Cool Car Cruise: Drive from Dubai to Oman

By Marina Aagaard, MFT

Oman. A country on the Arabian Peninsula. Deserts and beaches. It smells a bit of adventure. A visit is called for. So is a drive in the desert.

From the holiday base in neighboring Dubai, it is possible take a trip to Oman.
On the map it looks like a quick trip. But when you look closely, there are several hours of driving to the border and from there to Oman’s capital Muscat. You should set aside approximately a 7 hour drive depending on the route you choose.

The Sultanate of Oman is an Arab, Muslim country on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered to the north western to the United Arab Emirates, western Saudi Arabia, the southwest to Yemen and shares maritime borders with Iran and Pakistan.

It has 4,441,448 inhabitants (2016). Additionally, the country is visited by a growing number of tourists, who stay at the capital Muscat (second best city in the world to visit according to Lonely Planet 2012) or the northern part of the country to practice outdoor sports. Jeep Safari, read Nissan- or Toyota-safari in the desert and picnic in an oasis, Wadi, are also popular.

Another side to the desert

Early morning, it is still quite cool. We, our friend, Henrik and I, drive by car from the city of Dubai out into the desert and head south-east. Far from a spectacular desert landscape as in the tourist brochures; here it is gray-brown, dirty sand with bushes and shrubs and a forrest of power pylons and power lines. Not exactly idyllic.

oman_vej_img_6203

For once, not 1000 photo stops. The first part of the trip is visually unsightly, albeit an experience full of impressions from a completely different nature than the European.

oman_vej_img_6205

From here we head into the mountains, which from a distance in the mist looks magical, serrated and dark. More closely they look more like piles of gravel, more interesting than beautiful. But mountains are mountains and always exciting when you come from a country without any mountains at all (Denmark).

oman_ms_img_6163

By the border

We reach a small border crossing. It is open and local cars drive straight through it. Not us. We are stopped and asked to choose a different route. No explanation (perhaps inability to present visas). 180 degree turn, return, new route. O.k., so we got to see some more of the country.

After a half hour drive we get to a very large border, Khatmat Malahah, with five checkpoints. Passports are checked and we are motioned forward.
At checkpoint number three there is no-one at the control booth, so we drive past it. So far so good. But at post number four, we are asked to turn back; we must go back and find a passport office.

The passport office is in a small oblong container-like yellowish building a little away from the road. On the door is posted a cardboard sign with Passport written on it and a sign showing that photography is prohibited.

From the brilliant sunlight outside, we enter a semi-dark room, only illuminated by natural light from a single window and the light from a row of bare neon tubes.
The brown walls have no decorations apart some some worn bulletins in Arabic.

The narrow, oblong room is divided by a desk with glass with small holes for the exchange of documents – and credit cards. Behind the counter glass, there are three men dressed in uniforms and traditional white dress. Apart form us five others, all men, probably local truckers, are waiting for clearance.

So far on the whole trip, in all cars, in control posts and in the passport office, I have only seen men. I am glad, that I am in the company of two of those …

There is busy traffic back and forth behind the glass pane, while the documents are being processed thoroughly and quickly without any kind of conversation with us tourists.
In 10 minutes we are ready to go. However, first we must pass the last two checkpoints, before we are in Oman.

Neat and tidy

From the border we drive towards Muscat. A flat, yellow-brown landscape dotted with low-rise buildings in white and yellow colors. Here and there are patches of green. In the distant background glimpses of the mountain tops in the Hajjar mountain range.

Oman’s highest point is 3,028 meters, the mountain Jebel Shams 240 km outside Muscat; a popular area, which we did not have time to visit this time.

Fairly quickly the landscape changes. The two lane highway becomes a three lane highway with a lush median strip with green grass and flowers of all colors.
The road is perfectly straight and as clean as if it has been vacuumed.

oman_ms_img_5077

The long straight highway is interrupted at intervals by very large roundabouts with monuments and sculptures.

oman_ms_img_6080oman_ms_img_6087

A small rest is in order. Humans and Maserati’s get hungry. We stop for fuel; gasoline and nuts, water and ice cream with pistachio and pecans …

A trip to the restroom anyone? We are looking for the toilet, but it is hiding.
The gas station attendant is helpful. On gas station grounds there is a tiny mosque and behind it there are facilities for Ladies and Gentlemen.

oman_ms_img_6089

Cool Coral

We drive on and finally we see water and city. The satellite navigation guides us in the right direction and – after a few detours – we find the hotel.
Actually the navigation gets us to the hotel on the first attempt, but we overlook it and drive around for a bit. How could it happen? The hotel is hiding behind a mall facade; you have to put your head far back to spot the sign on the very top of the building.

oman_ms_hotel
Photo: Coral Muscat Hotel & Apartments

Our friend booked the hotel, Coral Muscat, according to the criteria: New, clean, wifi and fitness centre. The last two are also personal hotel criteria, especially wifi as bodyweight training can take place anywhere.

On the minus side. The hotel is just off a highway junction and a couple of kilometers away from the city center, so you do not just step out the hotel door and onto the corniche, promenade. The coveted pool was in maintenance, meaning that the pool was empty for three (or more) days.

On the plus side: The hotel is super nice and modern. The staff is friendly and helpful and speaks English, French and Arabic. The rooms are tiptop, the restaurant is nice and the roof terrace on two floors are very nice with elegant booths for private companies.

We live in a great apartment suite with a living room, kitchen and toilet and two huge bedrooms with bathrooms.

oman_ms_hotel_img_6861   oman_ms_hotel_img_6867oman_ms_hotel_img_6862

The fitness center is light, modern and well equipped. There is not a lot of equipment or machines, but there is more than enough for a complete workout for most travellers:

Floor space, free weights,balls, step benches albeit small, treadmills and other cardio machines, Kinesis, advanced and super versatile cable system for countless exercises, and a Technogym multi-gym machine.

Normally I am not crazy about multi machines, but this is a an o.k. version with a pulley system, which allows you to train chest, back and shoulders (arms) in an efficient way, with one or both arms. You can also work your legs; quads and hamstrings.

oman_ms_hotel_img_6943  oman_ms_hotel_img_6912  omang_ms_hotel_img_6877

Here we work out both days.

Man also has to eat.

oman_ms_hotel_img_4680

Since we are a little outside of the city center, away from the restaurant area – and the two nearest options are Burger King and KFC – we go into the hotel restaurant; it is small, light, open and minimalistic.
There is an a la carte menu and a three-course dinner menu, which we choose:

Shrimp cocktail, chicken and panacotta. As for the entree, we expect the usual:
A glass with small shrimp mixed with sauce. As a pleasant surprise – after a longer wait – in comes dishes with five, crunchy, fresh, delicious prawns with sauce on the side. Possibly the best shrimp cocktail ever.

oman_ms_hotel_img_4673

The main course today is fried chicken with french fries. While breaded chicken and fries are far from healthy, this is fresh and tasty, with the fries served in a paper cone on a separate rack and with a tray of tiny Heinz ketchup bottles on the side. Rather neat.

oman_ms_hotel_img_4676

The roof terrace bar … I accidentally said to the men. To their great disappointment as they discovered, that you (obviously) cannot buy alcoholic beverages, but only mocktails – cocktails without alcohol – and coffee and tea and snacks.
I was, however, very pleased with my non-alcoholic mojito. I like mocktails.

oman_ms_hotel_img_4677

After a long day on the road from Dubai to Muscat, here we are; well installed and ready for a much needed night’s sleep in our big, lovely, duvet-covered beds.

Goodnight. – Goodnight.

Sunny days in Dubai, Dubai Marina

By Marina Aagaard, MFT

Dubai Marina. A place worth returning to. If you are into water, boats, cars and skyscrapers. This is our third visit.

Dubai is sunny, hot and dry – although I like cold weather, rain and snow, enough is enough. It is ‘refreshing’ with some variety …

We arrived three days ago and after a day trip to Abu Dhabi we return. Zero sightseeing today. Only work at the PC (to keep out the sunlight) and after ‘office hours’ training and a walk. Construction is ongoing, so after a couple of years away, there are many new things to see.

dubai_marina_view_img_4579

There are several hotels in the area – with rooms in several price ranges. This time, however, we stay with a friend in JBR, Jumeirah Beach Residence, a series of skyscrapers, built around 2007. Jumeirah Beach Residence: 184 meters (604 ft) high, 46 storeys.

dubai_jbr_img_2873

On one side of JBR there is the beach; near the artificial peninsula; The Palm. On the other side of JBR, The Dubai Marina area.

Below are the garages, where in addition to a few regular cars, you see Bentleys, Maseratis, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins and other supercars.
The cars are cruising on the streets in front of JBR; you can see them most of the day.

dubai_ma_img_2878dubai_ma_img_2879

You cast no discreet looks, no, you stare wide-eyed: Ultra-luxury cars such as Maybach and Rolls-Royce are rare elsewhere.

dubai_jbr_img_4655dubai_am_img_3089

Above street level, the view also fine. In the distance you can see The Palm and Atlantis.

dubai_jbr_img_3070dubai_jbr_img_2871dubai_jbr_img_3080dubai_jbr_img_4575

The JBR area includes the popular shopping and café street The Walk. In recent years, however, there has been established a ‘competing’ promenade closer to the water front; with cafes and restaurants with beach views.

dubai_jbr_img_3073dubai_jbr_img_3075dubai_jbr_img_3076

In addition the little promenade, there a small outdoor amphitheater with a lawn and the beach there is a CrossFit-like outdoor training area (admission fee) with a view of the coming Dubai Eye.

Dubai I later named Ain Dubai (Ayn is the 16th letter of the Arabic alphabet and can be translated to eye); the world’s largest Ferris wheel. 210 meters in height and with 48 luxury cabins, which can accommodate 1,400 guests at the same time.

dubai_jbr_img_2869

A stranded whale (as my accompanying hubby joked)? No, it’s me crawling on the beach exercising; here the wonderful, hilarious Dan John exercise getbackup, while locals and tourists around me playing in the sand and swim in the water.

dj1_img_6612   dubai_ma_img_6647

Today and the day before I had the opportunity to sample JBR stairs, vertical running, or rather vertical struggling. 46 floors, 824 steps. My normal postulate – in Denmark – is, that it is faster to take the stairs than waiting for and taking the elevator. Here and now I take my word back … although, it is still healthier to take the stairs.

The elevators in JBR comes arrive and only take 40-45 seconds to the upper floors. Maybe a minute. From basement to the top by stairs took me eight minutes! Approximately 100 steps per minute, a really bad time at the moment. Down it took 5 minutes. 13 minutes up and down. After three trips, I was done (!) after a strenuous 40-minute workout!

dubai_jbr_img_2872

Spent some hours writing at a cafe in the afternoon sun. It got dark very quickly. Time for a stroll on the promenade around the Marina. Mesmerizing, meaning many, many photos. Not only with mobile and “baby-Canon” (these), but also with an “adult-Canon” and tripod.

dubai_ma_img_4594Yes, from an ecological and energy saving point of view, the sea of ​​light is sub-optimal, but a beautiful sight as the neonlight glitter and reflect in the water.img_2882

Palms wrapped in strings of lights. Seen not only in Dubai Marina, but also in Downtown Dubai. Festive ‘clothing’ all year round?

dubai_ma_img_2890dubai_ma_img_2891

There are restaurants in every price range in Dubai and with all kinds of menus. Sausages I have not eaten for many years, but was taken in by this cute hot dog stand.

img_2881

Instead of hot dogs, we go back to the beach and eat at a local JBR beach restaurant Seven Sands. A restaurant with local delicacies. Really special and delicious with several kinds of meat and shark. Unfortunately, again I ate the food before I got to capture it on film card – I need to work on my foodie skills on …

After dinner dessert? I am full to say the least, but am nevertheless persuaded into sampling some dessert delicacies as they are local and sound interesting.

dubai_ma_ss_img_4672

Lucky Choice: dessert, one pana cotta-like dish with nut-crumble crunch and a very special perfumed rose-ice. This really is a treat for the taste buds. The accompanying biscuit is left over, though.

After the food some lovely green tea and even with a tea-hourglass. A detail that makes all the difference. A memorable meal.

dubai_ma_ss_img_4671

A good day and good night.

dubai_marina_aften_img_2885

Middle-East travel: Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi

By Marina Aagaard, MFT.

A visit to the UAE is incomplete without a visit to Abu Dhabi. The 68th most expensive city in the world. That’s not so bad.

It is Tuesday. We borrow our friend’s car. We drive from Dubai southwards to Abu Dhabi. It is not difficult to find the way … (the six-lane highway goes directly from city to city).

abudhabi_ma_img_4595

Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the largest of the United Arab Emirates, UAE, 1.5 million inhabitants, and also the capital of the UAE. Abu Dhabi is both government center and a cultural center, though more subdued than Dubai.

The city lies on the coast of the Persian Gulf and has an impressive skyline: Abu Dhabi offers a variety of skyscrapers and more are coming. Many are unusual architectural masterpieces with glass facades that reflect the surroundings.

abudhabi_eh_img_4626

Besides the city itself, the capital’s top attractions are: Grand Mosque (the Great Mosque), Emirates Palace and Ferrari World, the amusement center with a dreaded roller coaster … and if you have time and money Yas Marina Formula 1 Circuit.

Yas Island

We cruise into the Viceroy Yas Hotel driveway in an open GranCabrio and therefore are able to hear engine sounds at full volume. That’s cool; someone are driving on the track, even though it’s Tuesday at noon.
Regrettably it is not a Formula 1 race, but a bunch of lucky people with sufficient money in their pockets allowing them to race around the track in Formula 3 cars.

We park the car and take a stroll to see what the facility can offer. Is it ok? I think so.

The architects Rani Hashid and Lisa Anne Couture of Asymptote Architects describes it this way: Yas Hotel, a 500-room, 85,000-square-foot complex, one of the main architectural features of the ambitious 36-billion-dollar Yas Marina area and associated Formula 1 racetrack Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Asymptote envisioned an architectural landmark that integrates several dominant inspirations ranging from the aesthetics and forms associated with speed, movement and design and patterns of ancient Islamic art and craft traditions.

abudhabi_yas_img_2894abudhabi_yas_img_2895abudhabi_yas_img_2910

Design details are ultra cool. Steel strips in the flooring simulates racetrack markings. Even the restrooms are special with distinct lighting effects.

abudhabi_yas_img_2909abudhabi_yas_img_2905abudhabi_yas_img_2918abudhabi_yas_img_2922    abudhabi_yas_img_2923

Time for a light lunch at Amici Restaurant. The menu boasted a special dish with pasta with cauliflower and truffle … and then tiramisu in glass. Yes, please.

abudhabi_yas_img_4598 abudhabi_yas_img_4600 abudhabi_yas_img_4602

The cameras were out to get it all in. Until a guard appeared and explained: Mobile pics are ok, but photos (with pro-looking equipment/for pro use) must be cleared by the PR department. This rule applies in many places, so be prepared, if you wish to take photos.

abudhabi_yas_img_6208-002

Smiles and thumbs up: Car and hotel both get a ‘yes’ from me; lots of X-factor. From the hotel we drove to the Great Mosque, the Grand Mosque.

Grand Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, the main mosque in the UAE. “Grand” is no exaggeration.Accommodate over 41,000 worshipers. Finished in 2007. Construction spending 4 billion DKK, 545 million USD.  Length: 420 m (1,380 ft). Width: 290 m (950 ft). Height largest dome, 85 m (279 ft); 82 domes in seven different sizes and four minarets with a height of 107 m (351 ft).

abudhabi_gm_img_2929

Entrance and mosque manners

First you pass through security. Men and women enter through separate entrances in a container-like building; compared to the mosque the entrance is ‘minimalistic’.

Female entrance piktogram shows traditional clothing (chador) With hair covered but face free. Western clothing is welcome, but you must follow local guidelines:

Women must cover the hair, ears and shoulders, arms and legs. Shorts, skirts or tight clothing like leggings are not allowed.

Men may have bare arms, but no bare shoulders or bare legs; shorts are not allowed.

The clothes must not be too tight, transparent or display offensive words or images (common of many western T-shirts). If you do not wearing proper clothing, one can in the mosque borrow a local cover-all.

Mosque manners:

  • There must be silence.
  • Smoking is prohibited.
  • Mobile phones must be muted.
  • Food and drinks are prohibited.
  • You should not lie on the floor (or sleep).
  • Do not caress or embrace each other.

abudhabi_gm_img_4625

After you have gone through security, you walk through the gardens and into the cloisters. Here you take off your shoes and you walk around in stockings or bare feet.

All over the mosque there are guards to ensure that there are no infringements of the rules: Some young tourists took a picture without their hair covered and that led to a reprimand and order of deletion of the image from the camera.

abudhabi_gm_img_4604

The guards also keep a close eye on that you do not get too close to or past the barriers: Fully understandable that the landmark is supervised; there can be up to 30,000 visitors a day, 4-5 million tourists and worshipers per year (2012).

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque design “unite the world” with materials from many countries including India, Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, England, New Zealand, Macedonia and the United Arab Emirates (wikipedia).

The Mosque have walls, floors and columns covered with white marble and ceramic. It creates an almost dreamlike, pure and soothing expression.

abudhabi_gm_img_3032

More than 3,000 workers and 38 construction companies participated in the construction of the mosque. Some building materials were chosen for design reasons, others for their ‘staying power’; marble, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals, and ceramics (Wikipedia).

On the walls, floors and pillars: Man-made vines; a magical sight.

abudhabi_gm_img_2969

The mosque is full of unique items: Among others the carpet of the large prayer hall: The world’s largest carpet (wikipedia). Made by The Iran Carpet Company, designed by Iranian artist Ali Khaliqi and made by 1200-1300 craftsmen. The carpet measures 5,627 sqm. (60,570 sq ft), there are 2.268.000.000 knots and it weighs 35 tonnes. It is predominantly of wool from New Zealand and Iran. It took two years to make the carpet (wikipedia).

abudhabi_gm_img_2978

There are seven chandeliers from Faustig in Munich. They consist of millions of Swarovski crystals. The largest of the chandeliers is the world’s third largest and has a diameter of 10 m (33 ft) and a height of 15 m (49 ft).

abudhabi_gm_img_2972

The 96 columns in the prayer hall are covered with marble with decorations of mother of pearl. The columns are exceptionally elegant, beautiful without seeming overly decorated.

abudhabi_gm_img_2973

The columns around the main square have stylized flowers made of semi-precious stones and mother of pearl. The tops are stylized palm leaves covered with gold leaf.
The columns are reflecting in two large pools.

abudhabi_gm_img_2960abudhabi_gm_img_3014abudhabi_gm_img_3039

The mosque has to be one of the world’s most beautiful buildings. Huge, but elegant and airy. If you have the chance, visit.t should be seen.

Emirates Palace Hotel

Impressive. On the outside as well as the inside. The Emirates Palace is a luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi in marble, gold and other precious materials. There are 114 domes, the highest 80 meters high. There are 394 rooms and suites. On the grounds there is a 1.3 km private beach and 85 acres of gardens and lawns.

The hotel looks magnificent both during the day and in the evening. Am I just too easy to impress? No, the number of tourists from around the world, swarming the street taking photo after photo, suggests that I’m not the only one, who think the hotel is worth seeing.

abudhabi_eh_img_3061abudhabi_eh_img_3064abudhabi_eh_img_3057abudhabi_eh_img_4627

Not everything that glitters is gold, but in the Emirates Palace Hotel it (almost) is …

abudhabbi_eh_img_3046abudhabi_eh_img_3047abudhabi_eh_img_3050abudhabi_eh_img_3051

Even the restroom fittings are elegant and gold-clad.

abudhabi_eh_img_3052

In front of the main entrance there is a staircase and waterfall and at base there are several fountains. A most popular selfie location, so you have to be patient.

abudhabi_eh_img_3054abudhabi_eh_img_3059abudhabi_eh_img_3062

The hotel houses the rich, the famous and the well-dressed and there is no access in casual beach clothing. Arms, legs and feet must be suitably covered.
If your clothing is acceptable, however, you are welcome to visit the exclusive hotel, even if you have not booked a suite for the night.

abudhabi_eh_img_3065

You can dine in one of the restaurants or enjoy an afternoon tea in the cafe. This day we visited the brasserie, where there was a buffet (a health challenge; for many including yours truly; it’s hard not to overindulge. A la carte is preferable. We took a chance, though, and had a memorable visual and gustatory experience at a reasonable price.

The buffet was the most exclusive, I’ve experienced to date. E.g. an impressive fish buffet with not only ‘standard’ fish, but also fish dishes, oysters, prawns and whole crab claws.

Plus a sushi buffet, a buffet with local dishes, small dishes, fine cheeses with tasty ‘extras’, a wide variety of breads and biscuits, a huge dessert buffet with many exciting desserts and lots of fresh fruit. In addition a chocolate fondue and Arabic delicacies and several kinds of dates.

Local Arabic specialties.

abudhabi_eh_img_4628

International specialties. The small plate in the middle contains a salad with quail eggs.

abudhabi_eh_img_4636

Semi-healthy dessert. Fresh fruit and several kinds of mousse, panna cotta, cheesecake, cake and a delicious crème brûlée; a favorite.

abudhabi_eh_img_4637

A delicious tuna dish.

abudhabi_eh_img_4631

In addition to a wide range of hot dishes, there were 3-4 cooks making special dishes on request. A paradise for food lovers.

That was nice.

After this tasty end to the day, we headed back north and were soon back in Dubai.

After a sightseeing-packed day we sleep heavily.

Travelling time: Back in Dubai, Dubai

By Marina Aagaard, MFT. Photos: Henrik Elstrup and Marina Aagaard.

From Denmark to Dubai. Again.

A client asked me “why go there”?

Dubai has become a popular international holiday destination; not strange: When you step out of the airport, you are almost blown away by the desert heat and vibrancy of the city, which never sleeps.

For my part I like visiting friends and taking photographs of amazing architecture.

After half a day’s journey from Denmark to Dubai, we, Henrik and I, fly into DBX, Dubai City Dubai International Airport.

10 years ago a coach student told me, that she had been to Dubai, and I thought that it sounded exotic and interesting, but also expensive and difficult to travel to. Fortunately, although going to and staying in Dubai can be quite expensive, you can still find cheap(er) fares, hotels and restaurants. It is not utopia to go there.

dubai_dbx_img_6208Waiting for a train. In the terminal. Ready to board the train bound for the arrival hall.

Sunday is gone. Monday is here: Time for a bit of city sightseeing again.

dubai53

Dubai

The city lies on the south-east coast of the Persian Gulf and is the capital of the emirate of the same name; Dubai. One of the seven emirates that constitute the United Arab Emirates, United Arab Emirates, UAE.

dubai_marina_view_img_4579

The city refers to itself as ‘the city ot the many records’, for example, home to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. A unique landmark – star of Mission Impossible 4 movie – with its 828 meters (2,717 ft) and 163 floors can be seen from many miles away.

Dubai urban area covers 4,114 sqm. and has almost 3 million inhabitants 2,714,719 (29.01.2017). The population consists of 17% local, Emirati, and 83% from other countries. A lot of expats, foreigners who live and work in the city, live here temporarily.

Every year Dubai is visited by 15 million tourists from around the world. The temperatures range from 23-30 degr. C in winter, from December to January, up to 55 degr. C in summer, from June to July. The winter months are the best time for a visit.

dubai_libanesisk_mm_img_2863Last visit: January month. 23 degrees on the restaurant’s terrace. Having a Lebanese breakfast while overlooking the Persian Gulf, Palm Island and the Promenade.

The city has no long history. Dubai was first mentioned in 1095 and the earliest settlements dates back to 1799. Dubai was founded June 9, 1833 by Sheikh Maktoum bin Butti Al Maktoum when he with his tribe members settled at Dubai Creek; estuary; Here you will find the old town. Dubai became independent (after having been under the protection of England, UK, since 1892) and part of the UAE on December 2, 1971.
This day is celebrated every year with the ‘National Day’, a major festive event.

Shops and trade

Dubai, also known as the ‘Middle East’s shopping capital’, already in the 1900’s was an important port and trading center. Today the city has more than 70 shopping malls, among others, the well-known, older, Mall of the Emirates with an indoor ski slope and the Dubai Mall, the largest mall, that houses a giant aquarium, an indoor ice rink and shops with all of the world’s most exclusive brands .

dubai1018dubai749

The country is no major oil nation. Oil was discovered in 1966, but resources and production was low. The country has boomed as a commercial and tourist center. After a a ‘downtime’ after the financial crisis, Dubai is on the way up again and preparing for World Expo 2020. A guess: It will be spectacular.

dubai2104  dubai1333  dubai1419Crazy about cars? Then you will love Dubai. Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys and more.

See the city by RTA

The city is no usual city, where you can stroll through it from one end to the other. The city covers a very large area and has three city centers; Dubai Creek and the old town, downtown with Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa, and Dubai Marina, with the marina and numerous hotels, restaurants and shops.

dubai8dubai277A metro Station between mega-buildings. The metro is nice and easy to use.

You go from one end to the other via the six-lane highway or the metro, which only has two lines north-south and east-west, between the skyscrapers . There are also trams in some areas plus buses and 3,000 taxis. It takes at least half an hour to get from one end of the city to the other, longer during rush hour.

dubai_walk_aften_img_2875
In some places you can take a longer walk: For example on The Walk in the JBR area.

Top 7 Attractions Dubai

# 1
Dubai Marina
is one of the most popular places in the city with a free attraction: A 7 km long promenade encircling the water with impressive skyscrapers, restaurants, shops and the Mall. Here you will see the ‘medium sized’ yachts and it is lively around the clock.

dubai_marina_aften_img_2885

# 2
Burj Khalifa, downtown: A very, very beautiful and brilliantly designed building, which houses the Armani Hotel.
This landmark is a must-see attraction. One should book in advance to sure to get in and up at the desired time. Also, one should set aside plenty of time, because of the way up to the tower escalator, there are posters about the building and construction process.

dubai671dubai822

At the panorama platform, you have formidable – or scary – views of Dubai. And there are slides showing how Dubai has developed at high speed during recent decades.

dubai839

In the tower you look down on other skyscrapers – they seem small in comparison.

# 3
Right next to the towering building there is another ‘free’ attraction: the world’s largest shopping center, Dubai Mall , which these days are expanding! One should set a whole day aside for a visit.

Even if you are not shopping, you can go window shopping at Tiffany’s, Boucheron, Louboutin, Prada and many, many more shops with fabulous exhibits that entertain and inspire.

If you get tired of (window) shopping, you can dine in one of the many restaurants and cafes. There is something for every taste and (almost) every budget.

dubai967dubai1040Almost every wish is catered for. Bathtub in green marble mounted with gold feet, anyone?

# 4
It’s smart to reserve a table at one of the restaurants by the water – yes, there is an artificial lake between Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall – as here every evening between 17:45 and 22:00 there is a spectacular fountain show, the Fountains , accompanied by music and a light show on the tower: This attracts massive crowds.

dubai1225

# 5
Another recommended attraction is the ‘sail’, the architectural masterpiece Burj Al Arab , the world’s only seven star hotel. Though some critics argue that the hotel have assigned the stars themselves, the hotel is worth every star (I have inspected the premises!).
Normal price for even the smallest suite is very, very high, but sometimes, for those willing to lash out, there are special deals to be found.

Another alternative is to have dinner or afternoon tea in the hotel. You do not go in straight from the street; you book in advance and enter by car or taxi; past the gatekeeper and then over the bridge to the hotel. Prices are high, but the experience is worth investing in.

dubai345 From a distance the ‘sail’ looks ‘small’; an optical illusion. It is 321 m high; 60 floors. dubai1650The ‘sail’ at closer range, seen from the beach in the evening sun. img_4150The ‘sail’ inside. Most of it is ‘air’, a sign of extra, extra economic surplus, and pure gold.img_4119

# 6
Another attraction is the giant hotel Atlantis with an impressive water park and fine restaurants. Located at the edge of The Palm, on one of the many artificial islands and peninsulas in the area.

dubai1781

The Sea Theme cannot be overlooked; seashells, shells, sea anemones, fish and water.

dubai1867   dubai1866dubai1864

However, there are many more impressive hotels, where you – surrounded by giant chandeliers, rich decorations and thick carpeting – can feel like king or queen for a day.
The prices for dining in hotel restaurants are moderate to high, but not unreasonable compared to e.g. European prices and the surroundings and service is worth every penny.

There is no serving of alcohol in the city’s restaurants or cafes. But. There are no limit to what you can enjoy of the world’s finest wines and other alcoholic beverages in the hotels, which of course is for the tourists, but at sultan and sheikh prices.

For a low budget trip you can choose the brasserie rather than the restaurant, and enjoy a mocktail instead of a cocktail or wine. It is still festive and tastes wonderful.
Speaking of party; at hotel bars and lounges you can party all night long.  

# 7
In the old town (and in Dubai Mall) in Deira on the Dubai Creek, there is a  Gold Souk , a market, which sells tons of gold and jewelery in all price ranges. It is worth seeing whether you are buying or not.dubai555dubai467dubai474 dubai482

Dubai is certainly worth a visit.


Respect the rules of the country

Dubai is a Muslim country and the Koran and the laws are strictly enforced. This means among other things that:

  • Five times a day prayer (is called).
  • Friday (and Saturday) is a public holiday (s) and weekend. Much is closed Fridays.
  • Public displays of affection is prohibited. Even holding hands in public is frowned upon and even if it is not illegal for a married couple, they can still be arrested if a local is upset by it.
  • It is forbidden to take photographs, if there are other people in the picture. They must be asked for permission. Moreover, one cannot photograph everything everywhere. One should stick to tourist attractions. If in doubt? Ask!
  • Alcohol is prohibited (except in hotels). So you can not  buy alcohol in town, or (as in Europe) walk around in the streets holding bottles of alcohol.
  • There is zero tolerance towards alcohol and driving. The limit is 0 % and violations carry penalties of imprisonment and / or a minimum fine of 25,000 AED.
  • It is – like everywhere else – forbidden to drive too fast: The speed limit is 20-40-60 km / h on the streets and 100-120 (a short stretch 140) km / h on the highway. Dubai is a dangerous country to drive in: People with very different driving experiences get around in everything from old cars to the world’s fastest street cars. Drive safely.

To travel or not to travel? Boeing 777 Budget Trip!

By Marina Aagaard, MFT

Friday night. Yes or no? A small trip. No time, not in budget. Surf the internet anyway. Find a same-weekend round-trip flight at a very reasonable price.

Under 2 K DKK (under 280 EUR) for an out-of-Europe trip. And with a reputable airline at that. So hubby contacts friend at the destination; can we stay in your apartment? “Yes”. So without hesitation we proceed and book the flight. Perfect time: You may get lucky and get a favorable price when booking well in advance or at the last minute …

Saturday; hectic day doing laundry and continuous packing in between other tasks.

Sunday morning

Departure by car to Aalborg Airport (AAL photo), which has free parking. Perfect.

csm_aal apron-fly-klm-terminalbygning__3760x2507__fc50e19362

Sunday noon

Take-off. From AAL. 1:25 t flight.

Pleasant and short trip; we only had time for a a cup of coffee and a sandwich and reading Holland Herald before moving out again.

dubai_klm_aal_aas_img_4563Tiles, cows, clogs and windmills. It is not hard to guess the name of the airline.

We are to stop over in Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, AAS. A so-called ‘tight connection’; as in really short transit time: 50 minutes from landing to departure. It sounds like plenty, but in reality it means 20 minutes from landing to boarding. Add to this, that Schiphol is a major airport and you have to go through passport control on your way onwards.

But of course we will make it. We sit quietly and our plane bound for NL takes off.

After a short while a message in the PA system: Captain: We will be delayed by about 10 minutes. Oh no, it may mean that we do not catch our connecting flight.

Sunday midday

Stopover in Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, AAS.

As the plane rolls down the runway for the gate, our bags are packed and we’re like springs, ready to ‘squeeze’ past the other passengers on the way out to the terminal.

Clear of the gangway we cover the distance between arrival gate B and departure gate F in jogging tempo despite fully loaded backpacks with pc’s and photo equipment. Fortunately, there is no-one in front of us at the passport control, so we sprint onwards.

We spot the gate and increase the cadence … and – along with two other Danes – board the waiting aircraft as the very last. Gate staff closes the gate immediately after we have jogged past.

In the cabin: One of the world’s largest aircrafts, the Boeing 777-300ER. 73.86 m long with a wingspan of 64.80 m, a max total takeoff weight of 351,543 ton and like the older jumbo jet with room for 408 passengers (in economy 3 + 4 + 3 seats across).

For a reasonable sum we were able to upgrade to business class, but even though the huge lounge chairs look very appealing, we declined this time around. It is after all ‘just’ a flight of 6.5 hours and the economy seats are spacious enough.

dubai_klm_img_4566

One can tell, that it is a new aircraft. Stylish, spacious and entertainment system of high quality. You can choose between several of the latest movies, a large selection of older movies or play games or quiz show.

After having read for while and seen a movie (duller than the preview is suggested) I go for once in ‘gaming mode’, Jeopardy and Sudoku simultaneously with a favorite: Watching the in-flight viewed from the cockpit angle. Time flies (ha ha!).

dubai_klm_img_4573

The catering on this tour is also fine: Ongoing drinks. Rather tasty (airline) dinner – you can choose a special dish or a choice between chicken or vegetarian pasta. We chose the latter. Oops! Finished everything again before I remembered the foodie photo.

Then more drinks (water and juice … or soda and alcohol) and finally a light late night snack and then the trip was over.

Sunday evening

A perfect landing. Smooth taxiing to gate. From there to the arrival hall. But then: Approximately 45 minutes of waiting in line at passport control, where the inspector is remarking, that it’s a long time since we last visited the city.
Fortunately we are let in without further charges.

Quickly we find a taxi, which via the six-lane highway, in 40 minutes takes us to the other end of town, where we are received in the street by our friend.

Sometime after midnight we enjoy a light refreshment and the night sky for a few minutes and then go to sleep.

Visit Aarhus, Denmark: ARoS Art Museum

By Marina Aagaard, MFT
For health and wellness: Be touched. By art.
Health and well-being is enhanced by experiences, and actually ‘Culture on Prescription’ is now an accepted Nordic health promotion method.

Therefore, you may be able to upgrade your health through museum visits!
The other day I visited Aarhus Kunstmuseum ARoS.

While art moves your brain (thought), it is an added bonus if the body is being moved, too. You get to walk quite a few steps in the museum. And for a stair runner it is nice to see the suggestion above: Thank you for considering taking the stairs (save the elevator …).

Highlights from the permanent exhibitions and parts of the Cultural Capitol 2017 theme exhibition: The Garden: The Past.

   

A hideous, appalling work. A couple victim to all forms of violence and accidents. Repulsive … until you read the fine print (the tattoo on his arm):  True Love Forever. Love conquers everything. I have my doubts about the piece, but not the message: Love is all.

Any car lover must be horror struck. A Lamborghini, which museum visitors at the invitation of the artist Dolk were invited to deface ad libitum (until recently). Arrrghhhh.
Poor, poor car. A horrible sight. Even a tiny scratch would have been very bad!

The above were difficult shots: This Lambo was surrounded by visitors almost non-stop. A highly popular attraction (ARoS has also previously had fast (F1) cars on the program).

In the Garden exhibition: A headless female figure on a swing has lost her shoe, flew through the air. The moment is captured (shoe fixated with nearly invisible string).
Yinka Shonibare: The Swing (After Fragonard) (2001).

Michael Kvium, famous Danish artist, among other things known for grotesque paintings of people in skin and blood colors. Here a completely different genre: An elegant and brilliantly conceived figure: Think Bigger (2003). A very motivating suggestion.

A selfie in front of a large mirror surface. Many guests took photos (of themselves) here.

Fluorescent (paint) is popular. An installation about nature as “something we lost”:
Mark Dion: The Phantom Museum (Wonder Workshop)  (2015).

Part of the exhibition is not visual, but auditory. You step into a completely dark room, the first step into the Jacob Kirkegaard exhibition everything & nothing.

Kirkegaard is internationally recognized for fascinating footage of the world’s sounds. Using advanced equipment records he records sounds under water, resonance of abandoned spaces and tones within the ear. The exhibition includes five ‘catchy’ parts. 

Art does not need to shock every time. Art may also like to please the eyes: Pool.

Two large pieces:
Eroded Valley (2016), Damián Ortega. Brick. Not pretty, but very well conceived and thought-provoking. A Crossing Place (1983), Richard Long. Stone. ‘Sleek’ and symbolic.

An installation with sounds and images of empty spaces in Chernobyl. Saddening.

In the basement, The 9 Rooms, with various installations. Two I particularly liked:

A very large, life-like installation with turntables, neon lights and empty bottles. The work evokes memories of earlier times with lots of disco (Thursday, Friday, Saturday):  Too Late by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset: A nightclub morning after a festive evening.

A glass tank filled with water and a glass fiber head on which facial expressions are projected. What an idea. Slightly frightening, Unk  (2004) by Tony Oursler.

Olafur Eliasson, Icelandic super artist, is fortunately well represented at ARoS. The museum ‘roof installation’ My Rainbow Panorama (see below) is an architectural and artistic masterpiece and always worth a visit.

In The 9 Spaces Eliasson is represented by Environment (2007): a white room with mirrored floor ceiling and walls that multiplies guests and cameras, “an infinite space.”

     

In The Garden exhibition Eliasson is represented with a drizzle rain: The light playing in the water and you get placed himself at the right place, you can vaguely see a rainbow. Beautiful. The installation is called Beauty (1993), of course.

ARoS – 20,700 square meters distributed over 10 floors – is one of Northern Europe’s art museums. The museum was designed by the Aarhus-based architectural firm schmidt hammer lassen architects (1997).

The building is shaped as a cube with a ground plane of 52 x 52 meters and a height of 43 meters. A curved section through the cube serves as the museum street. In the middle of the building a spiral staircase, and elevators, leads up and down to and from the galleries.

But what is this? The museum’s usual light, airy interior, is occupied by a giant 50 meter long piece of art, Valkyrie Ran, the Portuguese Joana Vasconcelus. Colorful, fantasy-like and festive, absolutely; currentlyly part of a special exhibition with the artist.

But. Reportedly this work of art is to be included in the museum’s permanent collection? Hopefully not at the current location: The building’s elegant, minimalist architecture disappears behind plush and sequins!

At the top. Again. Aarhus City views in all colors of the rainbow. My Rainbow Panorama.

Downstairs again. A visual deception. This large, 3.15 m high knot seems massive and heavy, but a closer examination – a couple of beating knuckles – reveals a hollow sound and the figure is neither of steel or granite, but of fiberglass. Disappointing …

The sculpture “Granny’s knot,” “Granny Knot” , however, is far from light-weight: It weighs 200 kg and was made by Shinkichi Tajiri, a co-founder of the Cobra movement, in 1968. Regardless of material: A pleasing sight; it is timeless art.

Recommended.

*****

Hamburg, Germany: Miniatur Wunderland – train spotting

By Marina Aagaard, MFT

Model trains? What have they to do with fitness and wellness? Quite a lot. Even if you know nothing about model trains, you will be in high spirits at the Miniatur Wunderland: Germany’s most popular attraction ahead of Neuschwanstein castle!

I have been in Hamburg countless times, but until this year I had never heard about MiWuLa. On a recent trip to Hamburg, though, my husband and I went to Kehrwieder 2, Block D, in the port area.

Times and prices

It was a late afternoon out of season, but the place was busy: Visitors came and went. At the reception we were upon arrival immediately asked if we had booked. “No”. So we had to go in and reserve a slot for our visit; 1½ hour later, in the meantime we went for a walk.

Although it is the world’s largest model train layout, it is situated in a quite limited area, 6,800 sqm. over two floors, so there is no free access, you have to reserve an entry time. Visitors enter in slots every half hour. Tip: Book in advance via the website.

MiWuLa is open 365 days a year (check times). From pm. 9:30 or 8:00 pm to 18:00 or 21:00. Entry fee is 14 Euro. Cheap for such a special attraction.
You can see the sight in about 1½ hour, if you walk briskly through it. But I would recommend, that you devote 2-4 hours so you have time to see all the details and ‘push all the buttons’.

A model world for kids and adults

When I was little, I was sometimes with my parents or grandmother at Aarhus Central Station and saw the model railway in the waiting room, and I’ve always liked to go by train. On the other hand, I have never played with model trains and know no enthusiasts.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to visit an attraction with the title “world’s largest” of something, but had no particular expectations (of course, then you won’t be disappointed).

You enter by going through the souvenir shop, ‘packed’ and popular. From here you walk into some old, rather ordinary white-painted warehouse-like facilities with harsh neon lights in the ceiling. But then the bleakness stops.

Miniatur_Wunderland_Hamburg_Germany_Marina_Aagaard_blog

Whether you are interested in model trains or not, you have to be impressed by the enormous work that lies behind the design and building of the beautiful model-landscapes, mountains, forests, cities, roads and especially lots of railroad tracks, locomotives, trains, train stations and thousands of cars and trucks and even more miniature citizens, criminals, law enforcers etcetera.

Miniatur_Wunderland_Hamburg_Germany_Marina_Aagaard_blog

Push the buttons

Everywhere trains run.Trains continuously start or stop or run. And as a unique attraction – you should take time to try it:

In almost all areas there is a button. When the button is pushed, a certain activity starts: e.g. the elevator to a ski lift starts, a prison escape breaks out or the doors of the music hall Elphi open, so that one can see into the concert hall. Brilliantly conceived and built.

Elphi_Miniatur_Wunderland_Hamburg_Germany_Marina_Aagaard_blog

The most active button pushers are probably the model train enthusiasts from all around the world. The sight is one of the best things of the place: Model train builders of all ages are mesmerized by the scenes and spend a long, long time in every area.

(Almost) every train and situation are photographed, filmed and discussed with an infectious enthusiasm. Your spirits are lifted by the special atmosphere.

The temperature all day and year is around 21 degrees. The day lasts 15 minutes in MiWuLA. Suddenly, the lights are dimmed and it’s night. A stunning detail. The landscapes glitters with the light from signal and traffic lights, houses, cars, trains and planes!

Rome_by_Night_Miniatur_Wunderland_Hamburg_Germany_Marina_Aagaard_blog

The airport. With aircrafts landing and taking off (with a little help). Impressive!

Airport_Miniatur_Wunderland_Hamburg_Germany_Marina_Aagaard_blog

And what is that? A control room! Like a ‘real life’ traffic center. Four men are busy watching the screens and ensuring, that the trains run on time. Ordnung muss sein.

Miniatur Wunderland Facts

  • Opened in August 2001. The brothers Gerrit and Frederik Braun got the idea in 2000 in Zurich.
  • Guinness Book of Records 2016. Two sides. The world’s largest model railway.
  • 15.4 km funicular railway: half is visible, the rest in tunnels or railway stations.
  • 1,040 trains (locomotives)
  • 10,000+ waggons (waggons / freight)
  • Longest train: 14.51 meters
  • 1380 signal lights
  • 130,000 trees
  • 260.000 inhabitants
  • 385,000 lights / lamps
  • 9,250 cars (of which 280 are running)
  • Model Area: 1,490 sqm.
  • Highest peak: Matterhorn, 6 m
  • Largest sea: Nord Ostsee: 30,000 liters
  • Largest Area: Scandinavia: 300 sqm.
  • Most expensive area: Italy > 4 million. euro
  • 50 computers in the control area!
  • > 40 model makers and technicians keep MiWuLa going
  • 760,000 construction hours
  • 16 million Euro building costs
  • 15,273,549 visitors since opening (until end 2016):
  • Visitors come from all over the world. In 2016, 23.2% came from abroad. In first place comes Denmark with almost 45,662 visitors alone in 2016, closely followed by Switzerland, Austria, England, the US and China.

Italy_Miniatur_Wunderland_Hamburg_Germany_Marina_Aagaard_blog

Year and territories

2001 Kuffingen (airport), Austria and Mid-Germany
2002 Hamburg
2003 America (metropolitan and West)
2005 Scandinavia
2007 Switzerland
2008 Special Exhibition; the divided city
2011 Airport
2012 Special Exhibition; Our civilization’s history
2013 and HafenCity Elbphilharmonie
2016 Italy

Venice opens in spring 2018 and you can already see parts of it and Monaco.

Read / see more:

Miniatur Wunderland

Streetview Miniatur Wunderland

#miniaturwunderland

Largest Model Train of the World