27 March 2015

the second tower - the burj khalifa

The Burj Khalifa
Up the world's tallest building
Its not often that you get the chance to go up two of the Worlds tallest structures within a short space of time, is it? Three months in my case. So having looked down upon the world from Tokyo Skytree I've now done the same from The Burj Khalifa. So in this post we take a look at Dubai's most iconic structure.

The hourly fountain show at the foot of the building
Tokyo SkyTree vs The Burj Khalifa
Lets be clear here, they are very different structures, ones a skyscraper for starters, the other's a tower. So the feeling you have at the viewing platforms are quite different. With Skytree you don't step outside (see my old post Up the Worlds Tallest Tree), whereas The Burj Khalifa you do, with thick glass your only protection. Which feels safer? I'll let you decide. For me? Strangely the tower, perhaps its the fact you are enclosed that helps? There is no disputing that The Burj Khalifa is ridiculously high. To the point of giddiness when looking up to its tip from the 124th floor! Yep you're not even at the top when you visit At the Top!? 

So is it worth a visit? Of course it is and should be on any itinerary when visiting Dubai. The only real decision to make is whether to go up during daylight hours or at night? It's cheaper to go at night, so being on a budget our decision was easily made and my thoughts can only be based on this. 

We pre-booked our tickets and that's probably a good thing to do when observing the queues. However as with anything pre-booked you are reliant on the weather, even in Dubai. When we visited there was a smoggy feel to the dusky skies. Luckily that didn't spoil the view; which was still pretty good. The telescopes dotted around the viewing platform are a real help, showing you how it looked before everything was built, daylight images and also live images. And they were free! Now that is unusual.

Night views 
OverviewBut here's my problem and this could apply when visiting day or night. Dubai is a fabulous city but its no Hong Kong, Tokyo or even Shanghai and New York for that matter....yet. It's still in development, so although the skyscrapers are amazing it just doesn't quite have that "wow" factor, for now at least. Perhaps in 5 or 10 years it will when more of the desert is reclaimed and developed on. A slightly sour note, well yes but its worth remembering where Dubai once was and also where its going. I have no doubt that as the city develops further and the skyline changes then the view will become ever more spectacular. So as a high building experience it's exciting enough; fast lifts, friendly staff, useful information, good views and prestige of having visited the worlds tallest building. All for a reasonable price as well.  

So give it a try and join the growing numbers of people who have been to the top of the world. If you have been I'd love to hear from you. Click on any of the social media buttons at the top of the page.  

As a sub note make you experience even more memorable by watching the fountain show at its base. It operates every hour and is especially nice during the evening. 

Next from Sketches in Travel: For the love of trees 

21 March 2015

Tea, Towers and Spices

As a follow up to the previous Sketches in Travel Dubai post; Souks and Shops it felt right to do a photo blog looking at the old district that much of that post featured. Leaving the bright lights and modern structures to more sedate and authentic surroundings. These pictures cover the Bur Dubai area where the rather excellent Arabian Tea House Cafe (please visit) is situated and across the river in the Deira region (Spice and Gold Souks). The picture I've included of the boats is to me far more interesting and also such a contrast to the millionaires yachts found in the Dubai Marina. Colourful, picturesque and genuine? The real Dubai? I'll let you decide.

The worlds most out of place bin?

The Bur Dubai district

The excellent Arabian Tea House Cafe

On the river

At the Spice Souk


17 March 2015

Fancy some chips?

On the Trail of the Yellow Fingernail - Part 4

Recap: Our hero is in hot(ish) pursuit of the criminal the Yellow Fingernail who has stolen the villages fete stalls. Reports stated the Yellow Fingernail was spotted heading for the new town of Hemel Hempstead. 

My scooter wasn't the quickest; putt putting along at a steady 15 mph. I felt frustrated that I wouldn't be able to catch them and my hopes for acceptance dashed. I also had a nagging doubt about when I did catch them up, how would I spot them, stop them and get the stalls back to village?  

So whilst pondering these scenarios I ambled my way towards the next village which was Bovingdon. I was about to enter the village when I spotted something pinned to a tree. However I hadn't noticed the van coming in the other direction. We both swerved, narrowly avoiding contact. I hit the curb and was flung in the air and towards the tree with the notice pinned in it. We met with a thud and a crash. The scooter, now a mangled mess beside me.

Recovery was slow. Not helped with scooter parts caught in my clothing. I eventually brushed myself down and noticed that the letter pinned to the tree was addressed to me! 

The note was clear enough and so I checked my watch as I didn't want to be late and miss this chance. Looking at the mangled wreckage of my scooter I knew I had to walk. With Hemel a good three miles away I had to make haste. 

The walk was uneventful until I tried to make a shortcut through a corn field. Halfway across I had to take a short break as toilets were rather hard to come by. Within a few seconds however I heard a voice. 

"Get off my land or I'll blow your head off!" 
Slightly afraid I replied timidly by squeaking "hold on a minute". 
"I'm in the middle of a rather delicate operation".
"I'll give you an operation in a minute if you don't get off my land". 
"Look, nearly there." I was nowhere near! The panic had stopped all bodily functions.

I suddenly heard footsteps approaching. I had no intention of meeting the farmer with his gun, especially with my trousers around my ankles. So without caring to pull said trousers up I started to run as quickly as I could. As I ran I battled to pull up my trousers, failing completely and tripped, falling into an area of manure. Fear now gripped me as the farmer let off a shot from his gun. I scrambled to my feet pulled up my trousers and now covered in muck I ran as quickly as I could, narrowly avoiding the next pellet the farmer had fired off. Seeing the edge of the field and a fence approaching I decided to make a run and jump for freedom. The fence was at the top of a steep slope that fell away to a holly bush and a road at the bottom. I leaped the fence and landed in a heap and started to roll down the hill. Away from the farmer but gathering enough speed to hit the holly bush at the bottom with an almighty crack. I lay sore and bruised. Two accidents in one day was quite enough. 

I waited to see if the farmer was still pursuing me but thankfully he wasn't. Relived I gathered myself together and I peered through the hedge. Noticing a road sign that said Hemel was one mile away. I needed to get to that chip shop and fast. Not only was I hungry and
quite fancied some chips, I was also in desperate need for the toilet.
So with all the energy I could spare I set off down the road towards the concrete city and the chip shop rendezvous with The Yellow Fingernail.

Coming soon: Part 5 - "I'll have vinegar with them please"  


13 March 2015

Souks and shops - Part 2 of shopping in Dubai

For today's post I hand over to my travelling companion; Julia Melson. Time to let a shopping expert give some advice, especially when it comes to the worlds largest shopping mall! So with pictures by myself (once again looking up rather than at shops) and words by Julia, Part 2 is all about Souks and Shops and the journey in between. 

As far as comparisons go, today's shopping expedition was by far one of the most extreme. The day started with a trip to Dubai's old quarter. Now if it's counterfeit goods and gold you're after, then these markets areas are for you. However some of these items can be found at Wembley market in London on a rainy Sunday morning. So is it really worth coming all this way and spending your cash here? For spices and gold, probably yes. Counterfeit goods...um...best leave that one for the individual to decide.

Dubai Mall however offers slightly more to the western visitor, expats and locals alike, especially with a taste for the commercial lifestyle. To start with the journey from the Souks to the Mall was 'interesting' to say the least. With the metro segregated into female and mixed carriages, one can only feel slightly perplexed. As a local lady abruptly 'shoved' the men into the mixed carriages and a companion being disciplined for chewing gum on the train we felt somewhat under scrutiny. 

The mall however was something entirely different. A mall is an understatement. The noun 'urban resort' more fitting. The mall itself is set over four vast floors. A mix of UK, European and American based chain stores such as Next and Marks and Spencers to suit the array of British and American expats whilst stores such as Victoria Secrets and Bershka for the European visitor. Floors are divided into fashion/shoes/electrical and so on. 

A three hour trip simply was not enough for this. A suggestion for seasoned shoppers- prepare a plan of attack and stick to it. You can plan your trip using the interactive maps located throughout the mall or pick up a leaflet. Stick to where you need to go and browse when you're done. The three hours was way too short, especially with a visit to the fountain show and aquarium which were sacrificed for shoes and handbags. Real ones and not the souk ones.

One last suggestion. Ladies - invest in some hiking boots and walking sticks and leave the Primark flip flops for Sunday afternoon Tesco trips.

My thanks to Julia for her input  Please let me know what you think. How did you rate the souks and the shops? Is the Dubai Mall the shopping mecca for shopaholics?  

Next week we continue in Dubai with The Second Tower.


5 March 2015

Not what you expected

Dubai's Shopping Malls - Part 1: The Wafi Mall

Perhaps not the most obvious start to a series of posts about our Dubai trip but there again it was the first place we visited and it's worth sharing with you. Why? Well perhaps it's the architecture? It's ambience? The fact that it contained shops I have no interest in visiting and neither the money to spend in them? Or that it was virtually empty!? Whatever the reason I just felt the need and actually from a photographic viewpoint it gave us some interesting compositions. Hope you agree?

The mall is based on an Egyptian theme, inside and out. Think Venus Fort in Tokyo if you have been there. That place is based on Venice! Don't ask me why it just is. It's not how fake it is that surprises you, what actually does is just how quiet it is. There really was hardly anyone there. Shop assistants were standing around waiting for trade. They actually looked grateful for anyone who walked into their store. I'm sure if you were "up" on your fashion brands then the place would be worth a visit but for someone like me, who isn't then it's purpose is really non existent. To be honest I found it a little sad, although it is a bit tacky you can see why they thought it might attract people. It's just a shame so few actually go to it. Well that's the way it looked to me anyway. I was told by a cafe worker that most people head for the Dubai Mall (that's coming next and will be my first guest post). 

That got me thinking about the development going on in Dubai, which far outweighs the growth I've seen in other developing cities like Shanghai for instance. Must be more cranes per 100m than any other country? Anyway back to my thought! That question was "Are they developing too much? New malls, retail parks, apartments etc..Now if this mall is struggling (maybe it isn't?) then how are the others going to survive? In England it would have shut down by now. So lets support our themed malls. If you visit Dubai at least give it a look, even for an hour or so and help out a shopping mall, go on walk like an Egyptian!  

If you've been there then please let me know what you think. Sketches in Travel will be doing a number of Dubai posts in the coming weeks. Thanks for your support as always.



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