Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Since then I have traveled extensively, and have been to nearly 75 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on I have made friends all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met in the past and present and hopefully will meet in the future.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Do-buy, Do-buy, Dubai!

Take your Platinum Credit Card With You. Take Two!
My annual winter trip to get out of the cold weather and into the sun was, once again, successful. This time, I was off to Dubai, waaay down on the eastern Arabian Peninsula, on the Arabian Gulf. Great place to vacation, but you’ll probably need to take out a second mortgage on your house to afford it. Jeez, it’s expensive there.
But worth every dirham. So, early on the morning of December 5, I taxied to the Budapest airport and hit the friendly skies of Swiss Air for the long flight south. A quick transfer stop in Zurich to change planes, and then a 6 ½ hour flight (plus three hours time change) and I was down in Dubai around 9:30 at night. And it was warm! Aaaahhh! Cleared passport control, picked up my suitcase and, after a short and edifying stop at the Tourist Information booth, caught the metro for my hotel.
I had copied a map provided on Trip Advisor as to the hotel’s location and at first decided to walk there from the nearby metro stop. But as I watched nighttime Dubai go past my metro windows, and saw how dark it all was in between the tall buildings, I decided to hop off at the Mall of the Emirates metro stop and take a taxi the short distance remaining to the hotel. And it’s a good thing I did, as my map was wrong and I’d have gotten lost down a side street in the middle of nowhere! Turned out the hotel was right on the main street, Sheikh Zayed Road, and not on the side street shown on my map. Whew, saved again by good fortune and blind luck. As it happened, a taxi from the airport would have run me at least 50 euro, while the metro cost around 2 euro – and was much more fun.
Anyway, the hotel, Ibis Al Barsha, was a really nice three-star place. And everyone was so helpful and smiling and friendly (NB: I realized why soon thereafter; read on). My room was cozy, the bathroom even more so, but certainly acceptable and comparable to the other Ibis hotels I’ve stayed in: clean, neat, well-maintained. I did miss having the small safe in my room, but okay, a small omission. After all, it was miles better than the one-star places where I stayed on Gibraltar and in Thessaloniki. I hit the sack early, in preparation for my first full day in Dubai.
December 6, Tuesday, up around 7 AM, showered, confirmed my Thursday desert jeep safari with the Arabian Team Adventure company, and walked the 15 minutes or so to the metro stop. The Dubai Metro is wonderful: clean, no graffiti, easily accessible, lots of stops, easy to get tickets from all of the English-speaking personnel who inhabit the Metro stations, sparkling and just – well, wonderful. And the usual daytime fare is less than one euro. I took the metro to the Karama station, near the Dubai Creek (the river that flows through the center of the city), where I had breakfast – a slice of pizza with a soft drink – for only seven dirhams (Dr; note: 5 dirhams equal one euro), and then tried to find my way around. Turned out distances are much farther than you realize on the map.
I walked and walked and finally found the Creek, strolling along it for a distance and at last stumbled upon the Old Souk area, which I wandered through even though I wasn’t ready to buy yet. Souk owners accosted me from all sides, wanting to flip a scarf over my head for a photo (a new trick), but I was on a mission and sloughed them off with a tactful, “La, shukran” (No, thanks). Came to the Abra Dock area, where I caught a water taxi across the Creek for one dirham (about 20 euro cent; you do the math for dollars).
I checked out the north side of the Creek area and, since it was then around 2 PM, water-taxied back and took a nearby metro to the Mall of the Emirates. I wanted to see this biggest mall in the world – more than 1200 stores! – and besides, I wanted lunch.
Well, the mall is HUGE! Luckily there are maps around and great numbers of guards and other workers to help you find your way. And they all speak English. Want to know why? Because none of the working class people – clerks, maintenance, servers, guards, waiters, bartenders, shopkeepers, etc – are Arabs! They’re all foreigners, enticed to Dubai by the wages and lifestyle. Asians, Filipinos, Indians, Brits, etc, from all over the world. Apparently they get free apartments, medical, visas and other benefits just to come and run the infrastructure. The local Emiratis, the Arabs, are all supported by the state, paid a living income and left to do as they please. Talk about socialism! Except for the Islamic religious aspects of life in Dubai, it seems, from a tourist’s viewpoint at least, to be working for everyone. More power to them.
Anyway, I found one of the food courts in the mall and nearly walked into a pillar as I saw the fast food places there: Fatburger! Krispy Kreme donuts! Mexican! Damn! I pounced on a regular Fatburger (the days when I could suck down a double king chili cheese Fatburger are, unfortunately, long gone), with fries and Coke, then rushed to the Krispy Kreme place for several original glazed donuts. OMG, heaven. If they’d had a Cinnabon shop, I’d be there still. (Ed. Note: a few days later I was at the Dubai Marina and saw a poster in an empty shop window advertising, “Opening Soon! Cinnabon!” Be careful what you wish for…)
The Mall of the Emirates is just one of many malls around Dubai, each of them a city in itself. They are all temples of conspicuous consumption, as Dubai bills itself as the shopper’s paradise. And it definitely is, as you need several credit cards just to walk through a mall. Of course, whenever I enter a mall, sirens blare and horns honk and loudspeakers announce, “He’s back! Gary’s here! Trot out all your unsold junk and get ready, here he comes!” Yep, malls and souks and bazaars love me.
In Dubai everyone is so well-mannered and polite (except, naturally, when entering and exiting a metro car; what is it with this activity that seems to bring out the worst in people all over the world?), saying “excuse me” when they accidentally bump into you, eagerly giving women their seat on the metro, actually seeming eager to help you. Even the Kontrollers, who check that the public transport cards have been validated on the buses, merely validate them for you if you didn’t do it – no fines, no nastiness, no pulling you off the bus, no screaming at you, just a gentle reminder that you must validate properly. How nice to see such a pleasant service. Possibly the best I’ve seen anywhere.
So, I was getting tired and decided to head for the Burj al Khalifa Mall, just four metro stops away, to wait for the much-heralded Dubai fountain show, starting around 6 PM and recurring every half-hour thereafter until 11 PM. I checked out that mall for awhile, another paean to greed and heavy spending, then waited and waited until 6:45 PM, and the fountains never did come on. Scheisse! Guess I’d have to try again later. I opted for a cheap dinner: a sandwich from a convenience shop in the metro station (they even have toilets there too!) and a walk back to the hotel. Another fairly early night.
Wednesday I did the Big Bus tour of Dubai. I admit that, when I heard the name of this tour company, I had visions of Joseph Bologna driving the Big nuclear-powered Bus of B-movie fame, but it was just another hop on-hop off tour bus. Nice though. It was, however, quite expensive: 220 Dr for 24 hours (around 44 euro, or $66 US), about double that for other comparable tours I’ve taken elsewhere in the world. But it was a full two-hour tour, and I took advantage of all it had to offer, hopping off and hopping back on several times. It turned out I couldn’t actually do justice to the sights in just one day, but I did my best. I saw the Wafi mall (modeled on Egyptian architecture; I would return there on my last day in Dubai), Jumeirah beach, several mosques and other shopping centers, the Gold Souk and Spice Souk, the Old Quarter (Bastakia) and many other interesting and fun sights.
I decided to wander the Bastakia and, as it was lunch time again, looked for a place to eat. Well, right at the entrance to the Bastakia was the Arabian Tea House and Café, and they had a sign saying, “Don’t miss a yummy camel burger.” How could I resist? I chatted with the lovely young Filipina hostess and she convinced me to try a camel burger – as if I ever needed much convincing anyway. The food was quite good, tasty and tangy, and Joy (that was her name) was even better. She had time to chat with me more, and it didn’t take me too long to realize she was coming on to me. Me! This just doesn’t happen to older tourists like me, but what the heck, I’d play along. Before I left she gave me her phone number and I arranged to call her Friday after she got off work for a get-together. We’d see what happened.
I walked around the old quarter, which turned out to be nothing special, then hopped on the Big Bus again to finish my tour. We cruised by the Burj al Arab 7-star hotel (the big one that looks like a sail that you see on all the posters advertising Dubai), which was really cool. I later asked a local what could be so special about a 7-star hotel and he told me. When you check into a 7-star hotel, you are assigned a personal servant who does everything for you during your stay: drives you around, draws your bath, bathes you, dresses and undresses you, cooks your food, tucks you in at night, everything and anything your heart desires. Of course, it costs you $2,000 a night plus your first-born son, but what the heck. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, right? And what’s a son anyway?
Back on the Big Bus and we drove to Atlantis, the monster resort out on The Palm manmade peninsula, filled with high-rise apartments built on sand spits shaped like palm leaves. These places have to be expensive, right? Say in the hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollar range? And yet residents still hang their laundry on their balconies to dry. Yep, you can take the camel-herder out of the tent, but you can’t take…..
Atlantis, on the other hand, is a paean to luxury. It has a huge indoor aquarium, a water park and Dolphin Bay, where you can cavort with the dolphins (which I did later in the week; read on). I was getting tired again from all the walking and busing and touring, so hopped off at the Mall of the Emirates stop and decided to take a taxi back to my hotel, a journey of maybe two miles for around 10 Dr, which is 2 euro, or about $3 US. Taxis and the metro were about the only reasonably-priced item in Dubai. Well, the first five taxis that stopped asked where I was going and when they heard it was a short trip they just took off. This was the only rude thing I saw while in Dubai. Finally had to share a taxi with a young African man and an Arab woman (who sat in front to avoid possible contact with the infidel foreigners).
I got back to the hotel around 5 PM, showered and cleaned up and repaired to the hotel bar for a much-needed beer. It was 5:45 PM. I licked my lips in anticipation of a cold beer with frothy head. I ordered a draught Foster’s and the bartender sorrowfully informed me that alcohol wasn’t available until 6 PM. Friggin’ Moslem countries. Big sigh! So I waited and read my book and ate some peanuts and at the dot of six Dirlan poured me a big Foster’s and I drank it happily, with peace in my heart.
Had some dinner at the bar also – prawns and noodles for around $12.50 US, or about 2,400 forints in Hungary. Most of my standard meals were in this price range, so nothing too expensive if I ordered at the usual eating places. I polished off three Fosters (at 7 euro each!) and repaired to my room for another early night and a good hour of fantasies starring Joy.
Thursday was Quest Day. Yep, I had done my research and knew there was a Harley Davidson dealership in Dubai. Also, I’d seen the actual store and another Harley clothing store while on the metro, so knew I could find them. I metro-ed and walked and found the “clothing” store, which turned out to be only footwear. Hmm. The clerks there told me there was a Harley store in the Dubai Mall, so back I went for a short metro journey and a longer walk to the mall. I stopped at the main information stand and inquired about the whereabouts of the Harley store. The helpful African gentleman told me how to get there. It was interesting that in Dubai when you ask for directions, what you are told is either wrong or so general as to confuse you even further and not allow you to find what you want. Of course, the closer you get to your destination the more specific the directions become.
This time I was told, “go down here (pointing to his right) until the waterfall and then left and you will see it.” Okay, not too bad. I took off on my journey, and it is a journey to walk through one of the Dubai malls. I walked and walked, wondering if I was going right; after about 10 minutes (really!) I spied, in the far distance, a waterfall, and it really was a waterfall inside the mall, three stories of falling water. Whew. Okay. I turned left and looked and looked and guess what” No Harley store. There was another map nearby which I consulted and sure enough, it showed the Harley store just to my left. I looked again; no Harley store. Okay, what’s going on here?
I finally asked another guard/helper and he told me to go through the doors, into what looked like a parking lot, and turn left. I did and there, by the grace of Sheikh Zayed, was the Harley store. Questing in Dubai is not an easy business. People would rather tell you something wrong than say, “I don’t know.” A tough culture. Anyway, I found the store, picked up Tony’s gift and, since it was lunchtime again, headed for the nearest food court and some Lebanese food this time. Back to my hotel by 1:30, I thought I had time for a quick nap before my desert jeep safari, but the driver showed up at 2:30 instead of 3:30, so I was off on another adventure, a touch drowsy but happy to be moving again.
The Arabian Team Adventure desert jeep safari is rated as the Number One activity in Dubai. We picked up four women at other hotels and took off for the nearby desert. Actually, the desert was everywhere, even underfoot, but there were areas of dunes about 30 km from Dubai that all the desert jeep safaris used. We got out there around 4:30 or so and, with our driver Khamid at the wheel of his shiny and almost new Toyota Landcruiser, and us the last of four other such vehicles, we took off into the desert. For the next 40 minutes or so it was rock and roll up and down the dunes, slipping and sliding all over the place, going down a dune sideways and climbing up and over another dune like a ship at sea. It was definitely an E Ticket.
The evening’s finale was a visit to a Bedouin camp for dinner and entertainment. I had visions (Oh, when will they ever stop! And when will I ever learn?) of several large black tents, camels croaking in the nearby moonlight, tea boiling on an open fire, Bedouins wrapped in their flea-infested robes, smiling at us with their remaining three teeth, and everyone enjoying a happy sing-along around the campfire. Silly me.
When we arrived there were 50 or so Landcruisers, all white, shiny and new, parked in front of a walled tourist compound, inside of which was a really large stage surrounded by low tables and cushions for seats (which turned out to be as uncomfortable as it sounds). Several money-sucking tourist booths around the sides, some grills for our snacks and dinner, a henna booth for the women, soft drinks and beer available, toilets, etc. It was all too touristy for words. But the food was welcome and good (lamb, chicken, fish, veggies, pita) and the entertainment was first-rate: a great belly dancer and a whirling dervish who actually had electric lights built into his swirling skirts and hats. Cool. We got back to the hotel around 9:30 that night. It was a good evening and the adventure was fun and exciting (although a touch tame for someone who has nearly turned over a pickup truck driven over sand dunes by Bill Thalman in southern New Mexico).
Friday is the Arab Sunday, so the metro didn’t open until 1 PM. I had made my reservation at the Burj al Khalifa tower, the world’s tallest building, for 9 AM, so had to taxi there for breakfast and my trip up. This tower is also hailed as a fantastic adventure by the many reviewers on Trip Advisor. I’d made my advance reservations (for only 20 euro, as opposed to 80 euro if you pay on the day) and, along with pushy, shoving, nasty tourists (are there any other kind?), mostly Germans and Russians, walked through the entry tunnels to the elevators from the nearby Dubai Mall. We entered the darkened elevator, the walls of which were dark mirrors covered with horizontal rows of lights which flashed vertically in sequence as we rose toward the top. I say top advisedly, as we only went about halfway up. The elevator has two buttons, G and 124. When the doors closed there was absolutely – and I mean absolutely – no sensation of movement at all. We were inside the tower, so couldn’t even view our ascent. We merely stepped into a darkened room, waited for one minute, and stepped out again on the 124th floor.
The view was, of course, spectacular, but – and it’s a big but – if you’ve ever been on another tall building, it was just a nice view. The Sears Tower in Chicago, Eiffel Tower, London Eye – come on, guys, it’s just a tall building. I could have spent my 20 euro on a Fatburger and had more fun. Unless you have never in your life been in a tall building before, you may pass this attraction when in Dubai. BFD.
Back down again, I wandered the mall for awhile, shopping and looking. I did manage a brunch of Eggs Benedict, which was outstanding. I decided to rest up for that night, as I might be out late, so took it easy the remainder of the afternoon. Had a light dinner at the hotel and around 9 PM called Joy to see if we could meet that night and become better friends, as she had suggested. I called at least 20 times between 9 and 10 PM, and her phone was never connected. Bummer. Stood up again. I should have known. Bigger sigh!
Okay, Saturday and everything open again at normal hours. Having cruised the Dubai Marina during my bus tour, I thought I’d spend the day there, on the beach and around the Marina shops and restaurants, before my 5 PM appointment at the hammam. So I did. Breakfast at Paul’s on the Marina boardwalk, a few hours on the beach, a swim in the cool waters of the Arabian Gulf, collect some dead but really pretty coral for the grandkids, take some walks along the sand. Lots of Russians in evidence, but the beach wasn’t topless as one finds along the Mediterranean. Naturally, being an Arabic country. Arabic countries consider it disrespectful for someone to show their knees – Bog only knows what would happen if they caught sight of a naked female breast. Probably another holy war.
Seeing all the American and Australian restaurants on the boardwalk, I suddenly had a major craving for a chili dog with fries and a giant root beer. I looked and walked and looked, but it was not to be. Came close a couple of times, but nope, nothing. Finally settled for a New Zealand hamburger at a place called Burger Fuel. Actually, it was an Aussie burger – with fried egg and beetroot slice, along with fries and a cola, and was quite good and plentiful. They even had a light cardboard circular fold-up burger holder, to keep the drippings off your lap. Technology continues its relentless push to the future. Excellent.
I walked off my burger and taxied over to my next destination, The One and Only Royal Mirage Hotel – it’s really called that. I was early for my appointment (once again), so walked the grounds for awhile, had an expensive cola on their terrace and finally entered the Oriental Hammam around 4:30 or so for my treatment. The entire thing took around 90 minutes and cost – well, as much as any other activity in town. My credit card was hemorrhaging by this time, but I ignored its last gasps and soldiered on. I’d deal with it tomorrow; tomorrow was another day.
The treatment was, as in all Turkish baths I have been to, outstanding. Better in this one as the surroundings were more lush and serene. A shower, sauna, Jacuzzi soak, wash down by a masseur, followed by several treatments, including an exfoliation glove (scraped off all that nasty dead skin) and a couple of cream massages, a calm down period and a final exit. Wonderful. I first encountered the hammam in Istanbul years ago, and I always go to one if I’m in the neighborhood. These treatments always leave me feeling contented and happy, so I thought I’d take it easy again that night. But no, I’d found a karaoke bar on the Internet and decided to try it out. Harry Ghatto’s place in the Emirate Towers.
Again, a trek and a half; I took the Metro to the Emirate Towers stop and asked the guards where Harry Ghatto’s was. They told me the Ritz Carlton, about a five-minute walk. I did that, then asked the hotel’s concierge about it, and he told me, nope, not here, it’s in the Emirates Towers, about a ten-minute walk down that way. My sighs were getting bigger and longer and louder.
Okay, walked to the Emirates Towers and asked their security guard where to find Ghatto’s, and he told me down the hall, up the elevator and turn right. Did that, and guess what: yep, no friggin’ Harry Ghatto’s. Stopped a maintenance man who pointed down another hallway, tried that, couldn’t see anything, asked a passing guard and he pointed at a doorway near where we were standing. The closed door had a teeny-weeny little sign next to it saying Harry Ghattos. Alright, at least I’d found the damn place.
I pulled the door open and went into what I thought was an anteroom, but turned out to be the entire place. Not much bigger than my flat in Budapest and seating maybe 20 people. WTF? It was only around 8:30 PM, and I was the only customer. The Filipino bartender told me the crowd usually gets in around 10-11 PM, so I ordered a draught Kirin beer to wait. The Kirin tap ran out halfway through pouring my pint. I couldn’t even sigh anymore, just grunt and hold my stomach. Okay, bottled Foster’s it is. People started coming in around 9:30 or so, not many, but noisy and smoking. I signed up for some songs and gave my list to the bartender. No karaoke DJ, no stage, no karaoke atmosphere. The screen started showing the words to my first song and I hadn’t even been called.
I asked the bartender what was going on and he told me everyone just had to watch the screen for the next song and get the microphone from the last singer and start in. Tacky and not real karaoke. Plus, the karaoke CD was truly terrible. I mean, when was the last time you heard Great Balls of Fire played in 4/4 time? I couldn’t believe it. One of the bar staff programmed the CD to play all of the songs you signed up for, in a row, and then you were finished. No one listened, no one sang along, no one danced, no one clapped, no one did anything except continue talking and smoking. It was, without doubt, the single WORST karaoke bar I have ever been to in my life and in the world. If you go to Dubai, stay away from here. But at least the beer was overpriced: 30 euro for four beers, or $45 US. Aaaargh! I caught a taxi back to the hotel and watched Shutter Island in my room.
So, Sunday, my next-to-last day in Dubai and the day of my dolphin experience. I took a taxi from my hotel to Atlantis. I’d intended to take the monorail, but I got there at 9 and it didn’t open until 10 – good timing, as usual. I was all out of sighs by this time. I was able to get into the Aquaventure park when it opened at 10 on my Dolphin Bay ticket, which was only fair, considering the cost of the Dolphin Experience. I wandered the water park for a couple of hours, checking out the exhibits and rides, not taking any, just relaxing and hanging out on the beach for awhile also. I reported to Dolphin Bay around 1 PM and was ushered inside along with around 35 other people who had signed up for the program. Apparently there were six dolphins available for each time slot, with a maximum of six people per dolphin. We changed into our wetsuits and got our indoctrination into the program, which took around 30 minutes, then went outside to meet our dolphins and their trainers.
Our Hispanic trainer was welcomed by the other five people in my group who were, surprisingly enough, from Spain! How about that? Trainer Manuel spoke Spanish to the group, with an aside in English for me whenever he felt like it. We got in the water immediately and met our dolphin for the day whose name was --- are you ready for this? --- Alice. Alice?! Who the f**k is Alice? She was our dolphin, and I can now answer that question whenever the song comes up. Small world, hah?
So, the experience, which lasted around 30 minutes (and for a cost which I won’t divulge; let’s just say I have a year to pay off my loan for the ticket), was pretty good. We got to pet Alice, and hug her and swim with her and trade kisses with her and have her take us for a swim (belly to belly, although we were warned in our briefing not to touch certain parts of Alice, specifically her eyes, blowhole and private parts, which was sound advice, as I certainly wouldn’t want Alice the Dolphin touching my blowhole or private parts either). We did a few other things up close and personal, and suddenly, all too soon, it was over.
We said goodbye to Alice, changed back into civvies and everyone rushed over to the Photo Shop to see the pictures the staff photographers had taken of us. Naturally, they were on sale at prices even more ridiculous than the dolphin tickets, but, hey, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I figured I could put off buying that Porsche for a couple of more years. Actually, the photos were pretty bad, only a very few came out and were worthwhile. I got 38 on my CD, with only around 7-8 being worthy of reproduction and posting on my Internet sites. On that basis, I hate to tell you what one picture cost. The hologram on my credit card actually started to make obscene gestures and shout at me.
Monorail and taxi back to hotel, shower and clean up and then off to the Dubai mall to, hopefully, finally see the fountains. I got there after dark, found a table at the Sammach restaurant overlooking the lagoon, got my mezze (appetizers), and lo and behold, the fountains actually came on. Great show, lasting all of three minutes. I stayed for two shows, just to be sure I didn’t miss anything, which was just as well since no two shows are ever the same. Such a deal. At least my dinner of African Hammour (some sort of fish) was good.
Okay, Monday, December 12, my last day in Dubai. My flight didn’t leave until 2:30 the following morning so I had a lot of time to kill. I checked out of the hotel around 9 AM and metroed to the airport, where I checked my suitcase in the baggage storage area, then went out to see anything I hadn’t seen so far. Got a metro to the Dubai museum and went through that, which was pretty cool. Had breakfast of chicken biryani at a place I couldn’t resist called Yummy Bites. I should have resisted it. The chicken was mostly bone, although the rice and naan were both good. Next was a nice walk down to the Old Souk where I finally did it right: shopped for gifts on my last day there.
Taxi to Hermitage Village and one of the sheikh’s houses, then another metro and taxi back to the Wafi mall for a look around and then just before six PM (see? I remembered) to the Raffles hotel bar, next to the mall. I was hoping for a similar experience to the Long Bar at the Raffles hotel in Singapore, but once again my hopes were dashed to dust. It was a nice bar, classy and pretty, but no action at all. Since I was the only customer for awhile, I did get to talk to Big Vin the bartender, a five-foot nothing Filipino, who filled me in on the doings and lifestyle in Dubai. Interesting character.
I took the metro down to the Creek area for a final stroll in the great Dubai weather, as I knew in just about 12 hours I’d be back in the cold nastiness of Budapest. Picked up my suitcase at the airport storage area, grabbed some dinner in an airport café, checked in for my flight and wandered the airport shopping areas for awhile, buying one last present for myself before changing my remaining dirhams back to euros. Lazed around, read my book, waited for my 2:30 AM flight. When it came, I hit the seat and passed out, sleeping most of the way to Zurich, a good five hours. A quick transfer in Zurich and home to Budapest on time, at 9:30 in the morning of December 13. It was a really good trip and I’m glad I went. Big, happy, contented sigh.

And now, for the curious, or not-yet terminally bored, a few observations and comments on Dubai as I saw it as a tourist:

1. Dubai has beautiful 12-lane highways, clean and well-maintained. All of the cars I saw were new and shiny and bright, not a clunker to be seen anywhere. People must take pride in their environment and their possessions in Dubai.
2. It’s easy to get lost in the malls.
3. The weather in winter is great, around 26 degrees Celsius (78 F).
4. I heard lots of American English spoken, which surprised me, but I guess a lot of American tourists head for Dubai and its shops.
5. Cinnabon is coming to the Dubai Marina.
6. I was surprised at the American-based shops and stores I saw: Chili’s, Tony Roma’s, Fatburger, Mrs. Fields, Bloomingdales, Krispy Kreme, TGI Friday and many, many more. Unadventurous American eaters will be right at home.
7. The much-touted Burj Khalifa world’s tallest building was underwhelming.
8. It truly is a shop-till-you-drop paradise. I actually saw four women shoppers passed out on benches outside the malls, surrounded by bags from various stores, absolutely wasted but with a strangely serene look on their unconscious faces, somewhat reminiscent of a truly satisfying sexual encounter.
9. Again, all the workers were foreigners, and appeared happy, smiling, eager to please, and really seemed to enjoy being in Dubai. The entire experience reminded me of what the USA used to be in my long-lost youth.

Next trip: could be Capetown, South Africa, in the springtime. Will keep you all informed. Until then, Happy Trails to you all.

Final Note: when I returned and checked my email, a friend had sent me an article published in the UK, entitled The Darker Side of Dubai. I include the web address for your possible perusal. Interesting article.