Day 1/ Dubai
By the skin of my teeth i caught the connecting flight from Dubai to London. The plane began its descent close to midnight and for some strange reason it circled the airport for a good 20minutes(strange since it’s Emirates’s home hub).Now,I had only 40 minutes upon touchdown to catch the plane.The connecting passengers were greeted by a tall muscular African airport staff who took us on a frantic dash across Dubai International Airport which involved a airport train ride(YES IT’S MASSIVE)
Some first impressions of Dubai
1) It looks absolutely stunning at night. Since it’s an oil haven i guess electricity is free too no wonder everything was lighted up. The city reminds me of TRON. Futuristic and modern,completely opposite of my what i was expecting. Pity i didn’t take a picture.I was busy looking out the window.
2) Dubai being an Arabian city, i was expecting to see some Arabs for the first time. THERE WASN’T A SINGLE ONE! The entire airport staff comprised of Indians, Burmese and Filipinos.Globalisation at work!
The plane began the descent into Heathrow just before first light and i got to see London lighted up. You could spot some of London’s famous landmarks on the way down such as OXO Tower and the London Eye. I didn’t get much sleep on the journey so far but whatever fatigue was quickly dispersed by a rush of adrenalin as we approached Heathrow. My trip was about to begin for real!
(Excuse the grainy quality. HTC ONE X’S CAMERA SUCKS)
By the time the plane hit the runway, daylight had already set in. What a way to start the day…with a touchdown! The plane berthed at Heathrow’s newest terminal, terminal 5. Heathrow turned out to be completely different from my expectations. I envisioned it to be a modern and futuristic airport like Changi but instead i was greeted by a Thatcher-ist era, clean, white walled building that seemed very much from the 80s. Not that it was bad in any way, it reflected the culture accurately since i was getting a very British vibe(whatever that’s supposed to mean). When my dad said that there were many indians in London,i did not expect to be greeted by a whole army of them at customs! My first social interaction in England was to be with an elderly turbaned sikh custom official. Not what i had expected. It turned out to be one of the most unique custom procedures in my life. Going through customs for most of us simply means handing over the passport, nodding your head at the appropriate moments in acknowledgement and a couple of forceful chops and you are free to go. This wasn’t the case at Heathrow. Here’s a transcript of what happened:
Me: “Good Morning” *Hands over passport*
Official: “Where are you from” ( When Republic of Singapore is blatantly emblazoned on the passport i just gave him)
Official: “Why are you visiting England?”
Me: “Leisure. I’m visiting my aunt. ”
Official: “Where does your aunt stay?”
Official: “Where will you be staying in London?”
Me: “ClinkHostel King’s Cross?”
*Stamps passport hastily and waves me off*
That my friends is how a routine custom procedure turned into a full on interrogation for a good five minutes. I felt like a suspected terrorist who ironically was interrogated by a man wearing a turban. Not the most hospitable welcome to the country,
With that unpleasant experience behind me, i was presented with another. My roaming service was not functioning. I had done the necessary by signing up for the plan and what not and was personally guaranteed by Starhub that it’d work. Singapore telcos are really horrendous. I called Starhub and was bandied around 3 different customer service officers who promised to solve the problem on the day itself and assured me that they would call me back. As usual none of them did and i had to settle for a exorbitant 3bucks/min rate to call home. ( My bill exploded to 300 bucks on roaming charges after i returned and despite my complaints Starhub refused to compensate blaming the issue on my phone).
I grabbed an espresso to perk me up as well as a precaution for the cold and stepped outside of the airport. It was 0 degrees with strong winds but it wasn’t as bad as my dad exaggerated it to be. A group of airport workers were snugly tucked into their jackets smoking away and there i was in t shirt and jeans watching my exhalations condense like a fool. On the topic of cigarettes, U.K probably has the highest priced cigarettes in the world(YES much higher than Singapore) at 9pound per pack(18SGD++).
It was still half past 8 in the morning and i had a few hours to burn before catching the afternoon Eurostar train to Paris. I was getting bored at the airport since the free WIFI was down on that day. I decided i had enough and made my way to the tube station which was conveniently located right under the airport terminal. A quick glance at the underground map made me realise that Arsenal was on the way to the train station. Although i was going to watch a match there later on in the trip, i could not resist the temptation to visit the Emirates.
The tube or underground is London’s primary mode of transport. It is very much similar to Singapore’s MRT but much more narrower to the extent where you can almost touch knees with the person opposite you if you slouch in your seat. Although it is referred to as the underground, the track is not completely sub-surface entirely. The sub-surface tracks are mostly located in the city area while at suburban areas it runs above ground. I dumped my luggage on the rack and sat back in my seat watching the suburbs whizz by. I do apologize for the lack of pictures once again because i did not want to reinforce the stereotype of a overtly curious Asian tourist. Besides, taking photos on the train is frowned upon in Europe( STOMP would shut down over here)and if you did,it would most likely put you in awkward situations as i would personally find out later on in the trip.
The London Underground
After close to an hour on the tube, i reached Arsenal Station. It is the only football club in England to have a tube station bearing its name. This was no doubt the result of Le Professor,Arsene Wenger and his French charm in persuasion.
A unique feature of London underground stations is it’s tunnel-like layout which kind of reminds you of a mining excavation site. Walking out of these tunnels can be a real challenge on a windy day as gusts of cold air rush in from the surface creating a resistance. I always had the impression that stadiums would be standalone structures far away from residential areas but here it was completely different.Emirates Stadium is nestled amidst a rather nice quaint English neighborhood to my surprise and a mere five minutes walk from the station. Along the way i managed to snap some pictures of a row of terrace houses reminiscence of the ones which were an integral component of Highbury. These houses were located directly in front of the stadium’s box office and the steps leading up to the stadium itself. What i would give to live here!
It’s quite a journey up from the main street to the stadium itself. You’ve to climb a flight of stairs and cross a bridge. Even though i was dragging my suitcase, it was well worth it.
Ken Friar’s Bridge- A tribute to the former chairman
At the end of the bridge, you’ll be greeted by the magnificent outer facade of the Emirates Stadium!
Apart from the construction beside the stadium of the future Arsenal apartments(my dream home), it was a rather quiet morning at the emirates. Joggers did their rounds along the circumference of the stadium and locals walked by routinely on their daily routines. Besides a group of Japanese arsenal fans there wasn’t anyone else visiting. I spent quite awhile taking in the beauty of the stadium. It really is a work of art across all levels from the architecture to the exterior facade. Arsenal does have a club museum located within the stadium premises but the stadium vicinity itself is a museum in its own right. The exterior facade of the stadium is graced by giant sized pictures of Arsenal legends together with an accompanying biography of their exploits with the club.
Thierry Henry- All-time top scorer, Magician, My boyhood hero
Pat Rice- hardworking defender, Assistant Manager, Wenger’s right-hand man
Patrick Viera, Midfield General, Inspirational Captain
Martin Keown- The Rock in Defence
Ian Wright- Arsenal Ace
David Seaman- Flying Fish in goal
Robert Pires- Wing Wonder
Numerous bronze statues can be found around the perimeter of the stadium commemorating key moments in Arsenal’s history
Herbert Chapman- Founding Father
Tony Adams- Mr Arsenal
Thierry Henry- Mr Va Va Voom!
There were also a few murals commissioned from global fan entries which i thought was a very nice touch.
“You’ve said it beautifully Jack!”
Something closer to home from our neighbour across the Causeway!
A privilege to have witnessed it!
There you go! A complimentary history lesson about Arsenal just by walking around the stadium. A trip to the Emirates would not be complete without a visit to the Armoury, our very own club store!
Those few hours at the Emirates made me rediscover why i fell in love with Arsenal in the first place. It’s no ordinary football club. It’s a big family centered on inclusiveness and harmony. I could go on all day about Arsenal but i shall not bore you guys to death! Can’t wait to get back here to catch a the game against Villa!
To be Continued…. NEXT UP PARIS!