Saturday, November 29, 2014

Honeymoon: A Taste of the Middle East - Destination Dubai

We have been back in Scotland for just about a week and I finally have had time to sit down and start sorting all of the pictures we captured on our two weeks honeymoon. It's hard to believe a trip we have been waiting so long for is over and we now go back to our routine lives. The wonderful thing about technology is that I have the ability to record all of our adventures. Taking the time to look back through our photos and write about our time together takes me right back to those moments we will never forget.  

Since we met in 2011, Christian and I have always talked about travelling to South Africa. It was a place we had both heard so many wonderful things about but had yet to travel to. When we got married, so many of our friends and family wanted to help us celebrate, and donated to our "honeyfund" for our South Africa trip.   We felt that while material things are nice, at this stage of our life we have what we need and what was most important to us both was time together. Without all of the generous gifts and contributions from everyone our honeymoon would not have been as amazing at it was! We are so thankful for everyone who helped make it that much more special. 

We waited until November, six months after our wedding, to travel to Africa as we wanted to time it just right with the seasons below the equator. Christian and I have both flown long hall many times before, but one thing I had never done was take a long layover in the connecting country on the way to our destination.  Christian had done this three times previously on his trips to Australia and suggested we spend a little extra time in Dubai as that was where our flight connected to Capetown. At first I wasn't too keen on this idea and I thought to myself, I just want to get to South Africa already. But looking back it was the BEST idea and started our honeymoon off to a great start! Our flight left Glasgow at 9pm on a Friday night so we boarded the red eye to the UAE flying Emirates Airlines. I had heard a lot about this airline, but to be honest, I wasn't overly impressed with the space in the plane.  Their service was pretty good, but in my opinion no better than Air France, KLM, or Lufthansa.  I also prefer flying the A380 to the 777 which we flew, but I guess no matter how you look at it when you fly economy you always feel like sardines in a can!

One great thing Emirates did offer was a free 48 hour layover which meant we had time to check into a hotel, relax, and see a taste of what Dubai has to offer. After landing in the UAE early in the morning, we grabbed a taxi and headed towards our hotel. Money, Money, Money, and Heat....these were my first thoughts on the way from the airport to the hotel. First off, Dubai airport, the largest airport in the world, is unlike anything I had ever seen before. You could spend an entire day walking the airport and shopping if your heart desired. Upon leaving the airport you immediately are surrounded by taxis, but not just any taxis, leather seated air conditioned white mercedes taxis  that cost less than a cheap taxi in Scotland or the USA. The other thing I immediately took note to was that I was in a Muslim country.  

When we arrived, I heard my first call to prayer or Adhan. I had heard about this from friends and seen it in various films/on tv, but experiencing it in person really was something special. You hear the "chant/music" from the mosques over loud outdoor speakers. This call informs Muslim people that it is time to worship. The call is then followed by men and women heading towards their separate mosques where they remove their shoes and go inside to worship. The first time I witnessed it I just took a step back to observe my surroundings and watch what was going on. Some people just continue on with their regular day, specifically all of the non-Muslim people living in the city, but it is really interesting to witness such a visible religious practice amongst the Muslim community 5 times a day. I was also reminded I was in a Muslim country when we arrived at our hotel and in the closet was a Quran, prayer rug, and arrow on the ceiling pointing towards Mecca.  Additionally the traditional UAE dress of men and women is very different than western clothing.  Many of the women were covered wearing burqa, only exposing their eyes, and the men wore the gandoora (white robes with white head scarfs). Dubai is very westernised in many regards, so never did I feel uneasy or uncomfortable, it was just apparent I wasn't in Kansas anymore.

The skyline in Dubai is very impressive, with 148 sky scrapers, the third most of any city in the world.

It is also home to the Burj Khalifa, which is the tallest building in the world reaching 829.8 m (2,722 ft) tall. It sticks out of the ground like a giant silver needle and I am proud to say the cheif architect and building engineer of the project were both Americans!  

We arrived at our hotel and decided to relax for a few hours before going to explore the city. It was the tallest hotel in the world 333meters (77 floors) when it was completed in 2007. Now it is the second tallest. Upon arrival we were informed of our upgrade to a honeymoon suite on one of the upper level floors, which offered amazing views of Dubai. 

Laying by the pool after a red eye flight was exactly what we needed to recharge our batteries! 

Because we only had 2 days in the city, we decided on an on/off bus tour for day 1 which allowed us to see the highlights of Dubai. Honestly, with all the money Dubai has, I felt like the bus tour took you from one ridiculously big air conditioned mall to another. Each mall had something even more ridiculous to offer, for example an indoor ski slope, or indoor aquarium. 

We were able to find some authentic areas including the old souk in the old town. We decided on our first meal inside the souk and we loved the middle eastern cuisine, my favourite being halloumi and humus! We spent time walking through the little shops and checking out some of the middle eastern souvenirs. I love all of the colorful scarfs, lanterns, hookahs, and decorations, but we decided not to buy much in Dubai as we didn't want to lug it around for the remaining two weeks. We also knew we were heading to Istanbul in April so we would have our opportunity at the grand bazaar to pick up anything we missed and wanted in Dubai. 

One of the older buildings with beautiful mosaics tiles- adding so much character to the old town. 
After lunch and walking around the old sook we got back onto our open air bus and road around for what felt like days trying to overcome our jet lag. We travelled along the water and back through the city. 

I tried snapping photos of some of the interesting architectural buildings as we drove by, and I kept having the feeling like I was in a mix between Las Vegas and New York City. The picture of the right is of the Burj Al Arab hotel, the first and only 7 star hotel in world. Rooms start at $2000 per night! 

Did you know that the UAE has so much money (from oil) that they decided to build their own islands?! It's almost as ridiculous as these vending machines that sell gold to go. 
The Atlantis Resort is pictured below which is situated at the point on the Palm, the man made island in Dubai. It is similar to the one in the Bahamas. 

After the sun set and we finished our bus tour, we headed to the outdoor mall area near the tallest building in the world. They have a huge pool similar to the one in Las Vegas with a fountain show. It's amazing what oil money can buy you in the middle of the desert. 

It was still quite hot in Dubai at night, so we cooled down at the pool. It's sometimes hard to remember you are in the middle of the desert with all of the sky scrapers around you! 

Lovely night skyline at the Dubai Marina

One of the things I wanted to do while in the UAE was to get out into the desert to see what life is like without all of the hustle and bustle of the city. We opted for a desert safari excursion where we were picked up in a 4 wheel vehicle and driven about 60 miles outside of Dubai into the middle of no where. Before we hit the sand we had to let some air out of our tires and get fuel, and then the fun began! Can you believe gas is only 50p a litre?! 

It's hard to tell from the video how chaotic the drive was, but we both LOVED it!  Their were times we had to use the windshield wipers to get the sand off the front window too. 

After cruising on the dunes for about 30 minutes we were given some time to explore and take some nice sunset pictures. The sand was super soft and we got some great shots! 

Our fleet of cars and drivers

 Love this one of Christian jumping around- he looks like a kangaroo! 
 Cheesy Desert Smooch

Desert Sunset

After the sunset we were driven a bit further to an old fashioned desert village for dinner. 

The "village" was all open air with tables around a dance floor. We didn't have to wear shoes since their was sand as our floor and traditional middle eastern music was played throughout the village. 

There will little alcoves each offering different middle eastern treats like hooka and henna. 

 We split a hooka with apple flavoured sheesha. 

And of course I opted for some traditional henna artwork. It stayed on for a week and everywhere I went in Capetown people were asking me about it. I guess they don't see too much henna in SA.

When it was time for dinner, we were told the women had a tent to get food from and the men had a tent to get food from. We feasted on traditional cuisine and it was so delicious. 
During dinner a belly dancer took the stage

After dinner we headed back to the city and off to the airport. Our flight to Capetown departed at 4:00am so we ended up just exploring the Dubai airport which is open 24/7 and we noticed no difference whether it was midnight or mid-day. We had 3 hours and didn't even manage to walk through it all! As you can imagine once we boarded the plane we passed out as we were exhausted, and 9 hours later we landed in South Africa! More to come on Capetown and the Cape of Good Hope in the next blog post!

Until next time, we will see you on the internet. 

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