By the time we got back to Dubai, we were destroyed. We were completely and utterly wrecked. All we wanted to do was sleep for a few days, so that was exactly what we did. And in true Dubai style, we caught up on our sleep in a plush room on the 62nd floor of the world’s tallest hotel, with stupendous views of the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa.
If our final HomeAway Holiday Rentals property, a lovely, homey flat in London’s West End, was a fitting way to bring our yearlong Grantourismo project to a close, then our swish Dubai accommodation at Rotana’s Rose Reyhaan hotel, was an equally appropriate welcome back to the UAE.
It had been over a year since we had our Grantourismo pre-launch party in the UAE, the country that had been our home since 1998, a sunset soiree for a few close friends and some Dubai tweeps at a luxurious villa on The Palm. I remember how I felt at the time, full of energy, exhilarated, and excited by the prospects of what lay ahead.
In between, we’d spent a year on the road doing some mad kind of travel endurance test, moving homes every two weeks, as we made our way around the world, showing travellers that living like locals, travelling slowly and sustainably, and doing and learning things was the way to go, a truly enriching way to travel. It was a blast. It was the best experience of our lives. But it nearly killed us.
In the last couple of months of the trip we were catching colds and viruses that took forever to shake. Terence was ill in Berlin and then it was my turn in Edinburgh; both times we each thought the other should be hospitalised. So what did we do? We flew from Edinburgh via London to Porto to present Grantourismo at a wine tourism conference and to gallivant around the countryside on not one, but two wine-tasting trips, to the Minho and the Douro regions.
When we decided to go to the conference months earlier – before we could imagine how exhausted we might feel by the end of the project – we had it in our heads that the Portugal trip would be our reward for having worked so hard all year. But of course the work didn’t stop in Portugal. We were interviewing winemakers and shooting their portraits, all the time still writing posts on Edinburgh for Grantourismo.
When we arrived at the Emirates Lounge at Heathrow airport in London, I’m certain I let out a loud sigh as I had my first sip of champagne. I hardly needed another glass of fermented grape juice but it was symbolic more than anything. It was finally time to congratulate ourselves for having achieved so much over the last twelve months.
We sipped more of the fine French stuff from our Business Class seats as passengers boarded the plane. That time it was to celebrate the (however temporary) excitement of travelling again. Ah, Business Class. If you can afford it or have enough frequent flyer points why would you ever travel Economy by choice?
Once we landed in Dubai at 4am we used our FastTrack passes (a perk of flying at the front of the plane) to flit through Immigration rather than queue up in the long lines that plague Dubai’s airports 24 hours a day. Fortunately the city’s notorious bumper-to-bumper traffic takes a break at that time of the morning and we were at the hotel in a record ten minutes (impossible during the day), warmly welcomed by the friendly staff, and ensconced in our comfy room not more than five minutes later. And we had a stupendous view of the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa.
We were in Dubai only for a couple of days – just enough time to check our mail, do a few chores, pick up some things at the mall, eat some good Indian food (we’d had cravings for months), and collect our air tickets from Thai Airways for our onward flight to Bangkok. Slap bang on Sheikh Zayed Road, the closest thing that Dubai has to a main street, the central location of the Rose Rayhaan hotel was ideal for what we had to do.
So what was it like staying in a hotel after a year of holiday rentals? We’d actually checked into hotels three times before on the trip, in London for a night when we finished our first European leg of Grantourismo, before we caught our flight to Tokyo, and twice in Kenya when we were on safari. The London hotel, an over-hyped new boutique place was disappointing, but the Kenyan properties were lovely.
The Rose Rayhaan was too. Our room was spacious, with plush furnishings – woollen carpets, silk scatter cushions, and thick drapes that completely blocked out the light – and while it’s conservatively decorated, that’s exactly what you’d expect in a predominantly business hotel. There’s a big marble bathroom, a flat screen television, a bowl of fresh fruit, complimentary Internet access, and the thing we have come to expect after our year away – a kitchenette with a full-size fridge and freezer, a sink, microwave, and even a washer-dryer. Yes, in a hotel!
Not that we had the time or inclination to cook. We were in Dubai to do chores and to catch up on sleep, and in between, to savour our spectacular Burj Khalifa views.