India – The Arrival

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India, oh India. Where do I even begin? I suppose starting from the top makes the most sense.

Traveling for me in 2016, when it comes to flights, didn’t go particularly well. As you can recall I had a minor (okay super major) meltdown on my way to Dubai. Not to mention countless delays on domestic flights throughout the year. So it should come as no surprise that there was an issue getting on our flight to New Delhi from Dubai. This issue actually warrants an entire post itself so I won’t get into now, but thank you again random Emirates employee (pretty sure the manager on duty) for making it all work.

I do want to take a minute to talk about the actual flight. When we got to our gate after a light jog, they made us get onto busses to take us to the plane. I’ve done that before, no big thing. Well this bus took what felt like 45 minutes to get to the plane. It was probably like five, but it was far! Settling in for the flight, we were talking about how glad we were that we actually made it as they started to make announcements. Neither of us was really paying attention to what was being said, but at the same time we both looked at each other like wait, did they say something about not breathing in and covering your mouth if you have trouble? Hold on, what did we miss? What’s happening? Trouble? Then all of a sudden a few flight attendants walked down the aisles spraying aerosol cans up in the air. They walked as though they were performing a synchronized dance. With the look of bewilderment on our faces, the smell and taste hit us at the same time. But what was that stuff? I guess we should have paid attention when they were talking. Later I found out it was bug spray. Weird, but okay malaria is real.

Our flight was easy; I watched a movie and relaxed. As we made our initial descent into Delhi it was clear that the sky was the exact opposite of clear. It was super hazy. I’m talking you couldn’t see anything out of the windows hazy. Continuing to descend it did not get any clearer. Ummm guys, how the hell is he doing this? They’re on instruments (yes like Airplane) I guess. Our pilot landed like a champ I have to admit.

Once inside, we made our way to customs with all of our e-tourist visa paperwork in hand. My hands were slightly sweaty in anticipation of what questions they may ask or what other document I might need to show them. Of course he asked me for my ticket and I found every single other ticket in my bag except the one from the flight I had just taken. Classic. Eventually he gave up, and said it was fine. They took a quick picture and fingerprints and we were in! Stamp acquired. Level up, new continent!


We made our way to baggage claim and got our luggage. Now to find our friends! Yay for us, they were right on the other side of the door waiving happily (or at least I think it was happy, it felt happy)! After getting some quick cash (we dubbed Ruperts), it was to the van and then the hotel. Quick side-note about Ruperts: they are even more impossible to convert in your head than the Emirati Dirham. But they do make you think you have more money than you actually do!

Our little van…okay not really little, not really big, let’s say medium van was waiting for us with our driver for the week. Everyone was handed a packet of information about the places we would be visiting (pretty sure no one opened this the entire time, but it was a nice touch) and we drove to the hotel.

Immediately I noticed the amount of people, cars, animals, the noise and the smell. Anyone who describes India as an assault on the senses is correct. I expected the visual assault and the scents, but I was not expecting the noise. A majority of the noise comes from car and tuktuk horns. In India, drivers honk to alert a car that they are going to pass, or that they need to pass. Basically they honk all the time, really it’s just organized chaos. Oh and I had no idea they drove on the left side of the road. Surprise!

Because this could go on forever, I think I will just stick to major events of the day and then supplement with additional posts about different topics.

We made it to the hotel with enough time to change and freshen up before dinner. One thing of note during our freshening time was that our power randomly went off twice while getting ready. Hadn’t anticipated that either. Surprise again! We learned this is in fact pretty normal. Spectacular.

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The best “security” guard ever! Hard to see but his mustache was AMAZING!

Dinner. Was. Fantastic. One of our group members had this restaurant on her list of “must do in India” and I’m so glad she did. We ate at Indian Accent. This restaurant has the No. 1 Restaurant in India on Trip Advisor spot; it is the only Indian restaurant on the San Pellegrino’s list of 100 Best Restaurants in the World and has been awarded the San Pellegrino Best Restaurant Award by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2016 for the second year in a row. It is top-notch, and absolutely lived up to the accolades it has received. There is another in New York that just opened, but this place was phenomenal. Absolutely go if you have a chance. Okay dinner rant over.

Happy and stuffed to the brim, we made our way back to the hotel for a short night before a super early departure for the train to Agra. Our entire group agreed to add the train ride, as this is not something normally done by the tour company.

All Aboard! Agra up next!

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Frequently Asked Questions – Dubai

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After spending a week in Dubai, I learned a couple of things, so here are some FAQ’s about Dubai:

What was it like? – Take NYC, mix in Vegas and add Europe sprinkles on top. The city is huge, and very spread-out. It’s dusty (hello desert), but overall very clean. They have everything you could want there. Literally. I saw every major US chain, including ones that have gone out of business in a lot of places (UNO Pizzeria, Bennigans, Johnny Rockets, the list goes on and on…) but it feels sooooo Western. It’s something like 60% of the population are expatriates. It’s also hot, in case you forgot.

Was it what you expected? – Not in the slightest. It’s almost shocking how far you travel to get to Dubai, to have it feel like you are literally down the road. But it’s a pretty cool city since the buildings are larger than life. It all looks like the set of a movie.

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The Dubai Marina

What WAS different? – Obviously there was Arabic writing in addition to English on most everything. A lot of people do wear traditional clothing. Dishdash for the men – Long white usually cotton shirt. Think long sleeve white robe that goes to your ankles. They even have pockets! And an Abaya for the women – black long over-garment that usually covers everything. A lot of women wear head scarves and the men also wear a Keffiyehs (headscarf) held into place by two black ropes on the head. They LOVE their accessories-Purses, shoes, jewelry, makeup. And everyone hangs out in the mall. It’s so fascinating to observe.

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A sign for Wendy’s in Arabic

While they wear traditional clothing, people also wear normal western clothes as well. I wore tank tops and brought a scarf just in case,but felt comfortable. I choose not to wear shorts and stuck with more flowy pants or long skirts. It was hot, so I wore a pair of dry fit shorts underneath my “bottoms” and that was an awesome move! They do prefer you not to wear workout clothes around, so I didn’t wear leggings at all when we were there.  The most attention we got was when we walked through the mall dressed up after going out for drinks. But that was more because people were probably thinking why are you so fancy in the mall on Wednesday?

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Very typical “Dubai” outfits. Loose pants, and T-Shirts/Tank Tops                                              p.s. That Date juice was awesome

Other differences are obviously the money (it’s impossible) and the lack of alcohol. You can really only get it in hotels and it’s not cheap. About 50 AED or about $14 for a Foster’s. Not happening. We have had drinks, but mixed drinks, because then it at least feels better to spend that kind of dough.

It also seems like everyone’s day starts later. Like the mall is open from 10:00 AM – Midnight and then even later on the weekend.

Did you feel uncomfortable? – No I can’t say that I did. I mean I was more aware of my surroundings, but it’s like you would be in NYC or anywhere that you travel. There was one time where we ended up on the docks, in an area of all male workers. It was very obvious that we were out of place and that was somewhat tense, but nothing happened and we just decided to leave. No big deal.

Were the people nice? – Yes very. We only ran into a couple that weren’t, but hey that happens everywhere!

What was the food like? – This is an interesting question. The food is what you want it to be. Because there is anything you could ever want, you can choose your own food destiny. If you want to be American, you can be American, if you want to be Lebanese, be Lebanese, the choices are endless. We did struggle to find Middle Eastern food though, because they do have predominantly western choices.

Are the cars crazy? – Yes and no. The cabs are regular (nicer than most because they are newer), but there are crazy cars also. We saw some Lamborghini’s parked at the mall, many Bentley’s around town and of course some Rolls Royce’s. There are nice cars yes, but it’s not ALL of them. We rented the Rolls Yaris though, and that was cool. Hehe.

Could you communicate with the locals? – Absolutely. We did not struggled with language really at all. The most that got lost in translation could be easily figured out with a few follow-up questions. It was fine.

What was the weather really like? – Hot. And Humid. A tropical desert. This is a new one for me. I had no idea that was a thing. And it was still super hot when we were there (October). From our hotel we could see the mall, but you could’t walk because it was so hot. Then add in the humidity and we were sweaty messes. Sexy.

Do you notice the wealth? – Not at first. Then yes. We learned that if you are a true Emirati, the government provides a lot for you, so you take home and keep a lot more of what you make. The expatriates pay more taxes, so that’s how the economy is sustained. There are TONS of nice stores in the mall and also normal stores as well. People shop all the time and it was unusual to see a local without a shopping bag of some kind in their hand. There are lots of nice cars and it seems more normal to have a Bentley. It’s a very fascinating place. One funny thing was when I opened up Uber, there was an option for Uber Chopper…yeah no joke.

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Uber CHOPPER – I cannot even comprehend this…

What’s the deal with alcohol? – As I said before it’s hard to find. None of the restaurants in the mall that we found had alcohol. They all had cocktails, but I’m almost positive they were all virgin. You had to be in a hotel mostly to find it, and then it was super expensive. I spent the most I ever have on cocktails at the Burj Khalifa. Totally worth it though. I did monopolize on the hotel happy hour as well and that was much more reasonable. But they definitely “hide” the alcohol. In the end it saved us money, so fine by me!

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One of my Drinks at the Burj Khalifa – They have a bar on the 123rd floor. Go there.

Anything else you want to know, just ask!

Platinum Heritage

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Sadly this is the last post about our time in Dubai as adapted from a series of emails that was sent while traveling. I will have a FAQ Dubai post coming up shortly though so don’t worry, I’m not quite done!

When researching what to do in Dubai, it was obvious we had to go on some sort of safari. After lots of reading and searching ,we settled on booking with Platinum heritage.  They are a more expensive company for this type of excursion, but after participating, it is totally worth the extra Dirham!

We were picked up from our hotel, which makes everything so much easier. On our way to the safari, our driver stopped at the camel racing track. YES, camel racing. This is the number one sport in Dubai. The facility is huge. Oddly they only have two small grandstands for viewing. I asked why, and our guide said it was because no one watches. Ummm, what? No one watches your national sport? Nope, because gambling is illegal. Interesting to have a national sport no one watches, very interesting.

Upon arrival at our safari, we were greeted by two rows of vintage Land Rovers. They are the coolest cars ever! We were fitted with some head scarves (that we got to keep) and loaded into our bright yellow vehicle.
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The desert was beautiful. Very different from the Sahara from what we saw. There are quite a few trees, etc. which surprised me a little. Obviously we only saw a small portion, so it’s probably more desolate the further into the desert you get.

A highlight of the trip was the falcon demonstration. It was so cool to see these birds in their natural habitat and learn more about how the Bedouin’s utilized them back in the day. We all thought that part would be somewhat lame, and boy were we wrong. They also served us some sparking date juice and that was delicious.
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Back in the cars we headed to camp for dinner, entertainment, camel rides and henna. The sun was setting as we drove and it was simply gorgeous. I love a good sunset, and I really love a desert sunset. The colors are always spectacular.

We arrived at camp and they showed us to our table and where everything was. Our first stop was the camel! When I was in Africa we did a camel trek and rode one hump camels to our overnight campsite. This was not that. There were a few lines of three camels tethered together and they were two hump camels. Luckily there were three of us so we each got our own camel friend. The ride was quick and I am totally okay with that. Riding a camel makes you SUPER sore.

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Food time! They served awesome food including camel stew. I tried a little and honestly, it wasn’t bad. I also tried camel milk. Also, not bad. Would be good in coffee since it’s a bit thicker than regular milk.

Then we made our way to the henna lady. She was super nice and did a great job. I’m only mildly obsessed with henna. No that’s a lie, I’m totally obsessed.

After henna, they had some performances of traditional dancing and we enjoyed dessert with some hookah. I liked the hookah having done it a few times at home, but I was alone in the enjoyment of that portion of the night.

The moon was out and almost full, so it made everything more beautiful. What was cool was that we were not rushed. Everyone lets you hang out until you want to leave, it’s not a set end time and I really liked that. Another positive of this safari was that the number of people on this excursion was much less than the others we researched, and that enhanced our experience immensely.

We weren’t out late which was good because we had to switch hotels and head toward the airport for our morning flight to Delhi.

I would absolutely recommend the safari we participated in. Having done a three day overnight camel trek in the Sahara, I was skeptical that this would even come close. It absolutely did. Go on this safari when you visit Dubai you will not regret it.

Good night Dubai, you surprised the hell out of me and I will be back!

Living the Luxury Life

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Picking up where I left off. Here is the seventh part of my time in Dubai. Enjoy!

After four days staying downtown, we packed our bags for the beach and headed to the Sofitel Palm Jumeirah. Walking through the front doors it was clear we were not fancy enough for this place. Not even a little. The property was BEAUTIFUL!

This is where the wedding was that we traveled for. Well, I wasn’t invited, but I couldn’t pass up a reason to go to Dubai!

Friday early afternoon we went to the nearby “souks” for lunch and some shopping. I say “souks” because these were inside and the people weren’t super pushy at all. More like a mall. Which is kind of Dubai’s thing.

We returned to the hotel and enjoyed some time at the beach. The water was uber salty, which made floating a breeze! Sadly because of a stingray and jellyfish warning, we didn’t float for long.

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It was really cool to be at the beach with a city skyline in the background. Once the girls had to go do wedding stuff, I just hung out in the room because it was so nice.

Saturday we enjoyed time at the pool before the girls had to get ready for the wedding. Once they started that, I continued to hang out at the pool. I was able to actually watch the wedding from the beach, like a super creepy hotel guest, which was nice.

Later that evening I took myself on a nice date. I got some henna, and then hit up the beach bar for happy hour, since that was the only way I could afford alcohol at the Sofitel.

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I walked the property some, found dessert and then right when I was going to go up to bed, I decided to stop at the sports bar to see how much a beer was. Deeming that it would only cost me one platelet donation session, I ordered a Hoegaarden. Expecting a normal pint, I figured I’d have one and call it a night. What was put down before me was literally the largest Hoegaarden glass I’ve ever seen. I had to use two hands to make sure I didn’t drop it. Clearly it was worth the cost, so naturally I had two.

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Our time at the Sofitel was wonderful for the most part, but super awkward if you are there solo. The hotel is set-up for couples or families, so when you tell them you want a beach chair, they assume you want two. Or when you go to eat, they assume you are meeting someone. Nope, just me.

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A weekend at the beach was so relaxing, we definitely did not want to leave.

I could get used to this!

On the Road Again

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I hope you enjoy this sixth installment related to my time in Dubai in October 2016. As with all the others, this was adapted from an email that was sent to friends and family. You can catch up with my adventures here!

One of my “must-do” activities this trip was to visit the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. This was the one thing we knew we would do, but did not plan prior to arrival. Mainly because it was not clear to us the best way to get there. After talking to our hotel concierge and weighing the options, we decided to rent a car at the mall. Woo Toyota Yaris! Sorry Enterprise, we had to rent with Thrifty.

I offered to rent the vehicle and be the driver, as long as my friend would navigate.

Side note: if you are in a foreign country and have cell service you can use, make sure you have turned your phone out of airplane mode and tested the maps app if you think you may need it. Trust me on this.

After we picked up our car, we were going to pick up another friend across town. We looked up our directions (in WiFi), got the car and headed out.

I’d say 37 seconds after leaving the mall parking garage we were lost. Dubai’s roads are what we now refer to as the spaghetti model. Pick up some noodles, drop them on a plate and that’s what they look like. Everything is a one-way road going in the opposite direction. We struggled to get our maps app up and running and really wished we had tested out our service before we got on the road. Re: my previously mentioned tip.

It is important to know that at this point we had a quarter tank of gas.

Finally back on track we made it across town. Yay! It was not long after we got out of central Dubai, that I realized we really needed to find a gas station. My co-pilots happily looked one up for me. Of course we missed the exit and had to backtrack to the station. My gas light had been on and we were dropping closer to empty every minute.

The area where we got off the highway, was not exactly an area where I wanted to be stuck or have to ask for help. There were all these work garages for semis and it was very industrial. We blended right in. Not.

As we pulled up to the station we found, I realized it was in fact not a gas station, but a station where big trucks come for oil changes and such. My heart sank, and I almost vomited all over the Yaris.

Both of my co-pilots started trying to find another station. Insanely enough, the closest one was back in Dubai. So we got back on the road; me holding my breath, while they tried to stay positive we would find somewhere. The needle crept closer and closer to empty.

I have to admit that it’s pretty ironic we were struggling to find gas in the Middle East.

As we were driving I spotted a station, but we were too many lanes of traffic away to make it work. This was a SIX lane highway. Yes six, in both directions. So I guess technically a twelve lane highway. My stomach sank and that vomit feeling came back.

Quickly we noticed that if we got off at the next exit we could get back to the station. As I took the exit ramp, a closer station came into view and I think a tear slid down my face with relief.

We waited in line for them to fill up the tank. While I knew we didn’t need an entire tank, I also had no idea what may happen the rest of the day, given how it started. So when the attendant asked how much I wanted, I said all of it! Give me all your gas, fill the trunk, get me some containers. I will take everything you have. It only cost $16 to fill the tank, so it was totally worth it.

Once that ordeal was finished, we did the only logical thing there is when you can’t have beer; we ate McDonald’s.

We FINALLY made it to Abu Dhabi without further incident and drove up to the gate excited to enter. Naturally it was the wrong gate and we had to circle around a couple of times to find the right one. Construction, combined with rotaries and spaghetti highways, meant I missed the turn once before figuring it out.

After we parked, we had to go in to get our Abaya so that we were properly covered. In all of the pictures I have seen of people at the Grand Mosque, they were in these nice black Abaya’s. Well that is not what we got. Not even close. They were literally made out of fabric that included every single animal print you’ve ever seen, trimmed in whatever random color they had lying around. Maybe they want to be able to spot tourists? Or maybe they don’t want them to be stolen? Either way, these things were hideous, but free. Actually the entire Grand Mosque is free (including parking) which is pretty shocking.

 

This place is probably the coolest building I’ve ever seen. I was so impressed by it, that I now have a flip-book of pictures to look back on whenever I want to visit again.

On our way home, we decided to complete our road trip with a stop at Subway before dropping our friend off.

We managed to navigate back to the mall and return the car successfully without getting lost. Go us!

To fit in with the Dubai culture, we dubbed our little vehicle the Rolls Yaris, a lesser known Rolls Royce product.

 

We stuck around at the mall after returning the Rolls Yaris, to watch the fountains (again) and have a snack. They had some pop-up restaurants and we had a couple of burgers with the hipster Emirates. And they were really delicious!

Overall a great day, despite the rocky beginning.

If you take nothing else away from this post, please take this: Always make sure you have gas when you are going on a road trip. ALWAYS. I never imagined the Rolls Yaris would lose fuel that fast, but when it’s 100 degrees out, and you are in the desert, it’s a game changer.

Fueled up until next time!

All Gold Everything

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Hello and welcome to the fifth post in my email series chronicling my time in Dubai. These are all emails that were sent in October of 2016. Catch up with the rest of them here!

Alright, I need to get real with you about this. My excitement about going to a SEVEN STAR hotel was palpable. That’s two whole stars better than five! WHAT?! Insanity. But to understand this experience properly,  you need to know what went into making it happen.

After deciding we were going to do the Burj Khalifa, we absolutely could not do another minimum spend meal at the Burj Al Arab. That was not happening, since we actually do need food to survive. Bummer. The problem was, it isn’t the type of place you can just wander to. You have to have a reservation of some kind to even access the property. Talk about exclusive!

For everyone who doesn’t know, this hotel sits out on a man made island. It took them three years to secure the island before they even started construction on the hotel. Just dropped some Big Bus knowledge on you. You’re welcome.

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There are a few restaurants and bars in the hotel, but they all had this pesky minimum spend, of easily over $100. Again, not an option. Then one glorious afternoon I actually found a bar that did not require a minimum spend, just a reservation. Ummmm, hello, sign me up!

I requested a reservation (through the bars app) right away. A few weeks later we were confirmed for Gold on 27. Yessssss.

The day we went to our reservation, we spent the morning on the bus tour of the marina and did a boat tour as well. We hadn’t washed our hair, knowing we’d be sweating a ton anyway, and had hardly gotten ready. Of course we were running late getting back to the room, and didn’t have time to wash our hair. Gross I know. But with the traffic here being so iffy, we wanted plenty of time to get there. And also to take photos like paparazzi.

On the ride over I was petrified that our reservation hadn’t gone through and they were going to turn us away. Even though I had the confirmation. Our driver wasn’t even sure Gold on 27 was a thing and we had to tell him the Burj Al Arab at least three times. In hindsight, it was probably because of our gross hair. Actually the bar is new, having just opened in the spring, so that’s gotta be why he wasn’t sure. Yeah, yeah, that’s it!

As we pulled up to the gate, a porter came out and asked for our information. He said okay (YAY!!!!) and we proceeded up the drive. This was actually happening. When our driver stopped, we were greeted by the bellman and I hopped right out and totally forgot to pay. Oops. Obviously I paid.

Now we were there, out front, with all of the Rolls Royce cars. They were all white also. Very pretty. We went inside and asked where to go. Upstairs, down the hall to security. After finding out the bar didn’t open until the time of our reservation, we took full advantage of taking pictures like true tourists.img_7115

I have to say this. The hotel is beautiful and all the paint that is gold has actual gold in it, but I was kind of surprised it wasn’t more over the top. Again, one of the coolest hotels I’ve seen, but dare I say, it almost had a cruise ship vibe.

Once we made it to the lounge, we were seated by the window and choose our drinks. My friend decided to cause a scene and break her glass, spilling her drink all over the place. It was pretty awkward, but they quickly cleaned up and made her a brand new cocktail.

After we had our drink (yay no minimum spend!) we went to the bathroom before we left.I only bring this up because I want to move into the bathroom. EVERYTHING was gold. And the most beautiful shade of gold. I was, and still am, OBSESSED. It’s also quite possible we had a bathroom photo shoot as well…no we totally did. No one even caught us, though I wouldn’t have even cared if they had. That bathroom was amazing.

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So you’re going to ask me which Burj I liked better? If I’m being honest, I liked the first one the best; Burj Khalifa. Bar on the 123rd floor. It was so cool. And the views were amazing. That being said, I’m extremely glad we did both. I would have felt cheated if we had only gone to one. Go us!

I’m also going to have to have a gold bathroom at some point. Seriously, obsessed.

Okay, enough fancy time, back to the real world…

Don’t Look Down

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Welcome to the fourth installment of my email series about my adventures in Dubai. These are all emails that were sent in October of 2016. Don’t Miss my previous updates as well!

Prior to arriving in Dubai, my friend and I had done TONS of research (I know you’re shocked) about the best way to go up the worlds tallest building; The Burj Khalifa. We knew it was a “must do,” but we weren’t sure how to accomplish the task without spending all of our money.

The best time to go up in the building is at sunset, and they know this, so they charge an arm, a leg, and another arm. We simply felt we could not justify paying so much, to just go to the top to look out the window. We wanted to feel like we got something for our cash.

So we settled on the bar; Atmosphere.

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There were a few reasons this became our choice:

  • The bar is the highest in the world sitting on story 123
  • Our money got us actual alcoholic drinks (alcohol is hard to get)
  • It was a more unique experience than an observation area
  • To go, all you had to do was simply make a proper reservation (ours was during sunset)

The only catch was the minimum spend that was required. Ugh, sneaky smart restaurant owners. Our actual reservation was for an A La Carte dinner and we could choose to spend our minimum however we wanted, which I also liked.

In the end, we settled on drinking our minimum rather than eating. Who is surprised? No one? I didn’t think so. And I know we both feel it was the right decision. We had a few Cosmos (seriously so good) and then a fun mixed drink that was orange. They were all delish!

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Amazing drink at Atmosphere

We were lucky enough to sit by the window that overlooked the dancing fountains and we got to enjoy a sunset from 123 stories in the air. It was a rather clear night, so the photos were pretty great. And once the fountains started, we pressed our faces right up to the glass to watch them, it was really cool.

When all was said and done, we spent a bit more than our minimum, and I personally spent the most I ever have on six drinks and a side of fries. But hey, who needs to eat!? Really though, we both thought it was worth it, and would absolutley do it again. Thanks Atmosphere!

Just for reference the Burj Khalifa is 163 stories tall. Yes, 163. Yikes!

…feet back on the ground, catch you next time…