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2-5-11 Al Ain

I started today around 5:00 AM. We (Maddie, Thistle, Allie, Nina, Kristin, and I) had plans to go to Al Ain (pronounced alane) for the day. So at 6:00 we got a taxi that took us down to the bus station in Dubai. At the bus station we purchased tickets for 20 dirhams (about 5 dollars) and got on a bus that took us on the 1.5 hour ride to Al Ain. We ended up getting to Al Ain around 8:30 AM, at which point we began our busy day.

When we arrived in Al Ain, it quickly became obvious that there were much less English speaking people there than in Dubai. So we decided to just go to the Zoo first since it was probably a well known taxi destination. So we got a taxi all the way to the zoo. However, when we got to the Zoo we decided that we didn’t want to go in yet because Andy had heard that there was a camel market that was open early in the morning. So we talked to some of the staff at the zoo and they were able to direct us to the camel market, which ended up being across town. So we ordered some taxis and then drove across town.

Thistle and I with a camel

The camel market turned out to be pretty cool. There was just a bunch of animals milling around in the various pens, and there were some really cute goats along with the camels, sheep, cows, and other things. At one point, when we were first looking at the camels, a guy came up to Andy and I and directed us into a cage so that we could take a picture. At this point I was fairly certain that he was going to ask us for money afterwards, but I figured I would go along with it. Then, after Thistle and I had taken pictures with two of the camels he started telling us that we needed to pay him. I refused, but Thistle (Thistle is the same person as Andy) caved and gave him 10 dirhams (about 2.5 dollars). After this we left the camel market and told our taxi drivers to take us to the Al Ain Oasis.

It took a bit of time to get to the Oasis because the Taxi drivers didn’t know exactly where the entrance was. The Oasis was not what I expected.  I was expecting some main body of water with lots of plants surrounding it. It turned out to be more of a fertile patch of ground than anything else. Also, the people living in the area had turned some of it into a garden so there were irrigation systems all throughout it. At one point, while we were wandering through the various paths in the oasis, we spotted a palm tree with some dates on it. Therefore, we decided that we needed to get some.

For our first try we put Kristin on Thistle’s shoulders and had here reach for the dates, but they were just out of reach. So then I climbed up onto the tree and tried reaching for them, but there were thorns everywhere. Therefore, I just started jumping up and down on the tree and all the dates started falling. A few people tried the dates and said they were pretty good. We then wandered around the oasis for a while longer before we left to go to the air show.

Our first attempt at getting some dates from a palm tree

 

The air show turned out to be pretty cool. As we were driving up you could see a plane doing various stunts in front of the grandstand. After we paid for our tickets and entered the main area we looked at the various helicopters and airplanes that were being shown on the ground. We wandered around the shops and stalls for a bit and then we grabbed some seats in the grandstand and watched some wing-walkers do their stunts. Then Maddie, Allie, and I walked around the rest of the booths that we hadn’t looked at yet. In one of the booths there was a cool F1 simulator that we tried out. It was a lot harder than I expected, granted I was pretty much just flooring it all the time. Around 2:30 we left the air show and headed to the Al Ain Zoo.

Allie in an F1 simulator at the air show

The Zoo turned out to be pretty cool. There were a bunch of different animals that I took way to many pictures of. My favorite part was the birds of prey show that we watched. Essentially, the bird keepers just paraded different types of birds around the field that the show took place in. According to everyone else, at one point an owl just missed hitting my head when he was flying over. I found out about this later. Around 6:00 we were all pretty tired and ready to get some dinner and then head back to Dubai. So we asked some of the employees at the zoo where a good place to eat would be and one of the guys suggested a restaurant that served classic UAE cuisine and was well known in Al Ain. So we caught another taxi to the restaurant and then prepared ourselves for some UAE cuisine, which most of us had not had yet despite being in Dubai for 2.5 months.

One of the owls that flew over our heads at the bird show

The food turned out to be incredible. The main dish that we got was called Chicken Mandy, and it was pretty much just chicken, rice, some greens, and yogurt with flavoring. We also got a few other dishes which turned out to be delicious as well. After dinner we walked back to the bus station and hopped on a bus back to Dubai.

 

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Today a bus picked us up at Etisalat Academy at 9:45 AM, and it took us to the Cultural Heritage Center in Dubai. RIT Dubai had arranged this trip so Dr. Tom and Dr. Mustafa accompanied us. The Cultural Heritage center turned out to be more of a library than anything else. The center worked to preserve books through a variety of means. They digitize some, restore others, and remake older books that were completely destroyed. Then these books are stored in their buildings and scholars from across the globe can request copies for next to nothing.

Everyone looking at a gold inlaid piece of paper

This whole system was set up by a Sheik, who we actually got to talk to for a bit. While we were talking to him he told us about two schools he had set up for the poor. One school was a high school that had 10,000 students, and the other was a college that had 2,300 students. I was pretty impressed with this so I asked him how he had accomplished it; whether he had had to raise money or something similar to that for the schools. He replied “No, I didn’t do any of that. I just decided that I wanted to build a school so I did it.” This guy definitely had money…

After we talked with the Sheik, we were given a tour of his book keeping facility. During the tour a photographer followed us around and took hundreds of pictures. At one point we were in a display room and there were a number of stones sitting in a wooden clam container. So I looked at the label and it said “The Qur’an written on stones,” I didn’t think this could be true. Yet, when I looked closer, I was able to distinguish tiny Arabic written all over the stones. It was impressive…

Qur'an on some rocks

Closer picture of the Arabic text, it's tiny...After we had finished with the heritage tour Dr. Moustafa dropped us off at a Lebanese restaurant so that we could get some lunch. We ordered family style and the meal turned out to be awesome! It is going to be rough going back to cooking for myself all the time…

We then walked over to the Spice and Gold souks and explored them for a bit before we met up with Dr. Tom at 4:30 PM. Dr. Tom had talked to us the previous week and told us that he would take us to the Textile Souk if we wanted because he knew a guy and could get us some pretty good deals.  So, once we got to the textile souk all 10 of us crowded into this little shop and started to look at pashmina and silk scarves. We were probably there for around an hour before anyone started to buy anything. I waited until almost everyone else had bought their scarves because I wanted his prices to drop, and I wanted to know what the scarves were going for.

Scarf buying experience

When I stepped up to start bartering with the guy, the first thing that he said to me was, “You know, you look like Spiderman.” Then Stan, the Brazilian in our group walked up and said, in his Brazilian accent, “You know Steve, you really do…” At which point I just died laughing. Once I got control of myself I started to barter with the guy. His first offer was 400 dirhams, which was about 4 times too much. I said no and then he said, “Fine, 100 dirhams,” which is the price that it should have been. So it ended up that I only had to barter for around 5 seconds, whereas everyone else had to work him down for around 10 minutes.

After everyone was finished shopping, and somewhere around 50-70 scarves were purchased, we said bye to Dr. Tom and caught an abra across Dubai creek for 1 Dirham. Then we caught a train back towards our dorms. On the way back, a group of us decided to check out a restaurant/bar called Irish Village that we had heard good things about. It turned out to be great restaurant with one of the best burgers that I have had in a while, and the beer was pretty good too.

Today we woke up and didn’t have any definite plans for the day. So around 9:45 I gave Maddie a call and we started discussing what we could do for the day. We decided that we should go to the Atlantis water park, which is located on the end of the palm islands. Therefore, we went around and woke everyone up and told them they had 30 minutes to get ready, which, for this group, is pretty fast.

 

Jimmy on the water slide that when through a fish/shark tank

So we grabbed some taxis and took them all the way down to Atlantis and then got ready for an awesome day. Atlantis turned out to be an fairly good water park, but it didn’t compare with Wild Wadi (the other water park that we have gone to here). The park was fairly large, but it didn’t have all that much to do, and unlike Wild Wadi you actually had to walk up some stairs to get to the top of a slide. However, there was a waterslide that you could go on that would take you through a massive fish/shark tank on the end.  This was pretty cool.

 

The Ziggurat at Atlantis

Most of the slides in the park started from a massive pyramid like thing that was called the Ziggurat. From the top of this building was one of the coolest views of Dubai that I have ever seen. You could look out across the city and see all the major land marks: Ski Dubai, Burj Al Arab, Burj Khalifa, The Palm, JBR, and a ton of other things. It was great.

Around noon the weather shifted a bit and it became cloudy and really windy. I found this to be kind of funny because I had checked the weather that morning and it called for a sunny day. So, I have decided that since the weather never really changes here there aren’t actually any meteorologists predicting the weather, rather they just say it’s always going to be warm and sunny and they are right about 98% of the time. We found out later that the wind that we had experienced had actually caused a bit of a sandstorm in the desert where two members of our group were.

View from on top of the Ziggurat (if you want to see the full picture just click on this one)

The park ended up being a good day activity, and after it closed we decided to go to Madinat Jumeirah. Madinat Jumeirah is a fake souk like area where there are a bunch of restaurants that you can eat at. Also, throughout the area there are manmade rivers that most of the rivers sit along, and you can pay to get abra (boat) rides around the complex. It was a pretty cool area.

We wandered around for a bit checking out the shops, and then we grabbed some dinner at an Italian restaurant that had some of the best noodles that I have ever had. We then headed back to the dorms and hit the sack because we had a fairly busy day ahead of us tomorrow.

1-27-11 Meydan Horse Races

Today we didn’t really do much for much of the day. However, in the evening we (Allie, Kristin, Nina, Mike Baer, Andy, Stan, and myself) decided to go to the Meydan Horse Races and then head over to the Dubai Mall afterwards.

Dubai is known for its horse racing so we were expecting greatness. As we are driving towards the race in the taxi we spotted a massive building in the middle of the dessert, which turned out to be the grandstand. The grandstand was enormous and had some of the coolest modern architecture that I have seen.

Front of the grandstand at the Meydan racetrack

We didn’t have to pay anything to get in because the races are free for the public. Then as we walked in we were handed three different pieces of paper: the race lineup for that evening, a piece of paper for the raffle, and a card where we could put down our guesses for the winner of each race. This last item, which I will call the betting ballot, served as a substitute for the gambling that usually happens at horse races since gambling is not allowed in Dubai. The ballot is free and it is given to everyone who goes to the race. So you just need to fill it out and turn it in to have some chance at winning money. Yet, this was not as easy as it sounds for us.

We could not, for the life of us, find a pen to fill the form out with. I walked around much of the building and asked several different people, both patrons and staff, if they knew where I could get a pen and no one did. Eventually, some guys that were sitting behind us lent us their pen and we managed to fill out about half of our forms before the drop box closed.

Big screen at the race track

The first race started at 6:30 PM, and we had done some in group betting before hand to make the race a little more interesting. As the horses raced along the track you could watch them on a massive TV. The TV had both a live feed and a computer modeled track where dots with number represented where each horse was. It ended up that none of us had guessed the correct horse so nothing happened with our betting. We decided to stay for one more race before we headed out. We once again took bets on who the winning horse would be and once again no one was right. Then we headed out to grab some dinner because we were all starving.

Grandstand overlooking that track

1/21/11 – Dubai Marathon

Today a group of us (Andy, Maddie, Allie, Kristin, Nina, and myself) headed down to the Dubai marathon. The Dubai marathon took place near JBR and the number of people that attended it was impressive.Andy before his race wearing the RIT t-shirt that RIT Dubai had given us for the races

We got down to the marathon around 6:50 AM and Andy’s race (10k) started at 7:15 AM, so Kristin and I wandered down to the starting line. At the starting line there was a group of the best runners in the marathon lined up and there was not a single white person in this group. The people who were running the marathon left at 7:00, and then the people running the 10k lined up to go. The 10k actually ended up starting around 7:25, and at this point the 8000 runners that were competing in the event took off. After most of the people had passed, Maddie decided that she was going to run the 10k as well so she hopped onto the road and joined the race.

It should be known that Dubai is trying to make this marathon better than the Boston marathon. To achieve this goal, it is offering large sums of money to the winners. The person who wins the marathon gets $250,000 and then the amounts decreases from there for the next 14 people. Also, Dubai was offering another $250,000 if someone managed to break the world record.

Andy managed to finish his race in about 45 minutes, and Maddie finished the 10k in a little over an hour. Let me just say that there was a ton of free stuff at this event. Throughout the day we got a bunch of free drinks and headbands, and a few other things. It was great. What was really funny was that because we were all wearing the same shirts and often drinking and wearing the same free merchandise, a lot of the stands took pictures of us to act as advertising for their companies.

After the 10k we wandered around for a bit and enjoyed the event. Then, slightly after 9:00 the first marathoner came running across the finish line. His time ended up being 2:07, which is insanely fast (a marathon is 26 miles). So basically, he made some pretty good money this day, about $125,000 an hour.

All of us posing for an advertising picture for Vitaene C (notice the matching shirts, headbands, and drinks)

Around 11:00 Nina, Kristin, Allie, and I started running the 3k, and yes I am aware that this is a ridiculously short race. However, it turns out that I am quite out of shape and only managed to run about 7:30 miles. It was still fun though. After this we wandered over to JBR and everyone we passed looked at us funny because we were still all wearing our running gear in an area where the majority of the people are dressed. Then we grabbed some lunch, headed back to our dorms, and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

One more thing that should be noted is that it was cloudy all day, which was great for running but when it stayed like that for the next 2 days and even rained a few time I was not pleased.

Me at the end of my race

Today Jimmy, Stan, Mike Baer, Kristin, Andy, and myself decided to finally go to Ski Dubai, the indoor ski resort in the middle of the dessert. We woke up and left Etisalat around 9:00 because we wanted to get to the resort when no one was there. We ended up getting to Ski Dubai around 10:15 and when we were paying for everything we were able to use some coupons that we had, which saved us each about 12 dollars. We ended up paying somewhere around 110 AED (35 dollars) for rentals and a 2 hour slope pass.

Check out the awesome matching outfits

After this we walked in and started to get our gear. Ski Dubai provided the skis, boots, poles, socks, and snow gear. One thing that I found quite funny is that the coat and snow pants that they provide all match so when you are going down the slope everyone looks exactly the same. It probably took us about 30 minutes to get ready. Then we headed in…

To get into the actual ski park you have to take an escalator up a floor and then you walk out into the ski park through a massive revolving door. When I first walked into the ski park I just felt like I was in a massive freezer. The air was really dry and it had several other indescribable aspects about it; however, the cold was great. So far this winter I have had to suffer through 70-80 degree weather and it has really taken its toll.

To get onto the lift we had been given little cards that you place in a pocket in the arm of your jacket. Then, you walk through a gate that reads the card and tells you how much slope time you have left. The lift that takes you to the top of the ski slope is incredibly slow. Amazingly, it was actually designed to be like this. It turns out that the cold is such a rare thing for the people living in Dubai and the surrounding areas that people will go to Ski Dubai and pay money to go up and down the chair lift and just watch the skiers go down the hill. Therefore, it ends of taking somewhere between 5-10 minutes to get up the hill.

The ski slope was ok. It wasn’t really all that steep and there is only two different runs you can take. Depending  the hill was only a green level slope, and maybe a blue. Usually, you were down the hill in somewhere between 30 seconds and a minute. However, it was still great just to be able to ski. I am definitely going the instant that I get back to the states.

Picture of Ski Dubai from a nearby Lebanese Restaurant

After we had skied for 2 hours and used all our time we returned our equipment and then went on got some lunch at an Italian Restaurant called Biella’s. It was great; and once again, the food service was incredible. We then headed back to the dorms so that we could catch the bus to class later that night.

1/15/11 – Ibn Battuta Mall

Today we didn’t really get going until around 12:00. At this time we decided to go to Ibn Battuta Mall. Ibn Battuta Mall is a mall that is separated into different architectural styles based around the explorations of Ibn Battuta. So we got a taxi and hopped on the Metro to take the hour ride to the mall (We left from the first stop and had to go all the way to the last stop). The mall turned out to be one of my favorite malls so far. The architecture that was incorporated into the mall was quite impressive and it made the mall have a much nicer feel.

One of the hallways in the Egypt section of the mall. Notice the hieroglyphs and paintings on the wall

Eventually, we decided to grab some lunch at a restaurant called the Lime Tree Café and I had some GREAT carrot cake. After this we wandered around the mall for a while longer, then Mike Walsh, Maddie, and I decided to go the theatres and see “The Green Hornet.”  The movie theatre was slightly different than ones in the US. First, when you are buying you ticket you have to reserve a specific seat, which I could see be quite nice if you are going to a movie with a large following. Another difference is that all the concessions are very reasonably priced.

Main hall in the Persian section of the mall

The movie turned out to be something else… I would qualify it as being terrible, and yet at the same time being hilarious and awesome. You just need to see it to understand what I am talking about. After this we quickly met up with the rest of our group for a bit. Then they left the mall, while Maddie, Mike, and I continued to explore the different architectural areas/countries that we had not visited yet. At around 8:30 we left the mall caught a train and then went in search of an Irish Pub called McGettigan’s.

The pub turned out to be in the bottom of a hotel about a 10 minute walk from the metro stop that we got off at, and it was quite nice. When we were initially walking into the pub the bouncer let both Maddie and Mike through and he carded me. We decided that this was because I was wearing an RIT t-shirt and an Under Armour bag. We hung out at the bar for a bit and then headed back to Etisalat.

Maddie, Mike, and Dylan in a frozen yogurt store

Today I wanted to do something out of the ordinary so I searched online for events in Dubai on January 14th 2011. Low and behold, it turns out that from the 6th to the 16th of January there was an international parachuting competition happening out near the palm island. I quickly rounded a bunch of people up (it was already around 12:00 so I wanted to get there as soon as possible so I wouldn’t miss anything) and we got a taxi to take us all the way to the event. As we were pulling up to the event, which was free for spectators, we could see about 7 parachutists falling down towards us. I was so excited!

USA parachuter coming down to hit the target

It turned out that at this point in the day they were having the accuracy competition. This meant that the parachutists had to aim for a small target on the ground and hit it as accurately as possible. The accuracy of the hit was measured by sensors in a computer and then relayed to the judges. The amount of accuracy that these parachutists had was impressive. After watching this for a while, we decided to go and get some food at a restaurant on JBR. JBR stands for the Jumeirah Beach Residence, which is essentially a touristy road where there are a ton of shops and restaurants and other things along the beach front.

We ended up going to a Mexican Restaurant called “On the Border” and it was fabulous. The food was great and the service was incredible. There was never a time when I have experienced better service (until a few days later). I will say the Dubai has some of the best food service that I have ever experienced. It is a common occurrence for managers of the restaurant to check up on you during the meal and make sure everything is going ok, and the waiters/waitresses are always near in case you need anything during a meal.

Mike, Kristin, and Andy eating some incredible Mexican food

After the meal I looked back out over the horizon and saw that the parchuters were now doing something different. So I left the rest of the group, who were going to the beach and walked/jogged back to the event as quickly as I could. It turned out that the parachuters were now doing the freestyle part of the competition. This essentially means that they come down over a pond, then they start spinning near horizontally to gain speed, and then they swoop down and level out over a $1 million pond that was built for the competition. While they are flying over the pond they do a number of different tricks before they land on a strip of sand. It was truly incredible. If I ever have the time and money to do something like this I definitely will. Unfortunately, I was only able to catch the last few free style rounds of the day before the event ended.

Parachutist skimming across the water during the freestyle competition

Another picture of a free-styling parachutist

So then I headed to the beach where the rest of the group was and we hung out there for a bit before slowly making our way back to the metro. We got back to Etisalat around 8:00 and then we got a bunch of food delivered, mainly smoothies, from a local restaurant near our dorms and relaxed for the rest of the night.

So last weekend we didn’t really do anything exciting in Dubai, mainly we just recuperated from the various trips that different people had taken and caught up on a bunch of school work. However, this made us feel that we needed to get a lot done this weekend because our time in Dubai is slowly and surely drawing closer to the end. Therefore, we did a ton of different stuff this weekend, and it was great.

This morning we went on a class trip to a desalination plant in Dubai. It should be noted that 98% of the water that is used in Dubai has been acquired through the use of desalination technologies. In my Renewable Energy Systems class, we had split up into groups and studied and presented the different ways that are being used to desalinate water, and it turned out that my group had chosen the same method that was being done at this plant (Multi-Stage Flash Desalination), which was great because I had read a lot about it and wanted to see it in action.

The visit turned out to be great. We were given a quick presentation about the technology before we began our tour of the facility. When we were touring the facility I was amazed at the amount of freedom we were given to look around, because on tours that I have been on in the US the companies are usually very strict about where you can and can’t go. On this tour we saw many things that greatly interested me as a mechanical engineer, but that I am not going to go into in this blog. Needless to say, I enjoyed the tour.

After the tour we relaxed for a bit, Mike Walsh and I played some Ping Pong, and then we headed out to an Irish Pub (Fibber’s) around 7:00 PM. The pub was a lot of fun. There we a ton of people there and it took a bit of time to be able to get a table and some food, but it was still enjoyable. Myself, Jimmy, Mike Walsh, and Stan left the pub around 11:30 to catch the last train back to the metro stop near our dorms.

 

1/1/11 – Final Day in Nepal

Today we got to sleep in as long as we wanted to since we didn’t have anything planned. It was great, and I managed to sleep until 8:00 AM. We went and got breakfast around 9:00 and during breakfast we finally met our first American in Nepal. Throughout the trip we had met people from England, France, Australia, Japan, and China, but never anyone from the US. When I first heard her speaking I instantly knew that she was American because she was talking about guns and crossbows, and the various types of hunting that her father does. After a bit we introduced ourselves, and it turned out that they were about to leave on the trek that we had just done. So we gave them some tips and wished them good luck.

After breakfast I got the first straight razor shave of my life. I had forgotten my razor in Dubai, which meant that when I looked in the mirror that morning, after not shaving for 8 days, I was the shaggiest that I have ever been. Essentially, I looked like a mountain man… The shave was great. The guy who did it put like 5 different substances on my face during and after the shave (no idea what any of them were), and the shave only cost $3.

After my shave was finished Maddie and I headed off to do some last minute shopping before we had to leave. We left our hotel around 11:30 AM and took a taxi to the local airport to catch our flight to Kathmandu, where we would later catch our flight back to Dubai. Our flight ended up leaving 30 minutes late at 2:00 and we got to Kathmandu by 3:00.

When we arrived in Kathmandu, we decided that we would check our bags and then go check out a local pizza place called “Fire and Ice” that had been recommended to us. However, it turned out that we were not even allowed into the airport until 7:30 PM (our flight left at 11:45 PM). So we decided that we would just have to suck it up and bring our bags to the pizza place.

Our taxi ride to the pizza place turned out to be interesting because our driver just took us to Thamel (the touristy section of the city) and didn’t really have any idea where the actual pizza place was. So Maddie got out her travel book and showed him a map of where the restaurant was located, and with the help of another random gentleman on the side of the street we were able to find it. It should be noted that us finding it was quite lucky because there is so much going on in Thamel, with all the advertisements, lack of road signs, and everything else, that it is slightly overwhelming and hard to spot anything specific.

The pizza at “Fire and Ice” turned out to be amazing, some of the best that I have ever had. According to Marishya, the person who recommended it to us, the ingredients are imported from Italy. Also, I found it amusing that there was Spanish music playing throughout our Italian meal. Another aspect that Maddie and I both loved about “Fire and Ice” was that their bathrooms were really nice. They had running water, toilet paper, a toilet, hand soap (big deal!), and a few other things that we had missed during much of our time in Nepal.

After our meal we headed back to the airport and ended up having to wait until 8:00 PM to be able to go into the airport. Once inside we then had to wait another hour to check our luggage. However, after this everything went very smoothly and we made it back to Dubai safe and sound by 5:00 AM the next morning.

Overall, this Nepal trip was an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget. I hope these Nepal blogs haven’t been too long or boring, the following Dubai ones will probably be much shorter. Thanks for reading.