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No Shiny Skyscrapers. Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi: a look beyond the steel and glass urban panorama


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World Wide Web, 3 April 2013, at noon. The traveling e-community here in Central and Eastern Europe goes crazy and internet aviation forums explode when the news breaks: WizzAir has just announced that, as of 28 October 2013, it will fly to Dubai from its Bucharest, Budapest, Kiev and Sofia bases.

I take a deep breath and quickly recap what I already know about Dubai:
- Dubai is the global capital of kitsch, according to comments posted on a travel forum by not so enthusiastic visitors;
- Dubai is the modern, urban Shangri-La, according to a Lonely Planed guidebook covering several countries in the Middle East;
- judging from its skyline, Dubai went ballistic following the oil boom of the seventies, according to the same Lonely Planet guidebook.

I also throw a quick look on a map: it's not only Dubai that is probably worth a visit, but also Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, two nearby emirates. Hmm… to book or not to book, this is the question. I am scratching my head here.

This question requires a short moment of reflection.

I remember something that happened to me several times. Each and every time I was waiting to board the evening Tarom flight from Brussels to Bucharest, an Etihad ship was prepped at a nearby gate for her return leg to Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi appeared to me as a very exotic destination and I always craved to hop on the Etihad flight instead of RO374 to Bucharest. But now it seems that the time is ripe to go to Abu Dhabi and see it with my own eyes.

Do I have an option here? No. Not really. UAE is a go.

Outskirts of Bucharest, 18 February 2014. I am a passenger of an uncomfortable minibus that departed early morning from the seashore city of Constanta and heads now to Bucharest airport. My narrow aviation vocabulary is rummaging through my brains as I am eagerly looking forward into today's flight: OTP – DWC, the longest low-cost route from Bucharest with a length of 3389 kilometres or 1835 nautical miles. And, for sure, the most exotic route that WizzAir airplanes based in Bucharest are currently flying.

Merely the idea of cruising over the city of Baghdad gives me instant goose bumps.

As said, my aviation vocabulary is quite limited. My minibus approaches the outskirts of Bucharest and I am trying to remember what RVR and PAPI stand for. But I have a better idea: let's see if I can find out which aircraft I am about to fly later today. I know that the ship coming from London to Bucharest as flight W6 3002 is scheduled to depart to Dubai after a 45 minute-long turnaround.

My phone shows me the following live radar picture:

Wham! This cannot be true. It simply cannot be true. It is a very special ship with an interesting and troubled history. Let me decipher this screenshot for those of you not using flightradar24. Have a look at the bottom-right corner, at the registration tag… the aircraft you see overflying the city of Ramnicu Valcea with a speed of 905 km per hour is HA-LWM, yes indeed, Lima Whiskey Mike. It is the ship that crash-landed on runway 34 Right at Rome Fiumicino Airport on 8 of June 2013 after the main landing gear refused to fully open.

They say that what you don’t know cannot hurt you. But I know.

I put an urgent stop to my aviation vocabulary search. Several snapshots of HA-LWM damaged on the runway in Rome after her belly landing go through my mind in a perfect PowerPoint sequence:

(picture taken from The Aviation Herald)

Poor bird with broken wings:

(picture taken from Airport Haber)

So, out of WizzAir's strong fleet of 45 narrow-body Airbus ships I will fly today exactly the one substantially damaged in Rome on 8 June 2013 and back into service on 28 September 2013, to quote the information available on request through an online database of aircraft registration tags. I brace myself. So be it. Will fly today to Dubai on this bird, reborn like Phoenix from its own ashes, and it will be a great flight.


Tuesday, 18 February 2014, Bucharest Otopeni (OTP/LROP) – Dubai World Central Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC/OMDW)
Distance: 3389 KM / 1835 NM
Flight: W6 3255
Block time: 14:30 - 21:20
Real time: wheels up 14:40 (GMT + 2) – wheels down 20:55 (GMT + 4)
Flying time: 4h15m
Equipment: Airbus A320, registered HA-LWM, delivered on 22 February 2012
Load factor: 120 pax out of 180 (67%)
Seat: 30A (port side, last row)

Very good experience today at Otopeni. It is obvious for the naked eye that the low season is in full swing. Not too many people around and the atmosphere inside the terminals is cool and laid-back. I learn from the friendly check-in agent that the flight will be very comfortable as the load factor is low today, 120 pax at best, should everybody show up.

Our gate:

My iPhone radar shows me that runway 08 Right is being used for landings today. I head therefore upstairs to a remote area of the violin-shaped terminal which serves as a very good observation deck. After a few minutes I see my bird floating over the runway:

Smokey touchdown few seconds later with a nice wingflex:

Here she is. Lima Whiskey Mike taxiing to the terminal after her flight from London Luton:

30 minutes later our crew shows up at the gate. Our captain looks exactly like the ones in the fairy tales: white hair and a neat beard. I see him craning his neck through the terminal windows, taking an eagerly glimpse at his ship. I like this guy and I hope he made his homework and read the ship’s logs. I surely don’t want to be the only soul on board today knowing that Lima Whiskey Mike is indeed a very special bird.

Boarding starts at quarter past two. I take my usual seat in the back of the aircraft, very last row of seats, port side. Although starboard side is my favourite, I hope that at DWC we will perform the classical runway 30 arrival, with a sharp right-turn at GINRU waypoint. If this proves to be true, I will enjoy a fantastic view of Dubai’s nightly skyline from my port side seat, while we descend towards NOTRU and OTOLO, our next via-points on the approach path.

Seconds before pushback and engine start, everybody settles down, doors closed, slides armed. It’s quiet aboard and we are ready for departure:

Go! At 14:40 local time we launch into today’s journey of 4 hours and 15 minutes. We make use of runway 08 Left for this surprisingly powerful take-off, as compared to other, sluggisher, Airbus A320 departures that I have experienced. Our two engines, each with an output of 12 tonnes of raw thrust, mash us into our seats. Our bird opens her wings and climbs out of Bucharest:

It is 14:42 Eastern European Time.

Few minutes later we are cruising over the seashore airport of Constanta (CND/LRCK) with good views over its 3500 metre-long concrete runway (direction 18/36):

Romania’s Black Sea coast, north of Constanta:

Very nice views of the Romanian Riviera:

Leaving Europe behind and heading eastwards over the Black Sea waters:

Very nice atmosphere on-board, few minutes before the start of the cabin service:

Decent leg room:

Check-in agent was right. It is a very pleasant flight indeed. Row 30 just for me and my two Lonely Planet bibles:

One hour into the flight we are making landfall over Turkish soil somewhere in between the seaside cities of Bartin and Sinop. Ten minutes later I see this reservoir which now I think to be the dam near the city of Yildizeli:

I am almost certain that this is Sivas Airport (VAS/LTAR) with its 3810 metres long runway (direction 01/19):

This should be Malatya Airport (MLX/LTAT) with its 3350 metres long runway (direction 03/21):

Snowy-edged mountains north of Hasankeyf in the province of Batman in Eastern Turkey:

I am 50% positive that this is Kirkuk Airport in Northern Iraq (KIK/ORKK), someone please correct me if I am wrong:

Sun sets down as we fly over Iraqi oil fields:

I simply love when I can see the bright anti-collision lights from inside our ship. We are slowly surrounded by darkness, as the sun sets down over Iraq:

I always enjoy the moment when the crew dims the lights inside the cabin. Night mode is ON:

It is 17:30 (still taking Bucharest (GMT + 2) as a reference) and I am not able to see any city lights around. It is obvious that we left Iraq behind and we are now flying over the Persian Gulf. 40 minutes later we reach top of descent and dive into the crowded airspace north of Dubai. I can easily recognize when we reach the DESDI waypoint, as we enter a holding pattern, circling twice around this imaginary navigational point. The ride is smooth as silk. Lots of air traffic visible, anti-collision lights flashing all around us.

I can feel and easily recognize the unique mix of adrenaline and fascination flowing through my veins. It is a strong intake of aviation fix.

We exit our holding pattern and leave DESDI behind. As expected, few seconds later, our bird performs a sharp right turn at GINRU. My choice of a port side seat was correct. Dubai is right there, on our left, as we continue to descend towards OTOLO:

At OTOLO we turn left and head towards BONUN, our next via point, where we start a 180 degree turn and line-up with runway 30. I can see the Emirati desert sands underneath. Landing lights ON. Flaps maybe full? I hear the landing gear coming down; I hope it is also locked, not only deployed, but let me please not further explore such possibilities. Few seconds later we smoothly touch down on runway 30. Thrust reversers ON. We are losing speed at a fantastic rate.

Our bird folds her wings and transforms into an earthy vehicle.

Tower of Dubai Al Maktoum airport:

As we taxi to our parking slot I am looking forward to the moment when I will leave the aircraft, wishing the crew a pleasant and safe ride back to Bucharest, and I will take my first breath of fresh air, sniffing at the Emirati desert with my traveller’s nose.

It is 21:00 hours Gulf Standard Time.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014. Later that evening, after a 70 km-long ride through the yellow desert, my friends welcome me to their apartment located right on the border between the Emirates of Dubai and Sharjah. I am glad that, during the coming few days, I will live a normal life in Dubai. You know, living in a dusty neighbourhood, in a normal block of flats, traveling by bus and tube together with commuters going to their daily jobs, walking as much as possible, simply wondering around, buying food from the supermarket, things that are so common in so many cities around the world but seem to be off the reservation for tourists here for reasons that I fail to fully apprehend. But I am not a tourist. I am at home everywhere, as a friend of mine used to say.

Shiny skyscrapers? They are only one side of the coin. I am much more interested in the other.

By the way, let me set the record straight. This trip report will not feature too many images of Dubai's boldest buildings. Not that I don't like them. I do like them; I find them fantastic, especially in this corner of the world. They impress in size, shape and numbers. When lit up, they glow and shine. But I wouldn't like this report to be yet another depiction of Burj Khalifa from every possible angle.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014. As always, first thing in the morning in place never visited before, I throw a quick look over the window:

Huge apartment blocks all around and dusty roads. One single question goes through my mind when I look down from floor 30 onto the streets below: where are the trees? They don't have trees in this country. My friends laugh at me with a grin meaning we've told you that something is spooky around here.

A fence lies outside our building, which I find very interesting:

To the right side you have Dubai. Sharjah is on the left side. This fence is in fact the border line between the two Emirates. Yet people can move freely from one Emirate to the other, not only thanks to the huge hole in the fence, but I am sure mainly thanks to the Federal Constitution of 1971 which provides for the free movement of goods, capital and persons. What is then the purpose of this fence? Nobody seems to know.

I like this strip of desert between the two Emirates, near the abovementioned fence. It resembles a no man's land:

The Emirati seem to be very proud of their Union (al-ittihad, I like the sound of this word in Arabic) and celebrate its 42 anniversary with banners to be seen everywhere in the country:

I start my day in Deira and Bur Dubai. The old quarters of Dubai are not as exotic as I would have liked, but still provide enough hints that this is a country in the Middle East. Crossing the Creek in an abra, a traditional wooden boat, reminds somehow of Istanbul:

The Grand Mosque of Dubai, built in 1900 and subsequently rebuilt several times, with its 70 metre tall minaret:

Right across the street from the mosque lies the Al Fahidi fort, the oldest building in Dubai (built in 1787):

Close-up of its walls and defence tower:

Inside Al Fahidi, the museum of Dubai mixes ethnography and archaeology:

Night view of a mosque somewhere in the neighbourhood of Al Souk Al Kabir (part of Bur Dubai):

Abras awating their customers for a ride to the other side of the Creek:

Thursday, 20 February 2014. Jumeirah is on the menu today. I am curious to see how does the modern and rich residential quarter of Dubai look like in contrast to the poorer, more traditional, Deira visited yesterday.

It's a long ride from the outskirts of Sharjah to Jumeirah. I am late and I miss the guided visit inside the exquisite Jumeirah Mosque:

I have plenty of time then to enjoy the beautiful garden surrounding the mosque. Lots of trees here, reminding me that Arabs are truly professional shadow-makers:

Nice Islamic architecture:

Around noon I head to Majlis Ghorfat Um Al Sheef, the hidden gem of Jumeirah. It is a house featuring traditional architectural elements built in 1955 as a summer retreat by the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum, father of Dubai's current ruler:

Nice palm tree garden all around:

Traditional irrigation system called falaj:

This is the meeting room (majlis) where the Sheikh received his guests. Holes in the upper part of the walls create a natural ventilation system:

The meeting room is decorated with old objects. What I like the most is this beautifully adorned wooden coffer:

Nice veranda outside with good views to the garden. It's a pity that the Persian Gulf, although a few meters away from the house, is well hidden by several buildings:

Back to the streets and beaches of Jumeirah which help me put things into perspective with good views of Dubai's shiny skyscrapers:

Traditional wind towers with Burj Khalifa in the background:

You might be thinking they are too different and don't match in one single picture. Think again. Architects used plenty of elements of traditional Arab architecture in their engineering of the tallest building in the world.

Blue waters of the Persian Gulf:

Friday, 21 and Saturday, 22 February 2014. It is high time on Friday morning to leave Dubai behind and head to Abu Dhabi, the city that I have been dreaming about so many times in Brussels airport. I read only good things about Abu Dhabi, smaller and friendlier with visitors than Dubai, as well as rich in sights. The splendid Sheikh Zayed Mosque is by far top of the list, followed by Qasr al Hosn, the white stone fort around which Abu Dhabi grew and became what it is today.

Good bus connections between the two cities. The ride lasts for around 2 hours and costs 20 dirhams:

Apartment building near Dubai's Al-Ghubaiba bus station:

Street view:

20 minutes later, a different street view. We are on Sheikh Zayed road and everything looks like from another world:

Lonely Planet was right – Dubai went ballistic:

Back to fundamentals – desert sands outside Dubai:

First view of Sheikh Zayed Mosque as we drive through the burbs of Abu Dhabi:

Abu Dhabi central bus station:

First thing after check-in at my hotel, as always in a place never visited before, quick view over the window:

Again, back to fundamentals – useful sticker on the ceiling:

Later in the day, long walk on Abu Dhabi's corniche, with good views to the Persian Gulf and to the city skyline:

Friday is a holy day here so families are outside for a park picnic:

Street view as sun sets down:

But enough with this relaxing walk-around. As darkness falls over the city of Abu Dhabi time is right to hop on a cab and head over to Sheikh Zayed Mosque for a nocturnal visit.

No photograph, description or detailed account can adequately prep the visitor before setting foot at Sheikh Zayed Mosque, even if our visitor is well acquainted to the architectural elegance of such places of worship, be it in Cordoba, Istanbul, Cairo or Samarkand. He or she will still suffer a great deal under the strong side-effects of the Stendhal Syndrome, not only while touring the great mosque of Abu Dhabi, but hours and days afterwards. Such is the beauty of this mosque and its power to stir emotions.

Great contrast between the black sky and pure white domes:

Nice mix of architectural styles – domes are Ottoman, arches are Moorish, while the entrances faithfully resemble a Persian pishtaq:

Exterior view of arches and their reflection in the pools surrounding the inner court:

It's like being in Cordoba, only the colours are different. White marble and floral designs made of gemstones (lapis lazuli, amber, turquoise, malachite) inlayed by hand:

Huge, white inner yard, paved with marble blocks brought from Macedonia:

A different view of the inner yard. Although late into the night, people still arrive at the mosque:

I put an end to my nightly visit at around 22:30. I plan to return the following day, as I would very much like to see the mosque's white marble glow in the sun.

Saturday, 22 February 2014. Speaking of sun - early morning Abu Dhabi is covered by thick fog:

Both sky and city look much better after breakfast:

Today time is tight… I have to leave to Dubai in the evening. No time to lose, so I quickly travel to Sheikh Zayed Mosque for a daytime visit.

First view, from the parking lot. I reckon it is worth the hassle to travel all the way to Abu Dhabi for seeing this gem of Islamic architecture:

Stendhal Syndrome anyone? Great mix of white and blue shades as I approach the arches surrounding the inner court. Note the perfect reflection of domes into the blue water:

Let's now head for the first time inside this mosque. Plenty of floral decorations made of gemstone in the main entry hall. My audio-guide explains that the choice of every flower represented here has a different meaning depending on the walls' cardinal orientation:

Typical features of a mosque to be found inside: huge carpet (allegedly the largest in the world, knitted with wool coming from New Zeeland and Iran), pillars and arches supporting the weight of the domes and heavy chandeliers laden with Murano glass and Swarovski crystals (having my own doubts here about this choice…):

Inside of a dome with a fine model crafted in stone:

Beautifully crafted qibla wall. Note the 99 names of Allah inscribed on the wall. The empty niche in the upper part of the wall is saved for the name or feature of Allah not yet known or discovered by mankind:

Daylight view of the inner court, where up to 30 000 worshipers can pray:

Last view of Sheikh Zayed Mosque before heading back to Abu Dhabi:

I have a few more hours to kill in Abu Dhabi. After a quick taste of mezze in a Lebanese eatery well hidden in a dusty neighbourhood I head towards the city centre. On my way I spot this beautiful small mosque with a dark-blue dome:

Very good policy proposal of the late Sheikh Zayed al Nahyan. I wish them good luck with the implementation:

Any visit here would not be complete without a tour at Qasr al Hosn, the stone fort that is considered to be the birthplace of Abu Dhabi and the Emirati nation. Its first watchtower was built in 1760 to protect a water well recently discovered. From this point on, the history of this fort is the history of Abu Dhabi and, up to a certain extent, the history of the United Arab Emirates. In 1971, the union of the 7 emirates has been negotiated right here, in a meeting room built just outside the fort's defence walls.

Qasr al Hosn in 1940:

Qasar al Hosn today:

Nice entry into the fort, covered with greenish tiles:

Massive defence wall and white watchtower:

Seeing it today against this background of mighty skyscrapers, it is difficult to imagine Qasr al Hosn 70 years ago, dominating the seashore not only as the largest and tallest man made structure, but also as the centre of power:

The white towers of Qasr al Hosn put an end to my 36 hours journey to Abu Dhabi. I would really like to return to this wonderful city someday.

Sunday, 23 February 2014. It's time to head north of Dubai, to Sharjah, the Emirate that has lots to offer, although is it surely less visited as compared to its glowing peers, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Its investments in culture and art, as well as its efforts to open and maintain excellent museums, have been greatly rewarded. In 1998, UNESCO awarded Sharjah the title of "Capital of Culture of the Arab World". I plan therefore a two-day visit to this Emirate, having in mind, as absolute musts, visits to the museums of Islamic Civilization and Archaeology, as well as a tasty dive into several ethnic eateries for a taste of the region's culinary art.

It is easy to travel from Dubai to Sharjah: just go through the hole in the fence, hop on a cab and in 20 minutes, traffic permitting, you've reached your destination. I like this taxi ride through the industrial area of Sharjah. Everything looks very colourful and lively as we drive by tens or hundreds of car and truck repair shops. This place has a strange resemblance to the crowded burbs of a large city on the African continent. At least this is my feeling from the back of my taxi.

My friendly Nepalese driver takes me straight to the Museum of Islamic Civilization. Its building looks very promising:

The interior does not look bad either:

Hundreds of Islamic artefacts are on display. I particularly like this large ceramic bowl. The painted bird looks exactly like the one in the Road Runner cartoon series:

Right in front of the museum a very nice walking area:

And a blue mosque, Persian style, unfortunately off-limits to non-Muslims:

Diving deeper in the neighbourhoods of Sharjah:

A surprising signpost: is there really an aviation museum in Sharjah?

So it seems. In between several apartment blocks I see its control tower:

More details to be found inside the Al-Mahattah Museum: the airport was in fact a simple landing strip used as of 1920. It further developed into a real airfield in early 1930s when Imperial Airways (the early British long range air transport company) abandoned its normal route over Persia and started using a more southerly route through the Gulf. The then Sharjah ruler, Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr al Qasimi, charged the Brits a monthly rent of 800 Rupees, plus a surcharge of 5 Rupees for every aircraft landing here. This airport has been used till 1977, when it was closed down and its runway became incorporated into King Abdul Aziz Road.

De Havilland DH-114 Heron, registered G-ANFE and belonging to Gulf Aviation:

Douglas DC3, registered G-AMZZ and belonging to Gulf Aviation (built in Oklahoma City in 1945, used as a military aircraft till 1953 when it became a civilian aircraft; it was taken out of service in 1971):

Going now to more recent times, black boxes:

And the famous CFM 56-5 jet engine equipping lots of A320 birds:

After this unscheduled stop at the aviation museum, it is time to get back to my cultural dive in Sharjah. The Archaeological Museum is next on the agenda. But impossible to reach, as no taxi driver has the slightest idea over the existence of such place.

Friendly, but puzzled taxi driver trying to read the tiny map in my Lonely Planet bible:

Eventually, an Indian driver knows about this museum. But it's already too late, as the sun has just disappeared into the waters of the Persian Gulf. As he takes me back to Dubai, he explains the correct sentence that I will have to use next time I hop on a cab: Sharjah Cooperative Society, TV road. It sounds like a secret password taken out right from a spy movie. This is truly valuable local knowledge.

Monday, 24 February 2014. It is 10 o'clock in the morning and I have just used the magic password. It seems this is music for the taxi drivers' ears. 20 minutes later I finally reach the Archaeological Museum, hassle-free.

Large building displaying the symbol of the museum, a stylized camel:

Inside the galleries dedicated to the Iron Age, I find the real artefact, a saddled camel:

And two fantastic Neolithic ceramic bowls, displaying a model that I have never seen before:

After almost three hours spent in this wonderful museum I stop for a lamb kebab in an Iraqi eatery. Or maybe I should have gone for the fish:

Next scheduled stop is the Maritime Museum, a well-documented and spectacular gallery providing a thorough overview of the region's deep relation with the seas. It covers a large array of maritime activities, such as fishing and pearl diving, as well as sailing far away from home in wooden dhows in trade expeditions not only in the Gulf region, but also reaching India and China in the Far East. This museum proves in fact that Arabs were great sailors and masters of the seas.

This is a battil, a stitched wooden boat having a crew of up to eight people. This particular boat on display here is around 90 years old:

This is a shasha, a small boat that was indispensable for the survival of coastal families relying on fishing:

It seems that Arabs were not only great sailors, but also very skilled developers of navigational aids. This is a kamal, a device for establishing the altitude of the North Star. The empirical use of this device is a story for another time, but it was for sure an indispensable tool as it helped sailors to determine their latitude:

A pair of navigation lights, naval style. Red colour marks the port side of the boat (left), while green marks the starboard side (right). Same as in aviation today:

I spend my last few hours in Sharjah wondering around in the city, using a paper map as a guide. Right in the city centre I pass by the King Faisal Mosque, which opened in 1987 and actually a gift of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia:

Sharjah skyline looks pretty impressive:

The elegant Al-Hisn fort, built in 1820 by Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr Al Qasimi. It normally hosts an extensive museum and allows visitors to take a closer look to Arab old architecture, but for the time being the building is closed for refurbishment:

Back to the King Faisal Mosque as darkness falls over the city of Sharjah. Nice park surrounding the mosque:

This is the Blue Souq, a traditionally designed market with merchandise brought from as far as India or Nepal:

Nigh view of Sharjah skyline, over the Khalid Lagoon:

Night view of Al-Noor Mosque, with some skyscrapers in the background. It is the only mosque in Sharjah opened to visitors, but only on Mondays and registration in advance is mandatory:

A long walk around the Khalid Lagoon puts an end to my two day long visit to the emirate of Sharjah. Sharjah is indeed a great place; it manages to fill in the cultural gap left wide open by Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Through its very well designed museums, Sharjah makes its visitors understand that the history of the United Arab Emirates and of the entire Gulf region does actually not start with the oil boom of the '70s. And this is something that is simply not that obvious when you're wondering down the Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai or when you're skyrocketing through an elevator shaft, climbing three floors within a single second in the core of shiny Burj Khalifa.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014. It is 5 o'clock in the afternoon and, although I am standing on the open-air observation deck located on floor 124 in Burj Khalifa, I am completely missing the well-known symptoms of the Stendhal Syndrome. I very much understand that this building is in fact an extraordinary work of engineering and architecture. Its design and power structure are inspired by Hymenocallis, a desert flower, and by ancient Islamic structures, such as spiral minarets to be found in ancient Mesopotamia. A significant part of the entire PR effort around Burj Khalifa underlines the building's connections to nature and to old architectural models. But being actually there and climbing to the observation deck at a breath-taking height of 452 metres, did not say or mean too much to me. Strangely enough, the Stendhal Syndrome was completely absent from this experience. I say again to myself: This is the tallest building in the world. Hmm… it does not ring a bell.

Though I very much liked the poetry around this building. They are good at this:

And I also liked the view over Dubai's massive urban sprawl:

Putting things into perspective: white mosque with two minarets and Burj Khalifa in the background (picture taken from Jumeirah):

Thursday, 27 February 2014, 18:00 hrs Gulf Standard Time. My Pakistani driver, hired earlier in the day for this long ride to Dubai Word Central, the airport surrounded by yellow desert sands in the middle of nowhere, waits for me on the Dubai side of the fence.

I am waving good-bye over the fence to my friends. My holidays are coming to an end after nine wonderful days spent in three Emirates along the Persian Gulf seashore. Last view of Sharjah apartment blocks:

One hour later, after a horrific traffic jam in the Jebel Ali area of the Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Road, we finally reach Dubai World Central:

I reckon that this airport, operating for the time being one single runway out of the five planned in total, is a paradise for passengers and airline pilots alike. With only a few air carriers having already scheduled some flights in and out of DWC, I think it is a real pleasure for pilots to fly here, as compared to the nightmare of crowded taxiways and aprons at Dubai International, not to mention the gruelling holding patterns in the skies above Dubai due to the lack of available landing slots.

Thursday, 27 February 2014, Dubai World Central Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC/OMDW) – Bucharest Otopeni (OTP/LROP)
Distance: 3389 KM/1835 NM
Flight: W6 3256
Block time: 21:55 - 01:25
Real time: wheels up 22:10 (GMT + 4) – wheels down 01:10 (GMT + 2)
Flying time: 5h00m
Equipment: Airbus A320, registered HA-LWQ, delivered on 29 June 2012
Load factor: 110 pax out of 180 (62%)
Seat: 30A (port side, last row)

View of the terminal, the only opened check-in is for the flight to Bucharest:

Four passenger flights scheduled to fly out of DWC tonight, two in the Gulf Region and another two to Europe:

Despite the limited number of passengers, the shopping frenzy is in full swing in the sterile area of the airport:

Large and empty gate area:

These passengers are boarding the WizzAir flight to Sofia, Bulgaria:

Gate 12 for Bucharest Otopeni:

Our bird, Lima Whiskey Quebec, lands on-time from Bucharest. Boarding starts a little bit ahead of schedule:

This is the flight to Sofia, being pushed-back for engine start. Note the green navigation light at wingtip:

Boarding completed at around 21:30. I am seated in the last row, as usual. The ship's door is still open and, thanks to the stillness that surrounds this remote airport, I can hear the flight to Sofia thundering down the runway and blasting-off:

Cabin crew announce the expected flight duration: 5 hours in a single aisle, narrow-body Airbus aircraft. Could there possibly be a better way to spend the night?

Push back and engine start at 21:46. After a long taxi ride, we hold for a few minutes ahead of the runway and wait for a freighter to land. We line up with for departure with runway 30 at around 22:05 – this is an unsuccessful attempt to photograph its centreline lighting system:

I am expecting a straight out departure this time, but I am wrong. We stop at runway threshold for another 5 minute long wait. Finally, at 22:10, breaks are released and engines spooled to take-off thrust. Our bird hastens down runway 30 and approaches the point of no return.

An 8 year old kid sits in row 29 in front of me. His nose is glued to the window and his eyes are wide-open; at lift-off, feeling the acceleration against the backrest of his seat and seeing the airport's lights flashing past him at a fantastic speed, he utters a long wooow. He is just another aviation enthusiast.

As we climb into the dark airspace over the Persian Gulf, passengers around me are fully making use of the generous conditions aboard:

Climb is uneventful and smooth. I am sure that our engines love the cool air of the Emirati winter. I wouldn't like to try this take-off during the summer. 40 minutes into the flight, this is the city of Doha to our left:

2 hours into the flight, at 00:10 GST, this is the city of Baghdad:

After the cabin service, lights are dimed. Night mode is ON:

When seeing this picture, the only thing that crosses into my mind is David Bowie's "Space Oddity", with its very relevant lyrics: For here / Am I sitting in a tin can / Far above the world / Planet Earth is blue / And there's nothing I can do:

2 hours later we start our descent into the Eastern European winter. Our bird struggles with a few rough chops as we descend through the misty air. The airport's ILS sends its invisible radio beams to guide us safely through the thick fog towards runway 26 Left. Wheels down at 01:10 local time.

Our ship being parked at the gate, near YR-BGH, a 11 year old wingleted Boeing 737 flying for Tarom:

Friday, 7 March 2014. I take a break from all these shiny skyscrapers and spend a relaxing week-end in Sighisoara, a medieval citadel in Transylvania. Apparently it is the only citadel in Europe still inhabited today.

Sighisoara's clock tower, the city's landmark built in the 13th century:

I like the contrast between the images of Dubai's urban panorama running in a loop in the back of my brains and what I am actually seeing over the window in the Citadel Square in Sighisoara:

Sighisoara is a great place to be and start the work on my Emirati trip report.

Dubai remains in my memory like a dream in the desert…

Please feel free to also browse the following trip reports:

Greece Or Sicily? Dazzled By Greecily
Chasing the Summer Sun: From Brussels to Dalboka
A Story about Portugal
Divided We Stand: Cyprus And Northern Cyprus On W6
Four early morning flights to the Peak of El Teide
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Active Member
My friend HA-LWM :)
Every time I see a W6 trip report I look if HA-LWM is there.
Nice to know it is flying again.


New Member
Eu am stiut ca l-au bagat la loc in flota inca din august 2013, mi se pare ca a anuntat cineva chiar aici, in topicul Wizz. Si chiar m-am intrebat atunci ce as face daca l-as vedea la poarta, inainte sa ma imbarc. M-as sui sau nu m-as sui? Iaca, am aflat.

Sper doar ca l-au reparat bine si ca nu are damage structural care acum nu se vede.

Dar la tine care-i treaba cu HA-LWM? Sa nu-mi spui ca ai fost la bord cand HA-LWM s-a dat de-a berbeleacul la Roma?

My friend HA-LWM :)
Every time I see a W6 trip report I look if HA-LWM is there.
Nice to know it is flying again.


Active Member
Dar la tine care-i treaba cu HA-LWM? Sa nu-mi spui ca ai fost la bord cand HA-LWM s-a dat de-a berbeleacul la Roma?
Da, am fost (si am scris putin despre asta aici). De atunci am niste obiceiuri foarte suspecte: ma uit pe flightradar odata la 2 luni pe unde mai zboara LWM.


New Member

Dupa cum vezi, mai sunt si altii care-l urmaresc pe impricinat, desi nu au avut astfel de experiente. La tine nu e suspect deloc, la mine e :D

Ai mai zburat cu LWM de atunci?


Staff member
Eu l-am zburat de cateva ori de atunci si trenul a coborat de fiecare data cand i-am comanda :))

Sent from my GT-I9300 using Tapatalk 2
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Daca am retinut eu bine minte baietii se refereau la structura avionului sa fi fost verificata bine sa nu le fi scapat ceva insesizabil la prima vedere si sa nu creeze probleme pe viitor.


Active Member
Nu. Am mai zburat o singura data cu Wizz de atunci insa nu a fost cu LWM.
Si s-a intamplat.
Saptamana trecuta am zburat spre Malta - merg prin terminal si incep sa ma uit la inmatricularile avioanelor Wizz parcate. LWM nu era pe acolo.
Intru pe F24 sa vad ce avion vine de la CRL (si urma sa plece spre MLA) si era HA-LWM :)
Am avut ceva emotii insa am descoperit ca nelinistea vine in functie de durata zborului. Doua ore rezist.