Saturday, November 27, 2010
Saturday, November 06, 2010
Saturday, August 07, 2010
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Monday, June 28, 2010
We headed to the Abu Dhabi Marina Mall. Again another large mall - it had an ice rink. My nephew was adamant to step into the rink; it was a lot smaller than the Dubai ice rink but the charge was the same. When I checked for skates for my size, guess what? - you know what happens for my size! No skates for my size! And so we didn't step into the rink.
My sister, nephew and I were wondering if he was there but he wasn't! Look again - it's 3d projection for which you don't even need to use 3-d glasses; the key factor is that you should be a little away from the screen - the closer you go the more obvious it will become that the 3d image is just a superimposition of images; the farther you are, the more it feels like stuff is really there on screen live! We watched the session 3 times - the future of cinema was right in front of our eyes!
After clicking some snaps, we decided to head back to Dubai since it was getting late and would take a couple of hours to drive. But when we came out we saw a glittering double decker bus. On enquiring with the driver, he said it would go around the city and return back to the same place. We hopped onto the top of the bus which was uncovered at the back. It didn't seem like many people knew that this was a free ride! The ride was less than an hour and it covered some interesting places. It passed by the Emirates Palace which was glittering in lights. It is a luxury hotel decorated in marble and gold. Room rates vary from Dhs. 1000 upto Dhs. 30,000 (that's around Rs.3.6 lakhs for a night)!
After that the bus passed by the Khalidiya area and I did recognize my 9th to 12th grade home - it was one of the grandest homes I've lived in - a spacious four bedroom apartment in which i even used to play my own squash using a tennis racket! A lot of pleasant memories - the long walks from home till the Cultural Foundation, hanging out with my buddy Joseph, buying Young Times from a newspaper guy who used to sell magazines near the traffic signal... And it all just seems like yesterday! Traffic was horrendous in some junctions.
Back to school
We picked a few Shawaramas and falalel (part of Middle East cuisine which are like chapatti rolls) on the way to my school which was on the way to Dubai. I hardly remembered much about the route to school; neither did my sister - she had also studied in the same school! Every turning made me feel like I was on the road to school but I was wrong - the area had plenty of villas and all of them would appear the same! One major problem with driving over here is that you don't have autorikshaws or roadside tea shops where you can ask for directions. On traffic signals you had to catch the attention of fellow drivers - if lucky, they will notice you! When our Pajero came to the school gate at 9pm, a school boy anxiously came running out expecting to see another vehicle; probably waiting for his parents and the watchman at the school was a touch disappointed on seeing the Pajaero. Memories, black and white and color, came back one after the other. The area was silent since this was kind of like the outskirts of the city and the only illumination was from the street lights and lamp-post near the security guard room. The gate was the same and the school bus stationed outside also seemed the same as it was 10 years ago; days of playing tennis football during class breaks, dissecting imported rats and playing soccer on the football field. Thinking back at such times, you start wondering whether you missed a few chances; a few opportunities and some extra effort if taken which perhaps could have altered destiny - isn't destiny a culmination of all our efforts? Even though you might have led a good life, you still feel that perhaps, just perhaps you could have done something different or better. I felt nostalgic thinking over school incidents.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Sunday, June 06, 2010
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Deira city center is another large mall with over 300 stores. Our first stop was in a clothing shop where we found a blue-black shirt that appeared different. After trying it on, we decided to pick it; my first purchase - but not exactly my purchase because my sister paid for it!
Saturday, May 01, 2010
In the evening we planned to go to the metro station by a bus and then take a train to Deira City Center (another mall!) - my sister called up the RTA and got the list of bus routes we could take; they warned us that the buses will take around 40 minutes since they take a circuitous route. A taxi ride to the station would take just 10 minutes! Long before I had planned for this trip, I had received an email forward about Dubai bus stops. And ever since then I'ev been quite curious to step inside one. The bus stop was hardly 5 minutes from our home. It had a slightly weird curved shape similar to the outline of Burj-Al-Arab (a 7 star hotel which is the second tallest hotel building in the world); the shape is similar to that of a sail.
There was a machine near the bus stop which could be used for checking your Nol card balance and recharging it (the RTA cards are called Nol cards). We placed our red card on the card reader area and the machine said "Invalid card". We tried flipping it around in all directions but the message was the same. Another person said, "You can only recharge the silver cards." But my sister insisted that she saw a couple of guys recharge their red cards yesterday. She called up RTA and they said that red cards could also be used. Finally, since it wasn't working, we tried to get a new silver card which cost Dhs. 20 each; after inserting the money, the machine displayed Dhs. 60 and then said something like ‘insufficient money’. We tried different denominations of currency and different number of cards but the result was the same. A couple of Filipino ladies who appeared to be regular users also tried for us but failed. I had a feeling that the machine probably didn't have silver cards in stock and the error message was wrong - minor bug in the software! There was another bus stop on the other side of the road but that didn't have a recharge machine.
"Maybe we can ask the bus driver and see."
As a bus slowed down to stop, I hurried inside and asked, "Can we use the red card?"
"Do you accept cash?"
"No, only card."
"The machine here isn't giving new cards."
"You can still come but if they check somewhere then it will be a problem."
The bus stop was fully air-conditioned and even though it was very hot outside, I felt chill inside after just a couple of minutes! There was a sliding door that ensured the door wouldn't be open unless you pushed it. Inside the stop was a large RTA map with bus route numbers and a nice bench that appeared to be metallic but was comfortable to sit on. There were a couple of ads and a button that said "Press at night if you want the bus to stop" - the button would light up the bus stop!
20 minutes after leaving home, we took a taxi to the metro station at the airport - this was closer than Rashidiya station. There was one duty free shop at the entrance of the terminal building and we jumped in to see if they had honey roasted cashews – something that all of us loved. The airport here was different from our Chennai airport where only passengers are permitted to step inside - here anyone could walk inside up to a certain extent. We had to settle with a couple of packets of caramel roasted cashews.
We took the escalator up to the metro station and the lady at the counter told us that red cards couldn't be used in buses. She advised us to get the silver cards because they would work out cheaper than the red cards - we didn't fully understand her explanation of how cheap it would be but it seemed that the fares on the red card were costly across zones. We bought 4 silver cards (the cards are just like a credit card) and hopped onto the metro - the familiar voice announced, "The next station is Deira City center."
Inside the train, I glanced at the map and learnt that Dubai was divided into 4 zones. Now it made sense – the rates for using RTA service was based on whether you were travelling within the same zone or across zones. Our trip cost around Dhs. 3 per head.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
The Dubai Fountain videos - split in 2 (first video is part 1) - had to reduce clarity to upload it; both are for one single song. Listen to both. The building in the background is a hotel.
I sat in awe - quite literally! Fabulous isn't it? And it is all just water and lights...
In the last couple of days, whenever my dad called he would ask my sister and me whether we had seen Burj Dubai - the tallest man-made structure. Since this was on the way back home, we decided to check it out tonight. Actually Burj Dubai is called Burj Khalifa - Burj Dubai was the original name prior to inauguration. They say that the name was changed to honor Abu Dhabi which has helped Dubai during the financial crisis (Sheikh Khalifa is the president of UAE and Prince of Abu Dhabi and hence the name Burj Khalifa). "Burj" in Arabic means 'tower'.
I didn't really feel much of awe when I saw it from a distance - it just looked like a lean stick much taller than its neighbours. But as we approached it, I realized that it wasn't really a stick but much broader. We parked the Pajaero in Dubai Mall after hunting for parking space - they had this interesting concept of keeping electronic boards in each parking lot which indicated the free space available in the lot. And in each individual parking slot there was an LED on top which indicated whether that slot was empty or not - but many of the sensors weren't working correctly because I saw green lights in places where vehicles were present. Dubai Mall was just beside Burj Dubai and Dubai Fountain. This mall also seemed huge - we followed the arrows that led to the Dubai Fountain and landed up in the open space outside the mall. There were plenty of people on the steps and near the railing which bordered around the little lake which contained the fountain. This was a musical fountain which operated only when the music was on. And on our right was the grand Burj Khalifa. We went as close as possible, which was only as close as the security gate that was probably 15 meters away from the building! There was a tall fence preventing people from accessing the building - no one had occupied the floors yet; the interior was all dark. After taking a few snaps and videos (since night snaps didn't look great), we sat down on the lawn between the Burj's fence and the lake.
(Below video is the Burj Khalifa at night; to the right is the mall; I had to reduce clarity of the video to make it small in size)
A few minutes later, the lights on the railing went out and for a couple of seconds silence prevailed. Everyone turned their attention to the small lake. It isn't all that small - they say it is the length of two football fields and the fountain is among the world's tallest and largest fountains.
Lights shone upwards from the water and the music started; there were plenty of nozzles (called shooters) on the lake arranged in circles, arcs and lines. The music was beautiful, especially the build up in the middle, and the jets fired water in certain patterns to dance along with the music. I don't know what song it was but it was beautiful and spectacular. Every 20 minutes from evening till 11 at night the musical fountain would dance to different tunes. Not being satisfied with the first show we waited to see the next one. The memory card in my camera became full and I couldn't record the second one!
Thursday, April 08, 2010
We skimmed through the Festival City mall for an hour not having anything specific in mind. I saw a Pierre Cardin outlet which had a sale offer. The price of shirts on sale was quite similar to that in India except that the brand was different. My sister asked me to pick up a shirt but I felt it would be better to check prices elsewhere. The mall was quite huge but since we had to get back home for lunch, we decided to return at 11:30. I spotted a ColdStone outlet just as we were searching for the main exit. It reminded me of the outlet in New York and I still remember my friend telling me back then that it was one of the best in ice creams. We hopped in and I ordered my favourite strawberry milkshake. Children don't like it when you buy something and they don't; so my niece got a vanilla milkshake. I won't tell you the price but I'll tell you how they made it! 3 scoops of strawberry ice cream, a few pieces of strawberry along with creamy milk in a blender - pure milkshake that was very thick and tasty. The guy even played with the ice scream scoop, tossing it in the air and catching it!
We hopped onto a Dubai Taxi that was waiting outside the mall - the driver was a Pakistani dressed in a formal suit with tie. This was something new - 10 years back you wouldn't see such professionally dressed drivers. The meter started at Dhs. 3 but there was a note stuck on the dashboard that read "In case meter is not operated, the ride is free. The minimum fare is Dhs 10"! Seeing my niece having a big cup of milkshake in hand, he politely said, "Please be careful. Don't drop it on the seat - the stain won't go". I took almost an hour to finish the milkshake - sipping it slowly and ensuring that I didn't let the chillness hit my throat directly; oh ya, I still did have a sore throat! I could hardly eat lunch - it was so heavy.
Our evening plan was to use the metro to 'Mall of the Emirates'. My sister had never used the bus or metro and so we called up the RTA (Road and Transport Authority) and asked them the route. We took a taxi to the Rashidya bus station from where we could take a metro train directly to Mall of the Emirates. In the station we bought a temporary red card, costing around Dhs 4 per head, that could be used for one travel. The metro was well maintained and clean - it reminded me of the metro at Washington. Even here the train route was called the "Red line". The difference compared to Washington was that here there were more staff and security available to help you in case you had any trouble with the swipe machines or directions. We bought the card, swiped it on a turnstile machine (you need to cross the turnstile to enter the area for boarding the train) and boarded the train. There were around 7 compartments and since this was the first station, all of us got a seat. Seats were comfortable and the entire train appeared relatively new. A pre-recorded voice announced, "The next station is Airport Terminal 3". There was a small TV in each compartment which mentioned what the next station was and there was a map that showed the list of stops on the red line.
(Picture: Mall of the Emirates) (Video: The metro)
Mall of Emirates was at the other end of Dubai - it would be a long metro ride! The train was just full - a few people standing and considering the amount of difference between taxi and metro I could see why; the same drive on taxi might have cost well over Dhs 25 but on the metro it cost just Dhs 4 or so. I enjoyed the ride so much that I actually dozed off for a few minutes! When we crossed over to the other side of Dubai and came close to the Burj Khalifa I woke up. There was a stop here "The next station is Burj Khalifa"; the tallest man made structure ever built. It stood pretty much in the center of the city and was towering over every other building nearby. It took around 40 minutes to reach Mall of the Emirates. There was another set of turnstile machines where we swiped our card and the money for the trip was deducted from the card.
A lengthy passageway connected the terminal station to the mall. We saw some mementos but didn't buy them (I guess I'm better than women when it comes to shopping - I take a lot longer time to assess and buy things!), hopped into a couple of electronics shops (DJ Sharaf, EMax were big players in this area) and also the food court for dinner. There was even a small rollercoaster for kids within the mall! You had a variety of food outlets ranging from McDonalds to typical restaurants. I decided to try Lebanese food. It took well over 10 minutes for the food to be prepared. When they placed the tray on the table, I felt it was a little less - a few pieces of chicken along with some french fries, hummus (it's a kind of cream made using gram seeds and sesame seeds) and some veggie leaves. Just as I was about to pick the tray, the guy at the counter placed 2 huge slices of bread on the tray (they call it bread but it was like naan with sesame seeds on top and very soft). Oh boy, and my bro-in-law and I together couldn't finish it; we ended up packing the bread! But certainly it is a cuisine that you should try out - hummus is yummy!
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
My nose was feeling uneasy. It was probably the effect of alternating between complete AC indoors and heat outside. My throat was also a bit sore - falling sick in travel is really bad; getting treatment in a foreign land pretty much ruins your trip; vacation would then turn into sick leave! Maybe a good rest will do wonders. After a nice lunch at home, I don't know when I drifted to sleep - at night watched a little IPL (on a channel called CricOne), had dinner and went back to bed. Television service was provided through a service called e-vision by Etisalat (the main telecom provider in UAE) - service is similar to TataSky or DishTV out here but I felt the menu looked primitive when compared to TataSky.
In the morning, exercise here seemed a lot better than back in Chennai - maybe it was the centralized ac effect or maybe the spacious room or maybe it was something to do with the mind. The body felt a lot more flexible than usual. But my throat didn't feel any better - there was a slight pain and even a leaky nose had developed. I stayed the whole day at home spending time preparing a list of places to visit by researching on the internet about UAE (people often confuse UAE and Dubai - Dubai is just one of the main cities in the country UAE - United Arab Emirates). The other major cities are Abu Dhabi (the capital), Sharjah (just 20 minutes from Dubai) and Al Ain. Watched IPL, discussed places to visit with my bro-in-law and sister and slept.
Day 3 (Festival City)
By 8am, bro-in-law dropped us in Festival City on the way to office. Dubai Festival city is supposed to be developed as a city within a city. But the main attraction for now is the Festival Waterfront Centre which is like a large shopping mall with a lot of area being occupied by IKEA (an international furniture retailer) and HyperPanda supermarket. Our idea was to have the famous and cheap IKEA breakfast, roam around the mall and head back home for lunch. We thought that eating outlets would open for breakfast but we were wrong - IKEA canteen would open only at 9:30 and all shops were closed. There were a few cleaners, some visitors who probably landed here unaware of mall timings like us and some people who appeared to be regulars in this place - I wonder what they did with all shops closed. Half an hour my sister spent in making my niece eat her packed home food while I read "The 3 musketeers"; carrying a book in my backpack comes handy in these situations! We then took a few snaps in the mall, picked up a trolley in which my niece jumped in and we roamed around the mall looking to see which shops would open first. In the top floor, even the food court was closed. At 9am the employees had opened their shutters but they said they would start serving only at 10! On the way, I saw a 3D tv on display - the future of television; standing too close to the tv made the images appear in double; but if you went some distance back then you could feel the 3d effect - no need of special glasses! But I wasn't too convinced that moving images appeared in 3d; it would probably take some time to perfect the tv.
There was a cinema complex on the top floor and there was also a fitness center. Now it made sense as to why some people turned up so early out here! The mall was clean, large and similar to a US mall. At 9:40 we went to the canteen in IKEA where they served breakfast for Dhs 4 (currency is Dirham and 1 Dirham = Rs 12.5 approx). Well, please don't start converting the money and complain that Rs 50 is too much for breakfast - in Dubai Dhs 4 was relatively cheap. You could pick any 4 items from the tray -baked beans, potato wedges, sausages, omelettes and mushrooms. We picked the veggie items with extra potato wedges (potato wedges is like a large crispy French fry!). Baked beans was the best - its been long since I tasted it (it's basically beans soaked in a form of tomato sauce and it is yummy; you get this as a canned product in US and Europe). My niece and I emptied a few tiny cups of condensed milk that is supposed to be used for tea - condensed milk also tastes yummy but this one was skimmed milk and so didn't have the usual thickness of condensed milk. There were plenty of people in the IKEA canteen - many Westerners having sandwiches, sausages and tea.
My sister said that the mall had an abra ride - Abra is a traditional Arabic boat; the mall had a couple of Abras with motors to provide a free 10 minute ride. I was surprised that it was free. After asking a few people and referring to the signposts in the mall, we reached the abra place (spot the abra in the pic). But there were only a couple of staff over there and they informed us that the service starts only at 3pm since the Abra operators (drivers) were available only after 3. I chatted with an Indian employee, who worked in the Abra service for a few minutes before heading back to the mall. Communication was in Hindi and knowledge of Hindi certainly comes in handy because we can even communicate with Pakistanis since Urdu is quite similar to Hindi.
(This pic is the other side of the water stretch; to left of the pic is the mall)
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Most passengers took the escalator having the sign "connecting flight" while just four of us went to the "arrivals" area. The inside was just as huge as the outside - I took two lengthy escalators to reach the immigration area. Most officials were dressed in the traditional Thobe (also called a dishdasha - a lengthy loose fitting white robe). There were a lot more counters than in Chennai. The lady immigration officer in the first counter scrutinized my passport and visa document and said something that I couldn't follow. I asked her a couple of times and both times I couldn't figure out what she meant - she said something that sounded like "sca" or maybe it was "sta" or "station". It was hard to follow her accent and I didn't feel there was any point in me asking repeatedly. She then said "Go straight over there" - was something wrong with my documents? Or was something wrong with my passport? In a foreign land, you get a little jittery in such situations that involve immigration - you could get deported if the officers feel suspicious!
I went straight past 5 counters beyond which there were 10 unmanned counters. I asked another official, who was walking nearby, where I was supposed to go and he said "Just stand in the queue". He didn't listen to my story and repeated "go back in the queue". I stepped into another queue which moved slowly. And after half an hour when I reached the counter, the guy said, "Why haven't you done the eye scan?". Ah ha, now it made sense what the other lady said! "Go straight and right".
The official here was neatly dressed in a suit, seated beside a bionic eye at the eye scan counter. You had to look into the bionic eye and the bionic eye will take a picture of your eye for official records. The man put a stamp on the visa document and back I was at the immigration counter. This time it was another lady staff and she quizzed me about where I would be staying and the telphone number. And with that she handed me back with the passport and visa document - I was free to enter Dubai.
My brother-in-law and family were waiting for me outside the terminal. The parking lot was also huge; spread over a couple of floors. Even the parking lot had changed – we never had parking meters back then. We drove home, which was near the airport on the Deira side, in a Pajero and I was amazed by the width of roads. It's been more than 11 years since I've been here but I don't think Dubai had such huge roads back then - now it was wide 5 lane roads instead of the regular 3 lane roads. The city used to be centered around two areas - Bur Dubai and Deira Dubai which were separated by the Dubai Creek. But now it appeared like the city was spread out on both sides beyond these areas.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
In the plane, it was a little amusing to see a few people fight for overhead baggage space. If everyone couldn't find space the air hostess will figure out some other space for the luggage. But a couple of people, probably unaware of this fact, struggled to squeeze their hand baggage in the top and even though they couldn't close the loft they left it in the same place. The air-hostess finally arrived on the scene and whisked the extra baggage to another area. I was glad that we didn't have to worry like we do in buses about our baggage! The air hosts (I just found that they are called flight stewards) were smart and fresh - not even the faintest sign of sleep in their eyes; they were probably quite accustomed to this night routine by now. I didn't notice any Indian stewards on the flight.
I was on an aisle seat with a couple of English ladies sitting beside me. This was a Boeing 777 and even the economy class had a personalized inflight entertainment system with games and movies. The only problem was that I was feeling sleepy! So many movies to watch, so many games to try out... sometimes we want to do so many things but our body just doesn't permit us; the mind is willing but the flesh is weak!
There was a slight delay in departure with all the air hostess closing the lofts, attending to mothers carrying babies (giving provisions to secure the babies), giving an orange drink and blankets to passengers. None of the babies cried - maybe they were frequent travellers! The two ladies near me went off to sleep almost immediately after the blankets were given. The customary procedure of an air-hostess showing how to use the life jacket and position of exits was missing - instead it was all shown on the entertainment tv and the big screen common tv present in each section. They also provided us with a breakfast menu that listed what the vegetarian and non vegetarian plate contained. With the fancy names on the non-vegetarian plate I opted for that.
When in the air, there were a few thoughts that popped up, "What if it crashed, what if we were struck by lightning". We conjure different scenarios in the mind, in each of which we would be the hero - but I don't know how in a water landing scenario I could be a hero without knowing swimming!
There were plenty of movies available - English, Hindi and Arabic. I tried watching the animation movie "Up" but the dialogues were in Arabic and French; when I finally figured out how to get it in English, I felt sleepy and took a walk to the back of the flight. The design at the back was a little weird and appeared very congested. They had obviously tried to cram in as many seats as they could. Each row had 9 seats divided in sets of 3. As the design of the plane converged, the number of seats were less at the back, with the last row having just two seats. At the back, I couldn't find the restroom and none of the stewards were present. After walking through the stewards' cabin a couple of times I noticed a thin door behind the last seat. The toilet was very small with just enough space for one person to squeeze through the door - optimum design! Hefty people would find it a challenge to get into the toilet and use it.
Almost all passengers had dozed off. On returning to my seat, I dug into the booklets and pamphlets that were kept in the pouch attached at the back of each seat. There was one with a couple of stickers that could be put on the seat - one read "Wake me up only for the meal" and the other read "Do not wake me up". Nice little innovation – usually in flights it was the steward who would take a call on whether to disturb your dream or not based on gut feeling. But I don't think anyone really saw these stickers because no one used it and it was buried in the pamphlet pouch. The non veg breakfast was some form of continental and indian breakfast dish made with half scrambled semi solid egg. Hidden in a layer on the lid was a single poori, which though thick tasted good. After the meal, I played a few chess games out of which I won a couple and lost the rest while playing against a "harder" computer opponent. The last game was the best; after 5 moves I dozed away and woke up 15 minutes later to lose the game! I drifted into a nice nap.