Day 16 – Manama, Bahrain, and Kuwait City, Kuwait

7 Apr

I thought Bahrain would be crowded with tourists because of the Grand Prix. All the hotels are sold out, but the only people I’ve seen at mine is a handful in Ferrari team uniforms. (Just the plebs. The drivers stay somewhere private.) Maybe because it’s a night race everyone else was in bed while I explored Bahrain Fort for over an hour with nobody else there except a security guard at the gate. Not a particularly thrilling place but much more atmospheric with no people and no noise, and its rare to have a UNESCO world heritage site entirely to yourself.

The National Museum was also deserted.

Muharraq Souq was a different story, one of crowded chaos, but still without tourists.

Muscat felt a bit Mediterranean and the rest of Oman was old fashioned subsistence goat farming. Dubai is clean and rich and new and tall and wide and calm. Bahrain is old and small and crowded and noisy and hectic.

In Dubai, everyone you see out is Arab or white, and everyone working in the hotels, shops, and restaurants is Indian, or thereabouts. In Bahrain it seems like Indians make up at least two thirds of the population.

Then Kuwait. The airport is a chaotic shambles and its dusk by the time I get out. There’s so much dust and sand in the air that the darkening skies seem filled with smoke as if things are on fire. Traffic is heavy and absolutely everyone is driving like an utter maniac, seemingly all going the same way. It feels like a neighbouring power has invaded and people are fleeing for their lives. I haven’t watched the news lately….

But no, it’s just normal. Kuwait is just one of those places where the driving is so frenetic and the infrastructure so car-based and pedestrian-blind that you have to take a taxi if you want to cross the street without being killed.

The hotel is also a shambolic mess, and the executive lounge is very limited. The only people in there sound like American Sunday school missionary-type teachers, there to save the poor little a-rab children, and because Kuwait is a completely dry country the strongest option to take the edge off their fantastically annoying conversation is not going to be enough…

Day 15 – Bahrain

6 Apr

Pop quiz: whats the capital of Bahrain?

10 points if you said Manama. 5 points for saying anything at all.

Done well today, in all aspects except taking photos. Lazy morning in my private sauna and then on the private beach at Le Meridien, sister hotel to the Grosvenor. The complimentary car provided by the hotel to take me to the airport was a very nice BMW 7 series. Got an alert about an aircraft change for my flight with the awful Fly Dubai which meant I got in first on the new configuration and was able to pick a business class seat on my economy ticket, making it substantially less awful.

And then Bahrain. I’d booked it before the grand prix switched places with China and had too many plans in place to change once I found out about the swap. I now expected an overrun hotel and no possibility of upgrade.

First, I was met at the airport by the hotel driver who led me to a very nice Mercedes S-class AMG. First impressions of Bahrain are that it is very much smaller and denser than the other gulf states, but the car certainly wasn’t.

Then the hotel. Seemingly quiet. Maybe all the F1 people are at the track. Saudi Ferrari outside with the registration number “1”. Upgraded to a suite. Not quite the same level as the Royal Suite, but still very nice, especially as it’s costing me nothing but a few freely earned points.

And access to the Club lounge, also surprisingly empty, with excellent service, a perfect martini (first time on this trip that my instruction to make it with two olives has been correctly implemented), and the most delicious little canapes of steak with blue cheese, of which I had 8 portions…

Then a walk around Manama Souk. Like the rest of Bahrain, compact and densely packed, and with so many apparently imported workers that it looks and feels even more like India than Terminal 2 at Dubai airport does. So of course, you drive your car through it. I mean, it’s barely wide enough to walk through and full of people, but you’ve got a horn you can lean on and you’re not going to get hurt so why the hell not?

Some deafeningly loud traditional music going on. Today I learned that Bahrain’s traditional music is “whack a drum as hard as you can and scream as loud as you can in a confined space”, which some people, for example deaf people, might call charming.

In the souk you can buy everything from:

to:

And it’s the middle-east, so you can also pick up your daily household needs such as:

Day 13 – Dubai

4 Apr

It’s my birthday so the Radisson Blu Yerevan made me a birthday cake that I didn’t have time to eat before my escape from Armenia.

Eventually to the SPG Grosvenor House hotel where they upgraded me to a 2 bed residence, because birthday.

Amazing views across the marina and all the way up the coast to the Burj Al Arab. Or it would be, if the windows weren’t filthy.

So I expressed my disappointment, because birthday, and they upgraded me again.

This time to their top level room, a Royal Suite, because birthday.

Still with OK views of the marina, and this time a Jacuzzi and a sauna. In the bathroom.

The next time you stay in a hotel that has a Jacuzzi and a sauna, remember that I stay in hotel _rooms_ that have a Jacuzzi and a sauna!

This is the door to the room. From the inside.

So, go out and explore Dubai again? Or enjoy canapes and champagne in the executive lounge, and a specially created cocktail presented to me by surprise, because birthday, before a sauna and then a martini in the jacuzzi? Easy choice, because birthday.

Post from RICOH THETA. #theta360uk – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Post from RICOH THETA. #theta360uk – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Post from RICOH THETA. #theta360uk – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Or, how about a bottle of wine and another birthday cake, compliments of the Grosvenor?

Seems my plan to make sure I was in a top hotel on my birthday in the hope of special treatment worked a charm. Would be a bit better if i hadnt just seen about 10 guys in Ferraris and Lamborghinis. In Dubai there’s always someone a thousand times richer than you just around the corner…

The hotel room is ridiculous. To put the level of poshness in context, the bathrobe is floor-length silk and has an inside pocket.

Walking from the end of the walk-in closet past the dressing room, toilet room, shower room, his and hers wash basins, Jacuzzi with TV, sauna, double chaise longues with a view of the ocean, king size bed, massive TV, study with exquisite desk, fully equipped kitchen, dining room with seating for 10, living room with marina views and another massive TV, to the entrance hall with its marble floor, takes 62 steps, without going in any of the smaller rooms. It’s all very high quality too. Marble, wood, soft carpets, automatic curtains, so many little details that show no expense was spared.

And if I need anything else, I can just call Jerome. Jerome is the butler. I’ve even got a fucking butler.

Day 12 – Yerevan

3 Apr

Armenia is like Borat’s Kazakhstan. At one of Yerevan’s premier attractions, Victory Park, there is a funfair that by night is very popular, but during daylight looks like the set of a zombie film (and the staff all look like they’ve been dead for several years). It’s in worse condition than the one in the abandoned town near Chernobyl yet after sunset this place is all lit up, the music is playing, and it’s full of people screaming (not surprising if they’ve seen the mechanical condition) on the rides and eating candyfloss.