The Metropolitan Hotel
You want to go where?? The taxi driver asked. The Metropolitan Hotel, I repeated for the third time, trying to calm the nerves which were starting to build.
The airport shuttle bus had emptied its passengers onto the pavement in front of the inadequately named Etihad Travel mall and disappeared. There was no ”mall” about it, it was simply a building amongst hundreds of others lining the eight lane motorway; it felt like the middle of nowhere.
I had patiently waited for the frenzy of trolleys, porters and frazzled travellers to subside before retrieving my bike from the minibus which had transported the luggage, then spent ten minutes getting hold of a taxi big enough to accommodate my oversized bags.
I had so far resisted the urge to check my booking.com email – I knew I was tired but still… – but the blank look I got back prompted me to reach into my bag and pull out the Google Map I had printed out at the last minute before getting on the plane.
“Ummm, aaahhh… OK! Is new hotel!! Only 3 months open. I know where.” Thank goodness for that.
The Metropolitan Hotel looked like the Etihad Travel mall, only a little larger and a little further along the motorway. Staff were falling over themselves at the main entrance and in the foyer but other than that it looked as clean and sleek as its new, 4* status promised.
I manoeuvred my cases around the lifts which had conveniently been placed in the centre of the lobby and approached the front desk. Although I couldn’t understand exactly all he said, Hosny was very kind and dealt with my check in if not efficiently, then at least enthusiastically. He apologised that the room wasn’t yet ready. Could I just please fill in this form with email and phone number? He flipped through a folder, apparently trying to find my booking.com reference. Got to the end, started back at the beginning. I watched. He tried again, then seemed to decided it was unprofessional to keep me waiting too long and took a credit card deposit instead. He handed me the receipt and assured me the room would be ready at 2pm.
Perfect. I sat down in the lobby and debated my options. My bags had disappeared, presumably with one of the ten porters. I could try and recover them, get my sports gear and run in the gym. My brain said give yourself a little time before you hammer the muscles, it’s only 9.30am and you’ve had 3 hours’ sleep.
Fair enough. I could sit with my laptop and sort some admin stuff out, then run. I got up and went back to see Hosny. Could I have internet access please? I’m sorry ma’am you need a room number for access and we haven’t assigned you one yet. I didn’t have the heart to get annoyed with him.
Final option. I could go and explore a little, get my legs and brain moving after the flight, and probably find a wifi connection somewhere else.
The mini outside the Metropolitan I should never have ignored
Off I went, stopping to take a quick picture of the somewhat out-of-place Mini parked outside the hotel entrance. The Mall of the Emirates wasn’t too far according to the map the concierge gave me and sounded like a good place to head. It had an indoor ski slope which I’d heard about and might be quite cool to see. In true Emma fashion I ignored the metro and walked. Along the motorway. Through sand on the roadside when the pavement ran out. Over the motorway. Through the metro station, out the other side and in the general direction of the mall because hey, the best way to see somewhere is to get out and walk it no?
Past the police compound, through a parking lot, round the back of a petrol station and over the main road should get me there. I was close enough to read the letters over the mall entrance. I stopped reluctantly at the main road and considered my chances of getting across all eight lanes without being run over by a Hummer. Exactly nil.
It only took another 20 minutes to walk down, over the pedestrian bridge and back up the other side, to finally reach the mall. It was one of the most non-scenic, noisy, traffic-filled walks I have ever undertaken, and must have totalled about 5km.
Walking the motorway
I spend another two at least wandering around the mall, deliberately ignoring the sales in every window (because I didn’t have even a spare kg of weight allowance for my onward flight) and looking for somewhere to sit down so I could at least take in the scale of the place. You would think they would have benches or something, somewhere, in a building which could probably contain the entire town of Montreux, but apparently not. I stood for a moment and gawped tourist-style through the window at the (empty) chairlift and bob run of the Dubai ski resort, which also had a sparkly night sky, fluorescent lights and a restaurant called the St Moritz café, before my legs finally told me they’d had enough. I chose a quiet coffee shop, ordered an enormous cappuccino and tuned out the world for a while.
One fiftieth of the Mall of the Emirates
The Metropolitan Hotel please, I said as I slid my backside and my groceries into the back seat of the taxi I had decided I was taking home – no way was I walking back, and the metro station was a little too far from the hotel to be convenient. Where is that? The driver asked. Are you serious?! Do I look like a bloody local??! “Ummm… I think approximately halfway between metro station X and Y along the Sheikh Fayed motorway… I think it’s a new hotel.”
The look on his face was sufficient. For the second time that day I produced my Google Maps printout. He took it eagerly and nodded. Studied it for a few seconds, turned it upside down then handed it back to me. I sat back, relieved. I was going to be able to get settled and organised for the race in no time. We drove out of the taxi line and stopped 200m further up the roads in a massive queue of traffic at a set of lights. Left, right or straight… The taxi driver turned to me with his hand stretched over his shoulder: “Madam, the map?!!” he asked urgently. Dammit! I fumbled around in the bag where I’d shoved it moments earlier and handed it back to him. He glued it to his nose, spinning it round a few times as if he were driving along the roads. He was clearly utterly clueless as to how to get to my hotel, and had never read a map in his life. The meter crept up and we inched forward as the lights turned red yet again; I would have been quicker walking the damn 5k and tried not to swear out loud.
“I’m new” he explained as he handed me the map again. Oh great. Absolutely, bloody marvelous. I forced myself to relax. Maybe I would get the scenic route and see some of the city, even if it took us a couple of hours and cost me a month’s salary. “So, how long have you been in Dubai?” I tried, as we stopped in yet another traffic queue. Oh, only about 5 years, he replied. WTF??!
Thankfully, he was a little more resourceful than I gave him credit for. He got on the phone to his friend and within twenty minutes we pulled up in front of the hotel. As long as my room was ready I still had time to run, build my bike and get to race briefing without too much stress.
The metro station I should have stopped at
Now, for anyone who follows my travels regularly, you probably know that this was wishful thinking. The front desk was manned by eight people instead of the two I saw earlier, all frantically trying to get around each other. With space for about half of them along the counter, it looked like a disorganised version of musical chairs. Hosny wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but a friendly-faced Muhammad smiled at me instead as I handed over my passport and said I had already checked in.
No, my room was not ready. I’ve been here since 9.30am and it’s now 2.20pm. Can you please find out when it will be ready? Ummm, well. Back on the phone to the cleaning service. Did they have another Premium room ready, urgently? It will be ready in ten minutes ma’am. They’re just pushing the beds together.
Quite frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass what they’re doing. If I can’t get the room NOW I need access to my bike, my bag and the gym. Yes, ma’am, no problem ma’am. Can you just please fill this in? He pushed the same form I had already completed earlier over the desk. I gave him a look and explained I had ALREADY CHECKED IN. Anticipating what was coming, I also handed over the receipt for the payment. Ah. You already paid. Who took this money off you ma’am? I resisted the urge to laugh and told him it was his mate Hosny. More aaah’s, more flipping through the famous folder, which he had to wrestle off one of his colleagues as another reached over him to grab a pen. If the cleaners upstairs were this organised, no wonder they couldn’t push two beds together.
After filling in the form again but avoiding paying twice I finally headed to the lift, a room card in hand. The bed(s) literally filled the room. I suppose a normal double would have been a little smaller, as my sleeping platform seemed about twice as wide as it was long. I was a little past caring by this time. I had an hour and a half to build my bike, run, and get my backside down to the beach hotel where the briefing was taking place.
Big enough for 10
Bike first, I decided. There are always nasty surprises with the Beast and if push came to shove, I could run later. I fought the bike box into a horizontal position between the bed and the fridge and unlocked it. Trainers, swim gear, energy gels went flying as I hurriedly uncovered the bike. I built it in less than 15 minutes at the weekend but by now I should really know better than to rush anything when it comes to rebuilding the terrible TT…
On a mission, I popped the quick releases into the wheels, grabbed the frame from the box and flipped it upside down to get them on easier. The saddle slid out and hit the floor, trailing Di2 cables. Shit shit shit, forgot I’d loosened the saddle post. Shove cables back in, reattach battery, pray that everything still works. Wheels on, bike upright again, front fork pops out. Screws will not fit in the holes they came out of. Front brake is rubbing. Have forgotten CO2 cartridges. Can’t get enough air into back tire. Can’t find multi tool. Can’t see the damn floor because there’s too much kit on it and if I step on the pump or kick the corner of the bed one more time I’m going to scream. I’m sweating buckets, still wearing the clothes I’ve been in for the past 24h, I stink and I DO NOT need this right now.
I ended up removing all my clothes, finding NRJ music radio on the TV, taking a deep breath and getting the bike sorted in twice the time it took on Saturday. But I still had time to run. I changed, put music in my ears and headed upstairs. The new Metropolitan gym had three great treadmills overlooking the motorway and I spent a cool 35’ getting my heart pumping and my nerves settled, watching the money and the world speed past below. Feeling better, I calculated I had about a quarter of an hour to get showered and hop on my bike. I would make the briefing in plenty of time.
I opened the door to my room and realised I had a (yet another) problem. There was water seeping out into the mini hallway and the ominous sound of water dripping into a large puddle. A flick of the light switch confirmed there was water pouring from the panel on the bathroom ceiling, and the floor was flooded. In near-desperation I rugby-tackled a member staff who happened to walk past at that moment; he took one look, grabbed my bedside phone and assured me his colleague would be there asap to fix it.
I looked around at my belongings strewn all over the room, and at my watch. No chance of a shower now, unless I wanted to wade knee-deep around the bathroom and either electrocute myself or be caught in the nude by the handyman. In fact, I probably didn’t want to strip in my room, full stop. Aaaaargh. The things you do when you have to. I snatched up a few clothes and a towel, ran down to the lobby and splashed water on the smelly bits as best as I could in the disabled toilets (no changing rooms at the gym of course).
By 5pm I was sitting at the race briefing, trying to ignore the fact that every single other athlete there has a pedigree as long as their arm and eat flat bike rides for breakfast. I stopped long enough to take a picture of the Burj al Arab at sunset, and got back at 6.15 in time to see six guys (!) trooping out of my room with buckets, mops and a ladder. Problem apparently solved, although if they had been taking lessons from the front desk crew it would have been entertaining to watch.
At least no moving rooms tonight. Thank goodness for that, as I’m not sure Hosny or Muhammad could have coped.
Nor could I for that matter. I crashed onto the 6m2 bed and slept for twelve and a half hours straight.