Archiv der Kategorie: Middle East

Visiting Abu Dhabi and Dubai during Ramadan

Was I crazy for the time I picked to see the UAE? Maybe, but it just worked out like that. I had wanted to see Abu Dhabi and Dubai for a while, and now I was headed eastwards with a couple of days to spare. Cheap flights plus me wanting to spend 2 weeks in Austria with my family before, made me end up in the UAE at the beginning of Ramadan – and in the soaring May heat (think 35-40 degrees, in the shade).

So here I was, landing in Abu Dhabi in the middle of the night! Luckily my Couchsurfing host Anmri had arranged for me to let myself into her apartment, so I fell into bed for a couple of hours. Around midday, we went out for breakfast/lunch (there are restaurants open during Ramadan, they just have to cover the windows and are only allowed to serve non-Muslims) and then Anmri took me for a drive around the city. This turned out to be super lucky for me, since there’s no metro and the bus system is difficult to understand. First, we drove up to the Heritage Village (which was closed for Ramadan) but from where there were nice views of the skyline. We then drove along the Corniche, passing by a couple of cool skyscrapers and to Al Mina, which was not that interesting though. I had expected lively markets – but I guess also due to Ramadan nothing much was going on.

After driving a bit through downtown Abu Dhabi, Anmri dropped me at the recently opened Louvre museum – a branch of the Parisian one. Luckily for me, the Abu Dhabi version of the museum is much smaller and I was able to get a good impression within the next 2 h. I must say though – the exhibits were cool, but the most impressive part for me was the architecture of the museum – especially the courtyard. It’s a photographer’s paradise 🙂

Next day, Anmri had to work, but dropped me off at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque on her way to work. The mosque is what I had always wanted to see in Abu Dhabi – and it delivered. The beautiful architecture of the snow white mosque stood perfectly against the blue sky. I spent about an hour exploring everything, then hopped into a taxi to take me back to the city from where I caught a bus to Dubai. Interesting fact I didn’t know yet: the mosque has recently been renamed into „Mary, Mother of Jesus“ in order to create stronger bonds between different religions. Awesome, right!? Wondering if anyone would ever consider renaming St Paul’s Cathedral into „Mohammed, the Great Prophet“ or so…

The bus ride to Dubai was rather quick (1.5 h) and uneventful. The UAE is not an excitingly pretty country – there was mainly dust and dirt next to the highway and non-photogenic little towns. In Dubai, I arrived at my hostel completely exhausted after a 20 min walk from the metro station with my 19 kg backpack. Still, I decided to head back out – after all, I only had a limited amount of time here and wanted to see a lot. So I took a bus to Burj Al Arab – or rather the beaches nearby, as you cannot get close to, let alone into, the 7-star hotel if you’re not staying there. I had to sneak through the properties of some other fancy hotels to get to the beach from where I had the perfect sunset view of the iconic hotel. Well done, I would say! Haha.

Next day, after not having slept much in the party-hostel, I took the metro all the way to Deira – the old part of Dubai with its famous gold and spices souks. To be honest…I didn’t buy it. Ok, I know the area is actually old, but the souk looked rather newly built and it just didn’t seem as ‚real‘ as other Arabic souks I have seen in Morocco or Jordan for example.

The nicest part was the cheap boat crossing you can do from Deira to Dubai. Boat rides are always a good idea, in my world! 🙂 On the other side, my plan was to walk along the Corniche and visit some of the old heritage museums and places. Unfortunately a lot seemed to be closed for renovations during Ramadan/tourist low season. Makes sense. In the burning midday sun I walked up the Corniche and down past the Dubai Museum to another ‚Al Fahidi historical neighbourhood‘, where I found a little cafe open for tourists and was finally able to have a cold drink and relax a bit in a cooler place.

I then made my way to Dubai Mall, to see the gigantic shopping center and all it’s attractions: from the waterfall to an ice skating ring, to the aquarium, of which you can view a big part without paying entrance. It’s crazy as a diver to see about 10 different species of sharks in one tank, surrounded by rays of all kinds and of course schools of fish.

Outside the mall, there’s Dubai fountain – which is also pretty in daylight, with a bridge connecting to the made-to-look-old souk al Bahar and a view of the Burj Khalifa, the highest building in the world…

…which I had bought a ticket to visit! Unfortunately you can’t go all the way up – only about as high as I had been on the Petronas Towers in KL already. But that’s already something and provides super cool views! There’s two floors open to the standard ticket buyer: an outdoor viewing terrace on the lower level and an indoor one on the upper level. Really nice!

I decided to stay up there until it got dark which took quite a while still and in the end was not really worth it since the reflections on the glass made it almost impossible to take good pictures. Also, there was a loooong wait afterwards to get down by elevator. Once I made it down, I grabbed some food and went to watch the sound & light show at the Dubai fountain which was really quite pretty!!

Next day, I made my way to Dubai Marina and walked around there for a bit. It was cool to see, but I had expected more. Then I went on to see the Mall of the Emirates which again didn’t really wow me after having seen Dubai Mall the day before. I passed by Ski Dubai – and as crazy as it already is, I had also expected something bigger. It was more like a kids fun park. But well.

Then I went on to see Jumeirah Mosque which was a bit complicated to get to by bus, and again…not really worth it. I also went back to Madinat Jumeirah Souk, which I had seen a little on my first evening when I went to take pictures of the Burj Al Arab. This made-to-look-old souk was the best of the lot, and actually looks quite pretty.

On my last half day, I went back to Dubai Museum and paid the museum a visit this time. It was ok, but glorifying Dubai and the UAE a little too much in my opinion. All in all, everything I found cool and interesting in Dubai, I saw during my first day, so could have just done one day in Dubai and left it at that.

I guess one day each for Abu Dhabi and Dubai should be fine unless you’re really into shopping. But maybe not during Ramadan. To be honest, before me visit I didn’t know that drinking and eating publicly during Ramadan is a criminal offense in the UAE. Maybe if I had known, I would have reconsidered my idea of visiting, maybe not. Luckily, my Couchsurfing host in Abu Dhabi told me about it, before I might have gotten a fine! So I actually ended up having to do a sort of mini Ramadan myself, with sometimes long waits for drinking again, until I found the next toilet to hide in. Must be incredibly difficult for Muslims actually following Ramadan in this country, in that heat! Not really healthy too, I suppose…

Since I stayed such a short time in the UAE, and only saw 2 places, there will be no country summary this time. However, here are some more pictures for those who are interested: UAE photo album

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Lebanon – Summary & Pictures

People: I really like the Lebanese! Open and friendly, without being too pushy like the Jordanians sometimes were. I could browse around a souvenir shop without being bothered. At the same time, our car rental guy just rolled his eyes briefly at us when we arrived 1.5 h late and then asked us how the day went. I liked the mix of people you get to see: next to me in the table in a cafe there were 2 women and 2 guys. One of the women wearing a hijab, one wearing tight pants and a rather revealing shirt. She and the guys were having beers and all four of them were smoking shisha together. I felt welcome and safe at all times! There are barely any backpackers, but I always met some cool people to hang out with.

Food: Lebanon brought a little more variety to the Middle Eastern food again. There was still too much hummus, but there was also fattoush (a salad) and Manoosh (a kind of pizza) that I had not had before in Israel or Jordan.

Weather: There were some more clouds here and there, but mostly in a rather photogenic way so I did not mind 🙂 It was also a bit cooler than Jordan, but in a nice way.

Costs: I spent a bit more in Lebanon than I had to, since I treated myself to some beers and shisha and also didn’t take advantage of Couchsurfing, but rather stayed in a hostel the whole time. Also the rental car was expensive to rent just for one day. So in the end I spent 49€/day which was still below my 60€/day target.

Accommodation: I spent my whole time staying at Saifi Urban Gardens hostel in Beirut, which I really really liked. Potentially one of the best hostels I have ever stayed at. I met great people there to hang out with, and the attached cafe serves good, cheap food. There’s one more hostel in Beirut, but that’s it for hostel accommodation in Lebanon unfortunately. Luckily, the country is close enough so that you can stay in Beirut and go on day trips from here, but it would have been nice to stay in different places, like Byblos, Tripoli or Tannourine. Maybe this will change in the future though and there will be more hostels popping up!

Infrastructure: There is a good bus system which does go to many places, but not all of the interesting spots. To see Tannourine and the Baatara waterfall, we had to rent a car for example. However, if you stick to the coastal towns, there is good and cheap busses all the way North/South, and also Baalbek is well connected to Beirut.

Illnesses: Healthy & happy.

Safety: Never felt unsafe.

Itinerary: I stayed in Beirut and did day trips from there. I would have loved to see many more places, especially Baalbek, and spend more time in the mountains around Tannourine and in Tripoli. 4 days were simply not enough for this amazing country! I would recommend 10 days and a rental car to fully enjoy Lebanon’s sights and landscapes.

Highlight: The road trip to Tripoli and Baatara waterfall.

Lowlight: Beirut.

Click here to see all my pictures of Lebanon:

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Road tripping Lebanon – Tripoli and Tannourine

When researching things to see in Lebanon, I stumbled across a picture of THE most amazing waterfall I had ever seen. From then on, my mission was clear: I needed to see this place! Similar case as with the Hexagon Pool in Northern Israel. Unfortunately this time getting there by public transport was even more difficult – or shall I say impossible. There’s no buses going to Tannourine, the town closest to the waterfall, not even anywhere close by. So I tried researching tours from Beirut. Crazy prices and almost no choice. I almost gave up on my idea (very reluctantly), but then I met Nanna and Tadhg. Once I showed them a picture of the waterfall, they were sold and we decided to rent a car together.

Since Nanna really wanted to see Tripoli as well, we decided to combine the two places in our road trip – which made for a really long day on the road, in hindsight a bit too much. It would definitely better to spend a whole day at each location. Also, renting a car for just one day proved to be quite difficult and rather expensive. Lebanon is a great road trip country – so if you’re at least 2, it certainly would be worth renting a car for the entire stay.

Anyways, in the end we managed to get a car and the drive up to Tripoli was quick without too much traffic. In Tripoli we first headed for the coast, but with nothing much to see continued to the old town straight after – a good decision. The old town is a maze of little alleys with shops selling anything and everything. And completely tourist-free apart from us! I loved walking around there and chatting with the locals, trying some local sweets and drinks.

 

Unfortunately we were short on time, so only able to spend about 1.5 h walking around in Tripoli. Not enough in my view! But we had to get going to get to Baatara waterfall up in the mountains, another 1.5 h drive or so. This drive was very nice, leading through some pretty mountainous landscapes, so we stopped for photos quite often. Tannourine is a cute little village where I would have again loved to spend the night – but again: no budget accommodation. It would be amazing to spend a couple of days hiking in the area.

 

The highlight though was the waterfall! Baatara waterfall did not disappoint – it really was as spectacular as it looked on the pictures I had seen!! I was so happy I had made it there – something that seemed near impossible when planning. Sadly, the sun was shining directly into my photos, so they did not come out too well. I definitely recommend checking out the ones on Google picture search here! This is how it actually looked!!

 

We took our time admiring the waterfall and had a little picnic before hopping back in the car – for a very scenic drive back to the coast. Seriously, I did not know Lebanon has such beautiful mountains!

 

If only the whole drive would have been as relaxed and beautiful… Only a couple of km away from Beirut, we got stuck in one of the biggest traffic jams I’ve ever been in. We tried different routes since time was ticking for handing our rental car back in, but nothing worked. It was just all jammed up! I also needed to pee desperately but we really didn’t have time for that. Lol. In the end we arrived at the car rental 1.5 h late, and I basically just ran into the office, and with a quick apology past the team there to the toilet. As the Lebanese are, they were not too upset with us though about being so late. No question of paying extra or anything like that. Friendly Lebanese! 

And with that it was already time to say goodbye to Lebanon – a country that really surprised me in a positive way. I had not expected much, but everything I saw was more beautiful or amazing than expected (well maybe except Beirut) and the locals were warm and welcoming. I really did not want to leave already, and promised myself that I will return one day with more time to explore.