I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Monday, September 11, 2006

early morning in Dubai

This is the first hotel room I've ever stayed in where there's been no BBC channel on the TV, I think. But there are plenty of English language channels anyway so it's no great loss.

It's 0515 where I am and I've been up for over an hour. Except it's not jet lag, it's because either I really did write "0400" on my breakfast order, or the "0900" I thought I wrote was radically interpreted. Either way I didn't bother turning it down when it arrived, even if they did have to wake me up to serve it. I don't really care much for normal waking hours or a typical body clock right now anyway.

What a breakfast it was 'n all. I'd put up a photo, but, well, flickr + Dubai... it was grapefruit juice, tea, a bowl of bran, a yoghurt, a huge fruit salad, some toast, some croissants, and a plate of scrambled eggs with 2 sausages, tomato, hash browns, and I'm sure there was something else too but I can't remember what it was. Room service for teh win anyway. I'll just be more careful with my writing (perhaps I'll write NINE) if I get it tomorrow too.

People have asked me "why are you going to Dubai?" a few times when I've been incessantly nattering about this trip. The answer is that, much like the whole trip but more so than any other city, I came to Dubai for the journey, not the destination. So being awake at this time of day and kipping during the day is fine by me. The thing about Dubai is that for the purposes of my ticket it counts as being in Europe, and I'm only allowed one trip to somewhere in Europe. This is about as far as it's possible to get, and being such a distance it meant I got to fly in proper business class, where the seat turns into a bed and all that jazz. So here's a report of what happened on Saturday and Sunday.

Went and got the cab from Station Cabs in Surbiton at 1830 on Saturday. Nerves were kicking in: a day trip to Gibraltar is one thing but this is the real deal, I'm off on me own to somewhere I've never been before and being out of the country for days. Yes, I know I'm going back to the UK on Wednesday, and I know it's a massively westernised destination, but still, y'know? I thought I'd try and have a chat with the cabbie but his English wasn't great and all I got out of him was that he was from a tiny village in Slovakia, the name so incomprehensible to my Western European ear that I fear if I tried to pronounce it myself I'd end up dehydrating from the amount of spit I'd produce.

So for most of the journey to Heathrow I was lost in my own thoughts. As it happens for the first few minutes I thought I was just plain lost. Well, I thought he was just plain lost, as we took the most phenomenally awkward route from Surbiton to Hampton I could conceive. I know avoiding Kingston town centre on a Saturday afternoon is a good plan but this route was circuitous to say the least; good job the airport fee is flat and not mileage based.

I've flown from Heathrow Terminal 4 before but in the past I've always gone by public transport. I know it has a separate station to Ts 1, 2 & 3 but going there overground in a car really does hit home just how bloody far away it is. It might as well be a different airport. It was also bloody chaotic, the departures area being utterly packed. Being unable to check-in online for my flights thanks to the old-fangled paper tickets I've been issued with I thought I'd try and use the self-service machines, but I can't even use those. If I had cardboard it'd be fine, but paper's a no-no. Thankfully BA employ people to help out the confused souls who can't operate technology and I appeared to be such a soul, despite my problem being a lack of technology. So the guy checked me in at this PC-type thing, gave me a boarding pass with the all-important "fast track" sticker on it, and sent me towards the Fast Bag Drop line.

Dropped my bag fairly fast and headed to security. At no point did anyone measure my hand luggage despite all the furore about the dimensions. There are these bin things all over the place in which you're supposed to put your bag and if it doesn't fit in easily then it has to be checked-in. The guy with his PC just looked at my bag and said "does that fit?", but didn't want any proof that my affirmative answer was actually correct. Ho hum. It's not like I'm circumventing anything -- I know my bag fits because I bought it precisely because it's the right dimensions -- but I had expected someone to check.

I'd been told where the lounge was, and after security I saw a sign too. I followed the signs, found gate 10, and succumbed to lounge blindness. I just couldn't for the life of me see the damn thing(s). When I finally did see them it was bloody obvious. Oh well.

My experiences inside the lounge have been recorded previously.

The flight was called at gate 8 and I went there, got on, took my seat. 14k is a rear-facing seat in the Club World cabin, on the right hand side of the aircraft. It's also a window seat directly over the wing. You have to clamber over whoever's in 15J if you want to get up for any reason, especially if the occupant stretches out full length pretty much as soon as you're airborne, which on Saturday he did. But I didn't want to get up anyway, so it didn't matter.

I love sitting in a rear-facing seat. Take-off and landing feel so different, much nicer, but it's also probably just because it's such a relative novelty. This is only the second time I've ever done it, and I know full well that the vast majority of people never get to do it. I also know some people hate it, which is totally alien to me.

I also love sitting in Club World. This is what the holiday is all about. Long-haul business class travel in a seat that turns into a bed, a fantastic service from the flight attendants, masses of room, and privacy onboard. The k800i has a flight mode which means you can use it on a flight (duh) but because it's a phone I get nervous turning it on onboard because I figure people may panic. But in Club World there's no such worries, because no-one could see me doing so!

Before take-off I was offered a newspaper -- took the Guardian -- and a drink. I chose orange juice but could have had water or champagne. Also got handed a menu for the food service which started pretty sharpish after we got in the air. I had salmon for starter then fish for main too, followed by some cheese and biscuits and a couple of chocolates, all washed down by 2 cans of London Pride. Meanwhile I watched the film Wah Wah, Richard E Grant's directorial debut I think, an autobiographical flick about his life in end-of-an-Empire Swazliand in the late 60s/early 70s. Good film, but I was a bit put off by the main character looking an awful lot like Pikey Jones.

Food cleared away, film finished, I set controls to BED and had a couple of hours kip. Decent kip too. I could have squeezed another hour out of it probably but decided against it. I just like flying too much and as I keep emphasising (to everyone else as well as myself), I'm on holiday and there's just no need for me to be all refreshed and alert or whatever upon my arrival. So it was 0640 (UAE time) when I woke up, we were due to land in about 40 minutes and breakfast was just being served, a fruit salad IIRC although I didn't write down what it was. Captain came on the tannoy telling us the weather was great, a little misty perhaps, and 28C already in Dubai. Ouch.

I was thinking about the whole being on holiday, in business class, thing, and just generally my whole trip. Plane tickets and train tickets are complicated things, as the companies divide up the tickets in a particular cabin/carriage, where the service for all passengers is identical, into a whole bunch of different prices based on things like advance purchase, flexibility and ability to cancel/refund, etc. So the business class cabin has something like 4 different prices available, maybe even more, for an identical onboard product. Similarly trains do the same thing, just go look at http://www.thetrainline.com/ and see all the masses of options you get. Anyway I figure certain aspects of (my) life are pretty similar to that. It struck me on the lounge, as a bunch of people -- on a Saturday night -- were all suited up and constantly on the blower, obviously working, and they probably work like bastards all the bloody time. And on the plane there are a bunch of people on their laptops, no doubt writing emails or documents or presentations or whatever. This is the price they pay to get business class travel: they actually work hard and earn it. On the other hand here's me, flying in the same comfort purely for leisure and able to sit back and enjoy it all. I've got a heavy discount basically: an easy ride, a ticket marked "don't have to work your bollocks off to get this". What a lucky twat, eh?

Anyway. I'm sat in my seat watching the map thing say we're 10 minutes (or was it 10 miles? I forget) from Dubai and then.. we start turning around and heading back over the sea. Eh? What's going on here? We're not even circling, just heading away. Curious. Captain comes on the tannoy again and says "As you've probably noticed, I promised we'd be landing about now, but instead we're heading in the opposite direction". Well, at least we've not been hijacked. We do land eventually, about 50 minutes later than expected and in the wrong airport. Turns out a bad fog had descended on Dubai, reducing visibility way too much and rather than hang around in the air wasting "valuable fuel" we got permission to nip down to Abu Dhabi.

I guess there's worse places to find yourself short on fuel than in the Middle East, eh.

So we land at Abu Dhabi and taxi towrads the terminal... but only get so far. Turns out we're not the only ones who had this idea, and Abu Dhabi is full and there's nowhere for us to park. Captain says he's on the blower to "London" and trying to "call in a few favours", which eventually means we get refuelled while on the taxiway. I'm pretty amused by this, again I imagine the businessfolk onboard are a bit miffed. And indeed I can hear a load of them on their own phones because the engines are off and we're allowed to use them. I use mine to blog, heh. Me, I'm thinking it's a pretty cool adventure really, although I am wondering what'll happen to my cab. I know they'll know the flight is delayed, but will they hang around? Who knows. Who cares! I'll just have to play it by ear when I get there.

If I get there, that is. We're on the ground for an awfully long time. While getting refuelled we're told to make sure we have our seatbelts unfastened, which strikes me as odd and is never explained. I'll have to go look that one up. But it's good that the in-flight entertainment is on, and I watch episodes of the Simpsons, Frasier, and My Family -- which to my shame I actually enjoyed. I put it down to sleep deprivation. The weather at Abu Dhabi looks to me like it's getting mistier too. Will we be allowed to leave here?

Well, yes, we will. At about 0925 we're told the plane is refuelled and ready to go but there's a plane in our way. So we get towed backwards after getting permission to take off. We've also been given permission to fly pretty low, 7000ft he says although it ends up being 9000ft, for the 25-minute or so flight up to Dubai. We're given the full safety procedure spiel again and then we're away. All I can see out of the window is sand. Apparently on the other side the view is fantastic, but I'm out of luck on the right. Oh well. By the time we arrive in Dubai it's 1044, 3h15m late. I dunno how far it is from Abu Dhabi but personally I'm wondering if we couldn't have just landed there and been shoved on buses or summat. Not to worry.

Immigration and baggage reclaim is pretty simple, and I'm enormously thankful to find an explicitly signposted "Hotel representatives meeting point" in the arrivals hall. I'm a little less thankful to find no Hilton guy, but it turns out he was just sorting someone else out and I find him clutching a sign with my name on it pretty sharpish. I grab a seat while he marshalls a driver for me, within 10 minutes I'm being walked out to the car park to the waiting taxi. Bloody hell it's hot outside, feels identical to how Mumbai was back in March, but the cab has great aircon.

Dubai is an enormous building site. There are cranes and construction projects everywhere. There is also masses of traffic, and my driver takes me a really long way round to the hotel to avoid the main motorway that, he tells me, it's almost impossible to avoid using in Dubai itself. We go past it and it really is totally packed. I'm told our journey will probably take about an hour, but we'll be on the move rather than just stuck; it would be an hour in a jam going that way.

I think there are 3 types of people in big demand, making big money, in Dubai at the moment. Firstly, construction workers. Secondly, car dealerships. But the people making the most money must surely be the guys who create artists' impressions (ie, err, artists) of what these buildings are all going to look like once they're done. Because the view, any view, isn't nice at the moment.

It's about midday when we get to the hotel and a porter takes my big bag from me before directing me to the check-in desk. I'm about 3 hours later than I should be but still too early for a room, which is to be expected as check-in time is 2pm. All hail fog and Abu Dhabi! While waiting in line I'm given a free pineapple juice, and when I check-in I'm given a voucher for a free soft drink in one of the bars in the lobby area while they sort out a room for me.

The hotel looks ace. I perch myself on a seat next to the window looking out on the pool area, which I note has an awful lot of shade, and a bar. The lady from check-in comes and gives me my passport, which I'd left at the desk, doh! Mind you that's par for the course: my credit card had been turned down on first attempt too, FFHS. By now I'm really flaking out, knackered and feeling a bit ill really. They told me they'd definitely have a room before 2pm and come get me when it was ready. This would be handy because I've no money to get another drink or something to eat, and no room number to charge it too. But 2pm arrives with no further contact, so I go back to the desk where they say oh yeah, sorry, here's your key and room number.

The room is freezing! I know it's a hot country and aircon rules, but it's way too agressive in here, so I bump the thermostat up a bit and get online for a while before crashing out. One of the channels is showing the last ODI between England and Pakistan and I fall asleep in front of it, waking up with about 15 runs left for us to win. A walk around the room to stretch reveals a "sorry about all the construction work next door, here's a complimentary bottle of wine" label thing on a table near the balcony. It is not attached to a bottle of wine. Not that I drink wine anyway, but really...

I go out onto the balcony for all of 10 seconds before deciding it's way too bloody hot, and retreat back indoors to do a bit of channel surfing, read the hotel guide and the local Time Out. After a while I figure it's time for a pint. This hotel has a bunch of bars and I plump for "Studio One", a 'sports bar'. Seat duly grabbed I order a pint of lager and a plate of fish and chips. It's just before 10pm which makes it happy hour, half price drinks, woohoo! Chelsea -vs- Charlton is on one TV, women's doubles at the US Open on another, and a few Arab guys are playing darts. They're as far from Phil Taylor as it's possible to be.

The pint arrives as does a bowl of salty popcorn, have it! The pint gets drunk and a second one arrives. But where's my food? It doesn't arrive by the end of the second pint either, and I ask about it when ordering a 3rd. "Did you order it from me, Sir?" the waitress asks me. Sigh. Yes, I did, about 90 minutes ago darling. It arrives within 10 minutes of chasing it up and isn't very nice anyway. :-( But once I've eaten it, and finished the lager, I get the bill and am intrigued to notice I've only been charged for 2 pints. Each thing I've ordered is timestamped and basically it looks like the entire first order just went missing: there's no happy hour pint (but free is cheaper than half price anyway!) listed and the time next to the food is the time I chased it.

So what's going on, then? It's a lovely hotel and the staff are all friendly but, well, something's not right. They forgot to tell me my room was ready, the complimentary wine is missing (I wouldn't have known it existed had the label not been here!), the food took forever and they served me breakfast at 0400 instead of 0900. WTF?

Anyway. It's 0637 now and I think I'm going to grab another couple of hours kip before trying to get myself on a shuttle into the town, although truth be told I might not even bother. A massage and a swim and a few hours reading a book outside by the pool might suffice. Could do with a photo of the Burj though.

1 comment:

Nige said...

You should complain! A holiday's not a holiday without having to moan at a poor member of staff for something. Glad you're having a good do though, and business class sounds like.. the business.