Ski-slopes and sand dunes: a trip to Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Posted by Justin And Bronwen Cross on 18 January 2011

Welcome to our new travel blog! We are Justin and Bronwen Cross from Cape Town, South Africa and we have decided to live in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, for a while with the idea being to travel as much as possible!!

We left SA on 27 December, spent 3 days exploring Dubai and are currently in London for the month of January. We head to Amsterdam on 1 Feb. After hopefully finding a place to stay, the plan is to travel around Europe for the months of February and March. Justin starts his new job on 1 April (April fools?). Bronwen has recently submitted a PhD thesis and is yet to find a job in Rotterdam but is happy to plant tulips for a while! In this blog, we will talk about the towns we visit, the things we do there, the places we stayed at and tips ‘n tricks for getting around. Generally, Bronwen does the writing and Justin does the photography. We hope you will enjoy following our travels around Europe and find out more about ‘going Dutch’ with us.

Our first stop was Dubai for a few days at the end of December. We stayed at the Golden Sands hotel which is not far from the airport. We chose the cheapest accommodation for this part of our trip and as a consequence our room was pretty basic, but since we only slept there it didn’t bother us too much. If you would prefer more luxury accommodation, however, I wouldn’t recommend staying there!

First impressions of Dubai are it is very clean with a lot of construction still on the go everywhere. It is a very cosmopolitan city with a lot of Indians, both holiday makers and residents, Pakistani’s, Germans, French and Australians. We also heard the odd South African accent which made us feel at home. The people are very friendly here, except for passport control, where Bronwen, being on an SA Passport, was required to have an eye scan and jump through various hoops. Although it is winter in Dubai, the average daytime temperature was a pleasant 25°C with a slight breeze. Winter in Dubai feels very much like winter in Johannesburg except that it is much warmer. But the air has the same dry, browny feel; not like the brilliant blue skies of Cape Town. The local currency is the Arab Emirates Durham or AED and the rate at the time of our visit was 1:2 to the Rand. We drank the tap water while we were there and suffered no ill-effects so it is probably safe to drink.

Our first day out was a trip to the Atlantis hotel at Palm Jumeirah, about a 30 min drive from the hotel. Most of the day was spent exploring the Aquaventure theme park and enjoying the many water rides. Our faves were ‘The Rapids’, in which you go down a series of gentle rapids in a 600m circuit of the park in a plastic raft-type tube and ‘The Plunge’, in which you rapidly go through a series of twists and turns in a closed water tube in the dark!! Other rides we tried out where ‘The Leap of Faith’, the pic below will explain why it is so called, and ‘The Shark Attack’ which includes a stretch of closed water tube in the middle of the shark tank. Bron screamed so much and swallowed so much water she was worried she would catch something!

We also wondered around ‘The Lost Chambers’ which is basically an aquarium styled in the theme of the lost city of Atlantis. The decor is a bit out there but cool if you enjoy that sort of thing. They have a lot of different and interesting fish and seem to be going for the very unusual items. The aquarium was cool but maybe not as good value for money as Aquaventure and we prefer the Cape Town and Durban aquariums more. Local is Lekker.

The park costs AED250 each to get in which includes the Lost Chambers. Initially we thought it was quite expensive (R500 each) but we feel it was worth it. There is also towel and locker hire available in the park (AED50 for both). We had a great day and highly recommend going, with or without children! You can also swim with dolphins at Dolphin Bay or dive in the aquarium at the Atlantis Dive Centre.

Most things in Dubai are close to each other. The airport is pretty central and it only took about 20min to get to our hotel which is on the Northern side of town. Palm Jumeirah, on the southern side of town, was only a 30min drive from our hotel. The taxis are relatively cheap and easy to use and we used them all the time. The trip from the hotel to Palm Jumeirah was about AED60 which is a lot cheaper than a taxi in SA would cost. There is also a pretty good Metro system. We used the Metro only once on the second day to get to the Emirates Mall. The Metro stations are very interesting-looking buildings, almost like space shuttles, and many are still under construction which will improve the public transport. The cool thing about the Metro is that the rail is raised above the city and offers great views on all sides through big glass windows.

The Mall of The Emirates is quite an impressive building. It is huge but apparently, and unfortunately, has the largest carbon footprint in the world. This is mainly due to the large indoor snow park and ski slopes. We didn’t look around the mall too much as a mall is a mall no matter where in the world you are. But there are some shops there that you won’t find in SA; if you are a die-hard shopaholic this is for you.

Since we are hoping to do some skiing in Europe, we thought learning to ski at the indoor snow park would be a good idea. We booked a ‘discovery ski lesson’ i.e. for the totally clueless! Our instructor was really good and had us up and going in no time. His motto is: if you believe you can, then you can. That’s a good one to remember for most things in life. Bron was the first in the class to fall on her bum and did so many times. Justin only fell once, ‘avoiding someone’. Snow might look light and fluffy but falling on it was definitely not pleasant! Bron had many bruises and sore muscles afterwards! Skiing wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be. Think the trick is knowing how to brake. Bron’s problem was getting her skis crossed and not being able to untangle them before bailing. But after the lesson we feel more confident and able to tackle a beginner lesson to learn how to turn and jump, and then hit the real slopes! The discovery lesson costs AED150 which includes all the gear you need, even disposable socks! But take a beanie and gloves as these are not included.

While in Dubai a must see are the Souks, or traditional markets. We visited the Madinat Jumeirah Souk near Burj Al Arab (the sail looking building), and the spice and gold souks. Bargaining is a must in the souk as some sellers take a chance and really try to rip you off. Investigate the prices around the market before buying, and then bargain as well. It was quite interesting walking around the markets; this is where you see the real people of Dubai. A lot of foreigners work in the tourist attractions but walking around the souks gave us a feel of the old Dubai. Typical goods available are pashmina’s, many Indian products, local spices and other edible products like nuts and dates, gold items, local clothes and shoes.

On our last evening we enjoyed a sundowner dune safari through the desert. There are a lot of tour operators offering these tours. A tour guide fetches you from your hotel and you join a group of 4x4s to go dune-bashing through the desert with a break for drinks and to watch the sunset. Sunset in the desert is very special. Take something warm though as it can get pretty chilly when the sun goes down. Bron felt a bit queasy at times but was worth it. After sundown you head to a Bedouin tent for a traditional dinner, camel rides, belly dancing, henna tattoos and hookah pipes. The safari was well organised and a lot of fun. Dinner was good (the lamb chops can compete with SA!) and included drinks. We highly recommend this!

We enjoyed our time in Dubai but it really is just a town in the desert. Three days was enough time to explore though; we basically did all there was to do there in that time. It was a good break in our journey to London but next time we will probably go straight through without stopping over.

Still to come: our trip to London and Dublin.

Until next time!


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