Wednesday 24 September 2014

Day 15 - Homebound

Our holiday ends today. Unlike previous years we are not travelling home at the ungodly hour of 4am, Emirates now operate two flights to Dublin daily and we took advantage of this by taking the afternoon flight out of Dubai at 4pm. 

Another large breakfast was had the the Crown Plaza
We set our alarms early to take advantage of the remaining time we had in Dubai. The plan was fill ourselves up from the buffet breakfast and lounge by the pool until we needed to pack and it was a great one too as we managed to check out of the hotel all relaxed after our sun bathing and swimming. 

All set to board our flight to Dublin
Our hotel, the Crown Plaza is only 15 minutes by car from the airport. We left around 2pm and made it with plenty of time for our 2:30pm bag drop-off. Security was fast and boarding started just after 3pm. It was almost an 8 hour flight back to Dublin, which was less than half empty!

The plane taking us home

What a holiday it’s been. In fact it’s really felt like two holidays. Tokyo now seems ages away and we feel we’ve spent quite a lot of time here in Dubai considering our early check in on Saturday. 

On board our return flight
You couldn’t get two more contrasting cities, Tokyo, the worlds largest with over 37 million people, so orderly and polite to Dubai, the worlds most ambitious city with the worlds largest shopping mall, tallest building and longest driverless metro, a city of just over 2 million people in a desert with man made everything. The people here in Dubai are all ex-pats just trying to get by in the service industry. There is a divide between the business men, the service workers and the Emirates. Tokyo is a city of inclusion whilst Dubai does divide. We love both cities so much and I’m sure we’ll return to both again.

The route we took home from Dubai to Dublin
Thanks for taking the time to follow, like and message us whilst we’ve been travelling. We’ve been very lucky and have taken with us so many wonderful memories, most if not all are recorded here in this blog. This is our tenth year of blogging and now this last post completes a decade of international travel to far off lands. It’s such a treasure to be able to look back over the years and relive our travels as you have by following us. Until the next time - here’s to the next decade of adventures….

Pat and Vinnie

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Day 14 - Last full day in Dubai

After another massive breakfast and some 4 hours by the pool we decided to venture out to the IBN Battuta Mall, which is located almost at the end of the red metro line.

Relaxing by the Pool
The desert from our 22nd floor room
The ride there alone is interesting enough as you pass straight through and past all the sights of the city. Things are rather flat out this way where the city disappears and the desert really dominates.

The end of the metro line - not as many sky scrapers out this way

The sky scrapers of Dubai Marina in the distance

The area hasn’t changed a single bit in the three years we’ve been visiting Dubai. You still have to cross the sand to get from the metro station, over a motor way and a building site to reach the IBN Battuta Mall. Dubai is a city build for cars and not pedestrians.

At the IBN Battua Mall
The mall is named after an Arab scholar who travelled 120,00KM in the 14th century. It’s divided up into six themed areas depicting areas of the world he visited on his voyages ranging from China to Andalusia. This is another big mall and from the looks of the car park it’s undergoing some reconnection or a possible extension as it was a building site.

Inside the worlds largest shopping mall - The Dubai Mall

Inside the worlds largest shopping mall - The Dubai Mall
Taking a metro back Downtown, we spend the rest of the evening eating our way around the Dubai Mall followed by one last viewing of the spectacular dancing Dubai Mall Fountains.

Vinnie in front of The Dubai Mall Aquarium 

Patrick in front of The Dubai Mall Aquarium
It’s our last night in Dubai, we pack up tomorrow and head back to Dublin in the afternoon.

Under the worlds tallest building - The Burj Khalifa

Monday 22 September 2014

Day 13 - Bur Dubai and Dubai Museum

After a morning lazying by the pool, we decided to become a little cultured and headed to the historical area of Bur Dubai to visit the Dubai Museum and take a river boat across the creek to the Deria area.

The view to Downtown Dubai from the metro station by our hotel.
Unlike the mall area of Downtown Dubai, Bur Dubai is home to the restored historical quarters. Feeling more residential, it’s a maze of narrow streets, sand, souks and of importance to us the Dubai Museum. For just 3 Dhs (around 70 cent) you can enter the museum to learn about the history of Dubai and it’s people. It comprises of an area above ground and a rather impressive interactive gallery underground. Getting there wasn’t very straightforward. We took the metro and walked in the 40 degree heat using Google Maps on our phones for directions. I suppose most visitors to the museum arrive via coach or tour bus.

At Bur Dubai

One of the beautiful buildings in Bur Dubai

Outside the Dubai Museum
It was well worth the visit, afterward we found ourselves in the narrow backstreets containing the souq or market areas. Dealers where pushing their tat on us, it was a tad annoying as at that time of the evening we were the only tourists around. We’d never visited this part of the city before, we did feel a little nervous but it was quite safe. It’s just “different” to the wealth of other parts of the city.

The Dubai Museum

Inside the Dubai Museum.
We headed to the old Dubai Souq water boat station and ventured on a boat trip crossing the creek to the Deira side. The boat trip only costs 1 Dhs (around 15 cent) and runs 24/7. As boats fill up they move off. There is absolutely no safety on board, we even crashed when we set off (you can see this in the video below). You sit in the middle and hope of the best as the boat makes the 5 minute crossing.

The buildings in Bur Dubai

At the Souk in Bur Dubai

We took this boat across the creek

The creek we crossed by boat
The sun was setting as we crossed and we couldn’t have chosen a better time to do so. Seeing the sun disappear and see the city around us take on a different light was breathtaking. It was also call to prayer, with the call being echoed out from the many mosques which dotting the shorelines on both sides.

Arriving into Deria we returned to familiar grounds. We’d visited and walked around this part of the city many times on previous visits. It’s home to the gold and silver souks and bustling with life. You wouldn’t find any local emirate living here, the population is made up of the many Indian and other Asian ex-pats who’ve made Dubai their home.
Safely make it over to the Deira side.
After a quick look around, we jumped onto the air conditioned metro system and visited the nearby Deira City Centre Mall before returning to the hotel for dinner in Wagamama (which is in our hotel too).
Deira Shopping Centre - TV screen announcing it was Prayer Time
We rounded off the evening with a visit to the hotel niteclub, Zinc, where it was cabin crew night.
Down for dinner at Wagamama

At Zinc nightclub in our hotel

Sunday 21 September 2014

Day 12 - Mall Hopping

Another very relaxing day here in Dubai which started off with the delicious buffet breakfast from our hotel. It's the typical international selection including Arab and Indian favourites. We had curry and pancakes.

Pancakes for breakfast
After some hours spent by pool we popped out to The Mall of the Emirates, another crazy large mall, this one contains the Ski Slope and penguins! Being built opposite it is the Mall of The World, which when finished in ten years will be the worlds new largest mall complete with in door theme park and tram. 

A new store which has opened here (since our last visit) is Hollister. It's the first Abercrombie brand to open in the region so we had to pay a visit. 

Hollister at Mall of the Emirates
A few hours later to took the metro to the Mall of Dubai for an evening coffee. Everywhere stays open until 11pm or later here before retiring early feeling very relaxed. 

Snow, ice and Ski Dubai behind us.

Saturday 20 September 2014

Day 11 - Arrival into Dubai

What an 11 hours - the flight seemed to take forever to reach Dubai. We flew overnight and landed around 4am local time. From our entire flight of over 200 people only 4 or 5 of us were staying in Dubai, the rest using the airport as a transfer hub.

Our routing back to Dubai
The desert view from our room. Straight ahead but not seen are the world islands. 
The worlds tallest building.
The dancing water fountain at The Dubai Mall
Picked up some supplies at Waitrose
A The Dubai Mall

As it was too early for the metro we took a taxi to the hotel. We have returned to the Crowne Plaza. It's our favourite as we get early check in, late check out, lots of points with IHG, an apartment style room with dining area and kitchen and its beside the metro station, just two stops from the worlds tallest building and largest shopping mall. 

It's as warm as ever here, daily temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius with humidity over 80%. Any exposure to the heat and you sweat buckets immediately.

After an early check in and sleep we lounged by the pool before heading to downtown Dubai and the Dubai mall. 

The Dubai Mall is massive, it's simply impossible to begin to describe the size of the place, except to say it's like a city, with over 1,200 shops. If you get tired of walking around it you can hail a taxi to drive you from store to store. 

Dubai for us will be all about relaxing, soaking up the sun and unwinding after fitting a lot in last week in Tokyo. 

We spent the evening at the mall, watched the fountain show and ate Indian food. We rounded off the evening with a visit to the hotels night-club Zinc. 

Friday 19 September 2014

Day 10 - Leaving Tokyo

It's our last day in Tokyo today. We leave for Dubai this evening. We booked the apartment until tomorrow to avoid having to "check out" early. We used airbnb to book and highly recommend our place. 
Vinnie and his new friend.
We didn't get up to much except pack and take a little trip back to Shinjuku. Proving how hard it is to be vegetarian here we tried and failed in Starbucks, we picked up two Mexican Salad wraps to find half way through it contained tuna fish. I wouldn't mind but I did ask the staff prior to purchase if it was vegetarian. We did enjoy our pumpkin pie though. 

Our lunch from Starbucks
The Shinjuku area.
Feeling hungry we stopped off at pizza place Sbarro in Shibuya for a margarita pizza - you can't go too wrong with that. Staying in Shibuya we returned to the Apple store. It had now been open some 7 hours and were still selling iPhone 6 phones. I got a chance to hold them and as an iPad mini user I feel the iPhone 6 Plus is way to big. There was still great excitement about the store. 

Trying out the new iPhones hours before they launched in Europe and America. 
It's always horrible having to pack, it never gets easier. We left the apartment around 5pm knowing how long it takes to get to the airport. We took a taxi to the station and somehow managed to get a ticket for the express train at 5:45pm. It wasn't very straightforward, the ticket machine wouldn't accept any of our credit cards. We only had ¥4,000 left in cash, not enough to pay for our tickets. Somehow Japan is still a cash country, chip and pin is available, but limited. All local train tickets, even sucia card reloads have to be done in cash. It's rather odd. 

Shibuya crossing
Anyhow with the help of the non English speaking staff we managed to part pay for our tickets requiring to pay the difference when we got to the airport. Over an hour later we arrived at the airport and paying that difference was another hassle. But we got there. 

This little device gave us free internet throughout Tokyo during our stay, free with our AirBnB booking.
We had already checked in online, using Apple Passbook boarding passes, this allowed us to skip a line of at least 100 waiting to check in. However more hassle followed when the check in staff insisted our onboard allowance was strictly 7kg per person. Checked bag allowance is 32kg and combined we were some 22kg under this, but my carry on was 1kg over, Vinnie was 4kg under. At one point they were insisting we move the weight to our checked in bags. It really was a hassle over nothing and left a bitter taste for the local Emirates staff. We have been flying emirates for the last three years with no bother. We can only assume its the Japanese staff following rules to the letter of the law. 

Narita Airport is a little shabby. Come 9pm most shops were closed. Duty free was abysmal and eating options worse still. It's really not up there with other international airports. We took off after 10pm for an almost 11 hour flight back to Dubai. 

On the way to the airport
Goodbye Japan, we've had another wonderful visit, Tokyo can be like New York in parts, but it's oh so unique. It's unlike any other Asian city we have visited over the years, which is the reason we decided to return to Japan and stay in Tokyo for the entire time. We did our best to experience different things to the last visit and we've certainly accomplished that. Highlights for us are definitely singing J-Pop in a tent at the all night party in AgeHa, dancing under the stars whilst drag queens performed on a stage overlooking the swimming pool and definitely seeing sunset over Tokyo from Tokyo Bay as The Rainbow Bridge illuminated and the city in the distance turned on its lights. We both recommend a visit to Japan. You will never forget it. 

The adventure continues in Dubai.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Day 9 - Marunouchi and Nihombashi

We headed to two areas today, both beside each other, meaning a busy day walking.

Admission to the East Gardens is free, but you do get a ticket/token.
At the entrance to the East Gardens

The first, Marunouchi is home to the East Gardens of the Japanese Imperial Palace. It's free to enter and is the only part of the Palace Gardens open to the public. As a moat surrounds the gardens, the Nijubashi Bridge is used to cross over onto the Royal grounds.

Vinnie with a bamboo trees.

A short walk to the East through the business district of Chiyoda we reached Tokyo Station, with over 3,000 trains passing through it daily, it's the busiest station in Japan. According to our guide, a vegan Japanese restaurant (T's たんたん/T's Tan Tan) was located in the station, so we decided to use our Suica (transport cards) to enter the station in the hopes of finding it. The station is absolutely massive with several eating districts. We were fortunate to find the restaurant in the Keiyo Street area. It was great being able to eat something knowing there was no fish or meat hidden inside it.

Our Vegan Japanese Lunch
Afterwards we walked to the adjacent Nihombashi area. The Nihombashigawa River divides the area in half and in what I consider a great use of space, they've build an elevated highway over the river itself. We found the first department store in Japan and the "Road Marker" bridge, which is the a very important bridge in Japan as all road distances are measured from the middle of this bridge.

The first department store in Japan on the left, Starbucks on the right. 
The basement level of all department stores is home to the food counters. A must visit. 
Taking a walk along the main street of Chuo Dori Road, lined with more department stores we soon found ourselves back in Ginza. As the iPhone launches tomorrows we decided to soak up the atmosphere of the very long queue in front of the Apple Store. They queuing system is very organised, it doesn't block store fronts with large gaps to ensure people can flow in and out without blocking the flow of the street traffic.

In front of the line for the Apple iPhone 6 (well I jumped into the front of the line) at the Apple Store Ginza. People have been queuing for over a week. 
The Apple Store in Ginza being closed in preparation for the phones launch in the morning. 
Queues for the iPhone in Ginza
As it was our last night in the city, we headed out to raise a toast to Tokyo and look forward to the next part of our holiday, Dubai. We leave tomorrow night.

Cheers from Tokyo