Birthday on a ship

9th cruise day: Birthday onboard [YQrtw Day 20 Apr 27]

Location: Legend of the Seas [Day 9]
Location: Safaga, Egypt [Didn’t visit]

Today was my birthday. Happy birthday to myself! (I’m 27–if you are curious–which is my lucky number.)

Birthday on the ship

Birthday on the ship

After a tiring day at Jordan, I decided that I would stay on board for the day and skip the Valley of the Kings. (Yes, I can hear you gasp.)

OK OK… I decided to skip the day on shore because I want to save money. Besides, being on board is less boring than you think.

The day passed with a lot of reading and sitting in social sessions. I like the reading part but forced myself to do more social things.

In the evening, there was a theater screening of Les Miserables which made the day even better than it was.

Les Mis blurred looks very much like a zombie flick.

Les Mis blurred looks very much like a zombie flick.

At night, I gave rock climbing another try. The first time I tried rock climbing, I gave up halfway. This time, I was sent to the beginner’s lane.

About 2 squares before the bell, I wanted to give up but a lady I met cheered me on. I didn’t want to embarrass myself any more so I pulled up the few rungs and rang the bell with much gusto.

Before we leave, here is a badly stitched up photo of Safaga port.

Safaga, Egypt

Safaga, Egypt

8th cruise day: Jordan’s Rose City and Wadi Rum desert [YQrtw Day 19 Apr 26]

Location: Legend of the Sea [Day 8]
Location: Aqaba; Petra; Wadi Rum, Jordan

After 7 days at sea, we finally had a port call. Today, it was Aqaba, Jordan. Persuaded by two other ladies, I signed up with a private tour to Petra the Rose City and Wadi Rum the desert.

Surprisingly, the tour bus was waiting for us at the port even before we were allowed to go out.

Our tour guide was a woman–one of the 66 lady tour guides among the 1,000 or so tour guides in Jordan. She kept us entertained on the bus and was a stark difference compared with the Hoi An tour guide who was just talking nonsense most of the time.

Our first stop was Petra the rose city. The journey from the port to Petra was about an hour.

Since Petra was at a higher altitude, the weather was cool. By cool I mean air conditioning cool. Of course, the sun was so piercingly strong and the walk to the sights so challenging that everyone was hot by half way of the tour.

Petra's famous Treasury.

Petra’s famous Treasury.

There was a lot of walking on stoney paths in Petra. The most famous sight is the Treasury which was also where they filmed one of the Indiana Jones movie, or so I heard.

The Treasure and other sites were nice but I kind of like the houses facing the valley more than the historical sights. The houses were the color of sand and like boxes with square holes of windows.

After lunch, we took a long bus ride to the desert. The Jordanian desert is not full of sand like the picture books I read when I was a kid. Instead, there were rock mountains jutting out here and there.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom at Wadi Rum

Seven Pillars of Wisdom at Wadi Rum

Lawrence of Arabia was stationed at Wadi Rum for a period of time. Sadly, I didn’t do any reading on him so the excitement of being where he was didn’t mattered to me.

We had a 2 hour ride on the back of a pickup to admire the scenery, be baked by the sun and to see some of the souvenir places along the way.

At one of the stops, I tried running up one of the sand dunes but the sand grabbed onto my ankles with each step I take. I was breathless around one-third of the dune’s height.

After the desert jeep ride, we raced back to the port and was back an hour before we were required.

That night, I rested very well.

Legend of the Seas facilities

Reading in Dubai, first night at sea [YQrtw Day 12 Apr 19]

[Note from Apr 29: Now that I finally have internet connection, I will be uploading the backlog blog posts.]

Location: Dubai, UAE [Day 3]
Location: Legend of the Seas [Day 1]

I woke up early that morning to pack my bag. I didn’t want to head out into the heat for food so I hibernated in the room.

Packing my bag was much easier than it was before I went on the trip. This is partly contributed by the carry on bag that I could distribute my things in.

Around 12 noon, the speakers from the mosque carried the Friday prayers and the very passionate speech made by the Imam.

Although I told my AirBnB host that I would leave at 12 noon, he wasn’t there. I had to send him a text but he recommended staying later for the prayer crowd to disperse.

So I did. This gave me a chance to plough through book 2 of Song of Ice and Fire, aka Game of Thrones series. But at 1:30pm, I was restless and hungry. If I went on the cruise now, there would be unlimited food waiting for me.

I finally checked out and got a cab to Port Rashid.

When I saw the ship, my heart swelled. It was lovely from afar: a white giant with blue lace trimming. It was just so gorgeous, and I would be staying in there for 15 nights! Imagine that.

Checking in wasn’t smooth sailing. I didn’t print out my SeaSail Pass so I had to fill out some forms.

The employees also told me that I cannot head to Egypt because of visa. I showed them the print out from the embassy, saying that Malaysians do not need a visa. I was allowed in but trouble will follow me.

When I got onboard. I was in awe of everything. The ship was HUGE! I was gawking at everything like the country bumpkin I am. I feasted on the lunch buffet at Windjammer Cafe after I put my things in my room.

I joined a tour of the ship by one of the Cruise Director Staff (meaning entertainment stuff) and got a feel of what the cruise liner has (almost EVERYTHING).

Legend of the Seas facilities

Legend of the Seas facilities

Before we set sail, there was a muster drill where everyone gathered at a location as a drill for safety evacuation. It was the most boring thing on this cruise as everyone stood there doing nothing.

The ship didn’t leave the port until well past 7pm. By that time, I’ve missed my time slot for the proper restaurant so I had dinner in the Windjammer Cafe.

That was Night 1 on the cruise which I will call home for the next 15 days.

Dubai's air conditioned bus stop

Dubai bus stops are the coolest, literally

Despite Dubai being in the desert, my trip to the city wasn’t as hot as it was in Sri Lanka. Most of the time, I hid in shopping malls or the freakishly cold buses.

One of the best things about the bus in Dubai is the bus stop. Some of the bus stops here are air conditioned! Inside, the temperature is a chilly 22 degrees Celsius.

Air conditioned bus stops. "We're 22 degrees Celsius all year round."

Bus stop looks like from the front.

Bus stop looks like from the front.

Isn’t it just awesome?!

Less awesome is a video of me giving you a tour of the bus stop. I look like I was very very bored. The truth is, it was rather sunny and I couldn’t open my eyes as wide as usual.

Enjoy!

Video tour of Dubai’s air conditioned bus stop
Chicken Shawarma from IKEA Dubai

Glutton in Dubai

I have to confess: I didn’t eat three meals a day while in Dubai. I was either too lazy to get out for food or too stuffed from tea time.

Still, I did eat some lovely food.

I love you chicken shawarma

I fell in love with the grilled meat and bread combination while in Dubai. It’s just so yummy!

What got me started was a chicken shawarma set from IKEA. The plate had a few sides and even french fries in the bread. The chicken was tender and seasoned so well. Drool. [28 dirhams]

Chicken shawarma from IKEA in Dubai

I had a cheaper shawarma from the roadside stall near where I stayed. It was good too but the pickles were urgh. [10 dirhams]

Chicken shawarma from roadside stall

At Mom’s Cafe, shawarma wasn’t served yet so I got the taco version with grilled chicken. [16 dirhams for two of this.]

Chicken taco

Tea time

I had a coffee break everyday while in Dubai since I was mostly in shopping malls. It was also the best time to use the cafe’s Wi-Fi to send my mom and sister snapshots of my day. (By the time I reach my accommodation, it’s 12 midnight for them so not a very good time to send stuff.)

Organic carrot cake from M&S Cafe

Water

It’s very rare that water gets an entry of its own in the Glutton Series. But water in Dubai is more expensive than other places so it gets a special place.

The most expensive water I bought was a 2 dirham bottle of 500ml water at the Pinoy restaurant. The size is usually only 75 cents in supermarkets.

Lesson learned: Don’t buy water at restaurants.

Bottled water in Dubai

Surprisingly, there’s also free water around too. I was surprised to find water fountains at Dubai Mall. I repeatedly filled my water bottle while walking aimlessly.

Free water at Dubai Mall

Cheap breakfast from supermarket

Cheap non-traditional breakfast from the supermarket

Cobbling together pre-made food from supermarket is a trick that works in other countries as well. I bought a butter croissant and a bottle of milk from the supermarket before the tour at Jumeriah Mosque.

Milk fills up the stomach really easily so it’s something I like to buy for breakfast when travelling.

Do you have a favorite food in Dubai? Share them in the comment section below.

Jumeriah Mosque

Mosque, zoo and long bus rides [YQrtw Day 11 Apr 18]

Location: Dubai, UAE [Day 3]

I woke up earliest this morning to join the morning tour of Jumeriah Mosque organized by the SMCC (10 dirhams)

I got off the wrong stop (2km too early), took a bus to a nearby mall to get a croissant and milk for breakfast. Took another bus to the mosque.

At 10am, the tour began. First stop was the cleaning area where worshippers clean themselves before entering the mosque.

Then we got to go into the mosque, sit on the carpet and listen to the tour guide.

The tour was really well organized and taught me a lot about what Islam is about (Peace!).

Jumeriah Mosque in Dubai

Jumeriah Mosque in Dubai

Inside of Jumeriah Mosque

Inside of Jumeriah Mosque

After the mosque, I took the bus to the zoo nearby (2 dirhams). When I got there, I remembered why I don’t like zoos. The animals were in their cages, looking bored to death. That made me feel sad.

One good thing about the Dubai Zoo (besides being cheap) is that you can get quite close to the animals.

But many visitors (1 adult, 1 teenager, 1 kid) banged on the cages to get the animals’ attention. I wanted to ask how they would feel if someone bangs on their windows for their attention.

Cute monkey is suspicious

Cute monkey is suspicious

After the zoo, I took Bus 8 which brought me to almost the other end of Dubai. On the way, I passed by many futuristic buildings. This is the place moviemakers should come if they want to film “The Future”.

I stopped by Mom’s Cafe for lunch. It was almost 3 p.m. and I was terribly hungry. Lunch was a taco-like roll because the shawarma wasn’t ready yet.

I also manage to hit 14 dirhams of transport fees with my NOL card. This meant that the next rides were free so my last ride back (4.30 dirhams) was free. I think this is a great system to encourage tourists to use the public transport.

After taking the metro back, I decided to stay in the room to rest.

Dinner was two shawarmas from one of the stalls downstairs. I love shawarmas to bits. They are so TASTY!

Tomorrow is Cruise Day and from then on I will not have Internet connection until the 4th of May. I’ve lined up a few posts for you so you won’t miss me.

Until then, safe travels!

Dubai Gold Souk

Window shopping in Dubai [YQrtw Day 10 Apr 17]

Location: Dubai, UAE [Day 2]

I have a self-imposed budget of S$50 a day to spend in Dubai. (This does not include my accommodation which has surely surpassed S$50.)

Why do I impose such a strict budget? It’s because I really do not need–or maybe cannot–buy anything extra.

This budget also means that I cannot participate in many activities, such as desert adventuring (AED 109=US$30), skydiving (AED 1,750=US$476) or hot air ballooning (AED 995=US$270).

Many travellers would argue that it’s worth paying money for experience. But I guess for me, the experiences listed above just aren’t my cup of tea.

Instead, I focused on the free and cheap.

First stop today was the Gold Souk which was walking distance from where I stayed. I didn’t have a physical map but I memorized the location the Souk was and tried walking in that direction.

I knew I was there, not from the all the gold shops or the large sign that announced Dubai as the land of gold, but from the tourists from tour groups. If you see any tour groups, you know you are at one of the Must Visit spots.

Not that there’s anything bad with Must Visits. I saw lots and lots of gold hung on mannequin necks. The souk was shaded and even though it wasn’t air-conditioned, the cool air from the different shops helped make the walk very pleasant.

Dubai Gold Souk

Dubai Gold Souk

After the Gold Souk, I was supposed to visit the Spice Souk but I forgot where the exact location was in my mind’s map. I passed a few shops with spices and decided that it was enough spice for the day.

Then I realized that I’ve ticked off all the Must Visits I had for the day. That means I am free to do whatever I want.

Coincidentally, there was a direct bus to IKEA. I persuaded myself that I need a door stop so I should go. IKEA is located within Dubai Festival City Mall which was (as usual) freaking gigantic.

At the cafeteria, I had the most amazing meal of Chicken Shwarma. There were two pieces of pita bread, loads of chicken and fries (?), along with the non-meat stuffing. I used my hands most of the time since it was that good.

Super delicious Chicken Shwarma from IKEA Dubai

Super delicious Chicken Shwarma from IKEA Dubai

After IKEA and a grocery trip to the hypermarket, I walked aimlessly around the mall. It turned out to be my luck day as there was free screening of films thanks to the Gulf Film Festival.

Gulf Film Festival

Gulf Film Festival

I watched A Fallible Girl since it was the only feature film at that time slot. When the film ended, I wanted to ask for my money back but realized that I just watched it for free.

Luckily, the director/producer/script writer was there.He explained that he wanted a film about non-locals in Dubai and how the mushroom farm symbolizes a doomed dream (Hello, growing mushrooms in the desert?). I felt less cheated about spending two hours of my life watching the shaky camera doing close ups in the faces of the women.

The organizer kept wanting the director to say that he will make another film in Dubai but it seemed like there would be no chance. (That director totally didn’t give face.)

After the movie and an aimless walk, I found myself at M&S Cafe with an expensive tea time snack of cake and coffee as well as FREE WI-Fi.

Sometimes I do wonder if a round-the-world trip is meant to be filled with reading e-books and coffee. I could have done the same in Malaysia and Singapore.

Burj Khalifa aka (current) tallest building in the world

Hello Dubai [YQrtw Day 9 Apr 16]

Location: Dubai, UAE [Day 1]

Burj Khalifa aka (current) tallest building in the world

Burj Khalifa aka (current) tallest building in the world and that damn dot that won’t go away on my camera lens

I reached Dubai late last night and only got to see lots of street lights and bright signboards.

Oh, I did get to see the inside of the airport and it was modern and clean. (I even feel that it’s surpassing Changi Airpot in WOW! factor.)

Back to the day’s activities. In the morning, I allowed myself to sleep in a little more because I slept quite late last night (a combination of a late flight and excitement).

First stop was Dubai Museum. From the outside, the museum looked tiny. But on the inside, it’s quite spacious because they have most of their galleries underground.

The underground museum part reminded me very much of National Museum of Singapore. In fact, a lot of Dubai reminds me of Singapore. I even think that Dubai is Singapore on steroids.

After the museum, it was back under the sun. I walked aimlessly and found one of the airconditioned bus stops. Unfortunately, the air conditioning of that particular stop was broken and I sat in the heat but sheltered.

Bus C07 came. I took a bus to nowhere (to Dubai Healthcare City, to be more precise). On the bus, the driver asked me where I was going. I told him I didn’t know where I was going. I think that confused him a little.

We chat a little about Malaysia and how many petroleum companies from Malaysia have set up business in Sudan where the driver came from.

Dubai buses are a wonderful escape from the heat. The air conditioning was so powerful that I could hear the wind blowing from the vents.

Besides the nice cool air, the buses are great to see what Dubai looks like. Some parts of the metro are underground so it’s not as good a choice.

Lunch was at a Filipino place I spotted when the bus drove by. My bottle of 500ml water cost me about S$0.60. Yikes!

After lunch, I decided to head to Dubai Mall because I have no idea where else to go.

From the metro, it’s a long walk to Dubai Mall but I didn’t have to worry about the heat because they had this passage connecting the metro to the mall.

The mall was crazy big and just plain crazy. Some of the touristy sides were like Resorts World Sentosa but 10 times more expensive and perfumed.

I saw a humungous aquarium, a gigantic indoor waterfall (more like water trickling down the wall), a gigiantic indoor ice skating rink.

Dubai Mall’s layout also reminded me of Singapore because the escalators are positioned awkwardly. I suspect the architects for Vivocity had a go at Dubai Mall too.

After walking aimlessly around and getting a not-so-cheap local SIM, I sat at a not-so-cheap coffee place (there is no such thing as cheap in the mall). There, I tried to finish Game of Thrones which I have been taking too much time to read.

Before 6:00 p.m., I went to sit outside to wait for the fountain show to start. This show is the top attraction on Tripadvisor for Dubai so I just had to find out how good it is.

Turns out, it’s very good. But it’s better to see the show after the sun sets. I saw two performances while the sun was still out and they were alright.

After the show, it was time to head back. I think I’m staying in Mobile Phone Accessory Land because there are just too many mobile phone accessories stores around.

Until tomorrow, safe travels.

Old timey cruise

YQrtw: Why a repositioning cruise

We’re sort of back on schedule with my daily round-the-world (RTW) posts.

Today, we are talking about my 15-night repositioning cruise from Dubai to Europe.

Old timey cruise

Old timey cruise


Image credit: Australian National Maritime Museum

The cruise was the first booking I made for my RTW. After paying the deposit, I felt that the RTW was going to come true. It also helped with choosing travelling dates for the rest of my trip.

I planned to cross either the Atlantic or Pacific ocean on a cargo ship but the price wasn’t cheap enough.

In the end, I found out about repositioning cruises which are ships that travel during off-peak season back to popular starting points.

Pros and cons of a repositioning cruise

Pros

  • Cheaper per night than the usual cruise
  • Long sailing period (so much water! and sunsets on the ocean)
  • One-way (so I do not need to backtrack)
  • Full of retirees (so I don’t have to see party animals)
  • Unlimited food (vs cargos with three meals)
  • Stops at a few important locations (one-day excursion!)

Cons

  • Large one-time payment
  • Long sailing period (with few stops at shores)
  • Full of retirees (who have the time to travel on a long stretch of time)
  • Expensive (not the usual price of a budget flight and not recommended if you are on a round-trip journey)
  • High single surcharge (vs budget flights)
  • Short stays at shore

Cost of repositioning cruise

When I made the booking for the cruise from Dubai to Italy, my booking charge was around S$2,000. I felt it was a reasonable price since it included transportation and lodging.

I paid the final fees in early February. However, I was shocked when I did a search and found out that the type of room I booked for was going at an even cheaper rate.

My friend advised me to call up the cruise company and tell them that I am upset about the price difference. I did make and call and was surprised when the operator told me they would refund the difference.

The refund turned out to be S$599.75 which is a really hefty sum and could help me with many nights in a cheap location.

I still need to pay about S$200 of tips for the whole trip but I haven’t made the payment yet.

While I’m very excited about the cruise, two of my friends who have been on cruises told me that it is actually really really boring. Gulp! I guess I’ll have to find out myself.

Have you been on a cruise? How was the experience? Will I be bored out of my mind?

Modern Dubai

YQrtw: Why Dubai

[It’s supposed to be a week full of posts about my round-the-world but I do not have fixed internet connection at home so I will update a little sparsely.]

Today, we are talking about Dubai which I didn’t plan to visit but ended up on my list anyway.

Modern Dubai

Modern Dubai


Photo credit: Eugene Kaspersky  (The Kaspersky!)

Dubai wasn’t originally on my list of places to visit. From descriptions of the place, I imagined it to be like a faster growing Singapore with the occasional sand storm.

However, I suspected that I might have a layover there since it’s a transit hub.

In the end, I did get a few days in Dubai but not for flight transit as I first thought. Instead, my cruise leaves from Dubai.

When buying my ticket to Dubai from Colombo, I gave myself 3 full days in the city which stretches out into 4 days if you look at the calendar. Now I’m kind of regretting having such a long layover there.

However, Stephanie from Pearlsnpassport.com who was in Dubai recently loved the place and would consider working there. I met up with her just this afternoon for a lunch of ayam penyet. She helped with a lot of questions

[Stephanie is now on her RTW and her first two stops were Dubai and Sri Lanka. She helped me with a lot of questions about travelling in Dubai and Sri Lanka. It’s my first time seeing an actual RTW-er and a fellow travel blogger.]

I’ll give Dubai a chance and won’t judge the place until I’ve been there. If things aren’t as fun (meaning I only visit shopping malls), I might head over to Oman since I do not need a visa there.

Do you have any travel tips for Dubai? Share them in the comments below.