January 3rd, 2024
So we begin our 2024 adventure – Happy New Year.
We start with a few countries in the Middle East – trying to spend our non-Schengen time. We had hoped to include Israel and Palestine on this trip but that won’t be happening any time soon.
So we will explore the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordon for sure and may try and fit in Oman and Qatar. Here is a map of the Middle East to make it easier to refer to where we are in the world.
We begin with the UAE:
The United Arab Emirates or simply the Emirates are located in West Asia, in the Middle East. They share borders with Oman and Saudi Arabia, while also having maritime borders in the Persian Gulf, with Qatar and Iran. Abu Dhabi is the country’s capital, while Dubai, the most populous city, is an international hub. It is approximately the size of the state of Maine.
The United Arab Emirates is an elective monarchy formed from a federation of seven emirates, consisting of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. Each emirate is an absolute monarchy governed by a ruler, and together the rulers form the Federal Supreme Council, the highest executive and legislative body. The Federal Supreme Council elects a president and two vice presidents from among their members. In practice, the ruler of Abu Dhabi serves as president while the ruler of Dubai is vice president and also prime minister.
Emirati citizens are estimated to form 11.6% of the population; the remaining residents are expatriates, the majority of whom are South Asian. Islam is the official religion and Arabic is the official language. The United Arab Emirates’ oil and natural gas reserves are the world’s sixth and seventh-largest, respectively. The country has the most diversified economy among the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In the 21st century, the UAE has become less reliant on oil and gas and is economically focusing on tourism and business. It is a member of the UN, Arab League, OPEC, WTO and other organizations.
Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and the Museum of the Future, are some of the finest works of modern architecture in the 21st century.
Sadly individual rights such as the freedoms of assembly, association, the press, expression and religion, are severely repressed in the UAE.
The red stripe on the UAE flag represents energy and the sacrifices made by the people for their nation, the green stands for growth and prosperity, the black stands for dignity, and the white stripe represents peace and purity.
CURRENCY: AED – Arab Emirates Dirham – $.27 USD or $.36 CDN
LICENSE: For Dubai:
BEER: As of December, 2023 a microbrewery called Side Hustle is creating a beer called Craft. We have yet to try it. Otherwise beer is imporated with Heineken, Carlsberg, Corona and Coors (if you can call the latter “beer”!).
GAS: As we didn’t rent a car, we didn’t really pay attention to this nor do we recall even seeing a petrol station in the short time we spent here so when we return next month we’ll fill this in.
We landed in Casablanca from Montreal about a half hour early but it was a long immigration line and a long wait for bags – luckily they both showed up. We had not slept on the plane at all. We grabbed a trolley and walked over to Minou in the long term parking area, where we unpacked and then repacked for our two month trip. We then walked back over to the airport using the same trolley and caught a cab to our rental apartment close to the airport. We didn’t feel it would be pleasant staying in the airport long term lot for two nights in Minou and we’d have no access to dump, shower etc. easily.
The cabbie said he knew where we were going but upon arriving in the correct area, he couldn’t find the right building so he had to get out and ask. The owner came out and met us and said we could put our luggage in a secure room and our apartment would be ready in 20 minutes. The security guard told us where a café was and we went to have some brekkie (the food on this last flight was awful and we were a bit hungry).
We returned to the apartment and were able to get in and get settled. Dour went for a walk to find a barber and some drinks for us and Fran did some luggage sorting.
It is SO much warmer here in Casablanca – today it hit 27C / 81F but will not be quite as warm tomorrow with a possibility of showers overnight – we’ll see. So 27C here, 27F in Canada!
After going out to eat, we were SO tired it was a struggle to stay up till 8:30pm and after two hours of good sleep it was on and off till about midnight and then Fran figures she went to sleep after two; Doug after 4:30 and we both slept until 9:50am! Not good, we should have been up with the sun to help with jetlag – oh well, can’t be changed now and we obviously needed the sleep.
We walked over for breakfast to the same café and then spent the day at the apartment.
This morning Fran heard from the airline that we’d booked our flights to leave Maldives with, had cancelled all their flights out of the Maldives! They told us we had to “apply for a refund” ourselves and Fran took care of that and booked new flights on a different airline with better times and only $21 more.
We had a sort of lax day with the usual daily stuff and Fran took her walk back to Minou to drop off a few things we realized we didn’t need and pick up some dry goods for dinner so we wouldn’t have to got out again as the pickings are slim.
Before going to bed on Thursday night, it began to rain and it was still misty on Friday morning. We slept like crap. Fran awoke before 8 coughing a bit and Doug’s alarm went off at 8. He was beginning to feel a cold coming on now too. He tried to go for a run but it did not go well as he felt too bagged. We spent the morning packing back up, doing last minute things online and went outside to catch a taxi back to the airport just before noon.
Security at the airport was a bit of a headache as we are carrying six laptops as well as our own to Uganda for the school and eight solar light chargers. So upon entering the airport, there is a security check and we had to take all the above items out of the bags.
Check in went smoothly, we dropped off two bags and proceeded towards the Gate. At the regular security before the gates, we were able to remove these items from the bags and place in bins to make them more visible knowing there’d be an issue.
Our flight was on a Boeing 3800 plane on Emirates Airlines – this has two floors which explained how although our seats were in row 56, we were only 13 rows from the front (the first 42 rows are upstairs!). The flight left near an hour late but we landed on time. It would have been nice to leave on time as it would have made our 1:30 AM arrival earlier. They do not call zones to load the planes in Casblanca and it seemed to take forever. There was quite a diversity of passengers onboard and the crew advised between the 15 of them, they spoke 16 languages!
The flight was 7 hours and 25 minutes and there was another three hour time difference for us – fun, fun, fun!
When the plane landed, before reaching the gate, people began getting out of their seats and pulling their luggage out of the overhead bins despite many announcements to remain seated. We find this used to happen a lot in South America and other African and Asian countries as well. The woman who had the window seat in Doug’s row was adamant she be let out and was quite cross when the middle seat and Doug would not let her out. Where was going to go? No one was able to disembark and the aisles were already full? Some people……
Disembarking was late, we had to go through immigration and then we had to then wait for luggage. We caught a taxi to our hotel (Four Points Sheraton booked on points in Downtown Dubai) and were in bed by 3. We both had difficulty getting to sleep and had to get up before 8 as we had a reservation at the Burj Khalifa to go to the 124/125th for the views at 9am – pretty much the rest of the day was full so we had to take that time (we had actually booked the sunrise viewing at 6:30 but that was before we realized out how out flight got in and Doug managed to change it to later).
Arriving in the UAE temperature was awesome – temps hit 27C / 81F the first day and slightly lower the next day. The skies were hazy – was it fog or smog, we’re not sure but being able to walk around in sandals again was wonderful!
We managed to get out of the hotel by 8:15 on Saturday and caught a hotel taxi to the Dubai Mall underground parking near the entrance to the “At the Top” attraction and managed to get up the elevator before our time slot.
We spent about 45 minutes up top taking in the views and taking photos of the view.
Then we decided we see some of the world’s second largest mall: Dubai Mall (surpassed by the New South China Mall in Dongguan, China) and shares this second place with the West Edmonton Mall in Canada. It boasts:
- luxury hotel
- 22 movie screens
- 120 restaurants and cafes
- 3 car parks,
- an Olympic size ice rink
- an aquarium
- a zoo
- an amusement park,
- a haunted house
- a “resident” dinosaur (skeleton of a diplodocus) and
- a KidzMania area.
The Dubai Mall hosted a record 37 million visitors in its first year of operation in 2009. It holds the world record for the world’s largest acrylic panel at the Aquarium, which is 32.88 m / 107.9 ‘ wide x 8.3 m / 27 ‘ high x 75 cm / 30 “ thick and weighing 245,000 kg /540,000 lb).
Of the above, we checked out the ice rink where the national team plays (a practice was just wrapping up), The Fountain, the aquarium tanks, saw the theatres and went for lunch at Timmy’s! Then we found the dinosaur to get a photo for our grandson, Cyrus.
We ate lunch sitting outside with a view of the Dubai Fountain and one of the Souks but the fountains don’t perform until late afternoon.
It was about 11:10 when we decided to leave and caught a taxi to “the View at the Palm”. This is a tower above the St. Regis Hotel and Nakweel Mall with two levels you can visit to view this manmade “city”.
The Palm Jumeirah is an archipelago of manmade islands in Dubai. It is part of a larger series of developments called the Palm Islands (also includes Palm Jebel and Palm Deira). When completed, will together increase Dubai’s shoreline by a total of 520 kilometres (320 mi). It is one of the few manmade items that can be seen from space.
Palm Jumeirah was built entirely from sand and rocks; no concrete or steel was used to build the island. Construction facts:
- 5 million Cubic meters of rock were brought from over 16 quarries in Dubai;
- 4 million cubic meters of sand brought from deep sea beds 6 nautical miles from the coast of Dubai; and
- 700 tons of limestone.
Palm Jumeirah is shaped like a palm tree when viewed from above. It was originally conceived to be in the shape of the sun, but changing the design, allowed for more beach front homes. The unique island is home to some of Dubai’s top luxury resorts, including Atlantis, The Palm, FIVE Palm Jumeirah Hotel, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, One&Only The Palm and many more.
The islands were created using land reclamation. The Palm Jumeriah construction was done by a Dutch specialist dredging company which also created islands known as The World.
We have not bought a data plan for the UAE as we figured, at least this time, we’ll only be hear two nights so before leaving the Dubai Mall, we went online to see if we needed to book to go up to the viewing decks. There seemed to be several upcoming open time slots so we went into the ticket line up (about five minutes long) and managed to get general admission tickets with no problem. Bonus: the cashier asked if we were tourists who might have flown in Emirates Air. We had – which meant we got a 20% discount on tickets if we could show our boarding pass. We did not have that on us but we had a copy of the email confirming out reservation and she took that.
To reach the elevator to the 52nd floor, you got through a series of exhibits including an interactive one activated by visitors stepping on the map and a short movie about the construction.
We wandered around for about 30 minutes taking in the view and taking photos:
Then went back down into the mall below to find a McDonald’s for an ice cold diet coke working on our itinerary. By now it’s after 2 and we decided we were too tired to do much else. Seems attractions in Dubai are far apart and we maybe should have rented a car.
We saw the Dubai Frame and the Museum of the Future from the highway on the way to and from our hotel and since we weren’t going to go inside, maybe we’d leaving visiting them from the outside till when we come back (which we will be doing a few times over the next few weeks as Dubai will be our “base”).
While waiting for a taxi back to the hotel, we saw this McLaren driven by quite a young man (maybe Daddy’s?).
Upon returning to the hotel by taxi, we did a review of our packing (we are going to leave two bags here with stuff for Uganda so as not to drag them around for the next five weeks) and then grabbed our kindles and went up to the rooftop pool bar for a drink and a snack.
Around 6pm we went for a short walk around the hotel looking for a place to have dinner. We ended up just hitting a grocery store and picking up some fruit, yoghurt and snacks and called it a night at 9:30.
Dubai does have a rapid transit train but it’s only a north south thing. All the stations look the same and the taxi driver told us it was cheap. As it was not convenient to our hotel or The Palm – we did not use it.
We awoke by alarm Sunday after yet another terrible sleep – two hours or so right after going to bed and another maybe two hours right before having to get up. When is this going to regulate!!? We showered and finishing packing up, before checking out and leaving two bags here at the hotel as we don’t want to lug all the items for Uganda with us for five weeks and we have booked a night here before our flight to Uganda.
We caught a cab to the airport and caught our flight to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
We will be back in the UAE in a couple of weeks so Fun Facts will have to wait!
Here’s the link to all the photos.