However amazing my Friday was, the trip wasn’t over yet. Saturday I’d planned a bus tour for my Saturday as well as a trip to the top of the world’s tallest building. And, since I’d paid for these tickets in advance, I decided I’d better follow through.
Saturday morning was a particularly slow start. The bus didn’t come to the nearest stop until 9:30, and I figured since I was out late, I wasn’t going to worry too much about waking up super early. That turned out to be irrelevant, as my school teacher internal clock had me awake by 7am. I had a leisurely breakfast, if a somewhat mild one, of cornflakes and toast, and generally tried to starch and hydrate the remains of a hangover away.
In the midst of this, I realized that I’d somehow not only used all the gb of international internet I’d purchased on my phone, but hadn’t turned the data off, so I’d used up all the remaining balance on the SIM card. Which meant I spent a very unproductive 30 minutes using the hotel wifi to try to find a way to recharge the phone credit from the internet, which it turns out you can’t do without a Saudi bank account, which I still didn’t have at the time. Oh well, I say, time to see the day anywho. By this time, I’d missed the 930 bus window, but another was due by 950, and the mall where the stop lay was about a block away.
It bears mentioning that the malls in Dubai are HUGE and not especially geared for pedestrian entrance. Mall of the Emirates was not an exception, and due to confusing parking lot signs and a lot of construction, I walked at least halfway around the building before I found a way in. I found a mall map which told me how far I had to go to get to the bus stop, and headed in the correct direction. On the way, I got a delicious avocado and banana smoothie with a shot of pure ginger juice to finish kicking out the hangover cobwebs. Totally hit the spot.
As I walked through the gigantic mall, admiring the Christmas decorations and ritzy shops, I spotted a display that looked like a giant scene from “Frozen”. I looked closer and realized it was real snow. Gaping at this multi-story indoor snowscape, I recalled stories about the famous Dubai indoor ski slope. I’d seen it was close to my hotel, but since I can’t ski and didn’t have very long in Dubai, it wasn’t on my to-do list. It turns out, it’s actually inside the Mall of the Eremites, and I was walking past the full wall window display that leads up to the ticket entrance.
So after some ooos and ahhs, I continued on toward the bus area. Now, the cool thing about a hop-on-hop-off bus is that inevitably you’ll catch it where you disembarked, but that first stop can be a little tricky. The phone app that the company had sadly did not include any directions or gps for the stop beyond “at the Mall”, so it took me a while to track it down. It turned out to be in an underground parking garage, one I’d passed while searching for an entrance to the mall earlier. The avocado smoothie and indoor snow land made up for the detour, though.
I caught a bus, and there was some conflict over which line it was. Both the website and the app indicate that the company offers a “red” line and a “blue” line, there are maps and descriptions of all the stops. According to both, the mall was only on the blue line. And the driver was talking about the “beach” line, which made no sense. Initially, he told me I needed a different bus, but then he changed his mind and waved me on.
I was the only person on the bus, which was a little eerie. As I unfolded the map the driver had given me, I slowly realized that the website and app were both outdated. There were in fact three routes, and the previously labeled blue line was now green, and the new third beach route was now blue. Hence the confusion. And as it turned out, I was on the wrong line, going the wrong way. So at the next stop, I hopped off and switched lines, and finally around 11am I was on the right bus going the right way.
Other than a slight snafu with the planning, I was really impressed with the bus tour. I’m not a huge fan of organized tours or heavily touristy activities, but the hop-on-hop-off style basically allows you to design your own tour, and not have to worry about transportation, since you can always catch the next company bus that comes along. Plus, in addition to your transportation, it included entrance fees to a ton of sights, museums, boat rides and some kind of desert safari, only a few of which are mentioned on the website. The buses have recorded tour tracks if you like to listen to city information, and free wifi.
I wish I’d had more time. I didn’t realize how much stuff was on that tour when I did the website research, and I got on the bus about an hour and half later than I’d meant to. But what I did see was lots of fun (so much so, I’m planning the two day version for my next trip so I can see everything the ticket includes!). I had booked a 4:00 ticket for the Burj Kalifah, which meant I needed to drop everything and taxi over there at 3:30 at the latest.
And I really wanted to take the boat ride along the Dubai canal, since that was one of the things on the website I’d found and it was recommended to me by a fellow PNW American who’d stopped in Dubai on her way into Saudi. The boat was due to go out every hour on the half an hour, and I made it just in time to catch the 2:30 boat (getting me back to catch a 3:30 taxi to my 4:00 tower experience, or so I hoped).
The boat was entirely lovely.
When we got off the bus, it hadn’t pulled up to the dock yet, so some Dutch tourists and I ended up walking down the docks into a shipping area which made for an interesting detour and we got to see the boats that the locals use for cargo between countries around the Persian gulf.
Once on the real boat, we enjoyed a lazy trip down the canal, narrated by a soft British female voice, and accompanied by snacks and beer. (my first beer since moving to Saudi, I might add)
The weather was beautiful and the views spectacular. It really was a great ride and a nice way to see the city.
We got back to the dock just in time for the next tour bus, but I needed a taxi. So I let the bus go and tried to flag one down. I don’t know what the universal law is that makes it so that taxis are trying to flag me down when I want to walk somewhere, but all of them are full when I want a taxi, but I was starting to worry that I wasn’t going to make my ticket time for the tower. Just as I was prepared to start hiking to the nearest hotel or mall, I finally found an empty taxi, and slumped with some relief into the air-conditioned cab and settled in for the cross town ride.
The World’s Tallest Building
and don’t forget to check out the facebook page for more pictures of Dubai December! 🙂