14. - 18.11.2013: Vancouver - Shanghai - Kunming - Dubai

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Thu - Sat, 14. - 16.11.2013: Vancouver −> Dubai via Shanghai und Kunming (China), showers/cloudy, 10 - 25°C

We spent our last day in Vancouver doing all the last minute things. We had put Winnie into storage the day before and stayed with Brian and Lily for the night. Lily made us waffles for a late breakfast whilst we were trying to get everything done and Helen only just managed to write the last few lines of her Camino report before packing up the computer and going out for a meal.

We went to a really good Greek restaurant with Brian and Lily in North Vancouver that we had found on the internet - none of us had been there before. The lamb was fantastic and the desserts were good too!

Our flight wasn't until 00-30 hours on the 15th November so we needed to get to the airport somewhere around 9-30 pm on the 14th. The first flight to Shanghai, China would be almost 13 hours, followed by 7 hours at Shanghai airport and then another long 12.5 hour flight to Dubai with a short stop in Kunming on the way.

It was going to be exhausting because we would be up all day today (14th November) before the flights. The only good thing was that we would arrive in Dubai at 9pm on Saturday 16th November and could then just go to our apartment and crash out! We had a week in Dubai so it didn't matter if we wasted the first day trying to get over jet lag!

We had a large bag on rollers, a rucksack and two back packs. Kirsten was concerned that we had too much space left and thought we couldn't possibly have everything we needed for 8 months! We wanted to get the bag and rucksack wrapped for the flights because they are not easy to secure and they would be in Shanghai airport for 7 hours where anyone could get into them. But the bag wrapping place at Vancouver airport had already closed at 6pm and we didn't get there until 3 hours later!

I had already found a way of securing the rucksack on my flights back from €pe by using the waterproof cover and a washing line to tie it up. The other bag had to be secured in the normal way with cable binders. We had to hope they would arrive in one piece.

It took over an hour to check in - firstly because our reservation didn't include our middle names that are on our passports so it took a while to get us into the system and get our boarding passes (and we had to fill out a waiver form!); secondly because we talked to the man at the check in counter for so long as he is also a world traveller!

Our bags weighed a total of only 33kg when we are allowed 46kg - we are definitely travelling light! We only had time for a cup of tea and went to one of the fast food places at the airport. They didn't have black tea! So we ended up using one of our own tea bags that we had brought with us when we haven't even left Canada!

We got on board and Kirsten sat in the wrong seat whilst I was stowing the hand luggage and then had to move one seat forward! The seats on the China Eastern plane were off-set so that if you looked at the numbers for the central seats they didn't correspond to the double seat by the window where we were.

Once we were in the right seats, we set off on what seemed to be a new aircraft with individual screens and slightly more leg room than normal. It didn't help much though as we still couldn't get comfortable enough to sleep.

We were served something that tasted like barbecue chicken with coleslaw and dessert but the tea was disgusting. Once we put sugar in (took a while to get the sugar and obviously not a normal request!) it tasted slightly better but only just!

We had a hard job understanding the announcements - they were in Chinese first and then English except it didn't sound much like English. The intonation was off and the only way we knew the English was coming was when we heard "Laddies and Gentlemen." We managed to guess the rest!

We managed to get through the first flight and landed in Shanghai 1.5 hours later than expected, at 6-30am Shanghai time. On very little sleep we found the airport very confusing. Our second flight would stop in Kunming on the way to Dubai and was therefore both a national and international flight. This meant we had to choose to follow either the signs for national transfer or international transfer as they went in different directions. We plumped for national transfer and hoped it was right because there wasn't anyone around to ask.

We had to fill out a form and were given 72 hours in China without a visa. Not that we were going to use it because the journey into Shanghai City takes over an hour form the airport and, seeing as we now only had 4 hours to play with, it wouldn't be worth it.

We finally found the right place to go to and tried to get internet using the "free internet" in the waiting area. You need a mobile phone to get the password and we are the only humans on earth who don't have one! I managed to get a stewardess from another flight to get it for us!

Then I tried to work out the water machine. It also offered hot water so I was happy that we might be able to get a decent cup of tea. The machine kept talking Chinese to me when I pressed the various buttons holding a cone shaped cup underneath for the water that didn't arrive! I eventually worked it out and got a cup of luke warm water.

I took it to Kirsten and went back for another for me, but it was a lot hotter. I didn't realise until I was back with Kirsten and my fingers started to burn! There was a moment of panic as I realised I couldn't simply put down a cone shaped cup! I was about to drop it when we quickly transferred some of the hot water into Kirsten's tea cup that she had already started drinking, to save my fingers!! Oh boy - we're having a really good start to our trip!

Our second flight was on an older aircraft with no individual screens, and no pillows or blankets! The flight time would be just over three hours to Kunming and we were hoping to be told whether we would be staying on the flight or whether we would have to disembark.

The English announcements were even more difficult to understand - "Ladies anner de Gentlemairn" followed by something unintelligible. The only thing we did understand was when an announcement came about turbulence. The plane was already being rocked and buffeted before the announcement came so it was easy to guess what was being said. But we had to laugh when the announcer said, in perfect English, "Do not worry!" It was the only thing we could understand and meant that this particular sentence had been practised a great deal!!! Not exactly comforting!

We tried out the tea again (which hadn't improved!) and when we asked for sugar we were told "Sugar only first class!"

We got to Kunming and the chaos started. I had already asked one of the stewardesses "Do we need to get off at Kunming or do we stay on board?" The answer was a confident "Ya!" Work that one out!

So we did what everyone else did and got off. We were herded onto a bus, driven about 10 minutes to another part of the airport and herded out into a building. Then the group seemed to split into two - one group headed in one direction who turned out to be those passengers who were getting off at Kunming, who were mainly Chinese and who could obviously read the signs - and the rest of us, who were mainly non-Chinese, who didn't have a clue what to do!

A stewardess was talking in Chinese - well it sounded like she was giving out sharp orders to a group of children as that is how Chinese sounds. She was giving out boarding passes that had already been printed out for each passenger and our names had to be checked to make sure we had the right pass. The new boarding pass stated that our boarding time was in 10 minutes time at Gate 73. Then the stewardess put her hand in the air, barked out Chinese, turned and set off at quite a pace! We were obviously meant to follow.

We zigzagged through the airport, going down an escalator, turning right and left, going back up an escalator, turning right and left and I knew that the group was getting further and further apart! The stragglers would never find their way if they didn't keep up!

We got to a passport control but had to put our hand luggage through a security check point first. It was one of those moving bands through an x ray machine but it was stuck in the middle of the room so there was no way they could tell who had put their luggage through it and who hadn't, before getting into the long passport control queues with passengers from other flights.

We were already later than our boarding time and it took quite some time to get to the counter. I got there before Kirsten who was in a different queue to have a better chance of getting to the counters quicker. But then I was told I needed to fill out a form. It was the same form I had already filled out in Shanghai. When I pointed that out, the man said "Form!" and waved me off in the direction of the back of the queue!

I told Kirsten we needed forms and said I'd get them whilst she stayed in her queue. I finally found the stewardess handing out forms to others - couldn't she have given them to us along with our new boarding cards??

I dashed back to Kirsten and we quickly filled them out. I got to the counter and Kirsten asked me for the pen to lend to someone behind her. I was getting it out when the officer barked at me - "Look at the camera!" Well, we finally got through the control, waited to get our pen back and got barked at again by another security guard!

We were about to walk through customs but there was a big argument going on between security and two passengers, all in Chinese. It looked as though it was getting out of hand and it very nearly came to blows with a lot of pushing and shoving!! No idea what it was about!

We were allowed to walk past the arguing and then had to put our hand luggage through another x ray machine!! The stewardess hadn't come with us so we thought we'd just follow the signs for Gate 73 which was closed and obviously the wrong gate!! How did they manage to organise the Olympic Games in 2008?!

Fortunately, the correct gate wasn't far away and we got back onto the same aircraft we'd flown in from Shanghai! What a palaver - it was turning into a slap stick comedy when we'd already been up for almost 40 hours and were running on very little sleep!

We took off again heading for Dubai and were served chicken with rice, dried mushrooms in a separate bag and a bag with two pills in them!! Of course, the writing on the bags was all in Chinese so no idea what the pills were.

It was a 7 hour flight and about 2 hours before landing we were served Tuc biscuits (salted crackers), a bread roll, a small cake and some sweet snacks. We skipped the tea and just had juice. We had tried to get some more sleep but it was more like just closing our eyes.

We landed at 8-30pm Dubai time, joined a long queue for passport control, and then got a "female only" taxi with a female driver wearing a pink scarf. She might be a woman but she didn't drive slowly! Anyway, she managed to find our hotel - everything is still being built here so new areas are constantly being added. We had a print out with a map on it and only had to do one U turn.

We got to our hotel at 10-30pm, checked in and paid for the week and then went up to our apartment. It was really nice with a large lounge, TV and balcony, a bedroom with a very large bed and plenty of wardrobe space, a kitchen with hot plates, microwave, fridge/freezer and washing machine,a bathroom and also another 'guest' toilet.

We unpacked our bags, made ourselves "proper" tea using the tea/coffee supplies and bottled water provided for us. We managed to have showers before crashing out. It had been a very long 3 days rolled into one!

About Dubai

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is an Arab country located in the south east end of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf, bordering Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south. It also shares sea borders with Qatar and Iran.

The UAE is a federation of 7 emirates, equivalent to principalities, and each one is governed by a hereditary emir. Abu Dhabi is one of the emirates and the capital of the UAE. Dubai is also one of the emirates and the largest city. Islam is the official religion (Friday is their religious day) and Arabic is the official language although most things are also in English e.g. street signs, advertising, information etc. The UAE gained independence from the UK in 1971.

Emirates oil reserves are ranked as the 7th largest in the world and have the 7th highest per capita income. Dubai has emerged as a global city and a business and cultural hub of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

Dubai is renowned for skyscrapers and high-rise buildings such as the world's tallest building - Burj Khalifa (829.8m, 2,722ft). It is also known for man-made islands, hotels and some of the largest shopping malls in the world.

There is still a lot of building going on and the Metro line, partially opened in 2009, now has two lines operational. It is the world's second cheapest metro transportation system after Tehran Metro in Iran.

Sun, 17.11.2013: Dubai, cloudy, 25°C

It's our first time in Dubai and a new country for us. We walked around in T shirts and shorts except when we visited the old part of Dubai and a mosque. The Metro has "women and children only" carriages and the buses have the same - at the front of each bus. I felt very safe and saw the segregation as a mark of respect rather than something negative. We were treated very well during our one week stay.

The Religious day is a Friday, so today, Sunday, is just like any other week day here. We were up at 6-30am which meant only 6 hours sleep. That's jet lag for you - it's just not possible to catch up on the sleep you've missed. After a cup of tea we went around the corner to a mini market that had everything.

Fresh milk with the usual different fat percentages on offer ($2-40 US for 2 litres which is about the same as in America); a wide selection of yoghurts, and other dairy products; and I even found all of my chocolates from England (Galaxy and Cadburys) and some of the biscuits too - Hobnobs and McVities chocolate covered digestives! It was just a little corner shop but we didn't need to look any further.

We put most things into the fridge and then went down to try out the hotel breakfast. Actually, the dining room was on the 5th floor so we went 'up' for breakfast! It was a set meal so no menus to look through, and we were wondering what we would get. We were served omelette with chips, sausages, half a burger each, a piece of cake all on one plate along with peach juice.

It might not have been typical breakfast food but our stomachs didn't even know what time of day it was so it didn't really matter. We ate it all! Then we used the hot water boiler that was sitting on a table opposite with tea bags and sugar and made ourselves a cup of tea. It cost us approx $9 US dollars for the two of us and was far more than we would normally eat.

We had maintenance come to our room to re-set the safe and explain how the washing machine works and then somehow messed up the safe when we tried to put our own combination in. We managed to work it out later and in the mean time went through all 400 channels on the TV. There are only 5 in English but at least we get BBC World news.

We were having an easy jet lag day and just walked about 500 metres to the closest Metro station which looked very futuristic and asked the very helpful information office about tickets and travel etc. We bought a Silver card each which costs 20 Dirhams ($5-40 US) minimum and includes 6 Dirhams for the cost of the card with the remaining 14 Dhs for travel. We topped up later to cover us for the week and the cards are valid for 5 years. It is a very simple system - use the card to check in and check out and the cost and remaining balance comes up on the screen each time. The maximum amount for one day is 14 Dhs (just over $3) and once that amount has been reached there will be no further deductions from the card, no matter how much you travel.

We bought some samosas for lunch on the way back which were quite spicy and spent the rest of the day on the computer or taking a nap.

Dubai: Flight and Hotel. Mon, 18.11.2013: Dubai, cloudy/sunny, 28°C

We downloaded maps from Google Earth onto our e-book reader, packed some snacks for lunch and got onto the women's carriage in the Metro. Both the station and the train are very clean and run efficiently. Announcements are in Arabic and English and there are plenty of maps and signs.

We stayed on the Green Line and got off at Palm Deira station. It cost less than a dollar for a 30 minute journey. Very cheap. We walked to the fish market in a large covered hall. There were lots of different fish and seafood for sale, all piled up on tables. Salmon, snapper, lobster, crab, shark, squid and a great deal more. There is also a filleting area next door with a large number of men working on the fish brought to them. It didn't smell as bad as we had imagined!

We bought some dates from the fruit and veg market we went to next. It was all very relaxed, no huge crowds pushing you around. There were more people at the Gold Souk which consists of over 300 retailers and approximately 10 tons of gold present at any given time! Well, there was certainly a huge amount of jewellery on display including the worlds heaviest ring! It is mounted with 5kg of precious stones and set on a 58kg 21 carat gold ring with a total weight of 63kg!

We walked to the Dubai Creek, (a natural inlet that has been dredged for larger vessels to pass through), and got onto an Abra, small boats that ferry passengers, to get across to the other side. There are also water taxis and water buses to choose from. Our Abra cost 1 Dh each (about 30 cents) and was all part of the adventure!

We walked through a textile souk and then sat on a bench along the waterfront to eat our picnic lunch. Just across the road, we walked into Al Bastakiya - the historic district of Dubai. We wandered through the narrow streets and saw lots of wind towers which are built on the rooftops and used as natural air conditioning. The area dates back to the 1690s but half of it was demolished for a new office development. The rest was due to be demolished but after a visit by Prince Charles, the decision was reversed. It is still being restored.

We enjoyed walking through the narrow, winding lanes and looking inside various buildings, including a coin museum displaying coins dating from 670 AD. (We learned that coins originate from Saudi Arabia and date back to 1500 BC.)

We spent over an hour in the Dubai Museum and the Al Fahidi Fort - the oldest existing building in Dubai. It is very well done and has various rooms depicting traditional life. There is also a video about the years from 1930 onwards, showing the development of Dubai. There was a great deal to see and I loved the video of the Egyptian hedgehog that has large white ears and rolls/folds itself into a black ball!

We returned to our apartment for 3 hours, to shower and use the computer, and then got the Metro to Dubai Mall - the world's largest in total area with over 12 million sq. feet which is equivalent to more than 50 football pitches. It opened in 2008, has 1,200 shops and attracted more than 65 million visitors in 2012.

From the Metro station there is quite a long walk along a connecting bridge to get to the mall and we walked through to the other end and down three floors to watch the fountain show in front of the Burj Khalifa - the world's tallest building 829.8m high. We watched the fountain display three times, each time with different music and were impressed with the elegance of the Burj Khalifa.

Back inside the mall, we went to see the aquarium with the world's largest acrylic panel that can withstand the pressure of 10 million litres of water! Quite impressive. Apparently, there was a leak in 2010 which caused a partial evacuation and brief shutdown of a portion of the mall! The minimum entrance fee is approx $21 but the large panel gives clear views of the 33,000 marine animals on display without going inside.

After some fairly expensive fast food, we went to look at the waterfall and ice rink and walked back to the Metro without doing any shopping! Well, it had been a very long day and we were extremely tired.

Dubai Day 1: Metro, fish market, Gold Souk, Dubai Creek, Dubai Mall and fountain show.