Saturday, June 22, 2013

Back to Oz

Back to Oz tonight, arriving late tomorrow. In fact I think we're the last flight to land at Sydney before the curfew.

I see from the Sydney papers I'm going to really notice the difference in weather, especially for the next week.

Here in Dubai it's been a couple of degrees either side of 40C. The eight days in Vienna gave us seven sunny days in the mid twenties celcius.

The New South Wales coast has a forecast for maximums of between fourteen and eighteen celcius and rain all week. Sunday through Tuesday have heavy rain predicted plus strong winds, up to 60kph.

Flood watches have been issued and people have been told to tie lose items down and park their cars under cover.

Oh well, it is winter down south.

Monday, June 17, 2013

I have a new favourite city

Vienna's been on my list of places to visit for years but, for no particular reason, I never got around to it.

We've just got back to Dubai after a week there and I really regret not having visited much, much earlier and much more often.

We stayed in the old city and, apart from a couple of short trips outside the inner ring, that's where we spent the full week. Wherever we go we like to just wander around the streets, the markets, eat in the cafes, drink in the pubs, absorb ourselves in the place, and we simply did that.

I realise that just one district of a city gives a slanted view, but Vienna's my kinda town I must say.

The city centre has a very large pedestrianised precinct so you're well away from the bane of most cities, traffic pollution.

The area is nothing but old, beautiful buildings on a human scale, street cafes, restaurants & bars and quality shops.

The food is something else - not traditional Viennese cuisine, which leaves a lot to be desired to be honest, but overall, and especially things like the breads and cakes and deli items.

The variety and choice in the shops is astonishing and the quality is exceptional across the board.

One of the things I really dislike is the current trend of scruffiness, especially men in what is in effect their underwear - singlets, football shorts and flipflops - in cities, shops, restaurants.

Not in the part of Vienna we stayed in, where the people are well dressed even when they're casually dressed - even the vast majority of tourists are dressed appropriately for a city.

And everyone we met and interacted with was friendly, cheerful, pleasant, helpful. Really nice people.

The whole feel is sophistication, elegance. You feel good just walking around in it, surrounded by quality.

And a bonus, the weather was just about perfect. One day with some rain, which didn't really inconvenience us, and the rest warm and sunny with clear blue sky.

We've already decided we'll be going back as soon as we can. An Indonesian waitress in our hotel, married to an Austrian and living in the city for thirteen years, told us to go back in winter, which she said is her favourite time of year there. Not for me, I hate the cold, but if we can get back before then we will. Otherwise it'll have to wait until next summer.

Plenty of photos in my camera of course and I'll post some when I have them organised.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Jebel Ali Village - the good news

I've said from when it hit that the global financial crisis was the best thing that could have happened to Dubai.

While the real economy - the trading, dealing, manufacturing, re-exporting -  was ticking along quietly in the background the property development sector went bananas and threatened to destroy Dubai.

Ridiculous projects, far too many all at the same time, were planned and many started. The worst culprit in my opinion was the the developer Nakheel. That's the company which built Jumeirah Palm Island and The World Islands, and had two more even bigger palm islands under way at the same time, plus the 75 km long Arabian Canal and dozens of other projects.

One that caused a lot of upset was the destruction of one of Dubai's few (relatively) old areas, Jebel Ali Village. Built in the late seventies it was about forty kilometres out of town and back in the day was considered a hell of a drive through the desert. These days it's simply on the edge of town down the main freeway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

But it was a unique place, self contained, with a real village community spirit, many long-term residents, including kids who grew up and went to school there.

Anyway, back in 2007, Nakheel announced that they were redeveloping the entire village and the tenants had to leave. Plans showed the usual streets of high rise apartments.

I ran a post about it on my Life in Dubai blog in 2008 when I drove into the village one morning and found it entirely fenced off. All the comments left by readers were of fond memories of JAV, of sadness that it had gone. You can read what it meant to them on the post here.

If you don't know it, here are a some photos from my post

There it was, a well-established, green, very liveable village.

I drove in that morning to find this:

Then the GFC hit, Nakheel had to put its more ridiculous projects on hold or cancel them, including JAV, which became the classic ghost town. Everything dried out, all the greenery died, the sand and dust got over everything.

But now another good outcome for Dubai of the GFC. The National reports that Nakheel is now refurbishng the villas and tenants are expected to move in around August. Not surprisingly, many of the applicants are said to be previous JAV rsidents.

"We are restoring one of Dubai's oldest and most treasured communities," the developer said. "Villas are in big demand. About 400 people - many of whom used to live in Jebel Ali Village before - have registered their interest."

With my fondness for old Dubai I'm really pleased that the madness of destroying JAV has been reversed.

The National article

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Back to getting things done

When you fly into Dubai International Airport you can't help but think of the crass political dithering over Sydney's need for a replacement airport.

That's gone on for over forty years and shows no sign of being resolved.

Flying back into Dubai after an absence of only a few months I noticed even more improvements.

Emirates' dedicated new Terminal 3 seems to be fully operational now. It's gigantic, the largest in the world, bright and airy with plenty of space,even for the hundreds of passengers using each A380 superjumbo. The new Concourse A in fact is a purpose-built facility for the A380. The cost of T3 is put at US4.5 billion.

Compare it with Sydney, where the old cramped International terminal was adapted to take the big aircraft but not the number of passengers each one carries. So at the A380 gates, five hundred passengers are milling about in nowhere near enough space with nowhere near enough seats.

One problem with Dubai T3 was the huge distances passengers had to walk from the arrival gate to baggage/Immigration. No more, they've put a train link in - a short stroll to the station, a long ride, a short stroll to baggage collection.

They've updated the smart gates too. The old e-gate has been replaced with a new system that reads biometric passports and the e-gate card. No queueing at Immigration, I just zapped my e-gate card, gave the machine my thumbprint and it let me through, the Immigration formalities concluded as simply as that in well under one minute.

BTW, Dubai T3 is apparently the world's largest building by floor area. It's just under 120 hectares - that's why they needed the train!