Why Dubai ?

 

dubai

Wow , wow , and yes, another wow. That’s what it’s like when you arrive in Dubai and are transported to your hotel along the six lane highways.

Get yourself a thesaurus , look up the word ‘luxury’ and then apply all the synonyms to this place. Our suite at The Grosvenor House Hotel was sumptuous. The decor in the hotel reception was opulent. The food in restaurants run by celebrity chefs was magnificent.You soon tire of excitedly pointing at luxury brand cars like Bentley’s , Porsches and Ferrari’s . In Dubai they are as commonplace as Ford Fiestas and VW Polo’s.

In a city that has sprung up from virtually nothing over the last 25 or so years everything has been thought of for your comfort. Air conditioning is the norm. Want to go to a gigantic shopping mall ? A short walk from wherever you are takes you to the simplest metro in existence ~ basically one straight line connecting the whole of Dubai. It is, of course , air-conditioned and spotlessly clean.

The malls are enormous sprawling temples to consumerism and underline the fact that whatever Dubai wants , Dubai gets. Ski slope ? Sure , no problem.Tallest building in the world ? You got it. Fastest lift to get to the 127th floor ? Sure thing. Tell you what , we’ll have a water slide at the hotel but let’s put sharks in a covered tank at the bottom. Dubai is excess. Even five star luxury isn’t enough for Dubai , here, a whole new level of luxury had to be invented for the Burj Al Arab. It has to go one step further than anywhere else I’ve been. Even toilets in the malls are marble floored , touch free , leather sofa equipped and look more like they belong in a five-star hotel than a shopping mall.

burj khalifa

In a city built on tourism , and the most lavish and extreme tourism there is , the service is second to none. We were waiting for a pick up one morning for a trip we had booked and it was 5 minutes late. Nothing too worrying. Within seconds, a member of staff asked us what we were waiting for , got the name of the company , called them and asked why they hadn’t arrived.

But do you know what….

There’s something not right. Not for me anyway. Dubai is sterile. It’s perfect. Nothing happens. Crime is virtually non-existent. Everything is just so. Eating dinner or drinking cocktails in Dubai is like eating or drinking in an operating theatre. It just seems so false.

In a way you can understand the nouveaux riche loving this place so much. It is created out of nothing. There is no substance to it. You want it ? You’ve got it. If you’ve got the money.

We have been to Las Vegas and where Las Vegas is like a friendly old uncle who lets you stay up late watching telly and lets you have a sip of his beer , Dubai is a maiden aunt with a house full of ornaments. You just know  that once your back is turned everything is going to be put back in its’ place and dusted down.

The only time we got a feel for the ‘real’ Dubai was on a trip to the gold souk and the markets. You get there by boat across Dubai Creek on a rickety old dhow with the water splashing onto the floor.

dubai creek 2

 

 

You get a feeling that if new Dubai had anything to do with this then you would be transported across the creek on a solid gold bridge which would emerge from the water at the touch of a button.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked Dubai. I can understand why people go there time and time again. It is a place where , if you can afford it , you don’t need to think of anything. Everything is catered for. Well, I’m sorry Dubai , while I like what you do,  I prefer my holidays with a bit more realism.( A Health and Safety break in Skiathos )

 

 

 

Planning , coincidence or luck ? Whatever it was we had a great time.

the-o2

 

We’d been looking forward to this weekend since March 2016 when we booked tickets to see The Impractical Jokers live at the O2 in London. Just me , my wife and her 24 year old son. The O2 arena , if you didn’t already know is stuck on the end of a massive loop in the River Thames in London. It’s a devil to get to. We booked a hotel in Chiswick which seemed to be very nice and sat and waited for the date to arrive.

As the date drew closer the drivers of South West Trains decided to start having a series of one day strikes which threw travellers plans into chaos. We simply had to sit and hope that they didn’t choose Saturday 14th January as one of their strike days. They didn’t. But we weren’t out of the woods yet. On my way to collect the tickets I was told that the very journey we had planned was subject to engineering works which would add 30 minutes onto our journey. I checked at the ticket office , yes , it was true said the clerk. The train would be diverted around Havant and the trip would take an extra half an hour. This was a nuisance because as a treat we’d booked a very nice restaurant outside the O2 and as the time was already tight getting to London , then across London , then to the hotel we could ill-afford any delays in getting to our booking.To add just a little more spice into the journey that day, the UK had severe weather warnings of massive snow falls due over the weekend which would cause huge disruption for all travellers. Don’t make any plans , they cried. Well, too late , we’ve already made our plans , we’re in too deep. We got up on Saturday morning expecting the worst drew the curtains and saw scenes of……well, nothing really. Just a completely normal day.Not even that cold.

So far , so good.

We got to the station and boarded our train hoping that the engineering works wouldn’t take up too much time. As the announcements were made by the guard during the trip there was no mention of the diversions and it looked like we were going to arrive on time. Strange. The clerk had seemed so sure ! As it was we arrived in plenty of time and caught the tube to the O2. From their we caught a taxi to our hotel , a short 10 minute drive away. As he dropped us off we asked what would be the best way to get back as there was no taxi rank around. With that the driver gave us his personal mobile number and told us to call him in 10 minutes and he’d take us back once we’d checked in. What a star !!

We got the the restaurant ‘Craft’ outside the O2 in ample time for our booking and enjoyed what I can only describe as one of the best meals I have had. Lamb belly to start and pheasant for mains for me and duck to start and lamb for my wife and her son. The service throughout was impeccable and the day was getting better and better.

Still quite early we made our way to the arena and enjoyed a relaxing drink before the show. The one part we weren’t looking forward to was the fact that when we booked we could only get row H seat 665,666,& 667 or something, which by my reckoning was the best part of half a mile away ! We would have needed super powered binoculars to even see the stage  never mind who was performing on it.

However, as we donned our oxygen masks and made our way by escalator to the rarified atmosphere of the upper levels we were stopped in our tracks by a man in a white anorak, one of the ‘O2 Angels’.

” Are any of you 02 customers ?” he asked

As it happened we all are.

“I can upgrade you.” And thinking he meant our phones , we duly produced them.What he actually wanted was our tickets because he was allowed to upgrade 02 customers to better seats and so he gave us there and then three seats about 10 rows from the front and to the left of the stage. Seats which , if they had been available, we’d have chosen anyway.

We settled in and enjoyed a brilliant night of comedy with The Impractical Jokers.

After the show , because we were only a short taxi ride away we managed to avoid the crowds pouring from the 02 and went and had a relaxing drink while the crowds thinned out. We then took a leisurely stroll to the taxi rank and back to our hotel.

The weekend was a huge success , partly because of planning ,we chose a nearby hotel and a good restaurant and we knew how busy the 02 would be , partly because of coincidence , with our 02 Angel and partly because the weather, strikes, engineering just didn’t happen.

And in the end all these things coming together in a perfect storm created a weekend to remember.

 

First light, first skate in NYC

We had visited New York a few times before our visit in December but always during the summer months.We wanted to experience the full new York winter and a part of that was to go ice skating in front of The Rockefeller Centre. As we only had a few days there we decided it would be more sensible to book tickets for the skating so had a look at online booking. It turns out you can’t book any skates except for the ‘first skate’ of the day each day at 7am.

And so it was that on a chilly Monday in December only a day and a half after landing at JFK and seeing the first snow of the year we groggily got up to the alarm in darkness at 6am and headed off to The Rockefeller Centre.

We have never been around NYC this early as it gets light and it is quite a different experience. There are cars , taxis and buses and pedestrians as always but it all seemed eerily calm. The wind was bitingly cold down 5th Avenue as we turned into the Rockefeller Plaza and saw the spectacular Christmas tree.

treeWe were joining 148 other freezing people who all had nothing better to do on a cold morning at 7am than to don ice skates and go skating around in front of The Rockefeller Christmas tree.

We are definitely not Torvill and Dean, more Bambi on ice, and were more than a little concerned that we would feel very inadequate as people sped by doing loops and triple axles and whatever else ice skaters do.

There was no need.

Everyone bar the odd handful displayed the same game ‘I’ve paid for this so I’m going to damn well do it if it kills me’ face as we did and it was great fun. The hour sped by. We didn’t fall over but as my confidence increased I came dangerously close as I tried a crossover turn.

We had booked too late to benefit from the breakfast on offer as part of the package but we did however enjoy a warming and complimentary cup of hot chocolate when we came off the ice and shared smiles and comments with the other intrepid members of the 7am ‘First Skate’ group.

 

The Red Flame Diner vs The Waldorf-Astoria. Like ‘Rocky vs Apollo Creed’.

On our visit to New York last December we had the pleasure of eating at both of these establishments. This was like Rocky Balboa the unfancied challenger climbing into the ring with the the swaggering , classy champ Apollo Creed. We all know how the first one ended but what about this one ?

Round one

The outside of The Red Flame Diner ,down a side street off 6th Avenue near Times Square, is fairly ordinary. A storm porch in clear glass keeps out the freezing temperatures and gives precious protection to the sub zero New York winter. The name is emblazoned on the door and windows. In midtown on Park Avenue sits the imposing and internationally renowned Waldorf Astoria hotel and La Chine restaurant. The challenger takes an early punch and sways a little but holds his own.Round one goes to the champion unanimously.

Round two

Inside The Red Flame Diner are cubicles for groups or families of four or more to sit in comfortable but unfussy seats. The tables have laminated menus listing everything available for breakfast , lunch and dinner and it is quite extensive. At La Chine on the ground floor of The Waldorf  heavy doors open onto supreme elegance and luxury in grey and black and subtle shades of brown. Tables are laid with bone china teacups and heavy silver cutlery. The menu is brought to you by a smartly dressed waiter. This could be all over by the third round, the challenger is in trouble.The champion looks in complete control. Round two to the champion.

Round three

Looking groggy the challenger takes on our breakfast order of scrambled egg , bacon and potato, toast and a coffee. A cup of iced water is brought over to our table before we start.The champion feels confident and takes our order of Imperial afternoon tea and a cocktail. A good and positive fight back from the challenger and the round is drawn.

Round four

Within minutes our breakfast order comes out at The Red Flame and it looks delicious and  there is plenty of it. At La Chine our pot of tea is brought out and also our scones , the first course of the afternoon tea, followed by savoury pastries. At The Red Flame we continue to plough our way through the tasty breakfast while the waiter tops up our coffees for free. At The Waldorf we are then inexplicably left alone for 25 minutes with our tea going colder and nothing to eat apart from the array of  cakes and finger buffet we had before us but have been told not to touch until we had our dim sum.ny dec16 009

The champion is taking a few blows now and looks unsteady on his feet.

We are asked at La Chine if we’d like another glass of water. We do but our waitress disappears never to be seen again. Meanwhile we are still awaiting our dim sum. At that point we are approached by a waitress who asks us if we’d like the cakes and finger buffet bagged up to take home. Through gritted teeth we explain that we are STILL waiting for our dim sum.

The champion is rocking.

At the Red Flame diner the service continues efficiently and effectively. We ask for the bill. And are brought the bill quickly. The cost , 24 dollars. It’s a potential knockout blow.

At La Chine Waldorf we finally get our flabby and fairly tasteless dim sum and eat our cakes. We ask for the bill and it is 200 dollars plus.

It’s a knockout !! For service , food , price and value for money the Red Flame Diner is a clear winner.

The Waldorf Astoria just wasn’t up to the steady tenacity of the contender. I for one know where I would choose to eat next time I visit NYC.