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Dubai 2

So, what did I actually do in Dubai? As it was my first time there I did loads of touristy things. I had pre-booked a combo entry ticket for the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall Aquarium & Underwater Zoo for the Saturday, so Friday was a free day to wander about and get a feel for the place. 

I took the metro from the station nearest to the hotel. This was called Emirates and I discovered that it was annexed to the HQ of the airline. From there I headed down the coast to the Mall of the Emirates, about half an hour's journey.The metro is an automated driverless system and the first noticeable feature is that the platforms have Platform Edge Doors (a screen with doors to separate people from the track). When a train arrives, its doors align with the PEDs and they both open together, similar to a lift and its doors really. This is the same technology used on the Jubilee Line extension in London. The trains are five carriage units and because there is no driver the windows at both extremities give great views of where you are going, or have been. There is segregation on board. The carriage at one end is Gold Class, and available for those who have paid a supplement. I had a peek in and the seats looked like leather armchairs. Next to this carriage is one reserved for ladies, and the remaining ones are for the likes of me, and for ladies who don't want to have privacy. All the trains are oriented the same way, so the platforms have clear signage on where one should board.

Having got to the mall I had a wander about and found its big leisure attraction. This is an indoor snowsports arena (largest in the world, of course) with 3,000 sq m of skiing, tobogganing and the like. There are ski lifts, drags and other mechanical things for pulling people about and entertaining them. No ice sheet though. I didn't go in, but watched goggle-eyed as dozens and dozens of young Arabians were introduced to something they might never experience otherwise. Having paid their entry fees they first headed to the kitting out room. You won't be surprised to know that most youngsters in UAE don't actually own a blue anorak, so these are handed out, along with blue waterproof trousers, snow boots, gloves and goggles. They are then led out onto a flat bit of snow and spend a little time getting used to it before moving onto the activities. As they were all dressed identically, it didn't so much resemble an alpine ski slope with all its high fashion, but more what I imagine what North Korean kids would look like in winter. But they were enjoying it, which was nice to see.

After lunch at one of the food courts I headed off to my next stop, Palm Jumeriah. This is further along the metro, then a tram ride on the modern Al Sufouh tramway (now called the Dubai Tram - air con shelters, PEDs, Gold / Lady / all classes, but with drivers as it is street running) to the land end of the Palm. This is the series of man-made islands that from the air resemble a palm tree with its fronds branching out. From the shore to the farthest point it's about 3 miles, and a monorail links the two.

Travelling on the monorail was a new experience for me. Again it is a driverless system with PEDs but no class or sex segregation so a forward view was possible going out and coming back. It is elevated, and average height s about 30 feet above the ground. There are two intermediate stations, called Trump something, and Trump something else. The trains stopped there but the doors didn't open. There must be a message somewhere in that! The monorail carriages (3 linked) run with pneumatic rubber wheels along the top of a concrete track, and guidance and power is supplied through lateral wheels and contacts in the skirts that reach down about four feet. Even so the vehicles seem to be top heavy and there is quite a pronounced sway at speed - it gets up to 45 mph. Easy to see why monorails never developed beyond prototypes in the UK. Although there are a few around the world, most are novelty affairs. This one is a pure vanity project, and reportedly cost around 300m GBP. There are two tracks, one for outward trains, one for returning ones.With two trains in operation (and a third one in the depot), I do not understand wht they didn't just operate the two tracks separately, and have a traverser type arrangement at the depot. But no, here we have the most complex and expensive points I have ever seen, made of concrete and steel and long Schweihag-type roller tracks, all up in the air. I have visions of a re-enactment of the 1800's Paris Montparnasse accident immortalised in the "oh shit" posters when the steam locomotive ran through the buffers, through the wall and dropped onto the street below. This is because when the points are lying in reverse there is an unprotected drop from one of the tracks. No doubt the signalling and traction interlocking will safeguard against it, but it doesen't look good.

Next call was the old quarter of Dubai, around the mouth of the creek. Here I found the old souks (markets) and the spice and gold trading centres. Fascinating for a wander around. Great too for fake Rolex watches. The creek is about 100 metres wide at this point, and there are no bridges in the area. Passage from one side to the other is in the traditional "abra" boats. These all seem to be to the same design - about fifteen feet long and they hold 20 passengers who sit on benches around the side of the boat, facing out the way. There is next to no gunwales on these boats, so you step right from the quayside onto the decking and then sit down. No seat belt either, of course. Lifebelts are tucked under the canopy that gives some protection from the sun. But the thing that struck me as being most unsafe was the driver's position. He stands in a well in the centre of the boat and is in amongst the engine and controls. His head is, at best, level with the shoulders of the seated passengers and how he can see what is ahead of him is anyones guess. Mind you he spends half the passage collecting the 1 dirham (20p) fare from the passengers. These abras throng the water, possibly 50 or so in use and at any time there are two or three jostling for a place to land at each of the jetties. Quite an experience.

 I had a traditional meal at a ?Pakistani? restaurant in the old quarter and a vegetable curry and  bottle of cola set me back a mere 14 dirhams. Then a leisurely totter back to the hotel and a well deseved sleep.  

To be continued.

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