Day 1 at EWB2011

I will be sharing my experience at the Education Without Borders (EWB) conference I attended a few days ago in the UAE (Dubai / Abu Dhabi). I have decided to give each day a separate post rather than just cram all days in one. So let's get started :-)!

The first day at EWB was also the day my travel was scheduled. I woke early, and for some reason did not want breakfast but had something nevertheless. The flight was at 12:10pm so I had enough time to do some last minute packing, but the wait is usually agonizing.

It was now time to go, I bid farewell to my dad (he isn't himself when I'm not around, a reason I decided to study home), dropped my luggage in the car (just a suitcase and laptop in hand) and off we went to the airport. Along the way I just kept thinking about the conference, and wondered if I would start missing home too soon (Dubai is only an hour away, but there's no place like home…).

Bahrain Airport was pretty quiet. Security was tight all the way to the departures level. To those familiar with the area, we were able to literally stop in front of the door leading in since not a single car was in sight. I felt bad here, this place used to be bustling with people… Everything was quick inside from check in, to getting into the departure gates. I didn't even bother walking around the duty free and decided to just head to my gate and wait it out. As common, Gulf Air decided to change the gate and it was pretty much hidden behind the duty free! A few Dream Theater tracks later it was boarding time!

The point of no return approached "doors to automatic and cross check" (do they really cross check?). The plane taxied to the runway and it was time for take off. I luckily had a window seat and caught a glimpse of beautiful Bahrain before the clouds took over the scenery. The flight was quick, it felt much less than an hour, we even arrived earlier than scheduled. My new Dubai experience starts now!

It took quite a bit of walking from the plane to the immigration counters. It almost felt like Heathrow with the long walk, those conveyor like things you walk on (name :-P?), the escalators and of course the HSBC ads as soon as you exit the bridge off the plane! The immigration officer was friendly and courteous and I was off to pick my luggage. I joined another conference participant from the UK that was also on my plane. Conference organizers were already there to pick us inside baggage reclaim, I was expecting them to be outside waiting, impressively organized.

The trip to the hotel took around 40ish minutes, a great opportunity to have a look at the Dubai scenery, and of course the massive Burj Khalifa (aka the world's tallest building) dominating the city's skyscrapers. I also got the opportunity to finally see the Dubai Metro moving around. This place has really changed since my last visit (umm which was a loooong time ago). We approached the hotel, naturally a skyscraper as well :-P!

The hotel was the Gloria Hotel in Dubai, the accommodation was great and I was sharing with only another person. The first thing I did first was look out the window, at the 27th (out of 40 floors) floor the view was amazing! I had no time to waste, the bus leaving to the opening ceremony was going to leave in just under an hour and I did not participate in the orientation earlier that day due to my flight, so I had no idea what would be happening. In the process of unpacking I met my room mate from Russia but couldn't stay long for chat. My mentor was friendly throughout my stay from entry to exit, and she handed me the schedules and essentials pack. Word of warning: if you have high occupancy rate in a 40 floors hotel, be prepared to wait a while for your elevator (I waited almost 10 minutes at one time!).

The bus left the hotel on its way to Burj Khalifa, the driver didn't know where to stop so he dropped us off at the Dubai Mall (aka the world's largest mall). We walked around looking for where we were supposed to be, but given the largeness it was no walking task (especially in a suit walking in the sun). We eventually took a taxi (around 5 taxis for the 20 or so of us). We made our way, going down the stairs towards the bay close to the Burj, I took a picture of course:

I made my way towards the stage and took my seat. A while later the VIPs arrived (present were Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Nahyan bin Mabarak Al Nahyan). Nahyan has a nice sense of humor which I believe is essential in keeping the speeches interesting :-). Oh, and guess who was working out nearby :-P? The French Spider Man, Alain Robert, was climbing the Burj Khalifa. They told us he would complete his climb by around midnight. The show that took place after the opening speeches were breathtaking. First were some cultural shows, then came the laser show. It was really one of those shows that is hard to describe, WOW is all I could say to sum it up. Oh and lasers weren't enough, imagine choreographed fireworks shooting right behind the stage and from the buildings around (some kilometers away!). I wouldn't be surprised if Alain lost his grip during the fireworks. Luckily after the show was over they kept Alain on screen. I also got the chance to meet the other students from the other NYIT campuses that participated in the conference. Before returning to the hotel at around 10-11ish I decided to snap a few more pictures:

I couldn't stay up much back at the hotel so I took my time unpacking stuff for the next day and finally falling asleep. Buses were going to depart at 8am (sharp!) the next day. I was so tired that I went to sleep within minutes (I usually stare at the ceiling for a while 😛 lol).

Edit: I found a video of the opening ceremony (thanks to spiritdh), it is not the whole thing but the best part of it!

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