Good morning, Dubai! For a while, every day for me started at 5:30am thanks to the Mosque right next doors. Dubai wasn’t the place to go out at night anyway, so I always made for an early start which was quite nice.
Having left Melbourne after about a week, my next stop this year was a place I’ve only known from media coverage – I didn’t really know what to expect. And now that I’ve had a few days there, I’m still not sure what to make of the country and whether I like it or not. But let’s start with the obvious: Downtown Dubai.
As I’ve mentioned in my last post, climbing tall buildings has become kind of a hobby recently. So of course I had to check out the Burj Khalifa, that giant beast dwarfing all the other skyscrapers around. A brief lift ride took me up to the viewing platform for an amazing look around. Right next to the biggest mall in the world (including the biggest aquarium in the world) the tallest building in the world is an awesome 830 meters of steel and glass. Quite breathtaking.
To state the obvious, Dubai is a place of extremes and enormous contrasts. The population seems to be divided in 3 groups of people: The rich people from the region, the internationals (also rich) and the workforce (mostly Indian and Pakistani like it seemed to me). None of these groups seem to mix, different parts of the city seem almost isolated from each other, diversity is apparent only when you look at the whole. So walking through the streets was quite an experience.
Once you leave the air conditioned world of glass and polished steel, you realise that everything is indeed built in the middle of the desert including everything that comes with it: dust, heat and nasty smells. Very interesting but quite exhausting as a tourist was the traditional fish market. I didn’t stay long because at that time I was more or less the only visitor (it was early in the morning) so all these hundreds of traders tried to sell me nuts, figs, dates (delicious!) and dried sharks. And apparently, sleeping in public is a thing in Dubai.
Having seen the modern and not so modern bits of central Dubai, I took the chance to see more of the outskirts by going on a desert safari. This “safari” was one of the worst tourist things I’ve done so far but everyone except me seemed to enjoy it a lot. I ignored most of the things everyone was freaking out about (it’s not allowed to hold hands in public but as soon as a belly dancer appears everyone takes out their cameras) and just enjoyed being in the middle of the desert – which at the time of the sunset is an amazing thing to do.
What else? I went to a /r/dubai reddit meetup in one of the hotel bars (in general, you’re not allowed to drink in Dubai except for these few licensed places where you feel like you’re in the middle of Europe). Yes, I’ve had my good share of fun.
After these five days I don’t feel like I understand the local culture in any way. The mismatch between religiously influenced ways and actual behaviour thanks to Dubai’s openness in the Arabic world were confusing to me. Still, I’m glad I had this last stop after a year abroad. Again, I’ve met nice people, had great food, and valuable experiences I wouldn’t want to miss. With these pictures I’ve taken home, it was a nice wind up before setting foot on German ground the very next day.
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So let’s start at the beginning and talk about my first stop after New Zealand, a one week stay in Melbourne. I’ve booked myself into one of the many hostels and really enjoyed the time there, even though Australia in February and a dorm without air conditioning is a pretty… heated experience.
Activities during those days included a visit at the aquarium (penguins are awesome), the purchase of a SIM card (first time I had LTE on my phone) and the nerve wrecking experience of buying drinks (AUS$18 for the cheapest six pack, that’s like €12.50, seriously OZ?). One of the less cost-intensive things to do was a stop at the parliament where they offer free tours. Stories about politics and a pretty building to look at.
As a therapy for my vertigo I’ve already started going on tall buildings in Auckland (Sky Tower, viewing platform 182 meters). The next step was Melbourne’s sky deck, offering the Southern hemisphere’s highest viewing platform at 285 meters. Pretty spectacular, eh? Well, to be honest I didn’t notice the difference in height and basically you just pay for an elevator ride. Still, a nice view of the CBD.
Sunny Australia is always good for some casual exploration of the city’s shops, beaches, street art and nightlife.
Apparently this is Australia’s oldest building. Cook’s cottage was actually built in North Yorkshire before Australia’s discovery and later shipped and rebuilt down there, brick by brick. For some reason.
The highlight of my stay in Melbourne however, was a day trip on the famous Great Ocean Road. Beautiful scenery, nice beaches, Koalas and the Twelve Apostles, that famous rock formation – with 7 of the 12 rocks still standing. If ever you do such a day trip, bring your swimming trunks and a large towel (comes in handy for a nap on the bus as well).
On that 14(?) hours trip I got to know Laurence from the Philippines – one of the great people I hope to see again in the future. He sent me those next two pictures.
And of course, signs like this everywhere. Didn’t spot a snake, spider or shark and actually survived the whole trip. Success!
By the way, I’ve sneaked some shots from my iPhone in here (best travel buddy!) – did anyone notice?
So in February you return from an amazing year abroad, go to bed a few times, do things like university, go to work and meet friends. One day you wake up and it’s September already. Oops! So let’s have a quick look back.
First of all I’m back at university. Having finished my first degree before going to New Zealand I am now doing my Master studies in Computer Science back in Hamburg. But since coming back wasn’t supposed to be going back in all manners I decided I needed some change in my life. So just a few weeks ago I’ve moved to my very own apartment and I’m already feeling very much at home here. Still, I haven’t had a good idea for a foursquare location. Anyone?
If anyone remembers, one of my goals in the beginning of the year was to travel more. Therefore, I took the chance to go to France just after my exams. First stop was Toulouse where I’ve visited the European Juggling Convention, the biggest juggling festival in the world which took about a week and was simply amazing. Next up was Bordeaux, a beautiful city where I could stay at Jérémy’s place who I’ve met back in New Zealand. The crazy nights there were followed by even crazier nights in Paris where I’ve stayed at a Hostel – one of the best places to meet new people. I hope I can meet some of them again when I go to England in early October.
And finally I’ve returned to doing more photography, in particular in my favourite place, the circus. Just 2 weeks ago I had the chance to go to the SOLyCIRCO festival (was just as good as 2 years ago).
So now that the dust has been wiped of this blog, some of the stuff that has been lined up for a while can follow.
I’ve spent the past 7 days on an exciting road trip from Wellington up north along the beautiful east coast. Finally, I’ve ended up in Auckland where I’m sitting right now on New Year’s Eve. I’ve got a bit of time to think about the year that has passed and the one that is to come. As my plans are to go back to Germany in just a few weeks I want to make sure that everything I have learned and experienced this year won’t be forgotten by my future self. I’m therefore setting myself a few goals, some that I can really measure at the end of next year.
Travel more: Visit 3 countries I haven’t been to before.
Learn more: Start learning Spanish to the point where I’m able to have a casual pub conversation. Pick up my French from school and improve it so I’ll be able to have a fluent conversation and watch a French movie without subtitles.
Read more: Finish at least 2 books a month.
Start something: Have a software project of my own or with friends put the first euro into my account.
Let’s see how all of that works out. 2013, I am ready.