Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Amazing Race 15, Episode 6

Dubai (U.A.E.) - Amsterdam (Netherlands) - Afsluitdijk (Netherlands) - Groningen (Netherlands) - Vierhuizen de Marne (Netherlands) - Zoutkamp (Netherlands)

The Amazing Race 15 spent the night at a resort on one of a complex of artificial islands in the Arabian Gulf in Dubai. The resort and the islands were prominently featured in the opening of this week’s episode (in exchange for more “promotional consideration”, according to the fine print in the credits). Ironically, they were also featured in some of the spam for distressed Dubai real estate I’ve suddenly started getting in the last couple of weeks after mentioning the Dubai real estate crisis in my previous columns about the race (click the image for more detail of the architects’ renderings):

spam for real estate in Dubai

The prices are in UAE dirhams, at AED1=USD0.272, or USD1=AED3.67, with asking prices (in the current depressed market, all the prices are identified as “Open to negotiations”) for condos in some of the most prestigious new developments as low as 1.6 million dirhams (US$440,000). That’s for a 2-bedroom apartment — small for Dubai — but of course the count of bedrooms doesn’t include the obligatory “maid’s room” included, this being Dubai, in even a 2-bedroom city condo.

On to Amsterdam, none too soon for me or, I suspect, the racers. The Dubai airport, where they had to spend eight or nine hours waiting for their flight, has almost no places for peons who don’t qualify for the emir-class lounges to sleep, rest, or even sit down — only shop. When I was there, in the middle of the night, it was hard even to make your way through the shopping arcades/concourses of gates without tripping over transit passengers trying to sleep on the floor. That said, even before the current boom the Gulf had a long history as a transit hub for long-haul aviation, as depicted in several Nevil Shute novels including his highly recommended 1951 chronicle of the zen of aircraft maintenance, foreshadowing the Gulf states’ multi-ethic work force, in Round the Bend .

The Netherlands Board of Tourism must have been as pleased as the race’s underwriters in Dubai. A major goal of government tourist promotion ministries is often to distribute tourism revenues more evenly throughout the country, to benefit more of their constituents. For those whose only image or experience of Holland is Schiphol Airport and the pot cafes of Amsterdam, the race showed a variety of different aspects of the country: rural areas, farmland, small towns, and secondary cities. Yes, the Netherlands is a small country, even by European standards, and many Americans could only name one Dutch city, but it still has more than one significant city, including not only Groningen but larger and quite attractive places like Rotterdam and the Hague.

The racers’ assigned tasks (swimming across a canal in their long underwear, and a sort of pseudo-golf game in a cow pasture using wooden clogs for club-heads) had little to do with everyday Dutch life or typical tourist activities. But they did showcase a couple of genuinely typical attributes of Holland: Every local person you meet seems to speak at least some only lightly-accented English, and bicycles are ubiquitous as a mode of both urban and rural transport for people of all ages and classes — even when the weather is cold. When one team of racers realized that they had failed to pick up the bicycles provided for them at the previous checkpoint, they were readily able to borrow a couple of bikes from passers-by.

Poker players Tiffany and Maria (when they aren’t on TV in a “reality” race around the world, they are professionals in the televised “World Series of Poker”) were eliminated after they were unable to complete a physical challenge. In part it was a question of strength and physical skill, but it was also a matter of failure to understand their own abilities: They couldn’t decide which of the two optional tasks would be easier, and tired themselves trying first one, then the other, then the first again. When you travel, you may find that when you have to, you are able to do more than you think. But an important travel skill is an accurate sense of your own abilities (and, of course, those of your travelling companions), so that you have a good sense of what is likely to be within your physical limits. It’s better, if you can, to explore your limits closer to home before you start a big trip, when falling short is less likely to get you in trouble.

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 1 November 2009, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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