Now every time I go through security at Edinburgh airport they divert me down a separate file and put me in the body scanner, I don’t know why? Perhaps I have a big bubble above my head shouting out this tall one is suspicious! When it had finished whirling around and I was asked to step out the security chap asked me to spread my arms and he did the body search. I asked him to be careful with my left shoulder because I damaged the bicep. Now this is interesting. He said to me “look at the picture and you will see an intense yellow area around your left shoulder which is why I did the hands-on search”. I said so that theoretically your scanner is showing that something could be wrong with my shoulder? He said “this machine is extremely sensitive and will show anything to us both externally and internally!” Right I think I will be going back to the doctor to seek a second opinion!
I had been bumped up on to KLM's code sharer Etihad plane and it was only a six-hour flight from Amsterdam. I was sitting right at the back of the plane. This had its advantage in that I was right next to the loo and got served first by a very friendly stewardess. I had a Dutchman called Pip sitting next to me, with his wife sitting opposite. First thing he did was offer me some zoet lackritz (salt liquorice! He was very funny too. He and his vrouw were off to Malaysia for a tour lasting 35 days. They were interested in coming to Shetland one day as they had seen the crime series on Dutch TV! so I gave them my card and told them to get in touch with me. The plane was very comfortable and was very busy. There were lots of Aussies on board. The flight was just a little bit bouncy even flying at 37000 feet. The smoothest flight was the Shetland leg at the beginning of the trip. I didn’t realise that I could have flown with Etihaad direct from Edinburgh as when I got to Amsterdam’s Schipol I had to wait until twenty past eight that evening to board my flight. I had some Euros fortunately and walked around the airport for exercise and went for several coffees and then went to a Dim Sum restaurant where I had some interesting food! Of course, it was hideously expensive as airports always seem to be!
When we finally landed at Abu Dhabi, I had to queue to get a visitor’s visa from customs but that was a mere formality. I had to get a taxi from the airport then to a friend of my friend, as she lived nearer to Dubai where she was teaching as she had just started her new job that day. The taxi to her house was 60 dirhams which is about £13.00. Apparently, that was considered expensive!! The taxi driver was from Nepal, tiny little chap who came up height wise to my armpit and just picked up my heavy suitcase onehandedly and tossed it into the back of the cab. Fortunately, he didn’t do the same with my duty free!
I was staying here for the day and then my friend was picking me up (I will call her L). Her friend S runs a rescue sanctuary for street cats and she had 27 of them at home! Something which I don't think would work too well with my landlord in Shetland! She also had a maid who welcomed me in as I was a little shattered! I think it was the day of hanging around at Schipol that did it for me! After, I had met everyone I was asked if I would like some breakfast and I admitted defeated and asked if I could go and lie down so I was given a bedroom where I slept for about four hours and woke feeling refreshed. We had some lunch out in the garden and it was really was very pleasant to sitting out in the sun, bearing in mind that just the day before I had been in Edinburgh where it was a balmy 4 degrees!
My friend L arrived to collect me about seven o’clock and we drove back to her place in a pleasant little compound called Al Ghadeer. She has a lovely roof top studio with what I would call a large outdoor terrace and for the next two weeks I slept on her very comfortable sofa bed with also seven cats for company. Now I love cats and these lot were certainly characters. My favourite one I have to say was a little black Mau variety called Sphynx and she was lovely. They all immediately took a liking to my suitcase and used it to sleep on, one occasion be sick on and of course it made a lovely scratching post!! Didn’t matter anyway as it had done a lot of travelling, twice to New Zealand and down to England several times. The wheel on one corner on the very first time it was put in an aircraft hold was jammed and consequently it was thoroughly entertaining to push down the street.
L had said it was a bit of a drive home, I then realised how far Dubai was from Abu Dhabi! 100km in fact. The main, I think I could call it a motorway, motorway was a four-lane affair on each side with huge light gantries every ten feet or so! Lanes, as I soon became aware, was something that the drivers here really did not regard for staying in for very long and cars were just cutting in front of one another, no indicators (it was as if I hadn’t left Shetland!) and absolutely no thought for the driver behind who had to take evasive action!! It was worse in the morning when driving in rush hour! Heart in your throat affair!! L however is a typical Kiwi lady and is a very good driver. I spend a lot of time driving in Shetland and err on the side of cautious at the best of times, but I felt extremely comfortable being her passenger, except when these loons in huge 4x4 zoomed in front of her just a bumper’s breath away from a scrape!!
I was warned to turn my mobiles data roaming off as it is horrendously expensive! I got a text from EE offering me unlimited access to data for £6.00 a day! I just waited till I got home in the evening and logged on for free! I took loads of photos on my phone as it has a very good camera on it I discovered. The first trip we made was to, the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Clad in Macedonian marble it is one of Abu Dhabi's landmark buildings and by far the most popular sightseeing attraction in the city. The mosque fuses Mameluke, Ottoman, and Fatimid design elements to create a harmonious and thoroughly modern mosque that celebrates Islamic architecture. Artisans used glass-work, mosaic tiling, and intricate carvings to spectacular effect on both the interior and exterior. L and I went about six o’clock in the evening just as the sun was setting and it was amazing with the colours of the sunset on the still pools of water outside. A place of beauty and serenity. It was a real highlight for me.
I invariably had a shopping list as long as my arm mostly for others. On L’s day off we went on the metro, which is mostly above ground, to Deira for the day where I bought spices, got a little bit ripped off sadly, had my guard down and felt a bit silly about that. I got my two Senior pupils some nice Indian cotton tops and some pretty earrings as a little thank you for looking after my classes while I was away. We had to get a little boat from the quayside of Modern Dubai, at the cost of one dirham, about 25 pence, and then arrived in Deira which to me seemed like a mixture of downtown Tunis and somewhere in India. We went into a maze of alleys crammed with shops all selling the inevitable spices, silks, Kashmir and so called ‘genuine Rolex watches’ and perfume. We had these men whose sole task it seemed was to try and put something on you to wear, the traditional Arab head dress, I did try one on and looked frighteningly quite good in it…ok not quite Lawrence of Arabia and certainly not as dashing as Peter O’Toole! I didn’t buy one. We then went through the Gold Souk which was just mind boggling. I have never seen so much gold in so many shapes and forms in my life. It is all 22 carat and above too. There were also some shops that I thought at first were selling silver only but on closer inspection realised it was platinum! Everything of course is sold by weight as well. It was a very interesting day out in any event.
L took me to Abu Dhabi and we went to the Gold market there to a particular shop that she had been to a few times so they knew her here. I got some beautiful gold bracelets with pearls and turquoise for my lovely daughters there and on my second visit a gold chain for myself, which was expensive but very nice and a small investment. We then stopped at a small perfume stall where I bought some manly Oud for my son. When I went back down to Deira by myself this time I found a shop where I got some nice leather belts, one for him and one for me, and quite reasonably priced. Whilst in Abu Dhabi I got a message from my ex ask me if I could get her some gold earrings! and saying Low C wondered if I could get her some silk, now she has a sewing machine. L knew where to get nice silk and said it was very reasonably priced as is the gold here. She was quite right of course and took me to a marvellous shop upstairs where there were rolls and rolls of beautiful silk at £4 a metre! So I took pictures on L’s phone and sent them to Low C via messenger so she could decide! I ended up buying about six metres of each. We also visited the Abu Dhabi fish market which was incredible. It was a building the size of perhaps 8 football pitches with hundreds of stalls all selling a huge range of fish. I have never seen anything like it. We bought some enormous prawn and a kilo of sardines, about 50 pence a kilo. They were divine and we kept some for our feline friends at home!
Now a few months before my trip I had seen a documentary about the hidden side of Dubai and once I was there I could see what this film documentary was trying to sensationalise. Dubai is a place of contradictions. On one hand you see vast displays of opulent wealth and then there are the invisible 'workers'...the man who is walking around a roundabout in the middle of the desert with a rubbish sack and a hand grab, an elderly Indian man squatting in one of the many beautifully kept municipal gardens, outside the shopping mall on the Palm, with a small sickle trimming the weeds. There are many Filipino maid working in people’s houses, taking their employers children to the playground and then there are the numerous Workers buses with curtains shuttling their loads of numerous nationalities from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Africa to the many building sites of towers for people to live a lifestyle that these workers could only dream about and new attractions. We could see the Dubai version of The London Eye near the Palm but couldn’t work out how to get to it. It is three times the size of its English version. There is probably, well definitely, a certain amount of exploitation of these workers, as there is in every society, but these people work hard and send a lot of their wages home. Shortly before I arrived in UAE, L told me that Skype had been banned for some reason. It was a shame as it meant these hardworking people were no longer able to communicate with their families thousands of miles away. Dubai gave me the impression of being a modern Feudal system here but in this system everyone is working and are incredibly friendly and polite. There is a wonderful little shop in the compound where L lives, full of Middle Eastern delights, and I was surprised when she said that people were quite often rude and nasty to the shop owners.
One afternoon, while L was teaching, I went down to the Dubai Mall and decided to go to the cinema where for 47 Dirhams I watched “Jumanji Into The Jungle” which despite my reservations about the original with the wonderful Robin Williams, this remake was surprisingly good, rather funny and also some well below the belt adult humour. I was surprised as the film was listed as a PG. L warned me that the Emiratis tend to wander in late with humongous buckets of food! I thought ‘Oh ok, I can just about cope with the smell of popcorn’. There wasn’t a huge amount of people in watching the film but just as the ads finished, a family came in with what I can only describe politely as picnic hamper!! It was quite stomach churning actually!! Thankfully they grazed quite quietly!! The first ad was from the Dubai police warning everyone to be nice to each other and not to drop litter! There were other subtle messages, but I was giggling to myself thinking what would be the reaction if something like that was played at home on Mareel’s screens prior to a film!
Something that is a recurring theme in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and the one thing that I couldn’t get my head around was the amount of sweets on sale everywhere!! In any filling station there were about eight aisles selling nothing but sweets. All the brands you get here in the UK plus some I had never heard of, in the malls shops selling ice cream, donuts and all sorts of obese inducing sugar-coated delights!! Apparently, UAE has one of the highest rates of Diabetes in the world! It was very hard to find somewhere to get traditional food. L and I found one takeaway place in the Dubai Marina Mall next to the cinema where you could get a large plate, plastic throwaway of course!! Full of Sharwarma (meat wrapped up in a large bread wrap) with houmous, stuffed vine leaves and Kibble which is a Lebanese pastry stuffed with mince and spiced and lots of salad. There was a little Indian type eatery in the market at Abu Dhabi where we were able to buy delicious samosas, bhajis and other spicy nibbles for pennies accompanied by chai, tea made with condensed milk and cardamom, delicious!! On my day to downtown Dubai, opposite the creek and Deira, around lunchtime I walked past this little eatery which smelt heavenly and the owner gave me a menu inviting me in. I had a vegetable Thali for about £2.00 with chai and a drink of buttermilk with Jeera (cumin) in it. Everything was vegetarian, and it was lovely.
I mentioned the subject of single use plastic which is something of an issue here in Shetland and there are moves afoot to tackle it with lots of small food businesses now committing to stopping using single use plastic cups, plates and utensils. It was really apparent in Dubai with all the coffee houses and eateries. Where did it go? Was it burnt or chucked in a hole out in the desert? As writing this piece there was an article in The Independent about Shetland Islands determined to go ahead and stop using so much single use plastic. Its gathering momentum too! Even the ferry company Northlink has fully committed to stopping use of plastic one time use items.
As I said Dubai’s main attraction, apart from the warm weather and friendliness is the huge shopping malls which are packed with brand names from Tommy Hilfiger to Chanel, the French supermarket chain Carrefour was in a lot of them with a wide selection of foodstuffs. Dubai Mall is apparently 15 kilometres long, on three levels, and it is right next to the Burg Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. You can go up it, but it costs about 200 dirhams (about £40) but with my head for heights no way!! I was a bit dubious about the claim that Dubai Mall was so long but when you get off the Metro, you take the exit for the Mall and there are those rolo floors like at airports that you can stand to have a rest from walking. So, after travelling on these things for about ten minutes I eventually got to the entrance of the Mall and it was massive. Trouble was it was just like all the other malls I had been to and I hadn’t bought anything from them either! I don’t really do brand clothing to be honest.
My friend works on the Palm and Atlantis the hotel and aquarium is right at the end of it, a monorail ride away. There is still an awful lot of construction work going on it and apparently the hotel, you can draw open your curtains in the morning and you are underwater with all the fish swimming around outside! And guess what? Yup another big shopping mall which was a bit pricier than all the other ones!! The most amazing thing is that the Palm is built on an artificial land. There must have been millions of tonnes of rock and rubble poured in to the sea at the end of the beach and then built up from there. The Golden Mile, another shopping mall with a very nice New Zealand Burger restaurant in it. Now I hadn’t eaten a burger for many years, but these looked good and all the eateries in Dubai and Abu Dhabi were very clean, so I had a burger and it was very nice, nice meat and the pickles in it were crunchy and delicimo!! But I wouldn’t make a habit of eating them now all the time.
We travelled out to a very big mountain, Jabel Hafeet and drove up it, on a very curvy road stopping off at some view points and at the very top there was a Hotel Mercure, 3,000 feet up!! I bought a rather funny Salt and Pepper set as a present for someone! We stopped off at another hotel where we had a very large gin & tonic and watched the falconry display. Well when I say we watched we saw the falcon released and it flew straight off into the desert followed by a 4x4 of Arabs chasing it with a radio antenna sticking out of the window as it apparently had a radio transmitter attached to it!! We didn’t find out if they got it back.
Eventually came the time to fly home sadly. I did have a nice time though I have paid for it now as came down with a stinking cold which got on to my chest so another visit to the doctor is due, but that will give me a chance to bring up the matter about the airport scanner and my shoulder! The airport at Abu Dhabi is a little bit chaotic and the duty free didn’t really appeal to me. I changed at Schipol after a very uncomfortable flight on KLM, no knee room and rather a bumpy flight. Eventually I got to Edinburgh and got down to my hotel, The Hub in Haymarket and it was very comfortable and as I discovered the restaurant next door was pretty reasonable. I had arranged to meet the other one of my Senior pupils who was doing a dance course at Edinburgh Performing Arts College. We met at the National Gallery which had a very nice collection of Turners, but I saw them the next day. We sat and had coffee and when they threw us out we went up to Waterstones and carried on talking there. It was nice to see her and I was very pleased to hear that she was doing so well with her studies.
I had to go and buy some new shoes in the morning as my Hush Puppies that I had bought in NZ in 2013 were completely knackered! I found that Clark’s had a sale on so was able to buy shoes in my size and since they were so cheap, well shoes that were originally £150 and down to £42.50 was a bit of a bargain so I bought some Gore-tex shoes and a pair of ankle boots which I posted to myself in Shetland! They got there the next day before my suitcase because it was one kilo over weight Loganair charged me £10! And then off loaded it so when I got off the extremely rough and bouncy flight back to Shetland it wasn’t there! Just like my German parcel which according to the Fijian track and trace system is now on its way back to the sender in Germany!! Anyway its nice to be back in Shetland even if it is windy and freezing cold. Oh they had some very rough weather while I was away, so windy that my fence got blown down!! My son thoughtfully sent me a picture of it but didn’t bother to alert my housing association to it! Its fixed now mind..
Anyway so that is a short account of my trip away. I think I would like to visit Dubai again because now I know what I would like to buy! Till the next episode!