So, Dubai. After Nepal I had no idea what to expect - I had never been to the Middle East before and to be honest I was only going because it was 'on the way' and why not?!
The flight from Kathmandu to Dubai was largely uneventful, though for a 5 1/2 hour flight I thought there would be some free food. Alas, it was not to be, though thankfully they accepted USD and sold me a chicken roll and nuts and a drink for $7 (which is exactly what I had from the money changer in Kathmandu airport).
But there was an interesting view of the world's tallest building on the approach to the airport. It took me no time to come through the airport and be bemused by my first sight of people wearing the long white robes which is the traditional Arab dress. I did not need to pick up my luggage because, helpfully, the check-in people in Kathmandu had used a rare morsel of common sense to ask whether I would like my bag to go straight to London Heathrow. Yes please! I said, because I had purposfully loaded up my hand luggage with everything I might need in Dubai, with the intention of storing my big bag in Dubai airport.
So I exited the terminal and started walking to where I was sure that the Youth Hostel was. I had google maps on my phone, which was leading me encouragingly in the direction of where I thought the hostel was... an hour later I had still not found it and neither did anyone know where it was. Though helpfully most people spoke English and there was no shortage of pharmacies, restaurants or hotels to inquire in.
Eventually, a hotel manager was happy to call up the hostel and ask where it is. He put me in a taxi, gave the driver directions, and 2km down the road we arrived at this enormous YHA! The map directions were completely wrong. As in, completely wrong!
I checked in, had my passport confiscated ('policy') and managed to find my room with 3 other men in it. I had a very much-needed shower and fell into bed at well past 1am, having been walking around the back streets of Dubai for nearly 2 hours!
When I woke up, I suffered the general ambivalence of the hostel staff as I tried to get breakfast (they reluctantly gave me a ticket), store my laptop (just leave it on the desk there), collect my passport (you cannot have it back until you check out), pay for my room (we don't have any change for your 100 Dirham note) and find out where to go in Dubai (no there are no maps). Excellent. In case you are wondering, a YHA breakfast here seems to consist of an endless supply of pitta bread in which you insert omlette, jam or cheese or any combination of the above. Fit for purpose - nothing more!
So I set out with all my possessions in my rucksack, stepped onto the pristine metro which was conveniently just outside and trundled into town, absorbing the sights.
So basically, Dubai is fairly dull. Pristine clean and not a hair out of place, but no-one smiling, no music, no information and definitely no charm. I was starting to feel quite depressed, so I put on the incredibly lively Gordon Goodwin big band music and the whole situation took on a distinctly comedic feel. I thought I would head to Dubai Creek because it sounded a bit livelier, but had to walk 2 blocks from the metro station to the water and found that it was just a collection of 'period' dhows and mega-yachts with no-one around.
So I found a bus that would take me back towards a metro station and I tried to work out where the 'centre' of Dubai is. But it turns out there isn't really one. It is a sprawling metropolis with a few attractions scattered around, but without providing tourist maps or public transport maps or anything else, I couldn't work out what Dubai wants tourists do while in their city!
Apart from a glaring omission. Visit the Malls. So I did.
Mall of the Emirates:
The Mall of the Emirates is huge. It is full of every global branded shop you can imagine and by this point I was feeling so bored or uninspired, I nearly went to the cinema to watch The Hobbit (thinking that it would mercifully fill up 2.5 hours of my day). I did get to have lunch though.
But then I realised that I could do something much, much better with my time. Go skiing...
SkiDubai is the world's biggest indoor ski slope - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ski_Dubai. It has:
22,500 m^2 of skiing area,
85m of vertical descent,
400m of ski slope,
a chairlift and a button lift,
a terrain park,
a 'blue', a 'red' and a 'black' slope,
a daytime temperature of -1 and nightime of -6,
6000 tons of real snow,
a few europeans/americans skiing or boarding,
and lots and lots of asians playing in the snow.
So for only 200 Dirhams (£35), I bought myself a 2 hour pass which included hire of boots, poles, skis, jacket and trousers. I had to buy gloves which were 20 Dirhams and squeeze into a large kids helmet (they didn't provide any for the adults) but soon was getting really excited about hitting the slopes again!
It was soo much fun! I hadn't skied for about 10 months so SkiDubai was an excellent chance to get my ski legs back - and also see if the broken leg I had suffered in March would cause me any issues (definitely not). I went up and down every slope, spending 3 times as much time on the lifts as on the snow, but it was still really worthwhile. The button lift was one of the most violent I'd ever been on because it was actually quite steep, especially where it went round the corner of the slope, as it would leave you stationary for a second and then JERK you forwards and upwards out of the dip which the succession of skiers had left!
Soon, I found myself a buddy to ski with - a Slovakian woman called Julia who was a nice little skier and working, for the time being, in Saudi Arabia doing some sort of restaurant management. We went up and down a few times together and took photos of each other doing it, it was nice to share the experience with someone instead of doing it by myself!
The snow was of a surprisingly good quality, because it never went above freezing and is groomed every night, but the pistes were deserted and I never had to queue for the lifts. The light is actually quite difficult to ski in, though - with multiple spotlights it's more like skiing on a cloudy day and hard to pick out the detail in the snow. But after nearly 2 hours I was actually starting to get a little bit cold, so I carved down one final time and went to return my gear.
Skiing in one country that my father hasn't - tick!
From the Mall, I wanted to go to the coast. Of course, there is no way of getting there. I took the metro as close as I could, and eventually found a bus stop - but there were no route maps, timetables or anything! So I ended up walking to the Burj Al' Arab, the world's only 7 star hotel and one of the tallest in the world. You couldn't actually get anywhere near it, but there was beach on just the other side where, finally, I found lots of people having fun! So it is possible to enjoy yourself in Dubai - just don't dare do it somewhere not specifically designated as such...
I took some photos and had some others taken of me by a nice German woman who was returning my favour to her. Being one of the shortest days of the year, the sun was already setting quickly but it looked very picturesque setting behind the Burj.
At this point, the German lady and I (I think she had one of those horrific German names - Bertha, or something, though her appearance didn't match thankfully!) tried to work out how to get to the metro. Suddenly, the taxis which had been all too quick to offer you services before completely vanished - we found our way to a bus stop and, eventually, a bus came along. I was OK because I had a Metro card for the day, which paid for my bus ride. But 'Bertha' was stumped because, although she had more than enough cash to ride the bus, she simply wasn't allowed to because the driver had no facility to sell her a ticket - but yet there was no ticket machine to be found anywhere but the metro station, making a mockery of the whole system!
'Bertha' eventually managed to get back to her cruise ship (so I hope) and I got to the hostel. Reception reluctantly took my money to pay for dinner and gave me a chit, then I was reluctantly served dinner (some sort of chicken dish with rice and salad - surprisingly good) and went to bed early. I was very thankful to fall asleep...