Eating vegan in Jersey

Please note: this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

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Before I flew to Jersey, I had visions of myself living off rice cakes and fruit from the supermarket. Usually, when visiting anywhere with a sizeable population, a quick search on HappyCow and a couple of questions on Facebook results in a fairly lengthy list of options. With Jersey, though, I was a bit worried. The limited recommendations I was getting from people were generally not good for a gluten-free diet.

I needn’t have worried, though. The few options on HappyCow were very good, and I was also lucky to have a friend on the island who did lots of research for me before I arrived. Most of my friends are omnivore, but I am extremely lucky that they are very supportive of my vegan diet and understanding about my gluten allergy. My friend not only managed to find restaurants with vegan and gluten-free options for me, by the time I left for the next part of my trip in Guernsey I’d eaten so much good food I could barely walk onto the boat!

Breakfast

Usually, my friends and I like to book Airbnb type accommodation when we travel together. There are lots of benefits to this, including that we usually have access to a kitchen and I can prepare my own food if I need to. Unfortunately, we were unable to find suitable options in Jersey that didn’t cost a fortune. Instead, I found the Stafford Hotel on booking.com. Most of the accommodation options included breakfast, and I figured that if I have to pay for breakfast I should at least find a hotel where they have vegan options. Admittedly, I didn’t contact the hotel in advance, but I chose the Stafford because all the reviews said they had an excellent breakfast buffet. So, unusually for me as I practice intermittent fasting and don’t normally have my first meal until after 11am, I started everyday with hash browns, beans, fresh fruit and coffee from the hotel. For a 2 star hotel, we were very pleased with the Stafford. It’s a rickety old building with very thin walls (I could hear someone snoring very loudly from another room, and was kept awake by creaking floorboards in the corridor outside), but it’s exceptionally clean with good facilities and very attentive staff. The team at the hotel seemed very eager to please, and I’m sure if you contacted them in advance they would do their best to provide more vegan options for breakfast.

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Moo

Whether you are vegan, omnivore or part-time flexitarian (?) you have to stop at Moo for lunch. I bought mine to go and ate it in the sunshine in Royal Square. Moo aim to offer as much local, seasonal, organic produce as possible. They have lots of vegan and gluten-free options, and the staff are the coolest people to have a chat too whilst they’re preparing your food. I had the beetroot and mint rice paper wrap (I’d advise you to pick up cutlery if you choose the wrap, it got a bit messy) and a sloan ranger juice. I also tried some of their juice shots whilst I was in the cafe.

Cafe Spice

Handily located right opposite our hotel, Cafe Spice offers excellent Indian cuisine and great customer service. The entire vegetarian menu, except the korma, is vegan and gluten-free if you order with the boiled rice. Poppadoms are also vegan and gluten-free. The manager got very excited when I asked about the vegan options, telling me they’d had a large vegan group in the night before and proudly showing me the Viva card they’d left.

Banjo

For a more upmarket night out, Banjo is a great restaurant, although make sure you book in advance. There are 2 dining rooms, decorated in different styles, and a cocktail bar. If you have a passion for interior design, you should definitely check out this restaurant. As well as the cool eating and drinking areas, the bathrooms have also been designed in a very unique style. They have a couple of vegan options. I chose the lentil curry, which was lovely. My only disappointment was the poor selection of vegan and gluten-free spirits. The bar is known for it’s cocktails, but unfortunately I couldn’t try any of them.

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El Tico

I think El Tico is probably my favourite spot out of everywhere I ate on Jersey. They have a separate vegan menu with gluten-free options, huge portions and the food tasted amazing. I chose the tico super salad (see picture above) which I can highly recommend. My only disappointment was that my fruit smoothie (ingredients vary depending on fruit available) was served in a plastic cup with a plastic straw, and not particularly big for what I paid. The use of plastic was a shame, as I’d noticed lots of bars and restaurants around the island using paper straws and trying to discourage customers from using them at all. If you are easily offended by the smell of seafood, El Tico might not be the best place for you. Most people in the restaurant were eating mussels as this is the local delicacy.

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Big Vern’s

Big Vern’s is the restaurant I was least impressed with. It looked really hopeful. They had vegan options clearly marked on the menu, including a vegetable curry which I went for. The menu clearly stated that it’s vegan if you ask for it without the yogurt, but when I tried to order none of the serving staff knew what a vegan is. I patiently tried to explain, and also said I didn’t want the naan bread that came with the meal because I’m allergic to gluten. Not once, but twice I was served the curry with naan bread and yogurt. Having said that, once I actually received the meal I ordered, it did taste really good. It’s just a shame that the staff don’t know their own menu.

Pizza Express

I’m sure you are all aware of Pizza Express, but I have included them here to show that there are chain restaurant options on Jersey as well. We went to Pizza Express one evening for a meal, and it was lovely. I had the Vegan Giardiniera with gluten free base.

Jersey Zoo

We opted to take a picnic for our day at the zoo, but there is a cafe there. I don’t know about the meal options, but I thought I’d include it in the post because I noticed they had a vegan and gluten-free cake on the menu.

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Guernsey/Herm

As I mentioned above, I felt like I ate my own body weight in amazing vegan food whilst I was on Jersey. For that reason, and also because I was travelling alone once I left Jersey and trying to cram in as much as I could, I just lived off snacks whilst I was on Guernsey and Herm. The Co-operative in St Peters Port has a great selection of vegan and gluten-free options, including the Savse smoothies pictured above which I found to be a handy breakfast option.

 

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Jersey Zoo

Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

I really struggled to decide if one, I wanted to visit Jersey Zoo and two, if I did go, I wanted to write this post about it. As a vegan, obviously I don’t agree with zoos as a form of entertainment where animals are kept in cages purely for the enjoyment of humans. Having said that I do understand that, mainly due to the actions of humans, many species are now threatened with extinction and there are people trying to prevent this. Had I visited Jersey alone, I probably wouldn’t have visited the zoo. I have a friend who is a keeper there, though, and she was keen to show me how they are working hard to improve situations worldwide for these animals. I think it is important to note here that the zoo is also known as the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. This isn’t a zoo in the traditional sense.

The zoo was funded by Gerald Durrell in 1959, and except for the meerkats, all the animals that live there are threatened with extinction. Like myself, and everyone who works at the zoo, Durrell would have much preferred to see all the animals in their natural habitats in the wild. His ultimate goal was that the zoo would close once all the animals received sufficient protection, but sadly that didn’t happen before his death in 1995 and still looks to be a long way off.

One again lucky to have our own personal guide who introduced us to lots of the other zoo keepers, we got to meet a lot of the animals close-up. These experiences are available to book at an extra charge through the Durrell website. If you’re happy to get stuck in shovelling animal dung and carrying heavy buckets, they also have volunteering opportunities.

It’s a surprise to a lot of people, as I’m vegan, but I’m actually not a big animal person. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike animals and I obviously try not to exploit them in any way, but I’m happy to respect their space and leave them to their thing. I feel honoured to have met so many of the zoo’s inhabitants close-up, though, something I never thought I would get the chance to do. Nowadays, the zoo uses a hands off approach with the animals. Although they live in a zoo, they want them to have minimal contact with humans. Some of the older animals remember times before the new rules came into effect, though, and are quite curious about the humans who have come to see them. The keepers explained to us they are also working on techniques to avoid having to tranquillize the animals, for example, when they need medical treatment.

Is Jersey Zoo perfect? I think even the staff at the zoo would admit there’s lots more they could do. There are always enclosures that could be bigger, habitations that could be better or more natural and ways of doing things that result in less stress for the animals. What I experienced at the zoo was a team of people who want to achieve all this and more, because they genuinely care for the animals and love what they do. I completely understand if anyone feels visiting the zoo makes me not vegan somehow, but until we can fix bigger problems in the world that means all the animals can once again live free we need places like Jersey Zoo. So, here are some of my photos from our day at the zoo. We actually saw a lot more animals than the ones below, but I was limited by the poor capabilities of my camera. Much, much better photos than mine are available on their website.

 

 

 

 

Exploring Jersey by Car

Please note: this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

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As there were five of us exploring Jersey together, we thought the best transport option was to hire a car. Driving in Jersey is very easy (they drive on the left side of the road, same as in the UK), especially if you’re used to driving in a British city like I am. The Channel Islands do have their own rules of the road, but they’re fairly logical and easy to work out. If you’re unable to drive, both Jersey and Guernsey have very good, cheap bus services. Two of our group live on Jersey, so we had the added bonus of personal guides as we navigated the island.

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On the west coast of the island, in fact it pretty much is the west coast it’s so long, is St Ouen’s Bay. Five Mile Road runs almost the length of the beach, although neither the road or the beach (4 miles) is 5 miles long. The road got it’s name from the distance between the two furthest points in the bay. Or, as I heard one old lady comically call it in error, ‘8 mile road’. I wanted to correct her, but I felt it would take too long to explain 8 mile refers to something totally different. This is the place to come if you’re a surfer, and also the best place to watch the sunset.

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Almost at the northwest point of the island is Plémont Point, also known as La Grève au Lançon (Bay of Sand Eels), where we hiked along one of the many coastal paths. At low tide, more steep steps will take you down to Plémont Bay, but at high tide the beach completely disappears. This area has accessible caves that you can explore, although again be aware of tides. There is yet more evidence of the German occupation along the north coast. Plémont Guardhouse was originally built in the 19th century, and converted by the German Army into one of their reinforced field positions.

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Right over the other side of the island, on the east coast, we also visited Gorey. This is the home of Mont Orgueil, Jersey’s oldest castle. As a site that has been adopted and used by various groups over the years, the castle contains buildings from the early 13th century right up to the German occupation in 1940-45.

If you’re comfortable being on the left side of the road, driving in Jersey is a great way to see the island. It’s small enough to get around fairly quickly, and interesting enough to keep you occupied for as long as you want. If unlike us, you don’t know a local who can sit in the passenger seat and act as guide, I would recommend getting hold of a good travel guide so you know what you’re looking at.

St Helier and the South West Coast of Jersey

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Anyone who follows me on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter will be aware I recently spent some time in the Channel Islands. My first stop was Jersey to catch  up with some friends.

As I arrived in Jersey 24 hours before the remainder of our group, I had a whole day to explore on my own. I had hoped to visit Sark, but unfortunately I was there on a Friday when there were no boats running. If your goal is to visit other islands, my top tip would be to plan well. It’s easier to visit both Sark and Herm from Guernsey than Jersey, although there are some ferry connections between Jersey and Sark. However, locals don’t seem too interested in travelling between the islands, so ferry schedules can be infrequent, especially out of season.

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My original plan scuppered, I headed into Liberation Square to see what else was on offer. Liberation Square is easy to identify by the Liberation Monument that stands on it’s own little island (watch your step) in the centre. During World War II, the Channel Islands were the only part of Britain to be occupied by German troops when Britain claimed them indefensible. The statue marks their liberation on 9th May 1945.

Although it is a tourism hub on the island, don’t expect Liberation Square to be an overly busy place where you’ll be harassed by ticket touts and local entrepeneurs like in other destinations. I visited in May, and there were 2 stands selling excursions, both run by very laid back locals. Unlike my trip to Iceland, where people were so laid back it was difficult to buy tickets for the excursions I wanted to go on, I felt that in Jersey they’ve got it just right. They’re happy to sell to you, but if you decide to go somewhere else they’ll wish you a nice day and probably even give you directions to their competitors.

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I knew we would be hiring a car to explore the rest of the island, so I thought my solo day would be best spent on a boat. My only option was the Jersey Bus & Boat Tours Waterbus which departs from the Albert Pier at 10:30  and 14:00 every day (free hotel pick-ups on request). The company also offers various bus tours around the island, and bike hire if you’re feeling fit. Complete with English commentary from the skipper, the boat excursion is well worth the £20 ticket price. Jersey is a windy place, though, and the sea can get choppy, especially when the ferries pass back and forth. So, the boat trip is maybe not a good idea if you struggle with sea sickness. The 2 hour(ish) trip takes you west along the coast from St Helier. Although it’s the capital of Jersey, St Helier is only small. The permanent population is around 33,000, over a third of the total island population. Because of it’s size, there don’t seem to be any particular touristy or local areas. Everyone just mixes together, and the locals are so polite and friendly that you don’t really notice. I sat and ate my lunch in Royal Square, now a very picturesque sun spot that was once where prisoners were punished and alleged witches were burned. The main, pedestrianised shopping area is King Street and it’s off-shoots.

Once on the boat, we headed out of the harbour. There are actually several harbours in St Helier, the names of which our skipper did reel off to us and after listening to him I began to realise why you have to take a local test to work as a commercial skipper here. This is very much a working port, so it’s normal to see container ships, ferries of all sizes and multi-million pound yachts sharing the water. There is one marina that has instant access to the sea, the waiting list to get a spot there is currently more than 20 years.

As we headed out to the open water, I was sad to see lots of the cages that fishermen use to hold lobsters and other sea creatures. Once the lobsters are caught, they are stored alive in these tiny cages for up to 5 days, when they are sold to restaurants and locals. Lobsters are clipped to prevent them from fighting whilst crammed together in what must be a very stressful situation. To our skipper, as with most of the people on the island, this is seen as something positive that brings money to the local economy. He proudly told us that the price of lobster has recently doubled. To a vegan, however, the whole process sounds barbaric.

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The most noticeable landmark on the St Helier coastline is Elizabeth Castle, which has guarded the harbour since 1600. Elizabeth I decided that building the castle was the best defence against cannonballs, which were the height of modern technology at the time. As with a lot of the smaller islets off the coast of Jersey, at low tide you can walk out to Elizabeth Castle. Jersey has the third largest tides in the world after Alaska and the Bristol Channel in England. When the tide is out, the island almost doubles in size. You can also access the castle at high tide via a ‘duck’ tour. The same amphibious military vehicles used for tourism all over the world, the World War II DUKWs to give them their official name will ferry you across to the island for around £15 for one adult.

A little further along the coast from St Helier is St Aubin’s Bay, which was the original (tidal) airport  here until 1937 when they built a more permanent runway in St Peters.

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Normoint Point stands at the other side of St Aubin’s Bay. If wartime history is your thing, this is one of the best palces to go. The German’s used the point as a strategic strong point, complete with a four-storey concrete tower from where they could manage their artillery batteries. There are lots of these ugly, concrete structures dotted along the Jersey coastline. Their presence goes against the strict planning regulations Jersey enforces today, but they are such an important part of the local history I can understand why they are still there.

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The next bay from Noirmont Point is the smaller, but very beautiful, Portelet Bay. I was lucky to get to visit Portelet from both the sea and the land, first on the boat trip and then again the next day in our hire car. You have to be very fit to access the beach from inland, the only way is via a very steep staircase. I’m sure someone told me there are over 200 steps, but I didn’t count and I can’t find anywhere to verify the answer. In the centre of the bay is a tiny island with a single-storey, single-cell tower on top. It is the last resting place of a local sea captain, Philippe Janvrin, who dies of the plague in 1721. Upon returning from his last voyage, his ship was not allowed to dock on Jersey for fear the plague  would spread across the island, and he and his crew were quarantined on their ship. They all succumbed to the disease, and the rest of the crew were buried at sea. As the son of a wealthy Jersey family, Janvrin was due to receive a much grander burial, but authorities were still concerned about the threat and wouldn’t allow his coffin onto Jersey. So, he was buried on the rock in the bay, within sight of his home. The tower was added in 1808, one of three built during the Napoleonic Wars. It was at Portelet Bay that the difference in tides became very apparent to me. One day I sailed right the way around Janvrin’s tomb in quite a sizeable boat, and 24 hours later at low tide I walked out to the little rocky islet from the beach with my friends and we climbed to the top.

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Further on again from Portelet Bay, and our last stop on the south coast, is St Brelade’s Bay. This is one of the busiest beaches on the island, but it’s big enough that you’re unlikely to be bothered by crowds. As well as visiting on the boat, this is also where I got to try stand up paddleboarding (SUP) for the first time. OK, I admit, for me it was more like kneel up paddleboarding but I still managed to keep up with my more experienced friends and it was a lot of fun. As a beginner, I also received excellent instruction from Jono’s Watersports where we rented our equipment. I have nothing to compare it to, but my friends who SUP a lot in Norway told me that the water in St Brelades is more choppy than they’d usually expect.

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St Brelades is home to an example of the insane wealth to be found on Jersey. At the western end of the bay is a house that, 2 years ago, was sold for £11 million. The family who bought it are spending a further £10 million on renovations.

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Corbiè Lighthouse marks the end of the south coast and the corner of Jersey. The first concrete lighthouse in the British Isles was built here in 1873. It’s no wonder there have been so many  shipwrecks on the point, and that they decided to build such a sturdy lighthouse here. During storms, ocean spray is known to go right over the top of the lighthouse.

To look at the south west coast of Jersey on a map it seems such a small area, but there is so much of interest there. I couldn’t wait to find out what the rest of Jersey and the Channel Islands had to offer.

 

Useful Info

One-way flight from Bristol to Jersey with Flybe: from £70

Bus from Jersey airport to St Helier: £2 (all stops are announced on a matrix screen well in advance, so the local bus service is super easy to use)

4 nights accommodation at the Stafford Hotel, St Helier: from £180 bed & breakfast

Jersey Bus & Boat Tours Waterbus excursion: £20

1 hour SUP and wetsuit rental at Jono’s Watersports: £17

Eating Vegan in Dubai

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Although I didn’t eat out that much whilst I was in Duabi, I thought I’d do a quick blog about my experience of vegan food whilst I was there. Basically, eating vegan and gluten free in Dubai is as easy as it is here in the UK. The smaller, local supermarkets all stock lots of fresh produce and all the other staples you would expect to find. In the bigger supermarkets, and some of them are HUGE, you can expect to find a lot of the same brand names as you would in the UK or USA. As this is the desert, though, most products have to be imported and therefore the price can be higher. Out and about, almost everyone in Dubai speaks English and understands what it means to be vegan. One of the things I loved about Dubai is that they have great juice bars everywhere, which is especially handy when you’re walking around in the heat in the middle of the day.

Happy Cow lists a lots of vegan friendly restaurants. There are a couple that I would particularly like to mention. Super Natural Kitchen is a raw diner-style eatery in the Dubai Mall. Once you get over the fact there are people shopping for clothes right behind you whilst you’re eating your lunch, this is a great place to stop for some food. I had a green juice, California sushi roll and a chocolate brownie. Unusually for Dubai, this restaurant is also very environmentally conscious in other ways. They even gave me a metal straw to reduce waste, which I was very impressed with. As well as the outstanding food, they also have vegan cookbooks and other literature for sale that you can browse whilst you’re waiting for your food.

Whilst we were in JBR, my friend took me to dinner at Cucina Mia. This is an omnivore restaurant that has a separate vegan menu. All the food is Italian, I had the mushroom risotto which tasted delicious. I was also really impressed with the staff. When I told the waiter I have food allergies, the chef came out personally to speak to me personally about my order.

Dubai also has a lot of the chain restaurants you’ll find in other parts of the world, so whatever your tastes you will find some great vegan options.

Getting around in Dubai

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Dubai is very much a city designed for cars. Unlike a lot of places in the world, which see reducing their dependence on cars as progressive, in Dubai there is still a lot of status attached to owning your own set of wheels. To be able to visit all of the city, you will have to travel by car at some point. If you want to venture outside of the city and into the desert, access to a car is a must. The roads are big, more than six lanes each way in some places. The driving isn’t the best I’ve ever seen, nor is it the worst. And as making offensive signals or swearing at other people is illegal and punishable with imprisonment, at least road rage from other drivers is unlikely. I was lucky to always have other people driving me whilst I was there, so I didn’t have to concentrate too much on the road, but the network of highways and streets seemed very over-complicated. I couldn’t decide if this was intentional to make Dubai seem bigger than it is, or just a result of bad planning. Either way, driving is still the easiest way to get around Dubai. That being said, there are other options. If you are not able to drive yourself, there are lots of taxis available to transport you. You don’t even need to phone them. As it’s so unheard of to walk anywhere in Dubai (although possible and actually quite enjoyable in some places), as soon as you start walking anywhere on the street a taxi driver will stop and ask if you need a ride. It’s like some magic sixth sense they all have to let them know where the pedestrians are in the city. You can also use Uber, but the regular taxis are cheaper and just as efficient. Be prepared to get your own sat nav up on your phone, though, a few of the taxi drivers I encountered didn’t know where they were going and needed directions.

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If you don’t want to pay out for taxis and drivers all the time, there are public transport options in Dubai. The metro opened in 2010 with the red line that runs 52.1km through downtown and right up to the airport. The green line, which covers Bur Dubai and Deira, was added in 2011 and covers 22.5km. Although you are limited as to what you can access with the metro, it’s a very efficient service which I hope they will expand in the future. The regular carriages feel just like travelling on the underground in London, although here you are on an elevated track with good views of the city around you. The carriages can be just as crowded as in London, although you’re unlikely to get shoved and pushed as much because it’s also considered an offence. One Indian man accidentally touched my hand when we were holding onto the same pole, and looked petrified when he realised. He apologised profusely, but I assured him it was fine. As there has to be a VIP version of everything in Dubai, there is also the option to travel Gold Class. This is a separate carriage at the end of the train that has bigger seats and usually more space. It will cost you twice as much for the fare, but it’s still not expensive. The big advantage I found whilst travelling Gold Class, as recommended by my friend, is that you get a great view out of the front/back window. You can buy a top-up card at any of the metro stations, the staff are generally helpful and overall it’s an enjoyable transport system. There are also local buses and trams in Dubai, and although I didn’t hear of any problems with either network, I didn’t use them whilst I was there.

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By far my favourite form of transport in Dubai is also, apart from walking, the cheapest. For only 1 AED (about 20p) you can catch an abra across the Creek to Bur Duabi and Deira. It feels like there are hundreds of the little, motorised, traditional wooden boats waiting along the creekside to ferry people back and forth. They leave once full, about 20 passengers, and you find yourself bunched up with group of workers as you skim along almost at water level. It’s only a short journey, but one I would definitely recommend as something you have to experience in Dubai. You can also charter your own abra by the hour, although they’re so small I can’t imagine you can do much on them other than sit still and watch the views go by.

If you would like to see more of my travels on the public transport network in Dubai, including videos, please visit my Facebook page Sasieology.

 

The Architecture of Dubai

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Prior to seeing Dubai for myself, I had heard many different accounts from various people who had been there. They differed wildly, but now that I have been there myself I agree with all of them. Dubai is a place of contradictions, where cultures and styles clash unapologetically. This is no more evident than in the architecture. It’s like a group of ten year olds have  been let loose with the worlds biggest bucket of Lego. In Dubai, if you can dream it, someone will probably let you build it.

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Huge skyscrapers of every conceivable shape and made from glass and steel house apartment blocks and hotels. Other hotels are built to look more traditional, their clean designs and too-perfect attention to detail making me feel I was in Las Vegas rather than Dubai. There is a definite obsession with building the biggest and the most impressive. If any other city tries to compete with Dubai to build a taller tower or a more expansive shopping mall, I’m sure they’ll immediately retaliate and go one further. This is where the boundaries of architecture are pushed to their most extreme limits.

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I took lots of photos of buildings that caught my eye in Dubai, which was pretty much constant. It seemed to me, though, that no-one in Dubai is looking at the bigger picture. Each of these buildings is an impressive feat of architecture and construction, but there is no thought to how the buildings fit next to each other, or how the city works as a whole. It’s great that Dubai has attracted all these architects and developers, but I can’t help thinking maybe they should have brought in a town planner at a much earlier stage.

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The construction is ongoing, and with a huge desert to build on who knows what Dubai will look like in ten or twenty years. It’s going to be a long time before they have to think about knocking anything down to create more space. For now, if you’re prepared to accept the pedestrian crossings that lead to nowhere and routes that do anything but take you directly where you need to be, Dubai is a place that will make you look up and say ‘wow’.

Dubai: The Palm, Burj Al-Arab and the coast

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Before the Burj Khalifa made it’s record breaking debut, the iconic image of Dubai we saw across the rest of the world was the Burj Al-Arab. Completed in 1999, the sail-shaped hotel is 321m high and houses 60 floors. Rumour has it that the lobby is so high, you could fit the Statue of Liberty inside. If you want to go and measure it for yourself, make sure you’ve saved up some dirhams. The hotel is only open to private guests and paying customers at the restaurant and bar, where there is quite a hefty minimum payment. Happily, walking along Jumeirah beach and seeing the outside of the hotel at sunset is completely free.  Whether the architect intended it for perfect photographs or not, the building sits on it’s very own island 300m out from the shore.

Further along the coast is my favourite neighbourhood in Dubai. Jumeira Beach Residence, or JBR for short, is the closest that Dubai comes to having an arty neighbourhood. The Walk at JBR was built in 2008 for  the 20,000 people that live there, and is the first outdoor shopping and dining promenade in the city. The 1.7km walk  is a great mix of restaurants, shops and food stalls right on the beach.

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Not content with stunning sandy beaches, great amenities, luxury hotels and resorts, a choice of watersports and even a beach library, developers in Dubai of course have to go one better. As if it’s not impressive enough to build a 60 storey hotel on it’s own island, they have been extending the waterfront property potential even further.

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As the name suggests, The Palm is an artificial island in the shape of a palm tree. The trunk is 2km long, and there are 16 fronds that are kept in place by an 11km long crescent-shaped breakwater. It took 1 billion cubic metres of dredged sand and stone to build the island, the centrepiece of which is the Atlantis – The Palm Hotel. As well as the standard Dubai transport options of driving and catching a taxi, there is also an elevated monorail between Gateway Towers and the Atlantis. Apparently there were plans to connect the monorail to the metro line, but sadly this hasn’t happened so far. Which has led to the running of one of the most bizarre transport connections I have ever seen, it that it doesn’t really connect anything. As you have to drive to get to Gateway Towers anyway, most people just drive the whole way. Once I’d managed to explain to my confused taxi driver that I specifically wanted to catch the monorail and not just have him take me to the Atlantis, he dropped me at the station after Gateway Towers. I honestly thought the monorail must have been abandoned in between my guidebook being written and me visiting Dubai. I was in the middle of a huge housing estate, and I could see about 3 other people. The monorail station looked like it was closed, and it was only when I walked right up to the automatic doors and they opened that I thought maybe I was in the right place. Inside, one lonely attendant sat in the ticket booth next to shiny new automated machines that apparently don’t work. I think I might have been the only person he served that day, possibly that week. Thankfully, once the monorail arrived, I wasn’t the only person aboard. I think that would have completely freaked me out, but there was a group of tourists I assumed had been dropped off at Gateway Towers. The monorail gives you the best view of The Atlantis. I caught a taxi back from The Palm, and my lovely taxi driver kindly stopped on the highway so I could take a photo of the hotel from the front. However, it was nowhere near as good at the vantage point you get from the elevated monorail. There are also a lot fewer cranes in the way. From the monorail you also get an idea of how The Palm is designed, which is very difficult when you are on the ground simply because the island is so huge. Out of every attraction I visited whilst in Dubai, The Palm was the biggest disappointment. Aside from the monorail journey, which once I got on it was a great experience, I found the island quite boring. I’m sure I would have a different opinion if I was staying at The Atlantis, but as a day visitor you are very restricted as to which areas you’re allowed in. There is a waterpark and aquarium at The Atlantis which are both open to the public, and a small shopping mall that you can wander around for free. Other than that, all you get to see is the back of the hotel and the breakwater. You can hire a bike and cycle along the breakwater, one of the few places in Dubai where you are allowed to cycle, but it’s far from the most interesting coastline in the world.

The Palm has been plagued with problems. Construction began in 2001 on what the developers envisioned to be a mixture of luxurious hotels and high-end beachfront villas, high-rise apartment buildings, marinas and malls. As the completion date was pushed back further and further, the number of buildings on the island increased and building quality dropped. Many hotels that were planned have never opened. There has also been a huge environmental impact. The breakwater interfered with the natural tides, and gaps had to be cut into it to prevent smelly, stagnant water and algae growth. There are also reports that the island is sinking by 5mm per year, although this has been denied.

Further north construction is underway on another group of islands in the shape of The World, although construction has also been delayed on this development and it currently just looks like 300 piles of sand.

If you would like to see my videos of The Palm, please visit my Facebook page.

Burj Khalifa

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Anyone who has followed my blog for a while will know about my theory that every destination hoping to attract tourists will have one landmark labelled as the ‘must see/do’. If there isn’t already a suitable choice attached to their local history, they’ll build something. In Dubai it is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

Modern Dubai prides itself on pushing boundaries and challenging what is considered impossible. It was inevitable they would build the tallest building.

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Burj Khalifa is all about numbers. For the moment you enter the bottom of the tower at the Dubai Mall (the world’s largest shopping centre, of course), you are bombarded with facts and figures about it’s vision, construction and everyday life. At 828m, it is seven times the height of Big Ben. It took only 6 years to build from excavation, officially opening 4th January 2010. Up to 13,000 workers a day were involved in it’s construction.

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If you’re looking for some luxury accommodation during your Dubai visit, there is Armani Hotel on the lower levels of Burj Khalifa. Above the hotel, floors are taken up with luxury apartments and offices.

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The tower has 160 storeys in total. Most daytrippers visit floors 124 and 125, where there are observation decks that provide impressive views over the city. Unfortunately during my visit it was quite foggy, but on a clear day you can see The Palm and Burj Al-Arab. Although I wasn’t so lucky, I could just about make out the new islands development The World on the horizon, which is still under construction. A pre-booked online ticket will cost you 100 AED (approx. £20). If you are travelling on a budget, I suggest you book your ticket in advance of your trip. If, like me, you are not so organised, you could end up spending a lot more. As with everything in Dubai, there is a VIP option. For 500 AED you can buy a SKY ticket (it’s cheaper if you visit in the evening). This gets you an hour in the SKY lounge on floor 148 accompanied by a Guest Ambassador. At 555m, the SKY lounge is the world’s highest observation deck. You also get to jump the queues, which is useful once you drop back down to the much busier 124 and 125 floors, and refreshments both at the bottom while you wait for the lift and once you’re in the SKY lounge. Our Guest Ambassador was a lovely lady from Colombia who provided us with lots of interesting facts and stories about the tower, and happily answered our many questions that she probably gets asked a hundred times a day. In a move that I was quickly learning is typical of Dubai, the design of the building also includes certain features that very few people will ever appreciate. For example, apparently if you look at the building from directly above, it is in the shape of a flower. I can’t imagine how much time and energy must have gone into that one design element, on the rare chance that someone will fly over the top of the tower and notice. There were things I learnt that I never would have thought to question. Like, for example, how they pump water up 160 storeys. Having lived in places where they struggle to get water past the third floor, I realise what an incredible feat of engineering Burj Khalifa is.

If you time your visit right, it’s also worth catching the Dubai Fountain at the base of Burj Khalifa. Set to music, the fountain dazzles spectators at 1pm every day and also at regular intervals in the evening. As the display only lasts 3 minutes, though, I wouldn’t go out of your way to see it.

Bur Dubai and Deira

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For the past few years I have been keen to spend Christmas somewhere hot and sunny. This year I finally got my wish when a friend kindly invited me to stay with her in Dubai.

There are so many different neighbourhoods and experiences in Dubai, I’ve struggled to decide how to break it all down into posts so I can share it with you. In the end, I decided to start where Dubai itself started.

Bur Dubai was the first part of the city to be settled. The contrast between this area and the much more modern downtown area of Dubai is evidence of this. Here, buildings weren’t built to make statements or to appear as pretty patterns from above, they were built for people to live and work in.

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Dubai Museum is a definite recommendation on my list of things to do in Dubai, and at only 3 AED entry for an adult (about 60p) it’s very affordable. The museum is housed in the Al-Fahidi Fort. Built in 1799, it is thought to be the oldest building in Dubai. Previous to educating and entertaining the many tourists that flock to Dubai every day, it was once the seat of government and residence of Dubai’s rulers. As with most of the more traditional buildings in Dubai, the museum is built around a central courtyard. Here you will find examples of old fishing boats and a traditional palm-leaf house called a barasti. The barasti has a great example of a wind tower, which is basically what local inhabitants used to survive the intense summer heat before air conditioning was invented. Although I visited at the end of December, it was still very warm in the middle of the day, and I was glad to escape the heat by exploring the inside exhibits. The museum is really well thought out, and teaches you all about different aspects of Dubai life right from when the area was first settled up to the recent building boom. It also answers lots of questions you’ll probably have, like how they acquire so much water in the desert.

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Deira, Bur Dubai’s neighbour on the other side of the Creek, also feels like another era after you’ve spent time in the other neighbourhoods. Even the modern metro stations have been designed to fit it with the older architecture.

If you like bartering with traders for spices and traditional clothes, Deira is the place to head to. Wandering through all the souqs and markets, the only thing I have to compare it to are the bazaars in Turkey. I think I must have been asked if I wanted to buy a pashmina by about 20 people in the space of 5 minutes.

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It’s also worth taking a walk along the Creekside in Deira and checking out the dhows (long, flat wooden vessels used in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea) loading and unloading.

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You have a few options of how to cross the Creek between Bur Dubai and Deira. The green metro line runs underneath the water, and ferries run between various points. My favourite mode of transport here however is the abras, tiny boats that take you across almost level with the water. I’ll talk more about all the transport options in a later post.