DUBAI - ABU DHABI - December 2017
Updated: 9 hours ago
For those of you ticketing Delta or its code share partners, Air France and KLM, to Europe and beyond, Air France should be the first choice based on coach seat comfort and quality of food served. Delta merits second nod for seat comfort. Delta's food becomes appreciated when compared to the offerings of some other long-haul carriers. KLM lags with coach seat comfort and the appeal of its entrées. While a stellar quality of service is rendered by its crews, seven and ten hours of discomfort is no picnic. Once arriving in Amsterdam, be prepared to navigate poor signage to the next flight. KLM's City Hopper flights between Amsterdam and other European cities are quite comfortable for the one to three hour durations.
This trip began with an uneventful ride to Hartsfield-Jackson Airport on MARTA while dodging raindrops. Eleven hours later brought the dread of once again wandering through Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport with disappearing directional signage. After walking more than a mile and then back, the right departure gate was finally located for the next flight. One can do some incredible shopping in Schiphol should there be an abundance of time. Ask about the seat cushion purchased for KLM's uncomfortable coach seats.
Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport isn't quite as bad as described
The land of new found wealth was finally reached 18 hours after leaving home. Public transportation is normally used between the airport and hotel. Arriving after midnight meant that the metro had stopped running and another means was needed. A driver waiting with my name plated and a car instead of the $ 16 shared van was a blast when comparing the normal $ 50 taxi fare.
The next week was spent absorbing the meaning of nouveaux riche. The airport is purported to be one of the largest in the world in size and the busiest by number of international passengers. Everything to be revealed would have some sort of superlative attached.
I hereby declare Dubai to be one of the foggiest cities in the world. Being excited about having temperatures not exceed 83°F during the visit didn't include an understanding that more heat was needed to burn the fog. The next week was spent literally walking in a fog.
Dubai emerged from a pearling and fishing village about 45 years ago with the discovery of oil. It's transformation into the jewel of the Middle East has been rather astounding. Old Dubai which is home to the gold and perfume souks lacks the glitz and glam of the new city. The imported labor force tends to make its home in Old Dubai, while the expats tend to live in the midst of glitz.
Planning for expansion of the city seems to have gone wrong in terms of not being a pedestrian-friendly and walkable city. Construction was done within large segregated tracts that aren't well connected for foot traffic. The metro route outside Old Dubai is a spine requiring bus access to the system, somewhat like Atlanta's MARTA. While development around the metro system has been successful, access to the metro is rather difficult.
The first day's experience was a mission to work Svengali-like magic as the sister with the nice personality was made in the image of the grande dame of subway systems. The Dubai metro opened in 2009 and includes 46 miles of track with 47 stations. The joy of photographing the world's longest driverless, computer controlled metro system was mine. Only 10 of the stations are built below ground. While the architecture is distinct enough not to disappoint, the I Am It themes found in Stockholm, Los Angeles and São Paulo just weren't there. Art exhibitions are planned to enhance the beauty of stations. The remaining elevated stations pretty much conform to similar architectural styles with different color schemes themed around earth, water, air, fire and heritage. The two airport stations definitely revel in star quality with unique design. The photo quality proved to be above standard while taken in difficult lighting conditions.
The evening was used to visit the Ibn Battuta Mall. Ibn Battuta departed his native Morocco at the age of 21 for a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca that should have taken 16 months, but instead became a 24 year journey. Stops highlighted along the way that became themes for sections of the mall included Tunisia (North Africa), Andalusia (Spain), Egypt, Persia (Iran/Iraq), India and China. His travels encompassed much of the Islamic world at the time. Some of the mall's architecture is quite stunning.
China Court at Ibn Battuta Mall
The second day gave the appearance that the fog wasn't going to be a badass closet monster. Though present, photo quality from the ferry ride along Dubai Water Canal and Jumeirah coastline to the marina wasn't disappointing. Dubai Water Canal is an artificial two mile long structure linking the Persian Gulf with Dubai Creek at Business Bay. Some interesting pedestrian bridges have been built across the canal.
Dubai Water Canal Foot Bridge twisted in the shape of a DNA helix
The Water Canal ferry ride from Al Jadaf to the Jumeirah Beach coast left passengers stranded with only the option to continue to Dubai Marina. No taxis or bus routes were accessible and the scheduled ferry to Al Ghubaiba wasn't moving. The fog and haze were thicker on the ride to the Marina. Dubai Marina is home to Ain Dubai, the world's biggest ferris wheel, at 670 feet, luxury condos and majestic office towers.
Dubai marina skyline
The early evening included a visit to the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. At 2,725 feet, the observation decks on the 148th and 124-125th floors provide the
Burj Khalifa with the title of the world's highest observation decks. An option for express entry and exit adding $ 30 to the ticket price is well worth the extra money when considering the long lines for the elevators. Between the fog, laden with sand dust, and less than clean windows, some photos weren't that spectacular. Watching the sunset from the Burj Khalifa, however, was an awesome experience.
The finalé Burj Khalifa experience was itsevening water fountain show which has the honor of having the world's tallest jets and largest surface area. The five miinute show (every 30 minutes) provided some beautiful forms. Photoshop on steroids supplied the color missing from this particular show.
The daytime overview of the canal was augmented by a late night photo walk yielding some exceptional pictures and a hurtin' pair of dogs.
Dubai Water Canal Tolerance Bridge's elegant double curvature
Day three began with a visit to the New Fish Market, which included loads of fish from the Persian Gulf, poultry markets, butcher shops, a giant supermarket, and restaurants under construction. The facility is so new that transportation infrastructure doesn't yet exist. Arrival was by taxi and departure by shared ride with other tourists in the back of a pickup.
The new Fish Market opened June 2017 will eventually compare to Sydney's Fish Market
The next stop was old Dubai where the only glitz and glam is in the souks (gold, spice, perfume, textile markets). If it weren't for the bargains available here, tourists probably wouldn't get to see the old parts of the city not washed in its recent wealth. Vendors at the New Fish Market and the souks proved to be relentless in their pursuits to move goods. A polite no most times had no value. I think about the fake Rolexes I could have bought.
Dubai's Gold Souk where bargains abound if you have the money
The day's entertainment consisted of a Broadway showcase demonstrating what happens when a computer controlled world goes on the fritz. As the curtain rose, the computers controlling the metro ceased to function and brought all trains to a dead stop. The 15 minute trip lasted 75 minutes in a packed train with little air conditioning. Enter Bébé's three kids jostling passengers as they amused themselves with the parents saying nothing. Number four in his stroller dropped a load that escaped the Pampers and permeated the train. I heard Martha & the Vandellas belting out Nowhere to Run as I gasped for any filtered air available. Deep thoughts of pedicide (my own word for child murder) filled my head. Once the trains were again in motion, riders were unable to exit stations because the computer glitch allowing the fare cards to be read hadn't been repaired. Passengers just scaled the turnstiles to go on their merry ways. Is this our brave new automated world?
Day four began with a visit to the Al Farooq mosque. This is only one of two Dubai mosques allowing visitors from outside the faith. The architecture is simply amazing with sculpted ceilings and moldings.
Al Farooq Mosque
The next encounter with the fog monster was do or die and I died. Pictures from the 40 minute helicopter excursion made Lightroom's haze filter prove its value. A quick return trip is in order for some clear air shots.
Hazy skies after fog evaporation.
Floods lights of various hues seen bathing the Dubai Frame from the metro warranted a night visit. Because the Frame was scheduled to open four days later, no visit was possible. It stands 492 feet above Zabeel Park providing a window into Old Dubai on the north and one into financial Dubai on the south. The video below includes the product of what I wanted to present without knowing how it would be rendered. Let's just say it shows what happens when birth control fails. Photoshop hit the steroids again putting five frames in place of one.
Since Friday is the Muslim holy day, the metro begins running after 10 am. Fortunately, taxis were really inexpensive and were used extensively where the metro doesn't go. Day five began with a bus trip to Abu Dhabi, 95 miles southwest of Dubai. The round-trip fare was $ 11 for the two hour bus ride. Plans for a high-speed rail link, which would reduce the journey to less than 40 minutes, are under discussion.
Arrival at 10 am left plenty of time for exploring the Emirates Palace Hotel grounds, sky views from Observation Deck 300 at Etihad Towers, and a cruise along the Corniche. The Emirates Palace Hotel is the ultimate in luxury with rooms starting at $ 550 per night. The hotel has clear line of sight toward avant-garde design in high-rise structures more futuristic than Dubai's. Observation Deck 300 has a clear line of sight back to Emirates Palace Hotel, but also has the Burj Khalifa effect on its neighbors.
Etihad Towers skyline viewed from the Emirates Palace Hotel
The cruise along the Corniche was a convenient way to see the architecture, but lacked any commentary. An opportunity was missed in not extending the route toward the Emirates Palace and Etihad Towers.
The end of the day had a sunset into night visit at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Photography here was the ultimate pleasure. The only problem was the visit happened over the weekend and there were far too many people milling around. Even still, a daytime visit on Saturday was warranted.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
For those of you who like me, please feel free to spend as much quality time with me as possible. Unbeknownst to me, the Hood Rat managed to come along and made a surprise guest appearance at the Grand Mosque. A confirmation of no ticket to heaven was earned when a little urchin persisted in shaking my tripod as his mother smiled and said nothing. The Hood Rat tossed an F-Bomb toward the pair. Unless you're going with me in the next life, we need to enjoy our time now.
Saturday started with a journey 20 miles east of Abu Dhabi to Masdar City. Masdar City was planned for zero-carbon emissions with sustainable energy systems about a decade ago. Less than 10 percent has actually been built, though construction continues and many multi-national corporations have a skeleton presence. The trip was a boondoggle to the boonies, but worth seeing what could eventually be realized. Since the visit occurred on the weekend, the personal transportation system of electric pods was garaged and not available for viewing. I came so close to being among the Jetsons.
The Grand Mosque is just as amazing and beautiful in the daylight. My only regret is that a portrait of two young brothers from the United Kingdom was taken and I didn't think to get an email address for the family after their kind consent. How I wish the blow up could be shared.
Brothers: The new sheikhs in town at Grand Mosque reflecting pool
With baggage collected from the hotel, a seamless trip was made back to Dubai airport for the 20 hours of travel home. Air transportation next time will be provided by Air France when the short side trip is made for those clear-sky helicopter shots and a trek to the Dubai Frame's viewing platform.