Dazzling Dubai

We touched down in Dubai a few hours late after a small hiccup–our flight from Nairobi was diverted to Mombasa mid-flight after a crash on the runway in Nairobi (super reassuring). We arrived at our airbnb apartment in the middle of the night, caught a few hours of zzzs, and finally got ready for our 48 hour whirlwind tour of the UAE’s economic hub. We bought a two-day pass for the “big bus”sightseeing tour, as per a friend’s recommendation. Thank god we did; Dubai turned out to be the furthest thing from a “walking city”.

Our first stop was the Mall of Emirates. We headed straight for its most famous attraction–“Ski Dubai”–the largest indoor snow park in the Middle East. The park is complete with 5 runs, a chair lift, snow tubing, and zorbing. The funniest part to me was that no one has the proper gear so they are all forced to rent entire ski-wear and equipment. The end result is hundreds of people in the EXACT same outfit; just imagine how traumatic that could be as a child if you got separated from your parents in that place. Our next stop was Dubai Mall–the world’s biggest mall. At this point you might be thinking wow, why did they go to so many malls? Let me assure you that shopping is Dubai’s most beloved pastime and the malls are plentiful, luxurious, yet all a bit different. Another recurring theme of Dubai was “biggest, tallest, longest, best” etc. The city is obsessed with breaking records and having the biggest and best of everything. Below is a photo of an enormous aquarium right in the middle of the Dubai Mall (across from the world’s biggest candy store).

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Dubai Mall is located in what is known as Downtown Dubai. Dubai felt like it was separated into three micro-cities–Old Dubai, Downtown Dubai, and the Marina. As the city continues to grow I’m sure the lines between these areas will blur, but right now they feel like fairly isolated clusters. Also in Downtown Dubai is the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower at nearly 830m high. The Burj Khalifa stands adjacent to The Dubai Fountain–the world’s largest dancing fountain (are you seeing the trend yet?).

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We drove through Jumeirah, a residential area that passes by the notable Jumeirah Mosque, the beach, and the iconic Burj Al Arab. We took a stroll through Souk Madinet (souk means “market” in Arabic). This particular Souk was had all the fixings of a modern building but was designed to replicate a more traditional Arabian market.

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Our last big stop of the day was the Atlantis Aquarium. The Atlantis is located on the outer bank of the famous Palm Jumeirah–the iconic man-made island shaped like a palm tree built just off the coast of Dubai. Neighbouring the Palm are the World Islands–300 artificial island constructed in the rough shape of a world map.

We ended up taking the metro to our dinner destination that evening. Dubai’s metro was hands down the nicest public transit I have ever experienced and it was built in less than two years! While riding the metro Casey observed that there were a lot of women on the metro. We looked around a little more and noticed that Dad was one of two men in our crowded car; however, the car beside us looked to be about 50/50 men and women. Eventually the other man got off and dad was left as the lone male in our car and I caught an older woman giving him a very dirty look. Sure enough, when we got off, we saw signs that indicated we had been riding in a metro car designated for women and children only.

We eventually ended up in an area called The JBR Walk (Jumeirah Beach Residence) which is a beautiful strip of restaurants and stores right along the beach and close to our apartment. Most of the stores and restaurants in Dubai are actually chains from the U.S. and other Western countries, so we didn’t feel bad when we decided on Cheesecake Factory after a long two weeks of African food. Even Tim Hortons has made it pretty big in Dubai!

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On Day 2 in the Dubai, Casey, my mom, and I got off to an early start with a jog on the beachfront located a short 5 minutes from our apartment–airbnb for the win! Our next stop was a short one-hour cruise through the Marina and out into the Arabian Gulf. The marina is lined with million-dollar yachts and surrounded by sky-scrapers–including the tallest residential building and the world’s tallest high rise building with a 90 degree twist–and from the Gulf we got a great view of the Burj Al Arab and the city skyline.

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Afterwards, we set off on our tour of Old Dubai. At this point, we had only really seen modern Dubai; this meant that most of the buildings we had seen were constructed in the last 10-15 years, and much of the area we had covered was sandy desert as recently as 2000. Modern Dubai feels like a giant Disney World in a lot of ways; there is no trash in sight, the buildings are brand new and perfect, and the entire city is characterized by extravagance. In Old Dubai we finally saw remnants of the city’s more humble beginnings as a port town known for its pearl industry pre-WWII. We drove through the less Disneyesque streets and along the Dubai Creek. We stopped at the world famous Gold Souk to see what all the hype was about. Dubai is the world’s leading physical gold market, with more than 40% of the world’s supply passing through the city! On our final night, we toured out to the desert for a traditional Arabian evening of camels, henna tattoos, and watching the sun set behind the sand dunes.

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We enjoyed our final dinner right along the beach, non-alcoholic beverages in hand. We learned on the first night that only hotels are licensed to sell alcohol in the Emirate of Dubai because it is a Muslim nation. Each Emirate has its own rules on this but some are even more conservative and are completely dry. On our way back to the apartment we spotted this decadent Porsche police cruiser–yet another sign that the UAE is not strapped for cash at the moment.

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On the whole, 48 hours was not nearly enough to see everything. But I still felt like we got a very good feel for the city. There is still so much development ahead for Dubai and I can’t wait to return in 5 or 10 years to see how the city grows!

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