SJ Mobilità Travel Diaries

October 6, 2020

UAE – The Royal Experience

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 6:38 pm

About UAE:

The Arabic name for UAE is al-ʾImārāt al-ʿArabīyah al-Muttaḥidah which is referred as United Arab Emirates in English. The sovereign absolute monarchy is a federation of seven emirates consisting of Abu Dhabi (which serves as the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain.

I was always been apprehensive to travel to Middle Eastern Countries due to their stricter laws and other restrictions in the country. I also have realized that it’s due to limited news that media shares which is not encouraging either. But on a positive note, I have a lot of respect for these countries, because they have stricter laws which in turn has lesser crimes, which we miss in our country. We are improving now but we still have a long way to go… Many times, when I read the crimes committed in our country, there is one thing always comes to mind, I wish we had their laws so that lot of innocent lives would have been saved. I can only pray we have more stricter laws and lesser crimes in our country.

Just to make me more confident before I decided to travel, I also spoke to few friends who live in UAE and they had only positive news to share about the country and I also read about certain dos and dont’s of the country before I leave. I understand that we need to respect the locals laws, traditions and cultures and there is no two way about it. So when IBTM accepted my application to attend the conference in Abu Dhabi, I thought this is the best opportunity to explore the place as well post conference. As usual, I asked Sur if he can accompany me but I was refused point blank by him. He had few reasons:-

Reason No 1: We were not married at that time, he thought he will get arrested being with me.

Reason No 2: He has the habit of holding my hands while walking and he said he will get arrested for the same while sightseeing in UAE.

To add to my woes, there was two news that we read at that time:

News No 1: There was an expat who went for a medical check-up and found out she was pregnant at the hospital and she was unmarried. She got arrested as it’s against the local law. Her partner was also an expat living in UAE. Her mother was all over the news, begging to release her daughter and she wanted her daughter and unborn grandkid to be safe in her own country. She was pleading that daughter will get out of UAE immediately if she is released from jail but no one could reach out to her. I hear once you are in their jail, you disappear and no one could reach you.

News No 2: There was a couple who checked into a particular hotel and when the hotel staff suspected something fishy, they barged into their room and found out they were having sex and they were unmarried. So they were sent straight to Jail.

These 2 news clippings were reason No . 3 for Sur, to reject my request, to accompany me to UAE  and he was trying to convince me how bad it is. So I couldn’t push him as I completely understood, so I had to do my SOLO travel which is something I don’t prefer as I can never travel alone.

Visa:

You can apply through the below website for getting a visit visa. However, you can get a visa on arrival (VOA) for a maximum stay of 14 days provided you have any USA visas that’s valid and your passport is valid for at six months from the date of arrival into the UAE.

https://www.dubaivisa.net/india/

Since I already had a valid USA visa, I could go for VOA. Then I wanted to be sure that I could travel as my visa was on the old passport since I couldn’t take any risk with UAE. So I reached out to the consulate directly over email. After few mail exchanges, they confirmed I could travel as long as I carried both passports, which anyway I would because I need to show them the visa. I was grateful to the embassy staff for being so prompt and helpful as you do not get such speedy response from many of the consulates.

Travel Itinerary:

Day 1: We were booked in Etihad Airways and of course, this is also one of the best airlines in the world. After flying various airlines, I have realized the Middle Eastern carriers, stand tall in their hospitality. That’s why I end up blindly booking these airlines, because I know their hospitality would be excellent. After enjoying it’s in-flight hospitality, I landed in Abu Dhabi. I found the immigration officers being so young and they were pretty quick with the process. I took less than 5 to 10 minutes to finish the formalities and got my VOA stamped. I got picked up by the conference organizing committee team and were welcomed in another iconic hotel Jumeirah at Etihad Towers. That’s the  luxury hotel and I already felt like a royal in Abu Dhabi when I entered. We had such a smooth check in and got into the room. It was a beautiful room, with a huge bathroom, where there was a bathtub overlooking the glass windows with amazing beach and skyline view and I immediately had to share the photos to Sur and make him jealous for missing out such a wow experience. Then I wanted a coffee but the machine looked so sophisticated that I didn’t know how to operate it. This had a sealed coffee sachet and I did try one and I failed and by then I was missing my coffee quota for the day as well. After much hesitation I did take courage to ask the housekeeping staff for help, unfortunately she didn’t know either  as she was very new. I felt pretty embarrassed, thinking I was the only one who didn’t know how to operate this one. After my failure in getting my coffee, I had to take the mixed nuts from the mini bar and have to be content with that. Even though I didn’t enjoy those nuts but that kind of distracted me from the coffee craving. Being the luxury property, those nuts were too expensive, anyway that was not a surprise as I was expecting that. By the way, Later I learnt to operate this machine in Spain, which had a similar one and of course Sur was there to figure it out. I always felt handicapped without him during my travel. God I love him that he fits right into my incomplete puzzle. I always thank God for him every day.

Since I had a little time to catch up with my bestie, who was working in Abu Dhabi, I called him to come over to the hotel. He reached and we went to the Pool bar. It was fun catching up with him. We also enjoyed  the bar food and drinks. By evening, he had to leave as he had work next day and I went straight to the room and crashed for the night.

Day 2: After a great breakfast buffet spread, I headed for the conference which was at the same hotel. UAE surprised me and even the IBTM, about how they managed the entire pre and post conference in details. The first thing, that surprised me was the registration fee, which was the cheapest among all the international conference fees that I attended. Comparing to others, it was almost nil. Then our mandatory supplier’s meeting which is usually 30 meetings for 3 days, which is in between various talks, and used to be a little hectic. Here they had only half of the mandatory requirement and half part of it was discovery day to explore the city. So this conference was more relaxing, had lot of time to network, do a bit of sightseeing and time to enjoy the delicious spreads which was very encouraging. Hats off to the organizing committee of IBTM Arabia.

The First day, we just had only the meetings for the first half, along with it, had a destination presentation of Ras Al Khaimah which was very interesting as they had recently opened a longest zip liner in the world beating Puerto Rico. Immediately the next question to the Tourism team was can we get the tickets, since I only loved the zip liner out of all the adventure ones. But unfortunately it was completely booked for the next 3-6 months. So we were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t experience the thrill of it. Then there was a royal buffet which got served in the Mezzoon Ballroom and after such a heavy and great lunch it was difficult to sit for few more meetings.

Then, it was a discovery day to visit Yas Marina circuit situated in Yas Island, enroute we enjoyed the nice drive with the panoramic view of Abu Dhabi. This is the venue for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and it is the second Formula one Track in the Middle East after Bahrain. We had a venue tour, where they had taken us to the race control room, the pit, the media center, VIP area, pit support garages and the Podium. For our live experience there were few drivers practising at that time as well. So we spent some time admiring them. Then we went to the podium, posed for few photos and felt like champions. I don’t think I would have visited this place if not for IBTM. Also we could partake in go karting, drag racing, pit stop challenge. I just admired everything as an audience and I was enjoying looking at others enjoying the moments.

Then we headed to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, which is a mostly indoors amusement park on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. It is the first Ferrari-branded theme park and has the record for the largest space frame structure ever built. Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller coaster, is also located here. Being VIPs there, we were offered one free ride of Formula Rossa, but I declined as I am not big fan of rides as I get headaches. Many of them were scolding me, that how did I refuse such a golden opportunity but I had to just smile and say Sorry. It has more than 10 rides and unfortunately I refused to get into any. I found few companions like me in the group who also didn’t do much rides, so joined with them, had some snacks, admired the souvenir shops and we left.

We were then dropped back to Yas Vicerory – Skylite for a welcome reception. After another royal experience we were dropped back to the hotel and I crashed for the night.

Day 3: After another great breakfast spread, headed to travel supplier’s meetings, amazing lunch and then meetings and then it was time for another discovery in the capital. We headed to Louvre Abu Dhabi. It is an art and civilization museum and located on the Saadiyat Island Cultural District. It is approximately 24,000 square metres in size, with 8,000 square metres of galleries, making it the largest art museum in the Arabian peninsula. After interesting experience at the museum, we headed to the Gala Evening, white themed party at Beach Rotana. It was in the open garden and it was quite an entertainment with music, food, networking and memorable experiences. Then we were dropped back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 4: After a great breakfast, meetings, lunch and back to meetings. After that we had a Sunset Farewell Cocktails by the Pool at the hotel. Had a great fun and then crashed for the night.

Day 5:  After breakfast, had to pack and check out. I waited for my friend who was working in Dubai to pick me up as he was kind enough to take me out for a sightseeing in Dubai. So I had to stay near Dubai. He had booked me in Crystal Plaza Hotel in Sharjah which would be convenient to go around for the next few days. We had an amazing drive from Abu Dhabi and then late evening headed to the hotel. It was a hotel mostly run by the Malayalis, so I felt I was in India rather than in UAE. When I checked the menu, you would be surprised what I found out, it was rice and Kerala Fish Curry and I felt at home immediately. I ordered the same thing every time I ordered the room service during my stay. Another surprise was I just had a 500 ml drinking water bottle in the room and everything else was over charged and I was like, that wouldn’t be enough for me. So I had to ask them if there was any shop close by since I needed more water, the hotel staffs were helpful in guiding me a grocery shop close by, owned by another Indian who spoke Hindi. I immediately went and got a 5 litre can. That saved my stay for the next few days and I knew where to get it if I was short of water. The grocery owner was very sweet and helpful and after a quick chat, I headed back to the room with much relief. Ordered my usual staple order through room service, enjoyed the Kerala homely meal and crashed for the night.

Day 6: I had a lovely Kerala breakfast and as I was waiting for my friend to pick me up to start my sightseeing. Then I heard a knock and he was at my door. I got panicked and I am like, who allowed you to come to the room. He laughed and asked me to just relax. Since he wanted to have a tea before we head out, I ordered the same. After few minutes, we got our tea and as we were trying to finish and leave the room, we heard there was another knock. It was a housekeeping staff, checking on us. Since he saw us standing and found us walking near the door, he left without saying. So my worst fear came true. So I told my friend, I don’t want any trouble in the country, so next day I told him to stay down when he comes to pick me up and promised him to get his tea and the smoke outside the hotel. He did laugh but understood me after seeing how uncomfortable I was after the knock on my door.

After that weird experience, we headed for a sightseeing to Ras Al Khaimah. He asked me, why Sur didn’t accompany me, I was narrating him all the reasons that Sur had told me along with the news that we read. He just laughed and he said Dubai is a city with lot of expats, yes, there are local laws which needs to be respected, otherwise he agreed that there is no issue and it’s a good place. I also clarified with him on the news that we read about, first being lady found pregnant without marriage, he did say, it might be true as it’s against the law. 2nd news about a the couple having caught in sex, he said he was not sure, as he read a different news where, they arrested that couple because they were found to be carrying drugs. So the news that we hear mostly, are completely not true.

I was waiting to inform Sur about the same in the evening when I trouble him for the daily late-night call, as I was missing him. First you cannot use WhatsApp since there is restrictions in UAE for that, so we had to make the international calls, even that roaming didn’t have a good network. So Sur had to call the hotel room landline. It was very frustrating with calls getting disconnected time to time, and finally Sur surrendered saying, next time he is accompanying me as that was easier than making these phone calls every day which was more frustrating. Not allowing WhatsApp calls was a let-down in UAE.

It was a long drive to Ras al Khaimah. It was a dry place but was a hilly terrain and was a beautiful drive so we just enjoyed the drive, that also took us to the residential area as well and it was very different from the high rise buildings in Dubai. We went around, the zipline which is called Jebel Jais Flight which allows thrill-seekers to soar from the country’s largest mountain peak for nearly three minutes, suspended while gliding through rocky terrain. Measuring 1.76 miles long, this zipline stretches longer than 28 football fields, and crushes the former record holder in Puerto Rico by almost 2,000 feet. We were just enjoying the view of the people going in the zipline, it looked scary though. Then we found a shop near the parking and we found a tea shop, the owner was from Pakistan. He guessed we were from India, we got the tea, started chatting with him for some time and then left from there after such a hearty conversation. At the end of the day people are good, no matter which country they are from. I wished we had better relations with Pakistan provided they didn’t support the people who intend to harm the country and people. I heard the country is so beautiful but losing out on all the tourism and revenue for the country because of evil activities by few, affecting majority of the innocent people and am sure the innocent and good hearted people of Pakistan, might also be wishing the same for their country. My prayers for the country, that they work on improving relationship with India by eradicating the evil people/group, who destroy the peace of the country and the innocent people. Then we headed back to Dubai and I had to visit my friend’s family and kids. Spent some time with them, then I got dropped back to the hotel, had my homely food at the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 7: After the breakfast, I headed down to the lobby waiting for my friend. Had his usual tea and then we headed for a sightseeing in Dubai. We went to the Dubai Mall, went around looking at various high end shops. It also has Aquarium & Underwater Zoo in the mall itself, so as you walk through the mall, you can see the sharks through the glass and it was amazing. So we didn’t go inside and then headed to the food court for lunch. The food options were great and one of my best dessert that I tasted here was Kunafa at my friend’s insistence. Kanafeh (Kunafa) is a traditional Middle Eastern dessert made with shredded filo pastry, or alternatively fine semolina dough, soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, and typically layered with cheese, or with other ingredients such as clotted cream or nuts, depending on the region. He said I should try that. I still salivate at the thought of it even today and I haven’t found yet here in Bangalore. Even though once for a dinner at Hyatt, MG Road, Bangalore, there was kunafah, am sorry it was nowhere close to that. I am still waiting if I can get the same here in Bangalore. I haven’t succeeded yet. Once I did try to ask my friends to get it when they visited Dubai, unfortunately they got something else. I wanna go to Dubai, at least to taste that Kunafa again. After such an unforgettable dessert experience, we drove again. We passed through Burj Al Khalifa, Dubai Frame etc.  Since we were short of time, we didn’t get down to go into those places. My friend being a perfect guide was pointing me every iconic buildings in the city and explaining about it as he drove me along.

Then we headed to the souk, for perfumes as he was raving about the oil-based perfume. He insisted I should visit them. So we headed off to the souk. Here they have the oil-based perfumes of David Off and many other known perfumes. The advantage with the oil based was, it stays longer in your body against the water based ones, which is usually we get to buy in the perfume stores. Once you select the perfumes that you want to pick up, they have 15 to 30 ml small bottles where they pour and give you. I could just stay there forever, inhaling those amazing scents. That is the only thing I was ok to shop, since I just love those amazing scents. So we picked up quite a lot of bottles with different brands and then headed to find a t-shirt for Sur. We picked up more perfumes from another shop and then headed back. There were gold, dry fruits, nuts and many beautiful things. Then we headed to a famous dry fruits store, picked up some dates, dry fruits and fruit candies. If you love shopping, this is the perfect place.

I also heard that you need to be careful here. There are people inviting you on the street to buy their stuffs and they take you to a shady place/hidden place, in that case please don’t go as it might be fake products. However, if you are going directly to an open shop, then you are good to go. I was reminded of Sex and the city 2 and the tips when they travelled to Abu Dhabi. Do respect the local customs in terms of dressing, that would always make your stay pleasant. But you have nothing to worry about safety as hardly anyone dares to do any crimes as the laws are pretty stringent.

After such an amazing experience, I had a quick dinner at the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 8: Had another Indian breakfast and then packed my luggage and was time to head out to the airport. My friend already had instructed me that there was a pickup point in Dubai for Etihad Airlines, so I needn’t go all the way to Abu Dhabi. So hotel had helped me with a cab, reached the airport lounge in Dubai and checked in there itself. It was such a smooth experience and then I was waiting for the bus. Then we boarded the bus, reached the airport and bid adieu to UAE. The warm hospitality of Etihad Airlines, came to an end as I landed in Bangalore. My appreciation and love to the airlines.

So my fearful UAE trip came to an end, but I came with an enriching experience and lots of respect for the country. Yes, you need to respect the local culture, there is no two way about it. But they have the best legal system, because no one messes with it, since they know they can’t escape from the law. The stringent law keeps the country clean, crime rates low and everyone does their job ethically and at their best. I just wish, we have the same legal system to ensure the guilty is punished and doesn’t go scot free just because they are from a powerful/influential family and also the judicial process is faster and not goes on and on and on and never ending……..

UAE, am coming again with Sur, so that I can explore more, this time he is not scared because we are married now. I can still make fun of him on this………Let’s defeat this Covid soon, so that we can travel again and in the meantime start appreciating the little things in life, be thankful to all the best friends who shaped your life  and be grateful for all the opportunities that we are blessed with every day….Until then Stay Safe…..

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress