My holidays have officially started! Finally. Finally.
Friday, March 23, 2012
Thursday, March 22, 2012
At first it seems depressing. I’m a notorius worrier and this set of prints by Jennifer Zwick encompasses real things I actually worry about. As you make your way through all 100, you start feeling better though… I don’t know how it works.
I think the trick is that some of these scare me, while others made me laugh really hard- seeing your little bit of crazy (it’s in all of us) paired with other people’s crazy is strangely comforting. Or perhaps just seeing your weird private thoughts written down , instead of swimming around imperiously in your brain, forces you to realise how ridiculous they really are.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Yeah, so visit the Grand Mosque: It’s not just for Muslims! That’s not exactly their tagline but it’s true. If you cover yourself up nicely and take off your shoes, they’ll let you in for a look around.
It’s stunningly beautiful and one of the few things in life that is completely free. I could tell you all about it but it’s one of those things you just have to see for yourself.
(Doesn’t it look like Aladdin’s Palace?)
As for your questions on this series, I’ve answered them all as best I could (apologies if I frustrated you by not dealing with the practicalities earlier…).
When is the best time to visit?
October – (early) May. If you have any kind of aversion to the heat, don’t come in the Summer when temperatures soar high into the 40s. Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, is best avoided at all costs. There are countless disruptions to normal everyday goings-on and it is illegal to eat or drink anything in public (even bottled water) during daylight (fasting) hours.
Do I need to cover up?
I get asked this so much. The short answer is no, you don’t, but allow me to expand.
To me, Dubai feels like any other International city regarding what I would and would not wear. I have never once thought, I’d like to wear this but I better not. However, I am not inclined to wear anything that could double as swimwear in any city. If you are that way inclined, you should think about making a few adaptions for the culture (maybe you should think about making a few adaptions anyway… just sayin’…)
Abu Dhabi is marginally more conservative. When in doubt, cover your shoulders and stick to a knee-length for skirts/ shorts. You’ll probably feel more comfortable.
Bear in mind that you might get a few lingering glances anyway.
Does everyone speak English?
How close is Abu Dhabi to Dubai?
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are about an hour’s drive apart, on a very straight, boring road. Have some caffeine in your system if you’re the driver!
Is it like the Sex and the City 2 movie?
It is exactly nothing like the Sex and the City 2 movie.
The hotels you recommended are fully booked. Where should I stay?
I’m not the most qualified person to be answering this question. I am fortunate enough to have some very welcoming and lovely relations in Dubai who make their place seem more like home to me than where I reside the rest of the time!
Having said that, the standard of hotels in Abu Dhabi and Dubai is very good and I don’t think you’ll go too far wrong if you read the reviews on TripAdvisor and Booking.com (that’s all I did). In Dubai, look at the Asiana, Pearl Marina, Suite Novotel or Le Meridien Fairway (a good choice beside the airport). Any of the Premier Inns are an excellent budget option. They tend to be located a little outside the city, but there are free shuttles provided daily. In Abu Dhabi, try the Grand Millennium Al Wahda, the Mercure or Centro by Rotana. The Aloft is also a fantastic choice- the rooms are huge and you can fit a football team in the shower. Not that I’ve tried. Every room has two queen sized beds (good if you’re travelling in a group and don’t mind bunking in together).
Is everything very expensive?
No, but I’m comparing things with Ireland. If you are travelling from the States, you’ll think the price of everything is outrageous. Hotels, taxis and eating out are significantly cheaper than at home. Alcoholic drinks are slightly more expensive. The malls are a blend of designer stores (I have no idea how prices compare) and popular American and European high-street chains (prices seem to be, on average, the same as home). Car rentals are very reasonable and you’ll pay next to nothing on petrol. It can be cheaper, per litre, than water in some places!
Let me know if you have any more questions- I really really love hearing from you- or read the whole guide by clicking here!
Thursday, March 15, 2012
I’ve been feeling weary of my impending 26th birthday. I feel so close to a number, but so far away from any expectations I had for my life at this point.
I’ll be 26. (26!)
I sometimes eat doughnuts for breakfast and have long considered Coco Pops as a viable dinner option. I get cranky if I haven’t had enough sleep. I carry vodka in my handbag on nights out. The thoughts of settling down somewhere (even that expression- eeeeeeeww!) gives me heart palpitations. I bite my nails and forget to take my vitamins and don’t pay my bills on time. I drink too much and wonder why I feel bad in the morning. I stamp my foot when I don’t get my own way. I steal pens and shot glasses from almost anywhere I can find them. I don’t know what a tracker mortgage is. When someone (my own age) tells me they’re pregnant, my instinctive reaction is to give them my ‘Oh my God, have you told your parents? look, rather than to congratulate them. I don’t know how to act at funerals.
I have no real commitments in my uncomplicated life, but sometimes I still struggle to get my two shoes on the right feet and get out the door on time in the mornings.
I don’t have any of the answers… (help!)
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Sunday, March 11, 2012
If you don’t like theme parks, we can’t be friends anymore. Harsh, but there’s no point pretending. It’s just not going to work out between the two of us, because, well, I don’t get you.
I like theme parks. A lot. I also like cars, and all things Italian. So you can understand my delight at the thought of spending the day at Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi.
I am equally excited about two things:
Thing 1: Formula Rossa is the fastest rollercoaster in the world (in the world!)- you have to wear safety googles! I’m wondering will the experience induce fits of panic similar to the last time I wore safety goggles?
Thing 2: G-Force. You are launched 620 metres into the sky, given a couple of seconds to catch your breath (I think) and then plummeted back to the ground again. Fun.
I am only marginally less excited about the food. Italian food is my absolute favourite and the pizza at Mamma Rossella is supposed to be uh-mazing. I propose we do it Italian-style while we’re here. Proper. A cup of Italian coffee (with crema, Fi), biscotti, house-made gelato… I say yes to that.
Bell’Italia is the perfect after-dinner activity. It’s labelled as a kids’ attraction in the brochure, but that sucks if you ask me. When has a child ever dreamed of cruising around Italy in their own Ferrari? Never. I own that dream.
Great thought went into the clever design of a miniature Italy, complete with all the famous landmarks and racing tracks. Even the grass and plants used in its landscaping is native to Italy. You can walk around it or tour in a small-scale Ferrari 250 California (circa 1958).
I have similar feelings about the carousel. Who decided carousels are for children? Even I feel a little silly hopping up when I don’t have a token child with me to hold responsible. Ferrari’s take on the carousel substitutes future Ferrari prototypes for the traditional horses, so I suspect I won’t be the only adult there eager for a road-test.
If you fancy proving your driving skills, you can take on the professionals in the Scuderia challenge:
This is the ultimate in state of the art racing experiences- these are the same simulators as those used by Scuderia drivers in training.
As I mentioned before, multimedia presentations do it for me, but I know at least one other person who is going to love The Racing Legends: a journey through history! With footage from the 1950’s first Italian road rallies, its like taking a step back in history, kind-of. There’s also a 4D virtual tour of the factory in Maranello to find out how they make these beauties.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Old sheepdogs; travel agents’ windows; posh accents; quiet places (libraries, museums, churches); the person who puts the fake tan on your back; Pez sweets and dispensers; sand dunes; beaten leather sofas; when the newsreader mixes up his words; reading all night and sleeping all morning; French chefs; tinned colouring pencils; using a big word; short shorts; being fresh from the shower, wrapped in a towel; leaking cream into brownies; the word ‘newfangled’; health food shops; holding jellies up to the cinema screen to discern which colour they are; personalities that grow on you.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
There are a handful of hotels in the world that consider themselves a class above the international 5-star recognition. The overachievers of the hospitality world, they scoffed at the offering of a standard 5 gold stars. What? Only 5? I say. Preposterous. Instead, a decision was reached that they were at least two stars better than their highest competitor. The jury is out on how many 7 star hotels actually exist (partly because the extra two stars are self-awarded). Let’s go see two of them and make up our own minds!
1. The Burj Al Arab, Dubai
The Burj Al Arab (Tower of the Arabs) sits on an artificial island jutting 280m out from Dubai’s coastline . The architect responsible for the project, Tom Wright, worked under a brief to create an iconic landmark for Dubai and that he did. The building was designed to resemble the sail of a dhow (a traditional Arabian vessel) and has become an emblem for the city.
If you’d like to stay here, it would set you back (on average) about €6000 per night. The Royal Suite (below) costs €21,000 per night. This kind of money gets you things like access to a chauffeured Rolls Royce fleet and a private butler. And pretty much anything else you ask for, I imagine.
Even if you intend on a short daytime visit, be prepared to pay for it. When you’re making your reservation, there are a number of ridiculously- priced options available. I’ll admit I hesitated before booking their famous Sky Tea- an overindulgent Afternoon Tea served on the 27th floor.
I put it to vote and the unanimous verdict was that if we didn’t go, we’d always wonder… and we could always offset the cost by spending the following day chilling on the beach with a packed lunch. It’s all about balance.
While browsing pictures of its interior, you might find yourself wondering (as I did) what the designers were smoking when they put it all together. It’s futuristic, like something from Star Wars and I’m not sure that I even like it. One thing is certain: you won’t have seen anything quite like it in your life:
The 600ft atrium in the lobby is the tallest in the world and covered in 24kt gold.
The hotel also features a large seawater aquarium. Diners at Al Mahara seafood restaurant can experience a unique 3-minute submarine ride from the hotel lobby to the restaurant entrance.
Just an average meeting room
Even though I’m sure we won’t get to see the hotel’s helipad, I should mention that two of my favourite tennis players, Agassi and Federer shared a friendly game on it- just watching the video makes me shaky (it’s ver-ry high up)!
2. Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi
Next on our 7-star agenda is the Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi. This hotel cost over €2 billion to build. €2 billion! I’ll just allow you a moment to let that sink in.
Set on a site of 100 hectares and the building itself spanning about 1km from wing to wing, the Palace is big. It’s big and it’s gold.
Everything you see is gold. The lobby is covered in gold. The suites are furnished with gold. The toilets are gold- have you ever peed in a gold toilet? You should. It’s awesome.
There is even a gold ATM dispensing real gold nuggets. This is not a joke. The kitchen uses 5kg of pure edible gold every year for decoration, mainly on deserts. Yes, we eat gold here in the UAE.
As with the Burj Al Arab, you can’t just show up and expect to be let in. Off the street. You need to make a reservation first- even if only for a cup of gold coffee.
Handy tip (that I intend on using): You don’t even have to honour your reservation, just making one will get you past the security gates and allow you to snoop around!*
*This works at time of publication- don’t say I told you!