UAE – lists and practicalities

Abu-Dhabi-header-SMALL

Abu Dhabi & Dubai – Lists and Practicalities

(In three words or phrases, Abu Dhabi (AD) first, then Dubai (D), in no particular order and not always 10 things to avoid stretching the truth when fewer things are worthy of being in a top 10 list)
——————————————————————————————————————————————————–
10 food experiences
7 shopping experiences you wouldn’t encounter in the UK (or most other non-Middle East countries)
10 you-know-you’re-not-in-the-UK sights and experiences
6 just-about-ok things for a vertigo sufferer to bravely experience and be glad they did
8 most disappointing things
8 most unexpected things
8 sweat and heat management suggestions
7 wow facts
8 packing tips
5 learnt-the-hard-way tips and advice

——————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Top 10 food experiences

1. (AD) Dates souk- sampling, sticky toffee pudding, excess
2. (AD) Hanoi Naturally Café and Restaurant (Vietnamese) – tasty, cheap, quick
3. (AD) Al Ibrahimi (Arabic/Indian/Persian, women sit in Family Room) – large portions, amazing fruit cocktails, cheap
4. (AD) Sheraton Hotel buffet breakfast (International) – enormous selection, covert pork section, good quality
5. (AD) Villa Beirut (Lebanese) – home cooked style, lovely staff, exceptionally good food
6. (AD) India Palace Restaurant (Indian) – looks expensive but ok, appetising menu, exceptional food
7. (D & AD) Saravanaa Bhavan (Vegetarian Indian) – cheap, basic, delicious
8. (D) Rice and Spice Restaurant (Pakistani) – exceptionally tasty, excellent quality, far more delicious than the environment or price would suggest
9. (D) Erbil Iraqi Restaurant (Iraqi) – lots of (free) side dishes, interesting menu, delicious and fresh food
10. (D) Arabian Tea House (Arabian) – traditional, good quality, lovely environment

Top 7 shopping experiences you wouldn’t encounter in the UK (or most other non-Middle East countries)

1. (AD) Fish market (catch of the day fish off neighbouring boats with basic, but probably great, fish eateries, indoors) – hectic, bewildering, interesting
2. (AD) Gold Centre (indoor, non-fancy shopping centre) – no hassle, lots of shops and stalls, time-consuming
3. (AD) Fruit, veg and dates souk (outdoor, covered) – interesting variety, interactive, people watching
4. (D) Dubai Mall – bewildering, surprising, an experience
5. (D) Souk Medinat (recreation of old Arabian souk, air conditioned) – minimal hassle, interesting shops, pretty outdoor areas
6. (D) Al Fahidi (“Historic district” with a few artisan shops) – no hassle, quiet, interesting
7. (D) Spice souk and gold souk – frenetic, overpriced to cater for bartering, atmospheric

Top 10 you-know-you’re-not-in-the-UK sights and experiences

1. (AD) Grand Mosque (better appreciated with a free tour, ideally 5pm) – incredible, luxurious, stunning
2. (AD) Heritage Village (free, outdoor “ethnographic museum”) – photogenic beach, interesting, touristy
3. (AD) Swimming in the sea at the (free) family beach at Corniche Beach – photogenic, involuntarily-induced sighs of “this is the life”, bath-like
4. (AD) Walking along the Corniche – traffic-free, views, photogenic
5. (D) Desert trip on camel or vintage Land Rover – magical, intriguing, you’ll be glad you went
6. (D) Burj Khalifa – breathtaking, touristy, selfie-central
7. (D) Dubai Mall – dinosaur, ice rink, aquarium
8. (D) Creek walk, Bur Dubai (west) and Creek walk, Deira (east) – culturally and historically rich, vibrant, atmospheric
9. (D) Coffee Museum – atmospheric, informal, creative
10. (D) Al Fahidi (historical district) – peaceful, historically interesting, photogenic

Top 6 just-about-ok things for a vertigo sufferer to bravely experience and be glad they did

1. (D) Burj Khalif At The Top (floors 124 and 125 – 148 may be 23 levels too far) – more plane-like height than tall building-like height, no unexpected-drop confrontations, too awe-inspiring to be completely terrified
2. (D) Metro escalators – quite long, often in middle of platforms, space around
3. (D) Palm Monorail – above the sea, futuristic, window-heavy
4. Most malls – atriums, some exposed-feeling escalators, pretty distractions upwards that then make you look down too quickly
5. Abundance of glass lifts – (no explanation needed, though not one at Burj Khalifa)
6. Camels – tall, feeling of going up a mountain and back down as they get up/down, view from the top

Top 8 most disappointing things

1. (AD) Lack of a metro system in Abu Dhabi – walk, taxi, bus
2. (D) Jumeirah Beach – construction site views, exposed, potentially busy
3. (D) The Walk, JBW – exclusive-feeling, expensive, uninviting
4. (D) Al Maktoum Airport (as it currently is, ie temporary) – deserted, small, not where you want to wait for eight hours
5. (D) Atlantis and The Palm (unless you’re very rich and staying at Atlantis) – touristy, expensive, more to see than to do (unless price and fellow tourists no object)
6. (D) Walking in Dubai – absence of crossings (sometimes), absence of pavements (sometimes), busy roads
7. Plastic bags – “I don’t need a bag … oh, thanks, I’ll have two”, crunchy, hard-to-reuse sizes
8. The air can be polluted – sand, construction work, traffic

Top 8 most unexpected things

1. Lots of birds – lovely bird song and some pretty birds
2. Lots of friendly stray cats, usually found lolling on grass near water at night
3. More people walking around in August heat of c45 degrees than expected
4. Shops shut late, 11pm or midnight in many cases, and it’s very easy to end up shopping and/or eating dinner later than a weary tourist may have otherwise planned
5. You can eat good to excellent food far more cheaply than I’d been led to believe
6. Henna “tattoos” take about an hour to dry and, if you don’t manage to smear henna on your white clothing, look far more lovely than you might imagine and garner more compliments than you might be used to
7. Variety of smells, with oud (wood from a particular tree that has been infected with a mould that triggers a resin, the resin wood being the source of the oud) being a new favourite
8. Not that I ever expected to feel unsafe, but I felt safe walking alone at day and night and leaving my bag on the sand while swimming in the sea. A taxi driver told me it’s the second safest country (after Singapore)

Top 8 sweat and heat management suggestions

1. Flannel
2. Hat, ideally with a brim or peak, to be taken off while in the shade
3. Sweat-concealing clothes
4. A small bottle of water is not enough, 1.5 litres will be consumed far quicker than you would expect
5. Malls, Metro stations; it is easy to find toilets (in consideration of point 4 above)
6. Shade, short or long cuts through air conditioned malls, walking by doorways of air conditioned shops all aid the length of time heat can be tolerated
7. Wear sun screen, even if you don’t expect to be walking around, it’s surprising how often you do end up outside and a 45 degree sunburn would surely be an unsightly and painful souvenir
8. It turns out that every part of your body sweats in an Arabian summer, which for most people means that your feet and hands puff up, so bear that in mind if you plan to try on rings or wear sandals that are on the snug side of comfortable when worn in the cooler reality of your normal environment

Top 7 wow facts

1. (AD) Grand Mosque – able to hold 40,000 worshippers, exterior is lit at night with colours to reflect the phases of the moon, dark blue/grey for crescent to light blue for full moon, inside is the world’s largest handmade carpet (weighing 35 tonnes), designed by a celebrated Iranian designer, taking up to 1,200 carpet knotters two years to complete
2. (D) The Palm – a world-unique series of islands, largely made of sea-bed sand, to resemble a palm tree, though not technically an island as all joined, 12,000 palm trees are growing in a nursery on the “island” to be planted there, one of the few structures visible from space by the naked eye
3. (D) Burj Khalifa – tallest building in the world at 828 meters (three Eiffel Towers), at its construction peak 12,000 workers on site per day, highest outdoor observation deck, mosque, nightclub and restaurant in the world
4. (D) Indoor ski resort with artificial snow (Mall of the Emirates) – with outdoor temperatures up to 50 degrees centigrade, maintaining -1 during the day and -6 at night (to produce snow) is impressive and requires the loan of winter ski wear, penguins live there, it incorporates the world’s first (400-metre) indoor black diamond run
5. A lot of things are the world’s tallest/biggest etc – world’s tallest ferris wheel, Dubai Eye, is under construction to reach 210 metres, (apparently) 20% of the world’s cranes are in use in Dubai, Dubai has the biggest mall/aquarium/hotel
6. Camels – Arabian/Dromedary camels have one hump which consists of up to 36kg fat which they can break down into water for rehydration and energy, a group of camels is a flock or caravan, a thirsty camel is capable of drinking 135 litres of water in 13 minutes
7. Population – circa 12% of UAE population is Emirati, the rest are foreign nationals, mainly Indian and Pakistani, a couple who are both UAE passport holders and who get married have their wedding, honeymoon, new house and car gifted to them by the state, a recent law introduced a massive fine (AED 250,000, c£52,000) for swearing on WhatsApp

Top 8 packing tips

1. Think about colours that don’t show up sweaty back, arm pits, waistline and remember that a sweat-drenched white top, for example, is rendered transparent.
2. Air conditioned, cool rooms are your best friend. There are two failings that I can think of, that a cool room is not an effective environment for drying swimming costumes (or indeed sweaty clothes you might prefer to pack dry) so bring more than one swimming outfit, and as you can’t open the windows in some hotels and sweaty clothes get a bit pongy, this could be an opportunity to embrace incense.
3. More clothes and underwear than might initially seem necessary. Sometimes a hot day is better dealt with in instalments, delineated by time in your air conditioned room when wearing sweaty, wet clothing has very limited appeal.
4. Sweat-wiping cloths. A selection of flannels and handkerchiefs are a joy for mopping a soggy brow, particularly, for example, to avoid going into a shop, looking down at, say, some lovely gold jewellery and letting loose a flow of sweat.
5. Robust sandals that will cope with dust mixed with sweaty feet to result in a rather fascinating mud streaked effect. The prettier the straps on your feet, the better your foot tan, though that is often only revealed once said mud has been washed off.
6. You may not think you’d be crazy enough to spend any time outdoors, there being a mall/indoor/taxi culture, but a sun hat with a sun shade brim is a joy, except when it too gets drenched in sweat. A lot of people use umbrellas as sun shades too.
7. Sun cream, to apply to your feet and all areas not covered by your clothing (obviously). Also, a lip balm with SPF probably saved my lips from a deep red look, followed by an unsightly peel.
8. A large scarf to cover your head, neck and shoulders (particularly if you go to Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque where the other option is to borrow, free, an abaya of plastic rain coat flattery).

Top 5 learnt-the-hard-way tips and advice

1. (D) A man’s feet must not cross the Women Only line of Metro carriages or they stand a good chance of being politely but firmly escorted off the Metro by discreet uniformed guards to be issued a fine. The signs and lines are pink, very clear and it’s probably tempting to think it’s ok to cross the line as the women’s carriages are usually quieter than the (mainly) men’s carriages.
2. (D) If you realise shortly before bed time there is no ATM close to your hotel, you have run out of cash and have an early morning flight the next day, be aware that taxis only take cash (except possibly some of the more luxury taxis which don’t have the two tone roof and body paint and cost significantly more). Dubai Metro stations have an ATM inside the station.
3. (D) Take note of Rough Guide maps, many places are further away than they look on the map and involve crossing roads you genuinely could only cross by catching a taxi or scaling a 2-metre wire fence, crash barriers and finding a safe fleeting second to cross an eight-lane highway. I am not exaggerating.
4. As above, Google Maps may say somewhere is a 15-minute walk but that clearly does not take account of the amount of traffic lights and how long you can be held at a red light. Whereas in the UK the walking times are usually five or more minutes too generous for me, in UAE they were 15 minutes or more too optimistic. Distances are deceiving, it transpires, on all maps.
5. Everyone tells you how cheap taxis are but they add up, particularly when you need to cross a busy un-pedestrian-friendly highway and you’ve managed to choose a taxi firm with a minimum spend of, in my case, AED 12.

Practical Information

The number in brackets at the beginning is my score out of 5 to reflect expectations, eg a (3) for a 5* hotel is different to a (3) for a 4* hotel but both mean “It was ok”.
(1) So poor I would never contemplate returning or recommending and would only list to avoid at all costs
(2) Disappointing and not worth going to
(3) OK, quality as you’d expect but nothing outstanding nor particularly negative
(4) Exceeded expectations and would mention as worth visiting
(5) Exceptional and would go out of my way to return and recommend
(5*) Too amazing to even contemplate not returning
All prices are in UAE dirhams and correct in August and October 2016

ABU DHABI – practical information
Hotels – Food – Shopping – Nails & Massage – Taxi

HOTELS
(5*) Sheraton Hotel & Resort (Corniche) 5* – lovely private sea water lagoon and beach and pool area and a lovely hotel and staff, impressive buffet breakfast, by far my favourite hotel of the six
(4) Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi Downtown (Electra) 4* – good mid-range hotel, exceptional massages at health club, decent breakfast, friendly staff, but very small pool and windows don’t open


FOOD

(4) Maroosh (informal Arabic/Lebanese made-to-order fast food), Abu Dhabi Mall (food court)
Arabic Falafel Roll (generous portion, made to order) AED 14
(3) Manoushe Street (informal café style Lebanese food), 9th Street (between Sheikh Zayed Street and Fatima Bint Mubarak Street)
Baked halloumi in the pan with three mini breads and raw vegetables AED 27
Fortifying liver with three mini breads and garlic dip AED 12
Homemade lemonade AED 12 (total AED 55)
(5) Hanoi Naturally Café and Restaurant, (informal Vietnamese) 98 Kingsland Road (kind of adjacent to 3rd St, near corner with 4th Street)
Vermicelli Trio AED 42
Lemon and mint drink AED 16
(4) Al Ibrahimi Restaurant (Pakistani, Arabic, Indian and other), across the car park from a back Gold Centre exit, parallel to 4th Street, below Al Jazeera Royal Hotel
Fried Hammour (served British fish and chips style) AED 27
Roti AED 1
Lemon and mint drink AED 14 (total AED 42)
(5*) India Palace (Indian), Salam Street (between Zayed the First Street and 9th Street)
Jhinga masala (mild to medium spiced prawn curry) AED 58
Lachedar paratha (multi-layered flatbread) AED 7
Fresh lime water AED 12 (total AED 77)
(5) Villa Beirut (Lebanese), Marina Mall (near food court)
Shawarma samak (hamour fish with spices and pine nuts) AED 36
Citrus Madness (refreshing citrus drink with crushed ice) AED 22
Turkish coffee AED 15 (total AED 73)
(5) Rosewood Hotel 5*(event catering, International), Al Maryah Island
Mini-buffet lunches for the Business Centre were exceptional, interesting, delicious and if I had a lot of money to spend on a meal, I would feel very confident food at any of this hotel’s restaurants would well exceed expectations. But bear in mind this is more luxury 6* than the other 5* hotels I’ve mentioned and is very expensive.

SHOPPING

(5) Gold Centre, Madinat Zayad Shopping Centre
Minimal hassle, tens of indoor shops open until 10.30 pm, mainly gold but some silver stalls, sold by weight so very limited bartering
(4) Dates market, Al Mina Fruit and Vegetable Market (around 20th Street and Mina Street, a low-rise series of partly outdoors/covered/indoor rows of fruit, vegetables and, towards the Mina Street end, dates)
Fresh dates outdoors (only good for 4-5 days), dried dates indoors, huge selection, no suggestion or idea how to choose which date shop to select but would be hard not to buy once you’ve started sampling and the samples come thick and fast. Good service and quality at Liwa Dates, for example. Not a beautiful market area but interesting, fair bit of sales banter as you walk past

NAILS & MASSAGE

(5) Nails, Abu Dhabi Mall
Pedicure (c1 hour) AED 70
(5*) Holiday Inn Health Club (Downtown “Electra”)
(5) Foot massage (30+mins) AED 160
(5) Back, neck and shoulder massage (30 mins) AED 160

TAXI

Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) – downtown (34.5km) AED 83.5 (to incorporate airport flag fall fee for all “Airport Taxi”, which are all large SUVs unlike taxis elsewhere)
Downtown – AUH (36.4km) AED 61.75 (30+ minutes)
Downtown (3.8km) AED 9.75

DUBAI – practical information
Hotels – Food – Coffee & Tea – Tours – Travel – Taxi



HOTELS

(5) Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel and Towers 5* (Deira – Union Square Metro) – creek view fabulous, good pool and pool area, all round comfortable and friendly environment, exceptionally good nights’ sleep
(3) Donatello Hotel 4* (Al Barsha –Sharaf DG Metro) – no view (probably from most rooms), very nice staff, feels a bit dark and dated, breakfast OK, small pool, short walk to Metro
(3) Auris Plaza 5* (Al Barsha – Mall of the Emirates Metro) – nothing exceptional or particularly memorable but nothing negative, good dinner and breakfast

FOOD

(5*) Rice & Spice Restaurant (Pakistani), opposite Lamcy Plaza (mall), Oud Metha (It is not at the Google Maps locator near Oud Metha metro. It is on the edge of Lamcy Plaza, looking out onto the car park area in the middle of the plaza, c25 minute walk from Oud Metha metro)
Chicken malai boti AED 19
Tandoori roti AED 2
Nimbu pudina sharbat (lemon and mint drink) AED 7 (total AED 27)
(4) Hatam Restaurant (Iranian), Deira City Center Mall
(large) mixed salad AED 37
Watermelon juice AED 20
Large mineral water AED 6 (total AED 63)
(4) Al Bait Al Qadeem (Lebanese), Al Ahmadiya Street (on Google Maps, almost in a horizontal line from Al Ras metro)
Grilled fish (hamour) AED 35
Mixed raw veg AED 5
Large bottle of water AED 5 (total AED 45)
(3) Ibn Hamido (seafood restaurant), opposite Sharaf DG Metro station, Sheikh Zayed Road, Al Barsha 1, Near Mall of Emirates
Mixed seafood tajin AED 47
Small water AED 8
Watermelon juice AED 20 (total AED 75)
(5) Saravanaa Bhavan (Indian, vegetarian) 3A Street (and other locations), the road just back from Dubai Creek (near Al Ghubaiba metro (c10-15 minute walk with much potential directional confusion on exiting Al Ghubaiba metro), (Dubai main) bus station and marine station.
Special Biriyani AED 17
Lemon juice AED 7 (total AED 24)
(4) Kabab Erbil Iraqi Restaurant (Iraqi), 73-71 Al Rigga Rd (near Al Rigga metro)
Chellow lamb tikkah AED 75
Watermelon juice AED 20
Small mineral water AED 3 (total AED 98)

COFFEE and TEA

(2) Caribou Coffee, Dubai Mall (and most other malls)
Small cappuccino AED 15
(4) Arabian Tea House Bastakia, Al Fahidi Street Bur Dubai (by the roundabout)
Arabic Coffee AED 25
Date and walnut cake AED 25 (total AED 50)

TOURS

(5) Platinum Heritage – “Heritage Collection” – “Camel Safari”, www.platinum-heritage.com
After a lot of research, although more expensive than most, this tour was excellent and exceeded expectations. Consensus seems to be you get what you pay for. Everything in the desert camp was included in the price (eg henna tattoos, the artist being amazing, and shisha smoking), except professional photos and videos, and the food was plentiful and delicious. I cannot recommend this company enough. If not a camel safari, the vintage Land Rovers looked fun.

TRAVEL

Dubai to Abu Dhabi
Dubai Al Ghubaiba Bus Station to Abu Dhabi Bus Station
E100 bus – AED 25 each way (12.25pm from Dubai to Abu Dhabi took 2 hours 10 minutes)
Buy a (silver) NOL card (AED 6) and use it like the London Oyster card so swipe getting on the bus AND getting off
Abu Dhabi to Dubai stops at Al Jafiliya (right by Dubai Metro) before Al Ghubaiba (Metro and bus station)
Dubai Metro
Metro is air conditioned, efficient, good value and very easy to use. But men, DO NOT get in the female only carriages, at the ends, and if you go in the Gold carriage, you will be expected to pay a premium (carpet, leather seats and a separate compartment).
There are clean toilets and ATMs in all Metro stations.
Best value is to buy a silver NOL card for AED 6 and top it up.
A one-zone single is AED 4 (issued on a temporary red NOL card/ticket) but cheaper to buy a return than two singles. A one-day travel card is good value.

TAXI

You need cash for taxis. DXB to Business Bay costs roughly AED 80.

Al Maktoum International Airport – Sheraton Dubai Creek (10.45pm) – (including flag fall AED 25, only chargeable from the airport, ie return cheaper) AED 156

    Leave Your Comment

    Your email address will not be published.*

    Most Viewed Posts