Dubai: first impressions

  A while back I promised an article about my trip to Dubai. I was able to go there in October, when it was slowly starting to freeze in the Czech Republic, so a nice vacation to a warm destination was perfect.

I arrived in Dubai on Thursday around 1 am and headed straight to the hotel. Since I had no local currency, my first worry was to get cash for a cab. There was an atm right before passport control, so I was able to get cash and be calm. Since I checked in fairly early, my bag was one of the last ones to come onto the carousel. And I headed to find the cab.

It was pretty easy to find cabs and I was met with my first surprise. Since I am a woman and was traveling alone, I was immediately sent to a line of cabs with pink roofs. These are cabs designated for women with female drivers.

Arriving in the hotel at 2 am wasn’t too bad and I was able to check in quickly. The hotel, located in the Dubai Marina, was amazing. It was comfortable and we had a room overlooking the marina and the hotel pool.

In the morning, after a quick but delicious hotel breakfast, I went for a walk. At 9 am, the heat was almost unbearable and I immediately regretted wearing skinny jeans. I walked around the marina and was awed by the city. Everywhere I looked, new skyscrapers were being built, yet the overall feeling on the street was calm.

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I ducked in for a lemonade and to cool off in an airconditioned cafe to keep a headache from coming on.

And here’s my first tip: make sure that even though it’s hot outside, carry around something to throw over your shoulders inside. They generally blast their a/c pretty high.

I spent the rest of the day at the pool and lounging at the hotel, getting some work done and generally enjoying the time off.

The following day, I let myself sleep in, got ready and headed out to the famed Dubai Mall. It’s hard to find words to even describe it. First of all, four hours were not enough to even see everything. Second, thank god for the map, without them, you’re sure to never find your way out (I’m only half kidding here). And yes, I got lost once and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

And then – there’s a full-sized ice rink and an aquarium. So, it sets standards for shopping to a completely different level, I mean, how can you even shop without the option to ice skate or scuba dive? :)))

There wasn’t a single brand I could think of that wouldn’t be in the mall. So I did some shopping and decided to brave the outside heat and check out the Burj Khalifa.

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It is magnificent. When you’re standing next to it, you feel tiny. It’s crazy to think about how they managed to build it. And I was already excited about our planned visit to the top. After a small UBER mishap later, I arrived at the hotel and, this time, headed out to a business dinner.

Finally, Friday and the day I was going to get to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa arrived. We had prebooked tickets the day before for 10 am, so we headed out right after breakfast.

 

The entrance is through the Dubai mall, and first you go to a waiting area and through a security check. We went through a hallway with photos and information of how it was built and facts about the building. If you have a spare five million dollars, you can buy a two-bedroom apartment there.

On the way up, you get an impressive projection of the world’s tallest buildings and then you just take in the view. We went to the 146th floor, which has an outside viewing area. There are high glass panels, so you’re still closed off from the sides, but the top is open and you’re literally standing outside in the height of about 600 meters. It’s unbelievable.

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If you go to Dubai, visiting the Burj Khalifa and going to the top is a definite must. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Have fun!


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Cape Town in 72 hours

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We went to Cape Town a few years ago, but thanks to my travel diaries and the bajillion pictures we took, I can definitely write about it even now. I distinctly remember seeing Table Mountain for the first time. There is something majestic about it that none of the photographs, postcards or posters capture. At that moment, I knew I was in love.

We rented a car and decided that, for the sake of time, we would commence our first adventure:  the trip down to Cape Point. This proved to be an adventure, as the GPS decided to guide us through a web of side roads and right past a township.  Even though we didn’t quite know where we were headed, we got to see the Indian Ocean and the adorable little towns along the coast that seem like they were taken straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. Many stops were made along the way, including a war memorial and a penguin watching spot. But, we were there during the wrong season, so no penguins for us.

We continued the journey southwards, towards the point that was feared by many explorers centuries ago, with a breathtaking view around every turn. All of a sudden, were entering the Table Mountain National Park. As we were driving through the park towards the famous lighthouse and Cape Point, I didn’t know in where to look first – we were on a strip of land and could see the Indian Ocean on our left and the Atlantic on our right.

 

After reaching the parking lot, we braced for the cold and headed towards the lighthouse and then down to the beach. We were freezing, but we got to see the two oceans meet and learned a lot about the history of Cape Point. Did you know that New Delhi is about as far from Cape Point as Paris?DSCN1635

As much as we wanted to stay, it was time to head to our next destination – The Groot Constantia Vineyard. On the way, we experienced and an unexpected delay in the form of a turtle crossing the road. All traffic stopped until the turtle was safely on the other side of the road. It was great to see this level of appreciation for the local wildlife :) And the turtle was adorable.

We wrapped up Day 1 of our visit by wine tasting at the Groot Constantia and Klein Constantia Vineyards. I tasted their local specialty – a desert wine. It is the sweetest wine I’ve ever tasted and you can drink only a little at a time, but buying a bottle or two is definitely worth it.

On Day 2, we woke up with the sunrise. To avoid long lines, we headed straight to Table Mountain. As drove upward towards the cable car, the city covered in fog came into view.

The cable car ride up the side of the mountain lasts less than five minutes and you rise more than 700 meters. The view from the car is beautiful and most of the ride is pretty smooth. The scariest point comes when you arrive at the side of the mountain and the car dramatically slows down, making it seem like you stopped mid-air. Slowly, the car rises to the station. I got off, knees shaking, and needed a few minutes to adjust to standing on firm ground again. If you’re afraid of heights, brace yourself, it’s not a super pleasant ride, but totally worth it.

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Once you’re on top of the mountain, everything below you seems tiny. On one side, you see Cape Town, which was slowly emerging from the morning fog. On the other, there is a clear view of Cape Point and the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Most of the clouds were below us, so I could see the amazing cloud formations above the Atlantic. We walked around on top of the mountain, which was surprisingly warm and headed back.

We devoted Day 3 to history. In the morning, we left to get on the ferry to Robben Island. We first took a bus tour around the island, where you can see the layout of the prison, see where some famous prisoners were held, see the lime quarries and hear about the history of the island. The bus tour is then followed by a tour of the inside of the prison.

We entered a large room and a former prisoner greeted us, as only former prisoners and wardens serve as tour guides, which gives the tour an interesting perspective. He told us his story and where it fit into the history of South Africa and the Apartheid. We then walked through the prison and saw some of the famous places, which were decorated by photographs from the time it was still a prison. We saw individual cells, each with a story of an individual who resided there, including the cell of Nelson Mandela. I got goose bumps while walking through these spaces and reading the stories.

DSCN1651As the tour finished, we were told that one of the largest penguin colonies in the world resided on Robben Island, but that this was out of the way and we had only 15 minutes before the ferry left. To be safe, we headed for the ferry and, once again, missed seeing the penguins.

Cape Town offers a lot more than I expected, with its natural beauty and history, that spending three days there is simply not enough. I definitely plan on going back and seeing what I missed. If you haven’t seen it yet, it should go on your bucket list!


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