HK) understand English…well, it makes me feel better
All too soon it is time to get down which is the most exhilarating partIMG_2490 We all survived…I am still thrilled…and I was amazed that hardly ANYONE took advantage of this! 

Next..we came in to have dinner…Wait for it…Men and Women queue separately for dinner…like TWO serving stations…this was very very odd for all of us.

BUT, it explains what I had seen at breakfast…a gentleman at his table and his helper and female companion (wife?) at another.  This is another nod to very local traditions.

Dinner was buffet (as I shoved down images of Noro-virus being on EVERYTHING) and consisted of salads, breads…all things local…(two days later…we are well)

If I thought it was tough to count Chinese Food…this stuff was especially tough!

The proteins were chicken, lamb and fish. All good (and for me…the non-adventurous eater…all recognizable)
To end our evening there was a performance by a Whirling Dervish…IMG_2498 Sorry for the super bad picture…but there he is whirling over his head…and then…..
IMG_2494IMG_2497 The DISNEYLAND Electrical Parade broke out!  I hadn’t seen THAT since I turned 35…let’s just say it was many years ago before the darn thing was sent to Euro – Disney
Lights aside…the performance was amazing…

Sadly, after that it was time to go.  The other two couples in our group did not do Henna OR camels….I did not get over to the Hubbly Bubbly (pipes)…I can not fathom WHY you would not take advantage of all (or most) things offered..but ok…that’s just me

All in all, I think we took pretty good advantage of seeing what the local tours had to offer.

I am in heaven!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sand Dunes and a thrill a minute

Coming to Dubai is a dream come true!

Corey has been here many times but rarely gets to see any of the city because of his meeting schedules.  Having a free day is a treat!

We started our day with breakfast, a weight work out in the gym – where once AGAIN I realized that I can do more…I just have to push it…having Corey there to help with the 8kg weights for one set did make my finishing that set possible..but I still finished!

We worked pretty quickly so we could get out to the pool for a swim before our outing. 

Barbara had told me a must do on this trip was to get out to the sand dunes, go to dinner, have a henna tattoo…the whole Middle East experience.

Corey signed us up for a tour that did all of the above! I’m going to tell you about the Sand Dunes first…

We were told to bring coats…it gets cold in the desert…I should have known this was craziness…just like those who wear parkas in Hong Kong

We were met by our driver who wore traditional clothing.  He is wearing a Kandura – a loose fitting robe.  Our driver, and most of the others, where white. On his head is a Ghutrah – a square cloth…normally checkered.  His face is exposed…only the women tend to cover their faces.

In that I forgot my sunglasses and had to go back to the room…Corey and I were loaded last…so we got the BACK of the car…this turned out to be a good thing…at least I thought so b/c we had more room and I had a clear shot for pictures.

We stopped at this store for a rest room break (for those of you in Hong Kong…squatters!  ahem ) – Here is Corey outside.  Behind him check out the visitor who bought one of the Ghutrah….I want to know how he will tie it when he gets it home!  The driver is letting the air out of the tires


First we stop so ALL the cars in our group can gather.  They collect us from all over Dubai.  We take a few moments to grab a couple camel pictures:

IMG_2430  IMG_2438

The 2nd picture shows the camel getting up…it is quite a slow process…I wonder if he/she is old…but finally…on the feet and off to have dinner!

IMG_2439 Well, he is urged to have dinner.

Corey is READY for the dunes! …he only wishes HE was driving!

IMG_2441 There are TONS of cars out there.  Our group has about 10, which later we will see is a huge advantage.

SO…off we go…careening through the desert.  We start slow…bouncing, small dunes…a little warm up.  Quickly enough, we have to stop as one of our group gets stuck…this happens often and it won’t be the only time today.


While we wait for the car to get unstuck..OUR driver decides to take on particularly steep dune:

IMG_2442Those are our tracks..I know it does not look like much…but trust me!  We were vertical and just sitting there until the driver released the brake and off we went down the rest of the hill…it was just like hanging off of the edge of a roller coaster.  LOVED IT.

IMG_2448 These are the cars behind’s funny to see how close they stay to each other but always just manage to avoid hitting the next vehicle.

Our driver loved hearing us squeal I think, b/c he would take us closer to rocks, higher on the dunes than most of the other drivers…and once again, we loved it…which one of us yelled our giggled really depended on the thrill of the minute…fast hard bumps…that was me…sliding sideways down a hill, the older woman in the middle row.

Seat belts are constantly locked during the ride due to the jolting, sliding, braking.  Happily…our heads never smash into the top of the car…and no one in our car got sick (no voyage of the damned here)

As we drive we past… TONS of vehicles with people out of the cars to take pics…our drivers have no problem aiming the cars right at them and accelerating …people quickly learn to get out of the way….run or perish…

Finally it is our turn to stop for pics…The sand is the finest you will ever see…

IMG_2449I tried to write my name in the sand…it was hard.

Sadly…all over the dunes there is trash…bottles, plastic bags, etc. 

IMG_2466I think it is not only b/c there are SO many people there every night…but the sandstorms must bring in a ton of trash.  I think we should have bags to clean it up…but no one else seems to care…sigh.

Here we are climbing around…our shoes and socks filling with sand!



During our stay for pictures…one of our cars gets stuck again!

IMG_2459 This is the first time…everyone is still in the car…

IMG_2462Here is the rescue..which is quick..but then…

the SAME guy decides to show off and gets stuck again…here are the rest of the cars…and drivers…watching the 2nd rescue..and heckling him as much as possible!


Quickly it is time to head off to the rest of our adventure…a couple more shots for the road…er…dunes


The night is just beginning.