A Travellerspoint blog

Dubai

(Expectation Vs. Reality)

sunny 27 °C

Overall:

Expectation: Dubai is luxurious, an expensive tourist destination, abruptly converted from the desert with no history into sci-fi megapolis.

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Reality: that is true. It is the emirate with the vivid mind-numbing form of skyscrapers, extraordinary rich people and endless ceaseless hustle. The destination with "Fast and Furious" cars, glitter and unreal manmade projects.

Dubai trip brings you one feeling - being in a set of action movie shot in Disney studio. Everything feels fake there.

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Weather:

Expectation: hot.

Reality: it was winter season, hence we were lucky to experience 27C. During summer time (March - October) the temperature is above 55C.
For the record of the travellers, - surrounding desert is all exotic and cool part of your trip but everyday breeze brings tonnes of sand into the city, covering everything (from hotel windows to your clothes). What is more - you inhale it. Being not used to I was constantly coughing.

Transport:

Expectation: widespread net of public transport and affordable cabs.

Reality: there is metro, which is operating through some central locations. There is no way to get there but by taxi. We were taking Uber (with Lexus as the basic car category in this Arabic world). Since everything in Dubai is grand and expensive, Uber isn't an exception. Just for 10 kilometres, you will have to pay leastways 22$. It is a lot and you can complain a lot but the funny part is that you have absolutely no other option. By taking the fancy, driverless metro tourists have to figure out the waggon for each gender promptly once metro arrives. By misusing this fact I was accidentally stuck between dozens of men, extensively observing disobeying tourist.

Food:

Expectation: traditional Arabic cuisine (hummus, kebab, falafel, pita, etc.).

Reality: due to the fact that there is only 23% of local Arabs (the majority of whom stay at home because just by being born they inherit quite an amount of assets so they do not need to worry about anything mere mortals have to), you are served the food by expats. At the end, it all depends on the chef's nationality. Their cuisine is a mix of everything, pretty tasteless and super expensive. For plain pieces of chicken/some shrimp skewer with some rice at the mall food court you will have to pay the price starting with 15$. The only joy I found in food was in their specific taste of lamb and beef (strongly recommended).

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Liquor:

Expectation: was 90% aware of liquor prohibition.

Reality: remaining 10% stroke me like lightening.
Forget to get alcohol anywhere in cafés, shops or restaurants. But once you finally manage to get a quite expensive precious bottle of wine (the cheapest duty-free shop one costs 18$) and you happily bring it to your hotel room, your whole expectations of opening it are crashing down at a second just because restaurant staff of 4* hotel doesn't possess a bottle opener.

Their cafés are especially good for two reasons: pleasant, exotic decor and Arabic water pipe, which is absolutely amazing. The secret lays in the use of traditional almond nutshell charcoal and the variety of nice tobacco flavours. They aren't burning off for the whole night.

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Mall of Dubai:

Expectation: what European can expect from the Mall? Just the place with the saturation of shops. You come, you buy, you leave.

Reality: I was deeply mistaking!

It is grand, glitter stunning complex. Every single store is designed in a way one had never imagined. It can be just a lollipop shop but inside there is the whole tree made of colourful lollipops with a sensational dazzling chandelier on the ceiling. And now imagine it on a scale of 1200 stores in one place. It is definitely a paradise for shopping lovers and plain visitors. No wonder there are whole shopping tour packages.

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Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo:

Once you are in Dubai Mall there is one pretty attractive huge glass aquarium; full of exotic, rare fish, blue water, seashells and even a diver, who systematically feeds the fauna. Looks impressive and tempting. By being unprepared tourists, naturally, we have bought an expensive (33$) basic ticket to mesmerising Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo.

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Reality hit us and our positive expectations with no delay. The tunnel with fish is basically 10 metres long. You see shoppers glazing from the entrance and exit of the tube.
To get "full experience" you have paid for (the ticket we bought is called "Explorer") you would need to leave the aquarium and ascend to an upper floor of the Mall. There is dark, smelly room with lack of oxygen and a huge queue of people. You wait till your turn. The next "adventure" you are in is sitting with an orange life vest in some ridiculous fully jammed with people boat. It has glass floor and it makes a circle in a foul narrow pool, through which you are constantly trying to see some fish. The glass bottom was cracked.

A moment before being trapped by this entertainment and peacefully watching it from outside in the mall we saw cool attraction when visitors are half bodied placed in the aquarium in the glass tube and the staff is feeding the fish. Dozens of them were whirlpooling around the tube. It looked very intriguing and we were so looking forward to, choking and waiting for all those queues till the moment we were informed that it is affordable only with VIP ticket, 80$ per person.

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Burj Khalifa:

Expectation: the tallest building in the world, something spectacular from inside-out.

Reality: the construction itself has an extraordinary elegance, stunning out of city panorama. It always shines from sunlight in the daytime and always sparkles in the night. It is genuinely marvellous project.

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Tour to the top (124th floor). Observatory. Burj Khalifa.

Expectation: feeling like Tom Cruise in Missione Impossible - Ghost Protocol. Overall high.

Reality: I wouldn't recommend travellers to get to the observatory point. They say if you obtain the ticket (already super expensive) online you will get faster (not true) and cheaper (several cents). We believed and have booked for 6:30 PM and obviously; we thought we would get started at 6:30 PM. By the time we were at the observatory deck it was around 8:20 PM. In order to get there, you have to pass 5 different queues, which you don't expect since the building is quite twisted and you don't see ahead. By passing one line, you think this is it, but then you have to walk huge distance and somewhere "at the end of the tunnel" instead of a light you see another queue. When you finally get to the dreamed 124th floor you look down or at the horizon, you feel no how different from any other tall building. The view is average as well. There is some saturation of lights at the middle of the city and the outskirts are dark. Not worth travellers' time and expectations.

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What is really worth is seeing evening light projection at Burj Khalifa. It is an extra spectacular event with accompanying fountain music show, occurring from 6 PM till 11 PM, playing every 25'. Surprisingly this experience is free of charge.

The best way to make your evening full of wonderful memories is to sit in some close-up café, watch fountain show with Burj Khalifa colour shimmering and smoke an amazing never finishing Arabic Sheesha.

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Dhow Cruise Dubai Marina:

Expectation: standard program: a boat with some food and dance show, floating in Marina.

Reality: it was the unforgettable experience! Two floors dhow, slowly drifting along splendid sci-fi designed skyscrapers. You are in the endless sea of lights rising into the sky.

While you are gazing around, very delicious buffet food (chef is Indian, thus there is respective food cooked) is being prepared. Slow nondisturbing music is playing in the background. There was also traditional Tanoura dance but I was in sci-fi comma back then so wasn't really paying attention.

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The whole wonderland tour lasts approximately 2-3 hours. It takes you in the neighbourhoods of Dubai Marina, Atlantis Hotel, Jumeirah Islands, even to the archipelago of the new upcoming project "The World".

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Desert safari:

Expectation: I saw it in movies. It looked adventurous and romantic. Yet though it could not be so challenging.
Reality: the tour included indispensable part of dropping to extremely touristy campus with unnecessary items as well as tasteless "evening dinner" in another campus (chef was Indian, as mentioned above he served his traditional but this time surprisingly tasteless fast food) where after the host announced everybody (approximately 100 tourists) had to stand up and lined up in the queue, grabbing disposable cutleries from common pot, self-servicing the food then subsequent returning to their ground cushions and watching pretty mediocre belly dancing and Tanoura show at the stage.

Skipping above-mentioned part the safari itself was something too extreme. You are driven in SUV on the top peak of the dunes. Sand is splashing here and there and the only thing you have in mind is if that vehicle will protect your head when it will eventually flip off the dune. It is an extraordinary adventure!

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Dubai Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark:

Expectations: I like waterparks especially for trying sliding down all those scary rides. Dubai one is famous for several reasons: it is a part of world famous Atlantis hotel, which is especially popular for being on the tip of a manmade island. The other reason is that it has one of the scariest rides in the world "Poseidon's Revenge". Above all, it also includes the ride with sharks tank and one of the most beautiful park panoramic view slide called "The Leap of Faith".

Reality: since I like waterparks I can't say anything too negative about it (apart from paying 90$ per person. Luckily there was my Birthday, thus second thing for free in whole Dubai trip. First was fountain show). It is entertaining, it is huge, it is on a manmade island, that brings you extra weird positive feeling.

I wouldn't say that excessively advertised slides mentioned before are anyhow worthy. Shark tank slide is super dirty and condensate. While floating there you cannot see anything I assume sharks have a better view on us than another way round.

The scariest ride ever called "Poseidon's Revenge" (youtube it, you will be terrified at the first glance) when they flush you down in a transparent tube nearly vertically at almost 40mph it isn't scary, it is painful. Your back is scratched, your swimsuit is somewhere... you even choke with water at some loop of the ride. It isn't frightening nor enjoyable. What is truly enjoyable is Zoomerango, Aquaconda and amazing almost 2 km lazy river. Overall it's always fun to be in waterparks!

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Conclusion:

People who stay in Dubai for a week or more come to enjoy it for leisure purposes, that means - they are in some resort, probably with all inclusive, relaxing throughout the duration of their Dubai getaway.

On the other hand, we have travelled there for active tourism and in 3,5 days we have seen more than enough:
- Sheikh Zayed road (at least 16 times)
- Burj Khalifa
- The neighbourhood of Burj Al Arab (including nice beaches)
- Dubai Mall (3 times) + fountain show (twice)
- Aquarium
- Marina cruise
- Kite Beach (swimming/suntanning)
- Desert safari (half a day)
- Dubai city tour (4 hours)
- Aquapark in Atlantis hotel (whole day)

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Expectation=Reality:

Dubai is the place to see glittering, luxury life. And after to come back to your reality.

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Posted by Romanova 13:10 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

India

(Expectation Vs. Reality)

sunny 23 °C

Plane:

Expectation: if you think you are the only light skin person flying to the most exotic place on the planet - India, you will be disappointed.

Reality: in the plane going from Moscow to Delhi with approximately 200 passengers there were 3 Indian nationalities.

Airline:

Expectation: I had such a great memories from "Aeroflot" airline, therefore, I insisted on flying with it.

Reality: do not fly with this airline, travellers! For 5,5 hrs long distance flight, we have got: careless stewardesses, small tasteless meal, sealed, smelly, covered with hair blanket, tiny short distance aircraft with the only one WC and tiniest aisle. If you needed to use the washroom you would need to wait in front of at least 8 people and constantly bothering slow stewardess with the trolley.

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Indira Gandhi Airport:

Expectation: same airport as everywhere else. The same careless level of services.

Reality: the first time you are startled that you are actually somewhere really far from home, far from European "hospitality".
Airport is huge. It is fully covered with fluffy, colorful carpet. You go to the toilet and ... there is Indian pretty lady whose duty is to show you where the cabin is and even to give you hand towel.
In the airport people are very helpful, cheerful and smiley.

City of Delhi:

Expectation: I had no idea about the city except what our media fed us with: cows, dirty streets, miserable, homeless people, all sort of animals, hot weather and baboons.

Reality: Delhi is as commercial as all other capitals in the world. Big wide streets, plenty of beautiful British architecture state buildings converted into summer residences, wide parks, astonishing venue of Indian Parliament and President House, Connaught Place (huge central construction in Delhi), too many roundabouts, tall skyscrapers, gigantic monuments, many flyovers, congested traffic. Delhi is an extremely green city. No cows, no homeless people; all of that is just imposed media.

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Diwali festival:

Expectation: I was told it is main holiday in Hindu world, it is so colorful, vivid and entertaining. It is like Christmas or New Year.
I wasn't expecting anything extraordinary until I experienced it myself!

Reality: Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights, celebrated every year in autumn. It falls between mid-October and mid-November. We have stayed for the last and most important night - 30th October 2016.

Diwali is one of the major festivals of Hinduism, it spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness. All the people decorate their houses, offices, buildings, shelters, trees with lots and lots of lamps and candles. They release fireworks, sparkles, and petards for the whole period of Diwali.

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All India is lightened with colors. There is unforgettable beauty around! You feel like you have New Year's Eve just in November! I haven't seen that saturation of lights anywhere else on New Year as I have seen it in India at Diwali time.

Some inside tips: at this time all the offices are closed. Everybody is celebrating. You should be aware that during one week of Diwali there is a big layer of haze and smoke in the air, it is very difficult to breathe due to oversaturation of pyrotechnical gases in the air.

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Akshardham Temple:

Expectation: I didn't know much about the temple. I have only read the information stating that when you go to India you should visit Taj Mahal like no other temple exists.

Reality: wow!

Akshardham is a huge spiritual-cultural campus in New Delhi. It is the complex displaying millennia of traditional Hindu and Indian culture, spirituality and architecture. It was built in honor of central figure in a modern branch of Hinduism known as Swaminarayan. Followers believe that he is a manifestation of God.

The complex was built very recently e.g. 6th November 2005 but the fundamental rule was to construct it in a traditional Hindu system of architecture, which literally translates into "science of architecture.

In other words, the temple was built in such a way that during tectonic activity its' blocks interlock. It is supernatural construction without a gram of glue or cement. It is marvelous complex from inside and outside, with its' thousands of hand carved figures where not a single one is repetitive.

Inside of the temple you feel superior tranquility and calmness. It is majestic place! And if you feel like going beyond what you thought you knew about India it is definitely the place to visit for many reasons:

1) the temple is the place of supreme serenity and simplicity.

2) boat tour will take you through astonishing history of Indian civilization which media doesn't leak outside the borders of the country for obvious reasons: such as Newton wasn't the first one formulated the laws of universal gravitation, Euclid wasn't "the father of geometry" and Egyptians weren't the first ones in studies of herbal medicine, etc.

3) musical fountain night show.

It is an unforgettable performance with thousands of light projectors piercing water and fire. It is extraordinary modern yet at the same time authentic.

4) last but not least India is a country where by paying a little bit more (still is much less than regular price in Europe) you will get V-VIP service. By knowing "the person who knows the person" or paying more you will be the king in the country. We got V-VIP tour in Akshardham and we got up level service: in the long queues there was always "a door" to be the very first before the frontline, at the boat ride - there was a different entrance. We had private tour guide, there was no queue, VIP service for photo shoot in front of the temple, presidential seats for musical show and at the end of the tour we had a private security guy who was walking with us, taking to private restaurant and carrying our belongings.

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Security:

Expectation: homeless, beggars, cows, dirt, crime, robbers, unsafe streets...

Reality: not like that!

All public places in India; from small offices and to shopping malls are highly secured. There are always several scanners and persons (separated women and men) for checking your belongings.

Do not even think of entering airport building unless you are the passenger with the ticket.

Speaking of traffic, it is true its highly jammed, overcrowded, there are no rules. People and vehicles are all in one melting pot. Despite this fact, if you take taxi or uber, drivers are super skilled! If you go by tuk-tuk you feel super safe, as you would be a passenger in Formula1 with Schumacher as a driver.

On the streets, people will look at you very extensively but that is it!

Taj Mahal. Agra:

Expectation: definitely one of the top place in India to see. Visit card of India. Astonishing symbol of one-man love.

Reality: for introduction: Taj Mahal is located in Agra city, it is 230 km from Delhi. The fastest and most comfortable way to get there is by train, which cost 1500 rupees (22 USD). There you may expect cozy super fast train, a variety of food served by a very pleasant conductor in very funny traditional uniform. Newspapers, drinks, etc. are at your disposal.

Passing by train you can see the whole contrast of this country - sitting in an expensive (by Indian standards) train you look through the window and you see another reality, sad reality. People have their settlement along the railway track. You see lots of shelters alongside, you see kids playing completely barefoot on the tracks, you see young guys gathered together in a circle discussing something, you see housewives cooking nearby on the fire, you even see people having a shower right where the train passes.

After leaving the train station you will be surrounded by dozens of taxi drivers offering their service. Good point is that they are all government registered, means they all pay same taxes, means they all have equal fares. For small amount we have got big van, driver and out of nowhere appeared guide, as our driver said: "We are in package". For half of the day we have got: amazing helpful driver (who was even buying water for us so we wouldn't be stepping out of the car), entertaining knowledgeable guide, who didn't leave us even for a second and knew all tricky moments of tourist traps (we were passing first in every long line of tourists), private photographer at Taj Mahal (who was kicking absolutely everyone out of spots where he wanted us to be taken photos of).

We have visited Taj Mahal. It is indeed the most marvelous and unimaginable place on the planet. It has its own energy. It is so simple yet too grand. I won't write about history (you may google it) but its’ architecture, elegance, resplendence and positive energy just astonishing you. It is so simple, geometrically preciously proportional yet full of precious gems and very complicated. Whatever science was behind the intention of Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan to build this mausoleum for his beloved wife it is definitely worth paying a visit.

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If you are interested in the full story of Taj Mahal creator's you should also visit Agra Fort, the residence of Mughal's dynasty. The magnificent sight where all emperors were living and where eventually was imprisoned Shah Jahan for 8 years in his room facing his reason of his life - Taj Mahal.

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Indian wedding:

Expectation: colorful, joyful celebration with lots of spicy food, eccentric attires, customs, dance and fun.

Reality: the image of the real Indian wedding which I happen to attend is following: first of all it isn't about newlyweds as we used to think, it is about relatives and relatives of the relatives who has got an opportunity to gather together. They gossip a lot, they eat a lot and they show off in front of each other. For women it is an opportunity to sparkle with their best attire, combined with kilos of jewelry, dozens of bracelets on henna painted hands.

Indian wedding process lasts from 3 to 5 days and includes lots of rituals. It is an extremely tiring process for newlyweds. I had a feeling that they are mannequins on the stage pushing their smile and trying to keep a posture while being exhausted.

Apart of that, Indian wedding is indeed too luxury, colorful, joyful, grand and too expensive procedure.

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Kerala region (city of Kochi/city of Kumarakom):

Expectation: Kochi is a southern city, with green flora, famous fishing nets, backwaters and nice cottage accommodations.

Reality: Kochi is the biggest port of India thus it is industrial. Flora and fauna are just splendid. Very welcoming hospitality and the guesthouses are fairly pretty.

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Beyond its' unique cuisine, the exotic bay just like in the Jungle book story, Dutch palace, famous Chinese fishing nets and the best airport exterior I have even seen, something was bizarre about the city:

- it is extensively littered, there are hundreds and hundreds of tourists. At every corner traders imposing you absolutely unnecessary items.

- Kochi's marvelous Jungle book bay has extinct bad smell and the water of Arabian Sea is pretty dirty.

- Chinese nets are entertaining but with time passing it looses its value; traditional fishermen do pull some fish only for sake of tourist' attraction.

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Kumarakom. Expectation: I possessed quite mere knowledge of the state. It is green; it is hot, lots and lots of backwater canals. It has famous floating boatels (mini hotel on the water with its' own staff). It is tranquil. It is the birthplace of Ayurveda science.

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Reality. Kumarakom: I fell in love with the city right from the plain. I have never seen so green area anywhere before. It is absolutely different India: language is different, people are different (dressing customs, skin color, traditions), religion is different (40% Hinduists, 30% Muslims, 30% Orthodox), food, air, flora, fauna and the weather.

While in Prague was 3 °C on 6th of November, in Kumarakom there was 28 °C. We stayed in splendid 4* hotel in a private cottage facing infinity pool.

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We enjoyed the paradise of extraordinary Indian service, sunset cruise starting from the spot where infinity pool ends, traditional music performance during dinner time and of course 3 days of Ayurvedic massages. It was paradise. Strongly recommended.

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There are some helpful advises for those who is staying in Kerala backwaters:

- find an elephant ride on the website.
It is quite funny and vivid experience. We have spent 50' searching the place where elephant lives. It was the day when elephant had “off working hours”. Eventually, he was pushed out of his cozy home because the owner wanted to gain some extra money. Our tuk-tuk driver didn't know how to get there which gave us an opportunity to watch daily life of villagers, where kids dressed up in uniform attend their schools, where housewives maintain very small households, where men wrapped in traditional white skirts just chat and rest. The whole trip reminded me the scenes of Indiana Jones searching for adventure.

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- small tip for Europeans who want to relax by their accustomed lifestyle and sip some alcoholic cocktail in the evening at the hammock. Do no ask hotel staff where to buy alcohol. First of all, they will tell you there aren't such places but then if you insist there will be a guy who will illegally offer his hidden item but 15 times more expensive. The trick is you just have to take a tuk-tuk, don't ask but tell the driver to take you to the liquor store, go there, wait in the line of rice field workers and once you will reach your turn buy alcohol from the guy who sits in the metal cage with some bottles of booze on the shelves. It sounds hilarious but it is how it works.

- try Kerala food.
The most popular food is steamed, fried, boiled or just wrapped fish in banana leaves. It tastes exotic delicious. Big note for Europeans: before ordering inform the waiter that the food should not be spicy at all. With all the tolerance to spicy food even northern Indians cannot stand spice level of Kerala cuisine, now imagine how it is for Europeans.

- take a boat ride.
For 600 rupees per hour (9$) we had huge 20-seated boat, which took us to open river first and incredible small canals along tiny, wild villages at the end. It reminded me national geographic - you observe everyday lifestyle of offbeat civilization; villagers cook the food on fire, cut banana trees, little kids play on rice fields, women make laundry in canal water. Regardless all the obstacles and difficulties of their life they are so welcoming, smiling, greeting, waving their hands to you. It is absolutely different world!

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Posted by Romanova 13:36 Archived in India Comments (0)

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