|Home||Pauline||Howto Articles||Uniquely NZ||Small Firms||Search|
|Cunard Queen Mary 2
World Cruise 2010 - Part 2
This chart shows the routing at the time of printing of the brochure.
All the pictures on the pages provide details of where they were taken if you hover a cursor over them and they can all be clicked to open a larger version in an Overlay (Lightbox) or Popup Window. The image display options can be set on the settings links at the bottom right corner of every page which includes pictures.
All the pictures on the pages provide details of where they were taken if you hover a cursor over them and they can all be clicked to open a larger version in an Overlay (Lightbox)
The original plan was for the QM2 to make her maiden call at Port Said today before transitting the Suez Canal tomorrow. However Cunard were advised by the Suez Canal authorities that due to limitation on vessel size relating to risks with passing traffic in the port area, it was not possible to maintain that visit. We had not realised, but this must be one of the few times that the QM2 has been through the Suez Canal; normally she goes around South Africa. Researching past voyages we learned that the QM2 went through the Suez Canal during her World Cruise in 2007. Original plans were that the long expensive tours to Cairo and the Pyramids would depart from Port Said; now they were planned to depart from Sokhna after transitting the canal. In practical terms, the drive to Cairo from both ports is similar, but it meant some inconvenience for passengers who had made independent arrangements, or were meeting with friends in Port Said. Both Port Said and Safaga were going to be maiden (first) calls.
From Port Said in the north to Suez at the southern end of the Suez Canal is 173 kms by road. This is very similar to the 100 miles length of the Suez Canal, which links the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. The very first canal was said to have been dug in the reign of Senusert the Third, also joining the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Then in 591 BC a canal was dug between the Nile and the Red Sea. Only in the 19th century was it considered possible to try again and link the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Ferdinand de Lesseps, who also built the Panama Canal, started work in 1859 and the canal was completed in 1869. It was jointly held by the Franco British Suez Canal Company until nationalisation in 1956. As a result of the Middle East discord, the canal suffered blockage and closure in 1967 but reopened in June 1975. The Suez Canal is simpler than the Panama Canal because it does not need locks. However there needs to be regular dredging and maintenance to keep the channel open. For much of its length ships cannot pass, so convoys are timed to meet at the passing place in the Bitter Lakes.
Early Tuesday morning we were due to enter the Suez canal at Port Said in the first convoy of the day at circa 0330 - the Commodore had requested we were at the back of the convoy so the maximum time would be spent in daylight for us. We were number 14 out of 15 ships. The QM2 is some 150,000 tons and so has to join the first convoy. There is a second convoy, but the size limit for that is only 90,000 tons. It is very expensive to make the journey - some $500,000 was stated for the QM2. There are two important highlights in the first part of the journey. The first, which we passed at 06.30, is the Al Qantarah road bridge over the canal, well lit, with hardly any traffic. A toll is charged to cross. The second is a swinging railway bridge which we passed at 08.00.
In many places there were small fishing boats and ferries crossing the canal between the ships in the convoy. Our first pilot got off at the town of Ismailia, and we collected a new pilot. Ismailia is a large town on the west bank and many people were there to cheer, whistle and wave as we passed.
The Ismailia War Memorial, on the east side, was very spectacular. As expected, shortly afterwards the first convoy south passed the convoy heading north in the Bitter Lakes, where there is plenty of sea space and two marked lanes for shipping. The second convoy south would need to pass the ships going north in a different place, where there is less space. On reaching the Bitter Lakes we wove our way through the ships at anchor; it had been agreed that we would lead the first convoy in the next stage of our journey south and we left the Bitter Lakes at 11.45.
The two sides of the canal are very different, with isolated soldiers in their huts and lots of sand on the east bank, and roads houses and even a railway line on the west bank. It is also much greener on the west bank. En route everyone we saw was waving, whistling and shouting. We passed a large group of soldiers and tanks on the east bank, who looked very excited to see us. All the other ships we saw were giant container ships or small tankers so at this time of year a cruise ship transit is unusual. Usually world cruises travel around the world in the opposite direction and therefore reach the Suez canal in late March. We made good speed (just under 10 knots on our GPS) and to our surprise we passed the town of Suez at 14.30 whereas our original schedule had indicated 17.00.
We now need to slow down else we would arrive at our next port, Ain Sukhna, this afternoon instead of tomorrow morning. It is only about 50 miles from the end of the Suez Canal to Sukhna, which is a small resort on the Gulf of Suez and the closest beach to Cairo. So the QM2 should be able to get there in just over two hours, but checking on our GPS she was only travelling at just over 10 knots and not rushing there. It was obviously not going to be possible to berth early, and the QM2 spent the night moving slowly up and down along the coast. Compared with the QE2 the QM2 is very quiet at slow speed and often we did not know whether she was moving, and in which direction. We were due to arrive in Sukhna at 0630 and early in the morning we heard loud music. Our berth was on the port side, like our cabin. The local people had set up a large tent, with seating, and as we watched they started to set up tables to sell local products. A large banner proclaimed Welcome to Egypt. Port Said would have been a maiden visit, and obviously Sukhna was going to be a maiden visit too. A small troup of local dancers came onto the quay to welcome us, and the taped music seemed to get even louder. Many passengers were leaving early, in the convoy of buses accompanied by guards, to go to Cairo, the Pyramids and other ancient wonders. We had taken this tour from the QE2 in 2001 and had decided to stay on board as the tour would be identical other than seing the Sphinx at sunset, but for completeness include something of that trip.
There were several coaches going to Saqqarah and the Pyramids, as well as coaches going to the River Nile and others going to the Museum in Cairo. The local security arrangements for the coaches restricted our timing. All coaches had to leave the port together under escort, meaning that we had to wait for all the coaches to be full before any of them could depart. Each bus had one Cunard person, the local tour guide, and a young security man in a suit. Cairo was 135 kilometres away, so we settled back for a long drive through the desert, punctuated by regular military posts and sentries, and interrupted by a history lesson from our tour guide.
We turned off onto the Cairo bypass, towards Giza, driving across the River Nile and through the green farming area. We were struck by the numbers of simple square houses being constructed, which had been built without proper permissions by the farmers. The groups of buildings included grazing areas for animals, especially bullocks and a few camels.
After a lunch stop we then continued to Saqqarah. There are many tombs on the desert plateau, but we were only going to see the Step Pyramid of Zoser (2630 - 2611 BC). This was the very first of the pyramids. The tomb was originally planned as a stone mastabah, and shows several changes in design before achieving its present six-stepped form. The Step Pyramid is surrounded by an enormous walled Enclosure. The original entrance doorway has an imitation palmlog ceiling, and leads to a corridor of papyrus-bundle columns, leading to a large court in front of the pyramid. The top of the enclosure wall offers superb views in all directions, including the two stone pyramids of Snofru at Dahshur; the southernmost of these changes the angle of slope halfway up and is consequently known as the "Bent Pyramid".
From Saqqarah we drove back along the road to Giza, passing in front of the Mena House Hotel. On the escarpment above are the three Great Pyramids of Giza, the only one of the seven wonders of the world which are still intact. We approached the Great Pyramids just as the sun was starting to set, which was a spectacular time for photos.
Khufu (2551 - b2528 BC), known in Greek as Cheops, was the builder of the Great Pyramid. It is the largest in Egypt. Almost all of the fine white limestone casing that once covered it has been removed and some stone is missing from the top. The second pyramid belongs to Khufu's son, Khafra (2520 - 2494 BC). Built on higher ground it is slightly small and slopes at a sharper angle. The lower courses were cased with red granite and the upper with white limestone, some of which survived at the top. It is believed that the tips of all pyramids were originally covered in gold. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to visit all the pyramids, and were only able to stop at the smallest pyramid, called the Third Pyramid. It was built by the grandson of Khufu, Menkaura (2490 - 2472 BC), but it was never finished. We were able to walk down the very steep ramp into the pyramid. It is a difficult entry, with a very low ceiling, and two extremely low door lintels.
Nearby is the Guardian of the Necropolis, the Sphinx. Although suffering badly from erosion, it is still a remarkable 66 foot high statue with the body of a lion and the face of King Khafra. It was sculpted out of the rock where a softer layer of yellow limestone runs between harder, greyer stone. The head is of harder stone so has survived better.
We thought that we would now be going directly back to the ship, but no ! We had to stop at a Bazaar for shopping. At least it had clean European-style toilets. Many people bought the gold cartouche pendants which were made while you waited with your Christian name spelt in hieroglyphs. It was then a few waits as the convoy was built and a late night drive back.
There was no shuttle bus provided at Sokhna, and Cunard had set up a cheap transfer to a shopping mall in Cairo which cost $25. Unfortunately it departed with the rest of the convoy at 0730 and so involved 6 hours at a large international shopping centre while the other coaches explored the historic sights. It was not our idea of a good day out, but with hindsight was good value. We like to explore local areas and local cultures, and Egypt is a difficult destination for independent cruise passengers. Indeed it was only possible to walk alongside the ship within the port and anyone who tried to pass through the fencing was firmly directed back. We were prisoners on board for the day. Friends who had organised an independent group bus trip to Cairo were only allowed to depart when they had agreed to take an armed guard. Such is life in this area.
This was a great disappointment as it should have been our trip to Luxor, Karnac and the Valley of the Kings but we had both gone down within a few hours of each other with a nasty virus. In the morning of the day before Pete was in the Gym as usual and by the evening hardly had the breath to climb three flights of stairs and had a jaw and side of his face all swollen and Pauline was little better. A nasty but short cold-like virus has been doing the rounds and one has little immunity to bugs from other part of the world. Fortunately the Tour Office were unusually sympathetic and refunded our money rather than have us infect a whole coach load. Arriving at the port of Safaga in the early morning we watched the convoy of coaches leaving. The tour departed at 0730 and was scheduled to return some 14 hours later; it is about 4 hours by coach each way from the ship.
Friday we were well in the Red Sea and at 1100 entered the tropics with 4 days at sea to enjoy - plenty of time to recover before we get to Muscat.
Saturday saw Pete back into the Gym, for a short while anyway. The highlight of the day was probably the view of the first of our 'escorts' coming to play although, in retrospect, many people probably wish we had been left to our own devices. We were told that many of the ships on duty would probably come for a look - we are still a rather special ship. The first to turn up was American and had many of her 300 crew on deck to watch. She did a high speed turn in little more than her length to drop back then turned in for a high speed pass, perhaps not as fast a closing speed as she would have liked but it was a very impressive sight - even if not permitted to engage she could sink most boats with her wash. We looked her up on the Internet from her number (99) and she seems to be the USS Farragut (DDG99) and is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, commissioned on 10 June 2006 and has the motto "Prepared for Battle". She is an AEGIS guided missile destroyer with a very sophisticated radar, fire control system and layered defence. Her basic details are Displacement: 9,200 tons - Length: 509 ft 6 in Beam: 66 ft - powered by 4 × General Electric LM2500-30 gas turbines, total power 100,000 shp (75 MW) - Speed: 30 knots - Complement: 290 - Armament: One 64-cell and one 32-cell Mk 41 vertical launch systems, with 96 RIM-66 SM-2, BGM-109 Tomahawk or RUM-139 VL-Asroc missiles, 1 × 5 in gun, 2 × 25 mm guns, 4 × 12.7 mm guns, 2 × Mk 46 triple torpedo tubes and she carries two SH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters. Her only shortfall is that the QM2 is equally fast when flat out but in compensation Farragut's payload of cruise missiles could reduce Somalia to rubble.
Unfortunately we did not get a full set of pictures as both the camera and then the video camera stopped operating as she approached, the picture above is the last one I got. I rapidly changed the batteries on the camera and got a couple of extra pictures but it was behaving very oddly and had to be turned off and back on after every picture and I never got the video camera working. My first reaction was that they had been blasted by the ECM (Electronic Counter Measures) transmitters or Radars on the ship which had come very close as you can see in the last picture. I took a quick walk back along the deck but I heard no angry comments so put it down to bad luck with batteries all running out together. This became less likely when I found the battery pack for the video was not just flat but the clever battery charge state sensor system was dead and I had further anomolies with the camera even after removing the batteries and resetting it. This is when I did the investigation into the ship which I reproduced above.
We learnt that our own security is headed by an ex merchant navy officer who had changed career to the police where he served in Drugs, Serious Crime and worked at the Queens home at Sandringham before returning to the sea in 2007. His teams is mostly comprised of Ghurkhas and Indian naval personnel so we have no need of firearms and all the associated paperwork.
Thankfully it was all peaceful overnight - winds and sea state perhaps in our favour. During the day we saw several more warships in the taskforce and some pictures are below. We only saw one local boat which looked more like the ones used for people smuggling rather than piracy - a boat that size can run around 60 people across to Yemen in atrocious conditions. A Somali fisherman earns $1 a day at his job, $300 for a smuggling run and $25,000 for a successful pirate boarding - if he is ever caught he is put into a jail in luxury beyond his conceptions yet we wonder why they do it.
In the evening we had an invitation to join the Officers for a reception in the Queens Room which gave us a chance to talk to several of the officers we knew from previous cruises and were meeting for the first time and get up to date with what was going on.
During the dinner which followed we were talking to the couple on the next table and found he had also had his camera and video fail and he showed us the completely blanked out video as the ship passed and whilst we were talking Jamie, the Maitre D' came by to chat and told use another passenger with a system with a hard drive had lost everything. We quizzed one of the professional photographers and he said they had not tried to get any pictures but had heard other passengers had suffered, perhaps temporary, problems.
In breakfast we were talking to a regular passenger who had been to a party on 9 Deck who told us that the flat screen television in their cabin had died as had 4 more in adjacent cabins were likewise lifeless. I had another look on the internet at the Aegis defence system and it is looking increasing likely that the destroyer not only came in very close while showing off in a somewhat cavalier manner but also failed to disable his ECM or, more likely, his very powerful AN/SPY-1D(V) phased array radar which pumps out between 4 and 6 MWatts depending on whose figures you believe. It is no wonder that ordinary consumer electronics suffered temporary failures and glitches and needed to be reset when the recipient of such power at a few hundred metres - modern cameras have plastic bodies giving little protection. Most modern consumer electronics is also powered up, even if in a low power mode making it more vulnerable. I am however surprised that flat screens in cabins which would have been partially shielded gave problems.
Military systems, and all high reliability systems tend to be protected and well screened against RFI (Radio Frequency Interference) and also EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse), an extreme version of RFI since the 1960s because of the perceived threat of Nuclear Explosions high in the atmosphere to deliberately wipe out an enemies electronics and communications. Of course, I gained a fair experience of such design in the satellite game where cosmic and other radiation is also an important consideration. We can just be thankful that nobody was on deck with a vulnerable pacemaker.
Whilst Pauline was looking up information in Jane's in the Library and I was on the Internet a school of Dolphins came to play at the front of the ship and Pauline got a grandstand view as the Library faces forwards on 8 Deck. We then went up to watch the Crew Tug of War, the first of the many charity events collecting donations for Haiti after the devestating disaster there.
After lunch there was a complementary wine tasting which finished with a very fine Wolf Blass Black Label 31st Vintage Cabernet Shiraz; rather expensive on board at $110. We had seen the Black Label range when we visited Wolf Blass winery on our holiday to Australia in 2004, and this wine must have been happily fermenting then. Other wines tasted were the Thomas Mitchell Marsanne 2008, an Australian bin-end which was nice and light with honeysuckle and tropical flavours; Spy Valley Marlborough Pinot Noir 2008, and, yes, the Chateau Coufran yet again. This tasting it was the 2003 which was nice enough, but totally overshadowed by the 2003 Wolf Blass Black Label, showing that price does matter when buying quality wines.
Oman is the oldest of the Gulf States and the region became important as a source of frankincense, the sap of a special native tree. It was as valuable as gold to the early Christians, and was one of the three gifts given to the baby Jesus. Our original itinerary had foretold that we would be at anchor so we had booked an organised excursion to make sure we could disembark early by tender. When we visited Muscat on the QE2 in 2001 it was necessary to purchase a visa to go ashore, and we had then decided to stay onboard. Visa prices depended on nationality, and the UK was expensive. Now tourism is a more important part of the Oman economy and a landing card is handed out at the gangway. This was a maiden call and we were greeted by tugs and watercannons. We were also able to berth at the port, instead of anchor. The Commodore reversed elegantly into our berth, where we had a good view of a warship similar in design to the Saudi Arabian one seen earlier, but flying a red flag with a white cross for Denmark - it was HDMS Absalom (L16), the flagship, one of two in her class, and largest ships in the Danish Navy (displacement 6200 tons). She is a stealth Command and Support ship designed for international operations, and has been part of the international piracy taskforce until recently. She carries two Lynx helicopters and a 5 inch gun as part of a powerful suite of attack and defence armarment.
Our trip today to Nakhl and the Hot Springs was deliberately chosen in order to see some of the countryside outside Muscat. First we drove from the port through Downtown Muscat and could admire the large houses, the Lulu hypermarkets and the enormous rows of car showrooms. In a country where water is three times the price of oil, and families have 4 cars per household, it is no wonder that car salesrooms are so large and prosperous. There is no public transport and buses are only used to transport large foreign tourist groups; the few who do not have a car use shared taxis and we saw many of these. We passed the airport and for reasons of the environment there are plans to limit the size of aircraft, particularly charter flights. It made an unusual policy contrast with allowing the vast number of cars on the roads. Nakhl is about 110 kms from Muscat and the drive was about 1.5 hours on good fast roads.
Nakhl Fort is on a hill and its foundations are believed to pre-date Islam. Golden brown in colour with six towers there are good views from the top in all directions over the town and oasis. Entry at the top of the steps was through a large double door with a small single cutout (like a catflap for people). Originally the fort was self-contained, with a well and storage rooms including one especially for dates. We were told that dates would have been kept until the date honey oozed out and was collected. There were thousands of date palms growing in all directions around the fort. The interior has been restored. We visited the rooms of the wali, the ruler, and his ladies and their children. There were carpets on the floor and cushions and an attempt to include typical articles: beds, mirrors, swords, books, and ceramics, There was a prison. Our guide gave a very good introduction to the history and recent developments in the country whilst on the journey and when showing us round.
Just 2 miles beyond we visited the Thowarah Hot Springs, a shady oasis with a stream running through date palms. We were encouraged to feel the temperature of the warm water from the hot springs, and even to cross the stream to the other side. We had been warned that this was not a bathing opportunity but some children were swimming.
Retracing our route to the main road, we then turned along the coast, for a buffet lunch at the Al Sawadi Beach Resort & Spa, a pleasant 4* hotel which is about 45 mins drive north of Muscat. All three coaches met for buffet lunch in the ballroom where there was white kingfish - which our guide had informed us we should not miss - alongside a beef casserole and roast chicken. Scrawny pieces of crab and lobster decorated a paella. While not as good as lunch back on the QM2 it was satisfactory. Beer and wine was available for foreign tourists, at extra cost, in spite of alcohol being difficult to purchase in Oman. The hotel gardens extended to the yellow sandy beach on the Indian Ocean alongside the Sawadi islands. A solitary female camel stood tethered on the edge of a volleyball pitch.The hotel could have easily been anywhere in the world, with 100 guest rooms, swimming pool, tennis courts, squash, gym, spa and all sorts of diving and watersports. While Pauline went outside with the camera to explore, Pete settled on the couch in the foyer to partake of the traditional coffee and dates. When visiting an islamic house the traditional hospitality involves a drink of tea or coffee and a light snack, and that was mimicked by the hotel. Gulf coffee is made from green coffee beans, is very strong, and flavoured with cardamom or saffron. Small cups were filled from a jug, and then rinsed in a bowl of water for the next person which put some people off but when in Rome.... The dates were excellent and Pete gorged himself and enjoyed the coffe although admits it is an acquired taste.
Retracing our steps to Muscat we passed one of the camel 'stablings' - a racing camel is worth up to a million dollars. We were taken to see the stunning Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. It can hold 20,000 worshippers and has two important features: the enormous chandeliers made of Austrian Swarovski crystal, and the vast carpet handmade in Iran. The mosque is only open to visitors in the morning, but we were able to walk to the entrance and admire the interior through the lattice fencing. It was obvious that no expense had been spared and everything we saw of the highest quality - the overall cost is a secret and at least 7 major international companies were involved - a visit would be a highlight of any tour to Oman.
We expected this to complete our tour but our guide suggested we continue, so we passed the waterfront shops and the white incense burner monument above Riyam Park before driving through Kebir Gate, the main gate in the old city walls. Our final stop was in front of the modern Al Alam Palace, used by the Sultan for formal occasions. In Oman driving is on the right, so we were able to admire the QM2 as we drove back along the Corniche.
It had been an excellent excursion which had shown us much more of Oman than we expected, and explained a lot of local history and customs. The guide was probably the best we have ever had on any tour because of his insights on so many matters - he was actually very well educated with at least a first university degree and we suspect he was only doing a guide job due to shortages due to the number of visitors. We were extremely luck to have someone with education, knowledge and the confidence to give so much potentially controversial information at a relatively younge age - he will go far.
Usually we prefer to eat dinner in the Britannia Restaurant, but some evenings the buffet restaurants in the Kings Court change into specialist a la carte restaruants. This evening we had booked for the Lotus, where there was a five course fixed oriental menu. It all began with miso glazed scallop, ahi tuna loin and maki sushi resting on wakami, pickled ginger and sweet and sour cucumber. The next course was coconut and curried snow crab soup, then two beef and two pork spring rolls, followed by a platter with three main courses : red braised pork belly, soft duck spring roll and stir fried chicken and king prawn. Finally the desert plate was rice pudding, wasabi creme brulee and coconut ice cream with a melon cocktail alongside. A small jar of sake make a pleasant and inexpensive accompaniment. We enjoyed it and would go back again, although the menu does not change.
Dubai marks the end of the first sector of the World Cruise, and almost half of the passengers get off here and new ones arrive. Arrival was supposed to be at 09.30 but shortly after 06.00 we felt the change of engine speed and we were passing the entry to Port Rashid. Apparently there were high winds forecast today and the Commodore had decided to arrive ahead of any problems; the entry to Port Rashid is narrow. Inside the port we could see the lights of the QE2 and by 06.40 we were mooring directly behind her in the dawn. His Highness Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai when we visited in 2001, died in 2006 aged 62. It was his son, then Crown Prince, whom we had seen in 2001 at the opening of the Dubai Cruise Terminal, when the QE2 was the celebrated iconic guest. The Crown Prince, now His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, rules Dubai, and the QE2 is berthed in her new permanent home in Port Rashid.
We did not recognise the port; it was very different and there was a lot of construction work. There were a few little tourist shops, a post office and a bank for changing money, in the temporary cruise terminal. The building next door seemed to be the new cruise terminal. Dubai has a hop-on hop-off bus, just like Hong Kong and London, which was a source of a map for planning our day. A day ticket would have been AED 220, about £40! The shuttle bus took us to Bur Juman shopping mall, also Bus Stop 9, on the corner of Khalid bin Waleed Street and Trade Centre Road in Bur Dubai. We glimpsed the slender new Burj Khalif (Dubai) hotel, through the mist, which was opened to great fanfares and fireworks before we left Southampton. It is by far the tallest tower in the world. The new Rapid Transit train system ran above us along Trade Centre Road. There had been so much development in nine years. It was a further 25 minutes walk to the Creek and the Souks, and we were surprised to see the QM2 and the QE2 just ahead of us. Our transfer from the ship had taken us almost an hour for a tour around three sides of a large square. But we had no choice - the only entry into Port Rashid was several kilometers from the ship and the whole area is now fenced whilst on our earlier trip we could just walk a few hundred metres into the souks. It seemed completely out of step with the push towards tourism elsewhere and it looks as if the Cruise Terminal which was opened on our QE2 visit is now isolated and maybe unused.
We began our historical walk at the Al Bastakiya. In 2001 this area was very run down, but being restored. The area is now completed, with all its distinctive windtowers, an early form of air conditioning. Our initial target was the tower of the Juma Grand Mosque. The Architectural Heritage Society is based in a restored house nearby, and one of their information displays explained how the windtowers worked and showed modern CFD (computational fluid dynamics) analysis of the wind flows. The boards referred to a book - Windtower by Anne Coles and Peter Jackson which we looked for but seems to be out of print. We purchased a map of the historical buildings, then visited the Coins Museum in the house next door, and this was the first house where we viewed its typical courtyard and verandas. We next viewed the Stamp Museum. It was getting busy with tours, and we wandered into the side streets to escape, exploring the Architectural Heritage Department offices.
There is a pleasant waterfront footpath which leads to the Grand Souq Bar Dubai, with all its materials and textiles. It is one of the oldest markets, and in common with all the other historical buildings, restoration began in 1996.
Pauline had always wanted to cross the creek by Abra, and it only cost 1 dirham, about 20p. Seating is on a bench, with lots of local people, and it is best to wear trousers and keep a plastic bag handy for cameras in case of wash. We arrived at the Grand Souq Deira, creekside, and the adjacent Spice Souk. Beyond the souq was a network of narrow shopping sheets, including a group of shoe shops, which led to the Gold Souk. This was another place Pauline wanted to visit. Out beyond we found lots of wholesale shops selling basic food items with enormous bags of rice, and every sort of household equipment imaginable.
Using the map of historical buildings we eventually found the Heritage House, and the Al-Ahmadiya School. To our delight, and surprise, we were welcomed at the Heritage House in the traditional way, with tea, coffee, water and a snack of warm chick peas. It was delightful to sit and relax before exploring the building. And all these historical buildings can be viewed at no charge. The Heritage House was built around 1890. Recent restoration was completed in 2000 when the ruler inaugurated the restored house. The guesthouse 'Al-Majlis' is the most important part of a house and here the floor was covered with carpets and embroidered pillows; mannequins were taking arabic coffee. There is also a separate guesthouse exclusively for women. These rooms are for receiving and welcoming guests. The main living room 'Al-Makhzan' is used for the family to meet. The bride room 'Al-Hijla', and its adjacent bathroom, is where the groom's mother would prepare for a wedding. Mannequins representing the bride and groom were dressed in traditional costumes.The central courtyard is also a common feature in these houses, and all other rooms are built to overlook it. The large courtyard has trees - typically date palms, almonds or fruits.
The school was directly next door. Early education was provided by religious men who taught reading, writing and arithmetic in their own home. The establishment of semi-formal schools followed; the Al Ahmadiya school, established in 1912, was one of these until studies stopped in 1932 after the collapse of the pearl industry. In 1937 the government began to subsidise formal teaching using the ground floor of the building and by 1962 there were 823 students divided into 21 classrooms.
Crossing the creek from the next abra ferry station we started our walk back to the shuttle bus, but first we visited the Dubai Museum (entrance fee 3 dirhams, about 60p). Completed in 1799 Al Faheidi Fort is the oldest historic building in Dubai. There are three traditional towers, and a wall enclosing an area of 42 by 37 metres. Although at the entrance there seem to be only a few small boats, and a traditional wooden pearling dhow, there is also an extensive and interesting series of underground displays. It is well worth the price to go inside.
Changing back our remaining dirhams, we started with £20 and received $25 so the entire day had only cost $7, including buying postcards and stamps - very good value. Our final stop was to walk along for a final farewell to the QE2. She looked in very good condition, was being painted, and staff were on board. The engines were running to provide power for her lighting and a number cabins, including one of the fancy Queens Grill balcony cabins, appeared in use. When we departed, Commodore Warner took the QM2 forward to be alongside the QE2 and there was an exchange of whistles. Although it was too dark for photos lots of people were trying to capture the moment. He told us it had finally been decided that the QE2 would not be going down to Cape Town later this year. Perhaps she will still be able to cruise short distances.
| Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Layout revised: 13th July, 2015