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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dubai – Day Zero: The Carlos Ott Connection

(From the left, clockwise: Torre de las Telecomunicaciones, Aeropuerto de Carrasco and National Bank of Dubai)

Our onsite office in Montevideo is in the area where Torre de las Telecomunicaciones (or Antel Tower), the country’s tallest, is almost always visible. It is designed by Carlos Ott, an Uruguayan, who became famous after clinching the prize in an architectural design contest for the Opera de la Bastille in Paris (more of him here, and more of Antel Tower here). If you look at it, you’ll be reminded of Dubai’s iconic 7-star hotel Burj Al Arab. It could be the boat-inspired (to be accurate, abra or dhow, a kind of boat found along the Dubai creek) upper part of the building that resembles it but there’s no connection in terms of who did the architecture. Not entirely. Carlos Ott was also commissioned to design some buildings, mostly financial centers, in Dubai. The famous one is probably another iconic building along the creek, the National Bank of Dubai, which is literally golden during sunset.

On my way to Dubai last July 9, Saturday, Carlos Ott was like waving goodbye at me and wishing me luck through Aeropuerto de Carrasco (another impressive structure he designed). Luck was all I needed that time as Pueyehue volcano in Chile was starting to get mad again after days of being calm and poised. I don’t exactly remember how I managed to survive my last day of work then as the news about flight cancellation broke out early on that Friday morning. I thought it was all a joke from our boss. I even informed my friend Mike (Fyodor to some) in Dubai that a cancellation of the whole shebang was possible. I’d rather go straight to Manila than stay in Dubai for a shorter period than planned. Gladly, Pueyehue was gentle the next day.

For United Arab Emirates, a visa is required for a Philippine passport holder like me. The tourist visa period varies from 96 hours to close to a month, I think, and it is valid for 60 days upon approval. I applied mine through the internet barely two months before my flight, specifically through Emirates Airline (which, from experience of their service, is very much deserving of its international awards). In the Emirates website, just go to Manage a Booking (of course, your flight should be through them but I guess there are options other than this) and click on the Apply link next to UAE Visa Application under Additional Services tab. You’re required of four things: (1) completed application form that includes the place you will be staying at, be it a hotel or a relative/friend’s place, (2) an updated photo to be posted in your visa which will be sent as an email, (3) scanned images of your passport, just five of it, if I remember it right and (4) credit card payment of USD 373.25 (where USD 272.50 of it is just a deposit amount).

Some tips. I heard that they are very particular with your Dubai address so make sure that the details there, needless to say, are correct. For the scanned images of passport, just choose the significant ones. Prioritize the page that is stamped with a US visa if you have one. Based on the notes prior to the application, there’s a criteria that if you don’t have a US visa yet, a financial document is expected to support your application like a bank statement or probably credit history. In case of rejection, the deposit amount is returned. For successful application, the amount will be refunded days or weeks after leaving UAE. As per experience, I got approved after four business days. I am not sure if you need to consider but weekdays in UAE start on a Sunday and end on a Thursday. There’s an initial notification that the documents are OK then after that is the actual email containing the visa as a file attachment. I think it was saved as a different file type for security reason. I just renamed it to .doc. The deposit amount, by the way, was refunded to me two weeks after my departure from Dubai.

My Dubai trip, my first Arabian adventure, was not a backpacking trip. I stayed in my friend Mike’s place, a kababayan from Lopez, Quezon, so I did not bother checking out the best B&B’s in the city. My transportation budget was waived as well as Mike has a car (a BMW to be exact).

If there’s one more tip that I could add, the local forex centers do not accept old USD bills. They will advise you to have it exchanged instead in a bank. Optionally and more conveniently, you can just pay it in some stores (I consumed mine at a local Virgin Store). And when the travel books say that you should avoid Dubai during summer (July – September), believe them.

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