Sunday, July 10, 2016

Day 16–Dubai (evening)

After a day out and about in Dubai I returned to my hotel room for a bit of break before the start of my evening “Desert Experience”.

However, not long after returning to my room there was a knock at the door. When I open it I was greeted by a staff member who wanted to ‘freshen’ up my room! But I haven’t even made it ‘unfresh’ I thought. None the less, I acquiesced and allowed him to enter and do whatever was needed.

After he tidied up the clothes that I had strewn around the room upon before my return, turn down the bed and check everything in the room he departed. That’s service for you.

At the allotted pickup time, I headed down to the lobby to await my pickup for the ‘Desert Experience’.

It wasn’t long before I was bundled into a Landcruiser with 4 other tourists (all from Japan) speeding along the freeway to the ‘wilderness’.


Our first stop was just outside the ‘nature reserve’ so our guide/driver could deflate the tyres on our 4WD to allow better traction across the sand.


We then proceeded into the wilderness and our first stop, a falcon show.

Here we were learned about falconry and how these birds are trained to hunt for food for humans. Very interesting stuff.


We then returned to the 4WD for some ‘dune driving’, basically driving quickly over the sand dunes in the 4WD. It was a little rough and tumble but nothing too severe. It seemed like the highlight of the night for the guide/driver though.


We then all stopped so we could catch an Arabian sunset which is certainly something to see across the sands of the desert.


Apart from all the tourists running all over the dunes taking selfies currently, the desert is a remarkably serene place. The vastness of the desert, extending as far as the eye can see is certainly something unique.Kind of reminds you of looking out across the ocean.


After the lengthy stop for sunset photos we remounted our vehicles and headed off to the ‘camp site’ for dinner.


At the camp you had the option to take a camel ride (no thanks, been there done that before) or hold a falcon for a photo (line too long) or just mosey into the ‘camp site’ and grab a cushion on the mat (best option) and grab something to eat and drink.

Soon dinner was served and we all shared our travel experiences as we enjoyed the food provided.


After dark we were treated to a ‘belly dancing exhibition’ and then all the lights in the camp were extinguished so we could ‘star gaze’.

With everything complete and a fully belly we headed back to our vehicle for the return trip to our hotel (after re-inflating our tyres first). My companions slept while I passed the time in conversation with our guide/driver.


After thanking our guide/driver for the great evening we headed back to our rooms. I was pleasantly surprised to find this ‘snack’ in the my room, which I merrily munched on while getting ready for my final night away. Tomorrow would be an early transfer to the airport, followed by the long return journey back home.

A great way to finish a great vacation!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Day 16–Dubai


Today’s adventures in Dubai started in the enormous Dubai Mall. Why? Because there are few places like it but mainly because it was air conditioned.


Just about every brand name you can think of has a dedicated shop here covering four floors.


My next destination was the 148th observation deck of the Burj Khalifa building, the tallest in the world. In doing so I made a wrong turn and ended up outside the mall. As you can see from the above shot, I tried to take some photos but couldn’t work out why the camera wouldn’t focus. Then I realise it was because my camera was complaining that it had just come from the nice air conditioned inside to the boiling hot outside and was all fogged up.


Looks much better once you let the tempreture of the camera equalise with the outside environment eh?


My aim was to get to the top but the more I walked around the base outside, sweating profusely, the more I came to realise I had made a (terrible) mistake.

The good thing I wasn’t the only one that had been fooled by the signage as someone asked whether I had found the the way to the top. When I said ‘no’, we troop back to the exit we had emerged from and found not more than 20 metres further on the admissions area. See what the tempreture here does to you? And it was about to repeat the dosage.

Now here’s where it get interesting (or I where I got confused should I say). So, I go up to the desk and say that I want to go to the ‘top’. To the attendant that means I want to go to the highest level observation deck on the 148th floor. That is considered a ‘premium’ ticket.

However, I had no idea that there are other ‘cheaper’ observation decks on the 124th and 125th floors, so I grab my ticket and go charging off to the elevators.

I’m stopped before the turnstiles by another attendant who wants me to go into a ‘waiting room’ for coffee. Why would I want coffee I think? I just wanna go up to the observation deck. He then offers to take a picture of me with a model of the building that is nearby. He jokingly asks for $5 for this? Instantly my ‘scammer’ alert goes off and I make a break for the turnstiles again.

I get to the turnstiles but get turned back by another attendant who tells me I have to go to the ‘waiting room’ and have coffee. Defeated, I slink back to the ‘waiting room’, past the previous attendant waggling his finger at me and into the ‘waiting room’.

I go inside the nice ‘waiting room’ where I accept water and some Arabic ‘coffee’ (more like tea actually I reckon personally). I am still puzzled as to when I actually get to go up the tower but for now I’m resigned to my fate, doing what I’m told, in the ‘waiting room’ drinking coffee.

Some other tourists now enter the ‘waiting room’ looking as perplexed as me a few minutes ago. They are offered water and coffee like me but before the attendant can return they have made a bee line for the door and are out in what is obviously a foolish attempt to breech the turnstiles. I sip my Arabian coffee in full knowledge that they will be back.

After having this sequenced repeated with half a dozen or so other tourists, a guide arrives and informs us that she is here to take us to the top observation deck. Finally, I get what I paid for, even though I remain somewhat puzzled as to why only a handful of us got the ‘waiting room’ treatment. At least I go something to drink I suppose.

With her leading the way we all make it through the turnstile barrier and are soon in a high speed lift to the 125th floor. Here we change for the lift to the 148th observation deck.

When the doors open at this level it finally dawns on me what’s going on as an army of attendants rush to greet us with drinks, snacksand warm welcomes. Ah, yes. I see now. I’ve paid for the ‘premium’ viewing experience. Ah ha. A few more signs at the entry point might help guys as I’m obviously not the only tourist who was fooled. Now that my world makes sense again things begin to flow.


It’s a bit like a flight lounge up here. Chairs, waiters, private bathrooms and the like. Ah ha, I get it now.


However, the view is what you really come for an it is amazing to think how high up we are.


There is also an outside observation deck were you can not only get a great view but also sweat in the heat. I can vouch for the fact that it is as hot up here as it is on the ground floor. I soon beat a hasty retreat back to the comfort of the air conditioning.


Once you have finished in the rarefied air that is the 148th floor you proceed back down to the 125th and back with those who elected to take the ‘economy’ observation experience.


This level is combined with the 124th and also has an external viewing platform (which is still just as hot as the one as the one on the 148th).


After returning to terra firma, I grab a coffee and something to eat and jump on the tourist bus for a lap around Dubai before my ‘desert experience’ this afternoon.


Dubai is divided into an ‘old’ and ‘new’ area.


After about 2 hours on the bus I loop back to the Dubai Mall entrance and grab a taxi back to my hotel, with some time to spare before my ‘desert experience’. More about that soon.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Day 15–Dubai

Not many pictures from today’s travels as it was basically a flight from Milan to Dubai.

The car service picked me up at around 8am and we headed off to Milan airport, which took about an hour. Always “fun” mixing it with Italian peak hour traffic in the city. I was glad that I was heading away from the city once we hit the freeways as the traffic going back into the city was pretty much bumper to bumper.

There was no one in the queue at check in and I was soon at my gate. There was a Dubai flight leaving about an hour prior to mine so the good news was that my flight was not very crowded and I got to sit near the front of economy.

The only hassle was disembarking. We had arrived early and our flight had not pulled up to the terminal so we had to walk down the stairs and take a shuttle bus to the terminal. However, there was some organisational issues with the busses so we were held at the door of the plane, waiting for busses to arrive on the ground.

It was about 7.30pm and the tempreture outside was still around 35 degrees C! Smokin’.

When we finally boarded the shuttle bus we must have circled the airport twice before we unloaded. Dubai airport sure must be huge, since I swear we were on the bus for at least 20 minutes transferring to a terminal. That’s a long transfer in anyone’s language.

Next was passport control, which took another 30 minutes or so to clear meaning that my bag was the virtually the last one on the carousel when I arrive. Thankfully, it was still there, lonely, but still there.

I grabbed my bags and headed to the transfer desk for my car service to my hotel, the Taj Dubai.

Without doubt, Dubai airport takes the cakes for the best airport I have been in on my travel. Large, spacious, well signed, helpful people everywhere.



But, man oh man does the hotel room here in Dubai take the cake as you can see above. What a grand way to end my holiday. This ‘room’ has an anteroom, separate shower that is bigger than some hotel rooms I’ve stayed at in Europe, toilet, two basins, a bath, desk, lounge, and on an on. It even has a Nespresso machine so I can make my own ‘real’ (non-instant) coffee.

So I have tomorrow in Dubai and then it’s back home the following morning. It’ll be stinking hot tomorrow for sure but I’ll make the most of it and I have a special ‘Desert Experience’ tomorrow evening for dinner.

Like I said, a great way to end a great trip.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Day 14–Milan

Today’s trip from Verona to Milan would take place around midday so there was no need to rush.

I checked out and carried my bags to the station, stopping along the way to grab some breakfast, which also helped kill some time.


Having arrived early at the station, I read while waiting patiently for my train to arrive. With about 30 minutes before the scheduled arrival of my transfer, I headed to the designated platform.

As always, about 2 minutes before the train arrived, it appeared on the display boards actually on the platform. I knew I was on the right platform but now I had to hustle to the appropriate end of the platform to jump on my designated carriage. In this case carriage number one right at one end.


After an uneventful ride to Milan I disembarked in what has to win the award for the most impressive station so far in my travels, Milan.


I had a short walk through the maze of streets to my hotel nearby which I found with the help of Google maps on my device, given the density of locations here.


A small but functional room awaited me in which I proceeded to turn up the air conditioning and have a nap.

Unfortunately, one of things you learn about the sites here in Italy is that most a closed one day of the week. Here in Milan that day is Monday, which was today. I had planned to visit the Last Supper fresco painted by Leonardo da Vinci but alas, like the last time I was here it wasn’t open.

I ventured back out at about 7pm and decided to head to the Duomo.


Milan is a bit like Rome in the fact that there is traffic everywhere, bikes, scooters, cars buses, pedestrians all vying for road supremacy. You need to pay extra attention when you cross roads because event through you may have a green walk sign that doesn’t automatically guarantee your safety.

DSC01147After a 30 minute walk I was approaching the Duomo and passed a statue of Leonardo da Vinci.


Not far away is the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel II, which is a lovely covered up market shopping piazza.


This church has to be one of my favourites.

You can not only go inside but you can also go onto the roof.

What really stood out for me in the church compared to all the others I have seen are the stained glass windows. They are simply amazing and so much more graphic and vivid than anything I’ve seen elsewhere.


With the requisite tourist stuff accomplished I returned to my hotel, this time through a lovely park, quite picturesque at this time of night.

You can find other pictures I have taken of Milan during a previous trip here.

Unfortunately, my choice for dinner was marred by extremely slow service. Honestly, it was like I was in another city. It took over 2 hours just to order 2 drinks and something eat. It wasn’t as though they were busy or anything.

It is rare that I’ll leave internet review but with plenty of time on my hands and my phone in my hand I felt compelled to write something there and then about the poor service. That the reality of today’s connected world. Instant feedback shared with a world wide audience.

Review complete, it was back to the hotel and to get ready for my farewell to Italy tomorrow and the first leg of my return trip via Dubai.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Day 13–Verona


Today started off with a visit to the Arena in the centre of the city. It dates back to Roman times but is now largely used for Opera performances.


In fact it was still in that arrangement during my visit.


It is amazing to consider the history that this one structure has seen, and will continue to see.


You can basically walk around the inside and emerge into the amphitheatre itself. It is a very impressive structure. There isn’t a hell of lot to actually see or read about but I was certainly glad that I had a look.


Just outside the area there was a gathering of Italian cars of all shapes and sizes. From Maserati’s, to Fiat’s and even a Ferrari!


Apart from the Arena and a piazza, this area has a nice garden with a fountain in the middle.


I continue north west towards Piazza Erbe.


It’s nice little area full of restaurants surrounded by some wonderful architecture.


Not far away is Torre dei Lamberti.


The tower wasn’t currently open and I wasn’t that fussed at going up to the top but would certainly swing by if I found myself with time on my hands.


I then found myself in Piazza dei Signore which has a statue of Dante in the centre.


I continued north towards the river.


My next stop was St Anastasia.


Which, as you can see, is pretty impressive as churches go if I do say so myself. Now because it was Sunday and mass was being conducted tourists were supposed to remain at the back of the church in silence.


I headed further north towards Ponte Pieta to cross the river.


Upon reaching the river I took a break out of the intensifying Italian sun and looked towards my next destination Castel San Piedro, which as you can see would mean a rather steep hike to get up the hill.


Also nearby is the Teatro Romano but I thought that I’d give that a miss.


I crossed the bridge and started my climb up to Castel San Pietro.


The hike was certainly worth it,with commanding view of Siena and the surrounding countryside in most directions.


After all the effort to get up here I decided to dwell a bit to again cool down and enjoy the vistas.


Back down the hill, I remained on the northern bank of the river with the aim of crossing back into the city across Pont Garibaldi and then onto the Duomo, which I could see from across the river.


I stopped into San Giorgio on the way.


Across the river and through the back streets I came to the Duomo.


The difference I noted here was the outside composition of this church is white, while most of the other are brown. I wonder whether that has to do with the fact that this is the main church or Duomo for the city?


Again, a pretty spectacular church.


The most interesting aspect are the decoration on the wall. Very different from what I have seen elsewhere.


I continued down the western bank of the river, heading south  and past Ponte Vittoria.


I then ended up in Castel Vecchio, which is a castle like structure that also encompasses a museum.


I continued south but there are not many ‘sites’ in this part of the city. As I approached the railway station I stopped to have some lunch and then headed back east to my room for my usual afternoon break from the Italian sun. Along the way I captured this picture looking along the long Corso PortaNuova which leads to the Arena.


I thought that this would be the end of my site seeing in Verona but after doing some research I saw that the Giardino Giusta (gardens) were well worth visiting.


It took me about 30 minutes to walk there but it was well worth the trip as you can see.


Very beautiful and peaceful. A real refuge from the city.


These gardens have been here for a very long time as well and I recommend you make the trip to check them out. They are a little ways from the centre of the city, to the east. You won’t be sorry you came.

With that I headed back to hotel for my final night here in Verona. Tomorrow it’s another trip on the high speed train, this time to Milan.