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Golders Green

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Lift-Off [May. 7th, 2006|08:16 pm]
Golders Green
There's still a bit to do here. The journal started with Scotland, but there were things we saw and did way before that which deserve an honourable mention, and I think I've yet to write concluding parts for Florence, Krakow, and Ireland. With Ireland, it wasn't the day we spent in Dublin I liked so much as the next day's hike in the Wicklow Mountains National Park.

More than a year ago we started out on a mid-afternoon Emirates flight from New Zealand to the United Arab Emirates, with transit stops in Melbourne and Singapore. The long-haul flight was made more bearable by the Emirates personal entertainment system, a little TV screen and headphones for each passenger, with a very big selection of movies, music, and TV shows under many different categories.

During the stretch between Melbourne and Singapore I watched Bad Day at Black Rock, an old Spencer Tracy film which I really enjoyed -- the best movie I'd seen for a very long time. The next stretch was from Singapore to Dubai, and during the lights-out, with everyone else in the cabin snoring, I watched another cracker of a movie, The Incredibles. I had such a good time watching it while trying not to wake the other passengers with my laughter.

We had flown out of New Zealand at 3:10pm on Wednesday and touched down in the United Arab Emirates at 4:55am, also on Wednesday. I can't recall anything we did after checking in to the Savoy Park Hotel in the city of Dubai, so we may have gone to bed early that morning and slept for some of the day.

Dubai is also the name of the emirate that encompasses the city, an emirate being a political territory (maybe we would use the loose term "state") within the Muslim country United Arab Emirates. In fact, there are seven emirates that make up the country, including Sharjah and Ajman which we visited. Dubai is right on the Persian Gulf, with the United Arab Emirates next to Saudi Arabia as part of the Arabian Peninsula.

On Thursday we had decided to join a proper tour, an excursion that took us through two of Dubai's neighbouring emirates for some sightseeing and visits to sites of cultural and historical interest. In Sharjah we stood and admired the King Faisal Mosque; from the outside only, unfortunately. We spent some time walking through the Blue Souk, a market of somewhere around 600 shops housed inside a beautiful building comprised of two long sections joined by raised tunnels that resemble covered bridges. The hundreds of shops showcase gold, jewels, lingerie (I'll come back to that), rugs, antiques, electronics, and clothing, plus much more, along with all manner of curiosities from various exotic countries.

One of the most incongruous things I saw that day were women fully clothed in burqa and black robes chatting merrily to each other in the lingerie shops while looking through the merchandise.

Crowded along the busy waterfront of Sharjah's Creek, which is quite a large stretch of water, were dhows (traditional wooden vessels), rough-and-ready trading boats that travel to and from the neighbouring countries bringing all sorts of goodies for locals and tourists to buy, with motley crews made up of no nationality in particular.

I noted that alcohol is entirely banned in Sharjah; you can't buy any there and you aren't even allowed to bring some in for personal consumption. On the positive side, Sharjah is a relatively inexpensive place to live, so a lot of people reside there and commute to their jobs in Dubai. From what we experienced, however, the road traffic can be chaotic, with much congestion and the constant tooting of horns, so I can imagine what it might be like during a typical rush-hour.

In Ajman, the smallest of the emirates, we visited the Ajman Museum, once a fortress but now home to displays showing the ancient heritage of the region, including the traditional professions and lifestyles of the people. Mannequins act out scenes from the past such as men relaxing in a coffee house smoking pipes, and men working their trades. I was drawn to an exhibit of weapons, including handguns, with the usual Arabic/English dual-language signs having some wayward translations such as "capable of shooting four ballots" (bullets) and "Smith-Waison" (Smith & Wesson).

(More later...)
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