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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Emirates: worth the hype?

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Emirates – worth the hype?

For the past year or so, I’ve been hearing a lot of praise for Emirates. I’ve flown with quite a few airlines already, but I kept hearing how Emirates is off the charts wonderful. Finally last week, I got my chance to check it out and see how the airline compares to its competition. So what did I think?

My Emirates plane!

Pre-flight

To be honest, I can’t judge their booking process, as I haven’t gone through it myself. But from the point of receiving my tickets onward, I was happy with the pre-flight process. A day before each departure (from Prague and then from Dubai on my way back), I received a text message, reminding me of my upcoming departure. What was great about this text was that it included a link to online check-in, so I could complete that fairly quickly. At the airport, it was pretty standard – bag drop, quick coffee, security. The one thing I have to say is that on the way back, my check-in, passport and security checks were completed in a total of 15 minutes. That was a first for me, so I was fairly impressed and at a loss for what to do in two and a half hours I had until boarding.

Flight

On my way there, I sat in the very last row of the plane. I don’t really sleep on planes, so I’m not bothered by travelers or flight attendants frequently walking by my seat. I was flying in a Boeing, but I was immediately impressed with their in flight entertainment, which you can start watching as soon as you sit down. Boarding was a quick process and I even got lucky – the seat next to me was empty – probably the only empty seat on the plane. And on medium to long haul flights, this is something I always hope for. I held my breath and was so happy when they closed the cabin door and it was certain that I won’t be fighting for my spot on the armrest. The flight was almost entirely a smooth ride, with no major turbulence or other disruptions.

In-flight entertainment

Even before takeoff, we got hot towels to freshen up and headsets were already on our seats. As soon as the safety video was over, I started looking through my movie choices. The selection was impressive and included several movies that I have been planning to see. Which means that precisely at that point I decided that I’d use the six or so hours to catch up on movies and tv, rather than sleep. (I was grateful for the same selection on the way back, because even then I didn’t watch everything I wanted to).

The in flight entertainment was so great that I didn’t even feel the need to test the in flight WiFi or turn on my phone, which were also within the realm of possibility on these flights. 

Emirates food

Cabin service was amazing. When mealtime came, I was worried that, as often happens in the back of the plane, I wouldn’t be able to choose my meal. And guess what? They still had chicken when they reached the last row of the plane, which almost never happens. And it was not just edible, it was good. I also fell in love with their adorable mini snacks that were a part of the meal. But my favorite part? When they collected my tray ahead of time, so I didn’t have to wait for the cart to reach my row.

 

Emirates luggage tag.

Does it stack up?

Both of my flights, Prague to Dubai and the return journey a few days later, were great and comfortable experiences and we landed before I could get bored.

My conclusion: you have to try it. It’s still an airline, but if you’re traveling far and want to feel at least a little pampered even in economy class, do it.

More details on my adventure in Dubai are coming soon, so make sure to check in later!


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A Day in Hungary

Our one-day trip to Budapest quite an interesting experience. Having traveled quite a lot our entire lives, we usually feel prepared for travels, especially single day trips. However, no amount of experience prepared us for our road trip to Budapest.

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Driving from Prague to Budapest takes about 8 hours, which isn’t too bad. And we didn’t have any issues in Czech Republic, or Slovakia for that matter. Our first problem was on the border between Slovakia and Hungary. We had to stop and pay for the highway toll, which really, really should not have been a issue. Yet somehow it was the first hiccup on our trip. We thought we could pay for the toll with a credit card, silly us. Unfortunately, we couldn’t. And what was even more unfortunate was the fact that we did not have any Forints, the local currency. Somehow, we didn’t even have Euros. I know, we should have been more prepared, but we really thought we would manage with a card. Luckily, they let us pay with Czech crowns and we continued on our journey to Budapest.

 

1st big TIP: BRING CASH! Always bring cash of the local currency, even if you think you won’t need, chances are, you will!

 

After getting lost a couple of times and managing to get back on our way, we finally arrived in front of our hotel, Easy Hotel, in Budapest at 7pm. Checking in was a little bit of a struggle, because of a language barrier, but we managed. We even managed to get ready relatively quickly for the One Republic concert, which was the point of the whole trip. Next, we had to figure out how to get to the concert.

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The metro was a whole other experience. We got onto the metro at Oktogon, which is on the yellow line, and had to get off at the Stadionok, on the red line. Should be straight forward enough. Except that Stadionok was not always called that, on some maps it was Puskás Ferenc Stadion. We decided to just trust our gut and get off any stop that has the word Stadium in it.

 

Finally, we made it and we even made it on time. The concert was phenomenal, but that is it’s own story.

 

After the concert we decided it might be safer to just walk back, instead of taking the metro. Plus there was a huge crowd of people from the concert walking in the same direction as us, so we figured we would get back fine. Well after we shed the crowd at the nearest parking lot, we continued our walk, through a somewhat sketchy part of Budapest. After walking through a neighborhood, which was made up of houses fit to be in horror movies, we got to the Budapest Keleti railway station, therefore much closer to the center of the city. We stopped by the closest McDonalds so that we could make it the rest of the way.

 

After another 20 or 30 minutes we made it back to our hotel, where we passed out, resting for the 8 hour drive back.

 

Well, originally it was supposed to be 8 hours. I believe it was more like 10 hours, because, yet again, we got a little lost in Budapest. Well, it wasn’t really our fault. We just didn’t quite manage to get on the bridge to cross the Danube. And the real big issue was that there are very few bridges that cross the river, so once we missed it, we had to drive along the river for about 30 or 45 minutes, before we managed to cross it. Then we had to go almost all the way back to the first bridge, before connecting to the highway.

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Killing so much time by just driving through Budapest, meant that we got hungry when we were still in Hungary. So we stopped for food at a rest stop just before the borders with Slovakia. When looking at the menu, we were very unsure of what the food was. So we thought we couldn’t go wrong with marinated Buffalo wings. Well, we were wrong! Not only were they not Buffalo wings, but they weren’t even wings! We got chicken tenders. Which meant that I didn’t eat, because of my gluten allergy. Well, there was nothing we could do. So after picking at the fries and after trying to get the waiter’s attention, we got the bill. Again, we couldn’t pay with a credit card, so here’s my second tip:

 

            2nd tip: Bring enough cash. And then bring some more.

 

In Budapest we got cash and we thought we had enough cash to get back home. Well, we didn’t expect to stop in Hungary. So we ended up having just enough cash to pay for our food. Although, we got quite nervous, when we were short a couple hundred forints. Thankfully, I searched the car for any spare change and found just enough. Greatly relieved, we continued our journey home.

 

We got lost just a couple more times, but eventually we made it back home. The trip was a little dramatic, especially because of credit card issue, but then again, what is an adventure without a little bit of drama :)

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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How we flew with Ryan Air

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How we flew with Ryan Air

Our trip to London with Ryan Air was quite entertaining. True, we probably found it more interesting because of the coffee/sugar high, but even now, looking back, I laugh at the thought of the Ryan Air employee and their wonderful safety cards. We’ve done low cost airlines before, but this was our first trip with RyanAir. And we were not disappointed.

The journey started normally enough, we went through passport control and security checks to our gate, where we waited. After quite some time, two buses arrived and took us to the airplane. Like I said, everything was normal. Once I got used to the fact that there is no seat pocket in front of me, things were good. They actually started looking up when we had the three seats all to ourselves.

The first sign that things were, let’s say, a little different was the grin on the flight attendant’s face as he tried not to crack up during the safety briefing. I understand that after doing the briefing so many times, the seriousness of it might not be so clear. And I know that I shouldn’t judge since I haven’t actually paid attention to this procedure in years, but is it appropriate to laugh while showing where the emergency exits are? Probably not, but like I said, who am I to judge?

When everyone finally buckled their seat belts and cross check was completed, we took off.
Only once we were in the air did we notice the one of a kind safety card on the seat in front of us. Since pictures are worth a thousand words, here are the pictures we took of the card:

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Since this was a low-fare trip, you had to buy the food. When you buy cheap tickets and it’s a short flight, you usually don’t get food. But what struck us as a little strange was that they went around twice. First the flight attendant asked if we want food and the second time he asked if we want “fresh food”. Suddenly, we had serious doubts about they food they offered from the first cart.

Overall the journey was quite enjoyable. The service was pretty good and once the caffeine dissipated a little, we even stopped thinking everything around us was so strange. It was a smooth ride across the board and if you’re looking for cheap tickets to London, Ryan Air is definitely a great option.

If you want to know how the rest of our trip went, come back later this week!


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