Walking through the narrow streets of the spice souk in Dubai, I was assaulted by a heady mix of pungent spices and exotic perfume.
From there, I made my way to the adjacent gold souk, whose narrow windows were filled with gleaming jewellery of all shapes and form.
While I was not particularly interested in jewellery (though there were pieces that were quite extraordinary), I still found the souk fascinating for its display of ostentatious wealth.
As the colour started draining from the sky, I made my way to the Dubai Creek.
Stepping onto one of the abras, a traditional boat made of wood, I watched the lights come on across the creek as a soft breeze started to carry in the aromas of the nearby spice souk.
It was hard not to feel almost bewitched by this setting, and best of all, my 24-hour trip to Dubai was free!
I had opted for a stopover, at no extra charge, on my Emirates flight between Singapore and Zurich.
And it was fabulous.
First, I had to have a stopover anyway, so why not make the best of it?
Second, while I might think hard about planning a holiday in Dubai, a short and free stopover’s certainly not an issue.
And indeed, I’ve taken advantage of airlines’ (little advertised) stopover policies on several occasions to enjoy trips to cities I might have missed.
My plan was to travel to Delhi and then Rajasthan, but opting for the cheapest fares meant I needed to do a stopover in Mumbai.
So why not extend the stopover to two days and visit Mumbai for free?
I had a friend there, and there were enough sights in Mumbai to keep me entertained for a day or two or even more if I wanted to.
So in those two days, we visited sights like the iconic Gateway of India and Taj Mahal Hotel.
We also found time to visit Gandhi’s House and the famous backpackers haunt, Café Leopold.
But my shortest ever stopover was in Vienna.
I had a grand total of six hours in the city while travelling between Bosnia and China.
And you bet I made full use of that six hours.
Upon exiting the departure gates of the airport, I made a beeline for the city’s metro which would take me to the city centre.
And indeed, I was standing in the city’s grand Stephansplatz square in less than half an hour’s time.
Over the next five hours (I had to leave enough time to get back to the airport), I had a mini Amazing Race across the city, ticking off sights like the gorgeous gothic St Stephen’s Cathedral and the Hofburg Palace, which has housed some of the most powerful people in European and Austrian history.
I even found time to visit one museum – MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art) – though the pieces were a little too abstract for my taste.
And being in Vienna, how could I miss out on trying the Viennese Schnitzel?
And I had one in an al fresco café near Stephansplatz square, watching the crowds go by.
To be sure, this type of rushed travel is not to everyone’s taste.
But between a painfully boring stopover in the airport and seeing a new city, I know which one I’ll choose.