Dubai

Dubai is GMT+4 and uses the dirham (approx = 20p)

Wow, what can be said about Dubai! What a crazy place.

My trip started off very well, getting off the plane from Turkey I was the first to customs and went straight through – luckily with a British passport they just stamp and you go – no visa required. Ofcourse that just meant I had to wait longer for my luggage, which I never usually check in but annoyingly Pegasus airlines only do 8kg onboard!


Once through the airport I got a cheap coffee (don’t buy £5 starbucks – there’s a £1 coffee vending machine just next to it!). I drew some cash (500AED, approx £100) and found the little shop where you can buy a silver ‘Nol’ travel card. This works out cheaper than buying individual tickets, even if you just do one trip. As I had landed at Terminal 2 there was no metro stop so I had to get a bus to Nadha station. I quickly found the bus just outside the door and across the street and within 15 minutes was on the metro. Dubai is very clean and efficient and the metro is no different – it gives the London tube a run for it’s money.

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One thing I didn’t realise about Dubai is that it’s massive! I mean, like HUGE! I think people make a mistake of seeing it on the map near the coast in a long thin line and think it’s small like Barcelona – it’s not. The metro is basically one really really long line and has about 50 stops and takes about 2 hours end to end. Also you can’t walk anywhere in Dubai because it’s just massive buildings and huge 10 lane highways everywhere and very little sidewalks. Luckily the metro is relatively cheap (75p – £1.50 per trip).

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I was staying with my friends Mike and Lizzie who live in Dubai Marina, which is the very touristy, foreign area (although Dubai is 80% foreigners so I guess everywhere is the foreign area). I got off at Jumeira Lake Towers and walked about 15 minutes to their high rise block (everything in Dubai is a high rise block). It was still early morning but Lizzie stayed home to let me in before heading off to work. Since I had the day to myself I went for a stroll along the beach which is just a few minutes from their house. Initially I was suprised by the amount of people but then realised that even though it’s winter this is actually Dubai’s busy season because summer is way too hot. I walked all the way down to a bar called Zero Gravity which looked really posh and was strangley playing house music at 10am. Then I walked back along the beach, bought some relatively affordable (£3) McDonald’s and then wandered along the marina, which has a nice canal-side walkway flanked by expensive yachts and fancy apartment blocks.

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The next day me and Mike went shopping for a phone at one of Dubai’s many malls and I was suprised to find electronics are very affordable in Dubai – in fact cheaper than London for the most part. I didn’t end up buying one though as they didn’t have what I was looking for – that is, a cheap phone with an excellent camera – about as rare as a unicorn.


In the afternoon we walked about an hour to a bar called Barasti, which reminded me a lot of Ibiza – big comfy sofa’s around a swimming pool on the beach with house music playing and a sun setting behind palm trees. Oh and also excessivly expensive drinks! Mike was kind enough to gift me a few beers. 🙂

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That evening I bought some ingredients at a local store which were not too expensive and made lasagne for Mike, Lizzie and their housemate. Then we got rather drunk on free wine Mike had been given by a client he did some work for.


We spent the next few days on the beach, exploring some other malls, the Burj Al-Arab, the Palm Jumeira and visiting a tattoo artist to plan Mike’s next piece. We also had some excellent cheap food at a Middle-eastern restaurant and drinks around the exceptionally posh swimming pool at the Ritz-Carlton. On Wednesday we watched an endless stream of skydivers from JBR beach diving from the Skydive Dubai plane that takes off about every 20 minutes. I would love to done it but it’s way out of my budget.


On Thursday Lizie left to go to Greece for Christmas and Mike left for Sri Lanka, where I would meet him in 2 days. At the same time I got very sick so I spent the next two days just lying in bed and updating my blog.


On my last day I went past the Burj Khalifa on the way to airport and watched the dancing fountain show that they have every day at 6pm. I don’t suggest doing this with all your luggage – I didn’t realise that the fountains are actually a really long walk from the Burj Khalifa metro station, although fortunately the walk way does run through the biggest mall in the world and so has aircon and travelators all along the way.

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Dubai airport has some of the cheapest duty-free I’ve ever seen so it’s a good place to stock up on cheap alcohol, cigarettes, cologne and all the other crap they sell at duty-free. They also have comfortable reclining seats in the waiting area so if your flight is delayed due to the abnormal mist that only happens once a year at least you have some nice to wait. It was totally worth it though because the view of Dubai in the mist from the airplane might possibly be the most surreal thing I’ve ever witnessed.

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Cappadocia

 

I arrived at Kayseri airport at about 10pm on a domestic flight from Istanbul. It’s quite a small airport so I got through quickly and found the transfer bus that my hostel ‘Stay in Peace’ had arranged for me. It was a bit less than an hour drive to Goreme in Cappadocia, where the majority of tourism for the area is centred, and where my hostel was. Along the way I was surprised to see snow-capped mountains on the horizon.


I checked in fairly quickly despite a slight discrepancy in the quoted price of the bus, but they eventually gave me the rate they had quoted – 25 lira. By this time it was almost 11:30pm and the entire town looked very dead. It was off-season so it was very cold and nobody was around. I hadn’t eaten since lunch so I was starving and could really use a beer.


Walking down the deserted streets I eventually heard some music coming from down the road. On further inspection I discovered a restaurant called ‘One Way’ that was still open and had a live band playing! What a God-send! I settled in at a table on my own and warmed up while having a beer, then ordered some Turkish cheese pancakes that were only 10 lira. The restaurant was quite busy but it seemed to all be local Turkish families and I couldn’t hear anyone speaking English, so I decided to keep to myself rather than disturb a family dinner. I had another beer and listened to the band for about an hour before heading to bed.

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After the free breakfast in the morning I embarked on the ‘Green Tour’, for 100 lira which includes lunch and all entrance fees. There are two main tours in Cappadocia, referred to as the Green and Red tours, each covering 5 or 6 popular activities. I mainly wanted to see the underground city of Derinkuyu and the ancient monastery that inspired scenes in the first Star Wars movie, which were both included in the green tour. Firstly we headed to Pigeon valley viewpoint to take photos, and then to Derinkuyu. The entrance goes down some stairs from a small square building with a single door that gives no indication of the 12-storey deep caverns that lie below. One Pakistani couple stayed behind as the claustrophobia scared them, but the rest of our group, consisting of a few Turkish couples, a Russian couple and a Sri lankan, all went in.

Our guide explained in both Turkish and English the history of the caves and tunnels and how they were originally just accommodation, living space and storage but were eventually used to hide from enemies during war in 2000BC. We went down as deep as the 8th level, exploring kitchens, churches and even underground cemeteries. I pretended to be dead in the cemetery and asked a Russian girl to take a photo of me but it didn’t come out very well on my rubbish phone.


After about an hour underground we headed out into the sunlight and drove off to see Selime cathedral, which is the oldest cathedral in Turkey and the inspiration for scenes in the first Star Wars movie. It’s absolutely incredible how the people back then managed to carve an entire cavernous complex into the mountain side and it’s lasted all this time. While some of it is admittedly crumbling, most of it remains almost perfectly intact. There are lots of hidden dark passages to explore and secret pieces which I loved. After an hour or so of exploring those we left to go get lunch at a nice Turkish restaurant which had the most amazing coffee and great traditional food and then did a short walk through a beautiful canyon.

 

We headed home soon after that and me and a Sri Lankan guy on the trip went for a beer at ‘One Way’ before getting dinner and watching the live band.


In the morning me, the Sri lankan and a Malaysian guy headed up the hill to check out the balloons but for some reason there were none. We stood around for ages waiting for them to come up but eventually someone told us they had supposed to be on one but they were cancelled because of too much wind. Still, we got some nice photos from the hill and then headed back to the hostel for breakfast. After breakfast my new friends said their goodbyes and headed off on the red tour and I stayed behind at the hostel as I had to get to the airport at 2pm. Around 11am I walked up to a nice restaurant with a beautiful view over the whole of Goreme, where I had a coffee and a beer before walking to a nearby food stall for a ‘Gigkofte’ – a type of vegetarian kebab.

Around 2pm I left for Kayseri airport to fly to Istanbul and get my connecting flight to Dubai.

 

 

Istanbul

Istanbul is GMT +03.00 hours.  They use the Turkish lira and 5 lira = approx £1

Istanbul is a city of extraordinary contrasts, both socially and culturally. It is figuratively, and also quite literally, the gateway between Europe and Asia – being the only city in the world to stand on two continents! The Bosphorous river divides Istanbul in two and is the geographical border between Asia and Europe. I had booked a hostel on the European side, within walking distance of Taksim square, the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia, which were the only few landmarks I had previous knowledge of.


My flight was to Sabiha Gocken airport in the south, which is further from the city centre than the main Ataturk airport but serves the cheaper airlines (I flew Pegasus for £50 one way). I arrived and went through customs without hassle, and then quickly found the 15 lira (£3) ‘Havabus’ shuttle which goes direct to Taksim Square and is considerably easier than using the metro, which requires a number of changes including a ferry.

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After arriving and heading down to the hostel I was asked by two guys if I have a lighter. They quickly struck up a conversation, saying they were from Ankara and in town for a furniture conference. As we walked and talked they asked if I would like to join them for a drink. I thought it would be nice to meet some locals so I went along with it, but when they mentioned going to a club with very expensive drinks I apologised, saying I can’t afford it, and left.


The hostel I had booked, Neverland, was exactly as I expected from the website reviews and pictures – very hippy and alternative. I checked in and dropped off my bags, but there weren’t many people around so I headed out for a drink on my own. Surprise surprise, within a few minutes a local guy started talking to me and said he was also in town for a furniture conference! I was obviously suspicious, but I was looking for somewhere cheap to eat and he said he knew a place, so I went along. We each got a 5 lira (£1) chicken kebab, which are very common and available at many street stalls. Then we went to a busy pub for a 12 lira (£2.40) beer and he taught me some Turkish: Teskuler, which means ‘Thank You’ (pronounced a bit like ‘tea sugar’), and Sherifa (cheers).


IMG_2203After our beer he wanted to take me to a club where he promised would be ‘hot women’. I wasn’t exactly keen but thought it would be funny to see what seedy den he dragged me too. As expected he took me to what looked like a brothel, with bored women hanging around and drinks prices that made London look cheap. Despite his insistance that I stay, I quickly said my goodbyes and got out of there. It was already after midnight so I decided to call it a day and headed home.


Back at the hostel I googled ‘Istanbul furniture conference’ and was not surprised to find that this is a common scam in Istanbul where they get you in a bar, sell you a few drinks and then hit you with a huge bill, which they force you to pay by taking you to the ATM and drawing out all your cash. The joke would have been on them though since I only had about £20 in my current account!  Still, would have probably got a good kicking no doubt…


IMG_2207In the morning I awoke in time for the free breakfast which was quite nice and consisted of the usual bread, cheese and salad with cereal and yogurt. As I always do I filled up on enough to see me through lunch, then headed out for the half hour walk to the old town. After crossing the Bosphorous river I wandered through the market stalls until finding my way to the Aya Sofia and Blue Mosque, which are very close together. After being interviewed by some school students who clearly had a class assignment for learning English, I stopped at a nearby cafe for a coffee before heading into the mosques. On the way I was accosted once again by a friendly old man who offered to show me around, but clearly just wanted me to go into his gift store. He did however show me a lovely restaurant with an amazing view, before I told him I was broke and so he left me. I stopped for a beer at IMG_2231another restaurant with a roof terrace and nice view and then headed to the thing I most wanted to see, the Basilica Cistern which was featured in scenes from the Dan Brown movie ‘Inferno’. Unfortunately it wasn’t as impressive as I hoped – it only covered one level and took less than 30 minutes to look around. All in all probably not worth the 20 lira ticket, but I’m still glad I went.

By this point I had been walking for about 5 hours so I headed back to the hostel to rest and charge my phone. I grabbed two beers from a shop (6.50 lira each) on the way and headed to the downstairs lounge area of the hostel to chill. Some people were sitting around drinking so I got chatting to them. They were mostly Turkish and struggled a bit with English but we managed to understand each other. I discovered most of them lived there permanently in the hostel, some of them were staff and the others worked elsewhere. I developed a particularly good rapport with an Iranian guy named Reza because we were both guitarists and into very similar music. We chatted for awhile about metal and dubstep and then walked up to the shop to get some more beer and ingredients for a meal he was going to cook for everyone.  He made some incredible Iranian vegetarian dish which might be one of the best things I’ve ever tasted, although I was quite drunk at the time. We continued to chat and drink throughout the night until about 1am when I went to bed.  I ending up spending a bit more than I should have that night, because I was buying a lot of beers from the shop and sharing with everyone – but I did get a free meal and made some amazing friends, which is far more valuable than a bit of money.


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The next day after breakfast I went to draw some cash at an ATM, but realised I hadn’t transferred money into my current account (never leave lots of cash in your current account!) and had to walk back to the hostel for get wifi to do the transfer and then back to the ATM again, which was miles away because the nearby one wasn’t working. Eventually I paid my bill and checked out, although left my luggage at the hostel while I headed out on the 5 lira ferry to explore the Asian side of Istanbul.


Turns out the Asian side has a lot of really good bars and shopping streets, and this is where the good nightlife is but since I had to leave at 5pm I wouldn’t have time to see it. After grabbing a 5 lira chicken doner sandwich I walked around exploring the shops, wandered down the beach front and had a beer at two of the very western-themed rock music bars that seemed to be everywhere.


Eventually around 4:30 I grabbed the ferry back to the hostel and watched an awesome Turkish bohemian busker band on board.  Back at the hostel I said a quick goodbye to Reza, we swapped contacts to keep in touch and then I ran to catch the 6pm bus to the airport.