A stopover guide to Dubai

I lived in Dubai a few years ago when I was based there for a short work stint. Before moving, I was fantasising about Dubai being a spectacular place, but honestly I did not like it. I felt it lacked a true charm and culture like there would be in other regions around the world. It was essentially a shopping centre in the desert. I was on a very high wage and had the opportunity to continue working there, but I became very bored very quickly. I had a long enough stay in the Emirates. I have asked myself several times ‘would I return there to work in the future?’ and I said I would never ever EVER return to Dubai to work. However, I would only go to Dubai as a stopover on a journey to a further place, despite my little love for the place. So, here is my personal guide for a weekend stopover.

Dubai is a city of skyscrapers. I called it a ‘Manhattan-wannabe’, as it is laid out in similar fashion, but it is not a city you would walk around like New York. Due to the heat, it is best staying inside the comfort of a taxi, or the metro, when travelling around. On a planned stopover, I would recommend travelling to Dubai with an empty suitcase, enjoy a few days relaxing, and purchase designer clothes tax free from the two main malls in the city; Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates.

Dubai Skyscrapers at Night Image

Dubai Mall is the biggest shopping-mall centre in the world located in downtown Dubai. This city aims to have the “biggest everything in the world!” Dubai Mall has all the best clothes chains but the shopping centre is almost like a mini-funfair. Outside there is a spectacular water and light show in a large fountain. The water and light is choreographed to music. It is hypnotising to view. After seeing this water show, you should step inside Dubai Mall to where you will see a huge aquarium. This place has many distractions from the shops which may be a good thing as it is easy to burn a hole in your pocket very quickly here. Mall of the Emirates was my favourite place to shop. It almost has the same shops as Dubai Mall but the size of it is not overwhelming as the latter is. Mall of the Emirates is known for its indoor ski-slopes with snow and penguins – YES… snow and penguins in the Arabian desert!

Dubai Mall Water FountainImage

Dubai is a strange place… My own personal reason for travelling back there would just be only to fill up an empty suitcase while on a journey to a further destination. Mall of the Emirates is located near numerous ‘tourist’ attractions, such as the marina, the Emirate and Jumeirah golf clubs, as well as the Wild Wadi Waterpark. The iconic ‘Palm Jumeirah’ is also in this area. It is best seen from the “seven star” hotel Burj Al-Arab. However, I passed on seeing this as I refuse to enter a hotel which charges customers up to €1,000 for a room for one night. The Burj Al-Arab is an incredibly looking building and it is worth seeing from any of the nearby beaches. However, I honestly think that these places are nothing special.

Burj Al ArabImage

The only thing worth visiting in Dubai is the Old Town; also known as the Bastakiya District. It is largely reconstructed but it contains numerous markets and the Jumeirah Mosque which is one of the oldest mosques in Dubai. The Jumeirah Mosque is the only mosque in Dubai which is open to non-Muslims on an organised tour which can be arrange from Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.

Old Town Food Market

Not very nice…

Image Jumeirah Mosque

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If you are in Dubai on a Friday, the number one thing to ease the pains of being in a cultureless and artificial place is to attend a ‘brunch’. Brunches are popular for expats in Dubai as Friday is the start of the weekend and a time to unwind. You can have an all you can eat buffet and a limitless amount of alcohol for around four hours. A brunch would be good for a true tourist in order to escape and numb the toothache caused by this horrendous place. Brunches take place in hotels usually from 12:00-16:00 and can cost from €40 to €100. The food at the brunches is surprisingly excellent, which is a bonus for the price, as well as something to take a break from the flow of alcohol as the brunches can get quite lively! If you have survived the brunch, there are “night” clubs open to “unwind” even further! For an excellent food and drink experience I would recommend going to Mina A’Salam Hotel.

I would recommend returning to your hotel to take a long siesta to get back your energy in order to go on an off-road trip across the sand dunes outside of the city. This can be organised by the company Desert Safari. These trips in 4x4s take place in the morning and late evenings.

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After the wild journey in the 4x4s you can enjoy a barbeque, henna painting, hookah, camel riding, as well as dressing in traditional Emirati clothing.

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ImageThe next step in my Dubai guide is to GET OUT! I would highly recommend anywhere else in the world than here!

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Dreams and Gastronomical Delights in Argentina

If something is possible and you want it, then why not get it? I believe that there are two types of people in this world – Those who just dream, and those who dream and do. I dream and do. Argentina is no longer an idea. In my eyes it was a plan that can be achieved. At the age of 19 I decided to fulfil my desire to travel to a country I have longed for since my early teens.

When I mentioned the plan to my family, I was met with instant objections.

‘WHAT?’

‘Argentina! Do you know where and how far Argentina is?!’

‘Why on earth would you want to go there?’

‘Huh! Are you mad?’

I loved the opposition from my brother – ‘Do you know where and how far Argentina is?!’

I just bit my tongue and said under my breath ‘Do you not know I study f#&$ing Geography?!’ I was met with objections for over five minutes with their comments going in one ear and out the other. I walked back to my room to call my Argentinian friend, Max, who use to work in Dublin and a few hours later I had my flights booked.

A few weeks later, I was sitting in Dublin airport’s terminal one, writing and reflecting at the boarding gate for my flight to Madrid, when I caught a glimpse of a couple sitting in front of me with a ‘Footprint’ guide to Argentina in their hands. We were both looking in the same direction at the same time so I smiled and said ‘Hey! I’m glad I’m not the only person leaving Dublin for Argentina! Where are you guys headed?’ The man smiled back ‘Cool! We are headed to Madrid, then onto Buenos Aires directly’ I was thinking my flight over to Argentina via Madrid and Chile sounded daft! ‘Great! I’ve to fly to Santiago first, then I am onto Córdoba… was your flight expensive?’ ‘It was €1,800 each.’  I smiled because I was delighted that my flight cost me €1,050 – a bargain in comparison to the Irish couple in front of me. We made our farewells and boarded the plane for our adventures.

I was on my second flight in no time but I quickly became very annoyed as on board I was informed that the flight has to land in Sao Paulo before Santiago. I was hoping this extra stop over would not affect my connection to Córdoba and leave my friend waiting. Luckily, Sao Paulo was just a quick refuelling stop – They didn’t want to alarm passengers! After a rapid in-transit excursion through Santiago Airport I was on my final plane for approximately two hours. The flight over Chile was breath-taking. For a country world renowned for their wines, which I know little about, I can easily say it is certainly justified from looking over this country at the raw beauty of their mountain ranges and extensive vineyards in the mountain valleys. This flight would be a wine connoisseur’s dream!

After the pleasant journey, I was soon acquainted with my friend Max and his brother Walter. I was on the road gazing outside the car window in excitement looking at this new world I had never seen before – a picturesque city of Córdoba still tinted by its Spanish colonisers. The Universidad Nacional de Córdoba caught my eye and Max informed me that it was the former Jesuit University, built in the 17th century that was previously a school but quickly developed into a University, which is now one of the oldest Universities in South America. We stopped the car to explore the old living quarters of the missionaries within the campus that is now a World Heritage Site. We could not stay long as all of us were hungry for breakfast. After an hour drive outside the city I made it to a town called Mina Clavero. Max’s brother said ‘Hey Brian! Are you looking forward to your first Argentine breakfast?’ ‘Oh yes I am! Can’t wait! Does it include beef?!’ I said jokingly. Max laughed and said ‘No, but don’t worry Brian, we will be eating plenty of beef while you are over! You will be like a true Argentine man when you return home to Ireland!’ I was handed a plate of criollitos with a jar of Dulce de Leche. Criollito is an Argentinian pastry, that looks and tastes quite similar to puff pastry but it is much denser and filling. Dulce de Leche, meaning ‘candy of milk’, is a spread, which is made out of milk that has been reduced down until it is like caramel in texture. It tastes almost like thick condensed milk, however it is much darker and sweeter. It was absolutely delicious!

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A few moments later I began to get nervous as I saw Walter put a bag of green grinded up leaves, which resembled marijuana, on the table along with a silver pipe. My eyes were glued at this when Max was not paying attention. I never pictured Max being a drug user! What the hell is this?! Max smiled and said ‘We are going to have some Yerba Mate Brian!’

‘Yerba what now?! Yerba like herbs?! What kind of herbs are you talking about?!’ I said to myself. I could not be rude so I just said out of curiosity ‘What is that?’ I was told it is a tea Argentinian people drink, served in a wooden goblet called a gourd and filled with the marijuana-like herbs! It is then filled with hot water and the silver pipe is put in, called a bombilla. It is a social drink with an almost ritual-like ceremony as everyone drinks from the same gourd as it is passed around a table. When the water is finished in the gourd it is passed to the ‘Mate Maker’ who fills it up and the ritual is continued. It was a nice drink that helped my coffee cravings as not many people seemed to drink coffee here.

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After a long siesta and a refreshing shower, I was introduced to Max’s father who was busy preparing food for a meal with family and friends. Max pointed out the asado in his garden, which is a traditional Argentinian coal fire barbeque. The guests arrived and we were seated, watching Max’s father cook the food. The asado was full of different cuts of beef. My mouth was watering with the sights and smells. We were all served chunks of beef and nothing else! It is no joke that Argentines like beef! I was surprised to see all the meat cooked well-done as Argentinian beef is world-renowned for its quality. I was informed that this is quite normal! Despite my disappointment of not getting to eat Argentinian beef dripping with blood, I was pleasantly surprised with the powerful flavour of the meat and how the knife would cut through it easier than butter. As an honoured guest at the dinner party, I was served tripa gorda and told it was cow’s intestines. Although I am adventurous with my food, cow’s intestines sounded disgusting! However, I could not repel my inquisitiveness to new food nor could I turn down the privileged position I was put in. I ate it diligently despite the repulsive texture resembling that of a rubber hose oozing out soft warm sludge. It was a nauseating experience.
ImageAfter the meal we all followed Max to his gastropub down the road called ‘Pericles’. On the walk Max poked fun at my mannerisms at the table. I introduced myself to all the women during the meal with a big ‘Hola’ and shook their hands. ‘Brian! Brian! Brian! In Argentina we don’t do that! The etiquette here is to kiss a girl on the cheek! Don’t shake their hands! Ha ha! You only shake men’s hands but you give them a kiss on the cheek too if they are close to you or want to be extra friendly!’ Max smiled and said, ‘I will have you trained to be a true Argentinian man by the end of this night!’
 As soon as we arrived Max instantly got giddy, which I was getting terribly confused about, as he ran towards the drinks fridge and pulled out a bottle of beer. ‘Oh Brian you must try this – it tastes like Guinness!!!’ I read the label of the beer out loud ‘Quilmes Bock…. Ilmes… Guinness… It may sound like GuinNESS but I don’t think it will taste like Guinness!’ The bottle was a litre size and I was thinking I was in for some night ahead! Max gave me a glass and we were beckoned to a table where his friends were seated at. My eyes were glued to this beer that I opened as soon as I sat down and poured myself a glass. ‘Quilmes Bock’ is a very tasty dark larger, however I can gladly tell you it doesn’t taste a thing like Guinness! It is a very good beer though, quite light and has a nice sweet kick in the end. I enjoyed it so much that after a big mouth full I had to top up my glass again! I was met with stares from Max’s friends, which I didn’t understand. Max laughed and explained, ‘Brian! In Argentina we share a bottle of beer!’ I blushed from embarrassment. It was a nice social etiquette but at the speed we were drinking the litre bottles, I was thinking ‘Why don’t they just have individual bottles here?’

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ImageIt was getting late and I was beginning to feel the jetlag. The litre bottles kept on arriving at the table and everyone was becoming increasingly inebriated. I lost count of all the beer we consumed! I think all of us did! Max shot up from his seat and said ‘Fernet!… Fernet!… Fernet and Coke! Brian must have a Fernet and Coke!’ I became nervous…

‘What is Fernet?!’

‘Oh you will find out Brian!’

‘Ah bollocks!’ I muttered.

I am not a spirits drinker but I said to myself, ‘I will drink it, but hopefully whatever it is – it will stay down!’

Max came back a minute later holding numerous narrow tall glasses, about 30cm high, filled with Fernet, then topped with ice and coke! I took a sip and luckily it was something I could drink! Fernet is an Italian digestif but seen as ‘Argentine’ as everyone here drinks it on a night out! It is an extremely powerful tasting spirit with intense flavours of herbs and spices. It reminded me of Jagermeister but much more sharp in taste. Unfortunately the coke did not hide the flavour of the drink as the more I drank it the more I hated it! And the more I drank it, the stronger the taste got, as the Fernet was near the bottom of the glass!! Unfortunately the Fernet and cokes kept on coming…

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Luckily, Argentines are fond of ‘pub-grub’! I was invited into the kitchen to see how Argentinian sandwiches, called lomitos, are made. Circular shaped bread, like pita-bread but thicker, is sliced and lightly grilled. When this is completed, lettuce and tomato is placed on the base of the bread. A very thin slice of beef is put on a very hot pan, which gets turned almost instantly, then topped with a slice of ham, cheddar cheese and an egg. The heat from below melts the cheese and cooks the egg. This is placed on the bed of lettuce leafs and tomatoes and the top of the bread is pushed down on the beef, cheese and egg, breaking the yolk. It is sliced down the middle and served with crisps. Although lomitos are quite simple, they were delicious and went down a treat for everyone, especially after all the booze! I looked at my watch and saw that it had passed my first twenty-four hours in Argentina. It was time to call it a night. I smiled to myself thinking ‘This was in incredible first day! A dream come true! I am looking forward to my next day in Argentina!’