The distance between my front door in England to my new home in Australia (where i'll be doing Study Abroad) is 10,526 miles or to be less specific... a very long way. However, I saw this as a big opportunity to see more of the world in between flying from England to Australia. So, booking my flights was a fun experience. I often find myself procrastinating by looking through Skyscanner for my next adventure and I could spend hours looking at maps at the unexplored wonders of the world. I decided it would be a perfect opportunity to visit my girlfriend Daisy who lives in the UAE in Al Ain; a city not far from Dubai. So I looked up flights and found one that went via Oslo. I selected the one with the longest layover in Oslo so I could explore this too. Having said goodbye to my mum at the airport, it was a short trip to the Norwegian capital and I got off the plane into -4 degrees celsius and snow. Not too dissimilar from home so I was unfazed by this! I boarded a train to the city centre and wandered around for a good few hours taking in sights such as the yacht-like Opera House right on the harbour. I went to the Nobel Peace Prize Museum only to find it closing in 15 minutes so a trip to the gift shop had to do. Next up, The Royal Palace – Slottsplassen, a magnificent building on the top of a hill in a public park, the views were tremendous despite it being dark at this point. I got a very warming vibe from Oslo (ironically as it was so cold) and would certainly come back to explore more. As I walked back to the station past an ice rink in the middle of town, I stopped to appreciate these frosty temperatures, knowing I wouldn’t be getting anything like it for many months to come.
I had an overnight flight to Dubai next and stepping off the plane with my jumper, fleece, coat and woolly hat still on was a gentle reminder that I should have been better prepared! Nevertheless a quick bathroom change and I was more suitably dressed. I met Daisy a few hours after getting to the hotel in Dubai and we enjoyed a relaxing evening before getting up the next day to go to the desert. I’d never been to a desert before so this was a wonderful experience. We got into a 4x4 and drove for about 10 minutes along the dunes to reach an area full of entertainment. The dune bashing was exhilarating and the cars had roll cages for a reason. Every little hill felt twice as steep as it was and the possibility of flipping the car was never far from the imagination. Once we stepped out of the car however, hearts racing, adrenaline pumping, we found a beautiful location with camels, quad bikes, an Arabic cuisine and a stage of entertainment. The camel ride was certainly one to remember and the evening of entertainment featuring various kinds of dancing was magnificent. The desert certainly lived up to expectations.
I had 2 weeks in the UAE in total and despite Daisy having to work on weekdays, I had a great time exploring Al Ain. I’d been here before but not seen everything. It is the greenest city in the Emirates and has beautiful Oases to revel in. It was always quiet wondering round these with very few tourists. The serenity was in stark contrast to the metropolitan concrete jungle of Dubai and I preferred it this way. Dubai is by far one of the most modern, cleanest cities I’ve visited but what comes with this is mass tourism and business. Al Ain even has a law that buildings can be no more than 7 storeys high. While the likes of Abu Dhabi and Dubai have massively grown in the last 40 years, Al Ain has history that precedes this. It lies on the border of Oman and in the past offered an important stop for traders' caravans crossing the ruthless ‘Empty Quarter’ Desert. I filled my days visiting the parks with a book and going on runs, although in truth I also enjoyed the freedom of limited responsibility for a change and binged many a TV series on Netflix!
The next weekend we booked a trip to a coastal town called Fujairah, known for its coral reefs and sandy beaches. After a 3 hour taxi journey, we arrived in the evening to a magnificent ocean view room, looking out over Snoopy Island. The next day we got to the beach nice and early and due to the fact that it was winter, the beach was fairly empty. When I say it was winter, it was still at least 25 degrees! We took some clear kayaks out and got to see the fish and the coral right beneath us. It was an incredible experience with a breath-taking backdrop of the mountains behind us. We also snorkelled with the fish and spotted a couple of Black Tip Reef Sharks which later we discovered to be harmless. It was nerve-racking but amazing from a distance! After a brilliant day on the beach, we returned home to Al Ain, sunburnt but full of fantastic experiences. We had one final big excursion the day before I left, climbing the second highest mountain in the UAE: Jebel Hafeet. Credit to Daisy for doing it after a full day of work, it took a good few hours, 15km and a lot of water breaks! The views were stunning, watching the sun set over the city as the sun set over my time in the UAE. It had been a perfect stop off on the way to Sydney.
Leaving the UAE, in many ways was harder than leaving England as I was finally leaving my comfort zone. It was the final frontier before an unknown world set out before me. So after a long goodbye and with a heavy heart, I boarded a flight to my next destination, Manila! I had an overnight flight and would have a 12 hour layover in the Philippines, another opportunity to visit new lands. What I found here was a bustling, humid city with a combination of Spanish colonial architecture and modern day high rises. Having made friends with my taxi driver, he showed me to the best spots such as Fort Santiago, Rizal Park and the Mall of Asia. I was running on limited plane sleep but made it through the day having felt like I’d experienced the best this city had to offer. It truly was one of the most crowded cities I’ve visited but well worth the stop over. Another stamp in my passport and I was finally ready to hit Sydney, my home for the next 4 and a half months.