Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Dubai / Abu Dhabi

If I were to go back to the UAE I wouldn't go in summer.  Yes it's hot which is annoying but because of the heat you really can't do much except leave your air-conditioned hotel to an ACed vehicle to an ACed shopping mall and then back home.  Which, really, you can do in any city.

In terms of Dubai vs Abu Dhabi - Dubai is very glamorous; huge flashy commercial and residential buildings everywhere you look, 8-lane freeways, hotels, shopping malls.  Dubai is quite small so everything is tightly packed.  Sadly no character at all - apart from some signs written in arabic you really could be in any metropolitan city.  Abu Dhabi somehow feels more homely - far less showy, more calm, and more real.  It's more of a sprawling city and you can see huge empty sand-filled lots everywhere.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque - Abu Dhabi

If there is only one thing you see in the UAE, make sure it's the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.  It is truly breath-takingly spectacular and absolutely free.  You should know their dress code is strict.  The website says
Long, loose fitting, ankle length trousers or skirts for women and men. Women must wear a headscarf.
I thought I would be ok in ankle length pants and a short-sleeved t-shirt and scarf. But you actually need to be covered down to your wrists, so I was ushered into the basement to line up for an abaya which you just slip on top of what you're wearing (yes SUPER HOT). It may have been way too big for me but being in a mosque I actually found it comfortable. I would have felt out of place if I was wearing my normal clothes.

The mosque is made predominantly of a white marble with gold accents.  The beautiful blue reflection ponds on the outside reflect the blue skies.  The main prayer hall features humongous crystal chandeliers, beautiful carpet, stained glass windows and pearl inlays into the thick marble pillars.  

I would most certainly go back again.  I'd love to be there around sunset and get some pics with the lights on.  I'd also like to do the free tour they offer 3x a day.  I'm pretty sure this is just a tourist attraction and isn't actually used as a mosque but don't quote me on that.

Desert Safari

I did this in Abu Dhabi but you can also do it in Dubai.  There's a few operators but I think they are mostly the same.  They take you out to the dessert and do some 4-wheel-drive dune bashing.  It was a thrill and super crazy at times but honestly it went for too long.  I was done after 2 minutes but it it went for an hour!!

Finally it was dinner time - a classic arabic buffet which was phenomenal (probably average by their standards).  After dinner a belly dancer came out and wowed us with her hips.  They move as if independent from her body!!  Finally we ended the night with shisha (my sister choked on the smoke and couldn't stop coughing - hilarity ensued).

Not to be a complete Debbie Downer but if you're pressed for time, I would just do the two things mentioned above.  The rest of what we did was mainly to pass time (we were there for 4 days).

Burj Khalifa

Here you go.....

That's all folks

Friday Brunch

Friday is the first day of their weekend as their working week is Sunday - Thursday.  Many expats will go for Friday Brunch which involves a late boozy lunch at one of the million hotels (alcohol can only be served in hotels in the UAE).  It cost AED500 which is about AUD$180 so not at all cheap but it's a 3 hour all you can eat/drink fare with light entertainment.  Great if you eat/drink a lot which sadly, I don't.

Emirates Palace

I only really went to see the ATM that dispenses gold bars.  And I did.  And then I was done.

Old Town

Well it was really bloody hot when I went (50 degrees celcius) so I really didn't last long.  It's kinda like a ghost town there anyway.  Beautiful, but ghost-y.

Dubai Mall

Everything in Dubai is grandiose and over-the-top opulent.  Dubai Mall is a great example of that.  Yes that is a real dinosaur inside the mall.  Because why not.  It's Dubai.

Also a huge aquarium inside the mall.  Because why not.

Hierarchy is huge in the UAE.  Expats are clearly at the top of the pyramid and migrant workers are at the bottom.  Due to this, service is impeccable bordering on pushy.  I had a waiter literally standing nearby staring at me til I finished my cocktail and before I could place the glass down he had already taken it out of my hands and offered me another.  It's great in some respects but I found it quite annoying.

Cost of living is pretty high - at a nightclub they charged AUD$30 for a gin and tonic.  I guess if you work here and don't get taxed it's not that bad but it's a different story for tourists.

There is pretty much no crime but here is a freaky story.  I remember reading in the SMH a while back that a local Emirati woman stabbed an expat to death in the bathrooms of a shopping mall.  One morning my sister and I decided to pop into the tiny shopping centre round the corner for a coffee.  At some point we split up and I found myself walking through the mall by myself and randomly, the story of the expat being stabbed just came to me.  A few days later my cousin and his girlfriend were talking about the stabbing and how the perpetrator was executed and my cousin said to me "Oh yeah that happened at the shopping centre round the corner."

Oh WTF.  So creepy.

That's the end of my UAE story.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

London Postcodes

At first glance, a London postcode looks so odd.  They comprise of numbers and letters and have a space in between.  Now that I've been here a few weeks I've kinda worked it out.

Source: http://www.ukstudentlife.com/Life/Accommodation/London.htm

London is neatly divided into different areas - the city centre and then radiating out from there are postcodes starting with N(orth), E(ast), and W(est).  There are further breakdowns such as NW, SW, SE.

Here's a postcode I made up:

N1 8JK

N1 refers to the area just north of the city.  Strangely enough, these postal code areas don't seem to align with boroughs (think 'groups of suburbs' in Sydney speak).  For example in the area in which I live (Angel), most of the suburb has a postcode starting with N1.  However there is a part of the suburb towards the southern end that uses the city postcode EC1.  I'll discuss city postcodes later.

There is then a space to indicate a break between the general area and the more specific area.

The letters after the space seem to be a random combination of letters and numbers that literally identifies the street in N1.  In London all you need to do is know the street number (let's say 12) and the postcode N1 8JK and it's possible to find out exactly which building it is.  Oh but of course there are exceptions.  One street (depending on the length) might have a number of different postcodes.

Because postcodes are so specific, there is no need to list your 'suburb' or 'borough' on your address.  London addresses commonly look like this:
Mrs Jane Doe
Flat 8, Amber Court,
London N1 8JK

City postcodes
I expected the city postcodes to start with C.  Instead, they are broken down into EC (East Central) and WC (West Central).  There is no C (Central).

Taxi Drivers
Apparently these guys go through intense training and have to sit multiple exams in order to work as a cab driver.  They are tested on the aforementioned postcodes.  Cab drivers will know from memory, exactly where to take you if you say '10 N1 8JK'.  Insane.

Outside London metro
As you can see from the diagram above, once you leave the London metropolitan area the postcode prefixes become less neat and orderly.  They do, however, stand for what the area is called.  For example above N is the postcode EN which stands for Enfield which is the area just outside London metro to the north.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015


A few days ago I was able to move into a flat and finally unpack after living out of my suitcases for the past 9 weeks.  Relief is a huge understatement.  Never before have I appreciated having a towel rack to hang my bath towel or hangers to hang my clothes up in my wardrobe.

The flat is a 2 bed/2 bath so I get my own bathroom.  The room itself is smaller than any room I have lived in in Sydney but decently sized by London standards.  There is a TINY built-in wardrobe, a bed, a chest of drawers and shelves.  There is no way I could have lived like this in Sydney but having almost nothing in terms of material possessions in London, the storage in the room is more than enough.

The bathroom is absolutely huge, even by Sydney standards.  I love the mirrors, the generous benchtop space, the stone tiles and the heated towel rack.  

I bought myself this acrylic makeup storage from MUJI as a little housewarming present to myself.

The flat is in a gated area with concierge (who signs for all packages and I just pick them up whenever).  There is also a Virgin Active in the complex so when I start earning pounds I will probably sign up.  I really would have no excuse not to go to the gym given it would take me 20 seconds to get there.

I've moved to an area called Angel which is about 4km north of the main financial hub in the city where I will (hopefully) likely be working.  I should be able to walk to work in 35 mins or so.  The closest tube station is a 7 minute walk down the road.  Being so close to the city also means buses are aplenty (and much cheaper at £1.50/ride instead of roughly £3 for a trip on the tube).

Angel itself is buzzing with activity.  There are 2 supermarkets within a 30 second walk from my flat.  There's a multitude of shops - H&M, GAP, French Connection, Marks & Spencer, Accessorize, MUJI, Reiss, Boots, Argos (which is a department store on crack).  There's a few cinemas, I think 5 supermarkets in total, markets on the weekend, and a ridiculous number of cafes, bars, pubs, and restaurants.