Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dubai, U.A.E.


Map picture


You can’t make this stuff up!

Before leaving home on our new journey, I actually wondered what in the world I was going to write about this time. I should relax. In truth I can’t make this stuff up and as they say “stuff happens.”

For us it started right at the Kansas City airport, again. On our last trip, we arrived at the airport 2 hours before our departure time, but because of an overzealous security screening we just about missed our flight. So, this time we arrived 2 ½ hours early thinking that surely that would be enough time. Almost wrong again!

The night before our flight Delta Airlines sent an e-mail advising that we could skip the long lines at the airport and check-in online and not only receive our boarding passes, but our luggage tags also. I dutifully spent about 30 minutes carefully filling in all of the requested information about ourselves and our passports, verifying flight information, etc. and hit the “check in” button. The system thought for a moment and then announced that online check in was denied and it would be necessary for us to report to the airport counter on day of departure. That right there was my first clue.

When we got to the airport it was a madhouse, literally. I did not realize that it was spring break and every Delta flight was full. Just to add to the mix, the flight just prior to ours had been cancelled and there were long lines forming with people attempting to rebook. Now I need to set the scene for you. We quickly got into the First Class line. As luck would have it, there was just one couple in front of us waiting, and a young man standing at the counter where a Delta agent was holding on the phone dealing with his issue. This was the only agent working the First Class line. Immediately to our left was a very, very long line of mostly young people attempting to rebook their flights. Again, one agent was working that line, and that agent too was on the phone “on hold.” Farther to the left there were a large number of self-serve kiosks for check-in, but we sadly could not use them. However a large crowd of people was moving through the machines and then taking their bags to a window that was exclusively open to receive already checked bags.

Now fast forward – fast forward one whole hour and if you were to look up you would see the exact same scene I just described. For that one hour not a single person in our line had been attended to and the agent was still “on hold” at the counter, as was the adjacent counter. It was surreal. Finally our agent hangs up, hands the young man something and then promptly closes his counter and disappears leaving a very long line of very frustrated people close to mutiny. He never even so much as looked up at the line forming in front of his counter for over an hour – he just walked away! At this point I started to show a little snout. I do not like having to act piggish, but if that is what it takes, then so be it. I finally got the lady “manning” the luggage only counter to check us in or we surely would have missed our flight.

There was a time when travelling by air was one of life’s great experiences. I remember having to dress in my Sunday best when flying and people would offer to drive us to the airport just to see us off. Well, those days are long gone. Flying now, as everyone knows, is a downright miserable experience. Off with your shoes, empty almost everything out of your carryon, Lisa has to be hand patted down because of her metal knees – all great fun.

Finally, we arrive in Atlanta and after a two hour layover board our Delta flight to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. I have a window seat, and Lisa has an aisle seat, just not the seat across from me, but the aisle seat on the other side of the aircraft. We manage to get that resolved and once again we are sitting in those little “coffin” like seats that I have written about before. But the good news is that the aircraft is loaded and fully boarded 15 minutes early. Departure time comes, and we turn off our electronic readers, seats full upright, cabin lights dimmed and we are set to go – only one little problem – we did not “go.” We sat. We sat at the gate for an hour. After about 30 minutes the First Officer announces that they are still loading some cargo and that we would depart momentarily – yeah, right.

Finally after 15 hours in the charming seat we arrive at Dubai. We left Atlanta in the dark and we are arriving at Dubai in the dark; seems that we lost a day somewhere. The city of Dubai has always seemed surreal to me. It is perhaps the world’s most modern city, full of gleaming towering structures and a road and metro system that are the best in the world. The grass is green, the flowers blooming, and there is not so much as a candy wrapper anywhere to be seen. In short, there is no trash. I am convinced that Dubai is the city built by Disney because it is so perfect. The city stretches for miles along the coast and extends perhaps a mile inland. After that it is all surrounded by desert. Everything about Dubai is oversized, grand and immaculate. But the city has a strange feel.

We stay at a hotel on the beach, but the beach is empty. Security is everywhere, very pleasant, but everywhere. If this were Miami the waters would be teaming with pleasure craft and parasails. But in Dubai, the waters are all but empty and quiet. I know that all the workers are imported because locals feel that work is beneath them. Only locals can own property, everyone else rents, and the rents are high. I ask what all these buildings are for, and I am told they are hotels on my left and apartments on my right. I see very few offices. So who lives in all these apartments I ask. The answer is tourists. I guess I don’t get the attraction of Dubai. There is not much to do to my way of thinking but shop. Even then prices are high. Oh well, I am just a visitor. Maybe one day it will make sense to me.

We finally boarded the Crystal Serenity and I was shocked that so many of the crew remembered Lisa and me and that several said “welcome home,” which makes me wonder if I tipped too much last time. But kidding aside, that is the kind of service that Crystal is famous for, and we do indeed feel right at home.

Sadly our tour for today was canceled at the last minute because of lack of participation. We were looking forward to driving into the desert at sunrise and taking a balloon ride. Instead we will just settle in. One item of note: docked near our vessel is the old Queen Elizabeth II, or as it is better known the QE2. Built in 1969, it was the flagship of the Cunard Line for many years, and Lisa and I saw her on her last world cruise when she docked in Sydney where we were staying. Retired from service, the ship was sold to a Dubai firm that intended to dock it off the soon to be constructed Palm Island Resort and use it as a floating hotel of some sort. However, like so much in Dubai, that project is on hold, as is the future of the great ocean liner. I did get to walk along the dock today and got to see the grand ship. What amazed me was just how small she looked next to our ship. The Crystal Serenity is not by today’s standards a “large” cruise ship, holding only 900 passengers. But by comparison the QE2 looked her age.

Tomorrow we will travel a short distance to Khasab, Oman. When I look at a map I realize that we will not be moving a great distance – in fact, to me, it looks as if we could drive there faster. Anyway, new adventures await, and I hope you will enjoy tagging along.


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