Oct 212015
 

Called an Uber to take me to the Dubai airport, and the driver showed up in less than 10 minutes, very clean car, polite, chatty but not too chatty, overall a very good experience. Was maybe 10 Dirhams or so more than the taxi the day before, but for the convenience of using up the last of my cash on the hotel and paying by credit card it was well worth it.

Arrived at Dubai T2 and it’s amazing how much this terminal has changed in the past 10 years or so. My first experience was in 2007 when I attempted to fly KishAir to Kish Island, and the entire terminal was basically one small room with a few bus gates on the other side. These days, it has a bright and sunny check-in area with probably 30 counters, 12 or so “gates” which are essentially just bus waiting areas, but the whole thing is a much nicer experience…except it is massively crowded since it houses all flights of FlyDubai as well as other airlines from dubious neighbouring countries such as Iran and Afghanistan.

Check-in took about 10 minutes, and even that wouldn’t have been necessary since online checkin worked just fine. I wanted to check about the possibility of discount upgrades, but it appears FlyDubai doesn’t do this at all…and my 737 only had a total of 30 passengers, so there was definitely no need for it today. All checked-in, before heading through immigration and security I decided to grab a little breakfast…at where else? See, I told you T2 had improved since my previous visit!

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Caffeinated and ready for adventure, I headed to immigration. After double-checking to make sure Stephen Harper wasn’t around, I decided to skip this special immigration line and head to the main line:

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Immigration was question-free and security took about 10 minutes, but that was only because the truple (not sure what else you call a man and what appeared to be his two wives) in front of me had eight children with them, and three strollers (including a doublewide), and security was insisting they had to collapse every stroller and┬áput them through the x-ray. Try doing that with eight children…no easy task. And they were having none of me trying to go ahead of them in line.

The gate area was jam-packed with at least 15 different flights waiting to board. However, for some reason that I couldn’t figure out, the crowds were all congregating near the food court, and at Burger King in particular. There were still a few seats left at the gates, so it was easy to sit and wait. Because waiting is what you do when your flight time passes, and then 15 more minutes pass, and finally after 30 they announce boarding for your flight. I would have asked what was going on, but, well, there were no airline employees anywhere to ask.

Hmmm. Short bus ride to the plane, and it was time to head off.

FlyDubai flight 8039
Dubai, United Arab Emirates (DXB) to Salalah, Oman (SLL)
Depart 9:00, Arrive 11:05, Flight Time: 2:05
Boeing 737-800, Registration A6-FEJ, Manufactured 2013, Seat 6E

Boarding confirmed there were only about 30 people on the flight, and since I’d paid an extra 100 dirhams for the bulkhead I had the entire row to myself. Got to sit in the middle and enjoy the amusing safety video:

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We also had a few stowaways for the flight…

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All in all the flight was extremely uneventful. As a low cost airline FlyDubai charges for absolutely everything, which means my Starbucks was more than enough to hold me over for about 100 minutes of flight time. At least in economy I prefer this model, because I can pick and choose exactly what I want. More legroom is always worth it, and if I decided I want something to snack on, I can pick exactly what.

Arrived Salalah slightly late, and then it was off to immigration. The airport was very new and modern, despite only having a handful of gates, and had clearly been built with growth in mind. First stop was the visa on arrival desk, where I asked if I needed one. I’ve read several times that if you arrive from Dubai that covers both the UAE and Oman, but once again was told this isn’t true. Maybe that’s only the case if you have to pay the UAE for your visa? Regardless, the foreign exchange counter finally opened, which is where you pay for and receive a receipt for your visa on arrival. They were happy to take Euros at a pretty miserable exchange rate, and that done passing immigration and customs was a piece of cake.

My pre-arranged driver was waiting just outside, and took me off to my hotel for the few days, the Salalah Hilton. It’s located a few kilometers outside of town on a relatively quiet part of the beach. He agreed to drop me for a couple of hours to rest and have some lunch before heading out on our afternoon tour. I’ll cover the tours in the next post, and for now will just focus on the hotel.

Grabbed a lunch at the beach bar, which was service nice cold Stella:

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In the evenings, there was another lounge/bar which did a nice happy hour deal of a burger and beer for a very reasonable price. It was just cool enough that sitting outside in the evenings was nice, although the biting insects were pretty terrible. I ended up with bites that itched for nearly a week after I got home, which is pretty amazing. That said, the burgers weren’t bad at all, the the service was super friendly. Plus, can’t complain about the views:

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Especially once the lights went on, hahaha

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As a Hhonors Diamond member breakfast was included, and they had quite a nice spread. My favourite part was the guy who brought you your coffee. He was wearing an apron that said something like “coffee man” had had lots of little pockets on it that were filled with different tea bags. Definitely different. But the breakfast was tasty, and could be pretty healthy if you wanted:

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A few thoughts on the hotel. It was definitely not a luxury Hilton, but at the sametime it was a nice and well-maintained property. The staff was super helpful and friendly, and several times asked if everything was alright and if there was anything else they could do. The rooms felt slightly older and worn, but this is a beach property, and a bit of mustiness is to be expected. The AC wasn’t ice cold, but worked plenty well to get a good night of sleep, so points in that department. The rooms were also slightly larger than your average Hilton room, and the internet was quite a bit faster than I had expected.

A view from my pool/ocean view room, with the daily anti-mosquito fogging going on:

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All in all a solid property, and if you have Hhonors points to burn it’s an amazing value – some say it’s one of the best values anywhere in the world for using Hhonors points. Next up, just why did I come to Salalah, Oman, anyways? ­čśë

Oct 152015
 

Hotel shuttle to the airport got me there right when I wanted to, and already had my boarding pass from the previous evening so was able to head straight to immigration. Almost no line, and in probably 10 minutes I was inside the departures area…and not a second too soon. I believe in being completely honest about travel, and something about Ethiopia and I didn’t get along.

I got to the lounge I usually go to, and she told me “yes, but there is a better lounge you can access” which nobody had ever told me before. I’ve always been Star Alliance Gold, and always in business or first out of Addis, so how this was news to me I don’t know…but it was. The problem was, she insisted I go use the nicer lounge, and I was rapidly losing the battle against…something I’d eaten the day before. I don’t know if it was the hotel pizza, or the plane lunch, or the bar snacks at the hotel, ┬ábut by the time I found the nicer lounge it was not a second too soon.

Disaster averted, it was time to check out this lounge. Did some re-arranging of flights for later in the trip on the internet which had quite good speed, and enjoyed a diet coke or two. The most notable features that made this lounge better than my usual one were that it wasn’t a dark dungeon and was actually well lit, had a group of people sitting on traditional chairs burning incense, drinking coffee, and eating what looking like popcorn in some sort of quasi-traditional setup, and had plenty of power outlets. It also definitely improved my impression of Addis airport immensely!

Soon, it was time to board. Out of the lounge, through security, to the gate, and no plane anywhere to be found. Agent told me boarding was at least 30 minutes off, so why don’t I go back to the lounge. Out of security, to the lounge, a little bit of blogging and another Diet Coke, and finally back through security and to a bus to board. There was a special bus for business class…all three of us. Yes, the plane seats 28 in business, and only three seats were taken.

Ethiopian flight 602
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ADD) to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (DXB)
Depart 10:55, Arrive 15:30, Flight Time: 3:35
Boeing 777-300, Registration ET-APY, Manufactured 2014, Seat 2L

First impressions of business class on the Ethiopian 777, my first time on their long-haul business product. Middle seats in business, who does that anymore, ugh, it’s almost as bad as United:

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Similar to my Turkish flight a week before, they had the footsie seats which went completely flat, but where you were very likely to end up playing footsie with your seatmate as you sleep:

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Settled in with bubbles in what basically felt like a private plane…couldn’t even see the other two in business:

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Amenity kit which, while not super fancy, makes a great case for storing the small stuff I tend to keep in my carryon. Just big enough, but not huge. It’s now beat out amenity kits from ANA, Lufthansa, Swiss, and South African which I used to use. I feel it’s that well-designed!

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Today’s menu:

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More airplane-shaped crackers with bubbles as as pre-lunch snack:

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The salmon starter wasn’t bad, and the salad was decent as well:

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The Cape Malay Chicken Curry, however, was absolutely delicious despite being a bit scary looking:

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But once again delicious cheese…glorious cheese…and they refused a second serving. Grrr!

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Arrival at Dubai involved a pretty long walk to immigration through several escalators, and the line was about 10 minutes as well, but stamped into the country with no issue at all. That is, until I passed the immigration desk and a woman in an abaya started pointing at me and screaming HARAM! HARAM! HARAM! It took a minute to figure out what was going on, but I think she’d seen the rather large tattoo on my arm (and I’m sure wearing shorts wasn’t thrilling her either) and had decided to make sure everyone knew just how awful I was. Thanks! Fortunately nobody else seemed to care.

Stopped at the ABM for some cash, and into a taxi for the ride to the Sheraton Dubai Mall – my first time at this property. I think every time I’ve visited Dubai I’ve ended up at a different hotel. Since this was a relatively short overnight I wanted somewhere convenient. I had some shopping to do for the rest of the trip (mainly something warmer for Mongolia) so being attached to the mall seemed a logical choice. Upgrade to a nice suite:

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The room was quite large with a bedroom, large bathroom, huge walk-in closet, and a sitting room with a couch, tv, desk, etc. Much more space than I needed, but extremely comfortable. Headed down to the attached mall for the shopping, and could have been anywhere in America. They even have Shake Shack now…Michelle Obama would be so proud!

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Stopped at Starbucks for a quick caffeine and snack. No clue how I was hungry, but I was, so…

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I still had a couple of hours to kill, so stopped by Ski Dubai to embarrass myself. The only place in the world you can go skiing inside a shopping mall. This was my third visit, and I keep hoping to snap a picture of a woman in an abaya going down the slopes, but they remain elusive. Perhaps on the next trip!

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Also, probably the only Hollister in the world with two twenty foot high television ocean displays outside the store:

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Back to the hotel for a short bit before dinner, and the executive lounge had an amazing spread. Alcohol is available at hotels in Dubai, but it’s also extremely expensive. Not only were drinks in the lounge free, but they were poured very generously. I think I had two glasses of wine, and probably finished off 2/3 of a bottle. Plus, they had tons of tasty bar snacks and desserts:

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Shortly after drinks I was picked up at the hotel by my friend Daniel, a long-time reader of my blog who lived in Dubai. We had met just under a year ago in Bali of all places and did some touring, and then met up again a few days later in East Timor. Now I was on his home turf, and it was time to catch dinner and catch up. Daniel and Rianda picked me up, and we drove a short ways to another mall (because that’s what you do in Dubai) to find some dinner. Car parked, and we set off to find somewhere to eat. Walked past the water show, and it was pretty much people taking pictures and not really looking at the show:

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We managed to grab a delicious dinner at a Lebanese place in the mall, which was blessed with fantastic air conditioning. Lots of great grilled meats and catching up, and regrets that we weren’t going on to Turkmenistan together. Daniel and I had originally planned to do the Turkmenistan part of this trip together, but when they denied me the visa he decided to go on alone and enjoy while I made other plans. After a couple of hours it was back to the hotel to get some sleep because they had to work in the morning and I had an early flight. One of the treats of traveling so much has been meeting people who live all over the world, and feeling like you always know at least someone in all major cities!

Up early the next morning, and off to Oman!

May 182011
 

Ok, so where were we…ah yes, I remember…the dark, dank and crowded mess known as the non-premium terminal of the Doha airport about to get on Fly Dubai…a no-frills low-cost airline from a definite no-frills terminal.

Check-in itself actually wasn’t bad. We had prepaid something like 10 Dirhams (around $3 US) each for reserved seating to make sure we at least ended up on the same row. 2A and 2C had no extra legroom promised, but it was a small price to pay to be in the front of the plane. Plus, if the flight didn’t get too full who would want 2B?

Check-in was quite efficient, and no complaint at all about having rather largish rolling bags. Passport control was a mob scene, but still probably no more than 10 minute queue. This was also the first place I noticed a “women’s only” lane where they could go to lift up their niqab to match their passport pictures without being seen by strange men. Continue reading »