Dubai had never topped on my list of places to visit. In fact, I was quite irresolute of spending time in, what I saw from outside, a man-made, artificial city where the status of women could be questionable. However, a good friend of mine from London had moved there for work last year and I was hoping to see her before she moved even further away from Europe to Brazil at the end of the month. So, I packed my bags and after a 6 hour flight, I found myself waiting in a passport control queue for my turn to get through the border of United Arab Emirates.
I had my well-rehearsed speech to the border security controller ready. Yes, it was my first visit to Dubai. Yes, I was visiting a female friend in Dubai Marina. Yes, I was staying only a few days. No, I wasn’t carrying illegal substances like alcohol. Instead of answers to these questions, the friendly border controller asked why I wasn’t smiling and how my flight had gone. So far Dubai wasn’t anything I had expected.
The next four days I enjoyed visiting Dubai and Abu Dhabi and some of their attractions. UAE appears to have a great need to impress and supersede the rest of the world. Making the impossible possible, like they say. For example in Dubai, Burj Kalifa is the tallest building in the world, Ski Dubai is the longest artificial ski slope, the Dubai Mall is the largest shopping centre. In Abu Dhabi, The Leaning Tower of Abu Dhabi is 1 degree more leaning than the leaning tower of Pisa and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of world’s largest mosques and claims to have the largest hand-made woolen rug on Earth. Huh!
Well, I would not be telling the truth if I said that none of this was impressive. Views from the top of Burj Kalifa are breathtaking and numerous buildings in Dubai Marina are more beautiful than you think human hands can make. The Dubai Fountain at the foot of Burj Kalifa is so grand that I couldn’t stop filling my camera with pictures of its beauty.
At the same time all this grandeur can get a bit too much to somebody who is not used to it. That’s why I was happy to find the old side of Dubai which is more what you imagine Middle East to be like. Mosques, markets, haggling. There was even Dubai Museum which presented the short history of the city. Time before oil was discovered, when a scarce population lived in Bedouin tents, time under the British rule and, finally, the rise and independence of United Arab Emirates as a federation of seven emirates. Dubai Museum was close to the spice market, Deira Spice Souq, although it disappointed with its selection. Deira Gold Market, on the other hand, was fantastic with all its bling but the best of all was a boat trip on a dhow across the Dubai Creek.
In my experience, food in Dubai scores good average. I was surprised to see all international chains from Carluccio’s to Paul, Yo Sushi and Nando’s, which populate London’s streets as well. Apart from the chains, hotels tend to be large complexes with restaurants, bars and night clubs. The best one we visited was Toro Toro which served amazing Spanish and Latin American tapas and melts-in-your-mouth steaks and Sho Cho sushi restaurant in Dubai Marine Beach Resort & Spa hotel. A more local finds were Lebanese restaurants in Dubai Marina.
Despite the Islamic religion and a general ban to possess alcohol in Dubai, there were numerous lounge bars and hotel bars to cater for the night life. I had filled my suitcase with long sleeves and pashmina scarves to avoid sticking out as a Westerner. In contrast, I was surprised to find lots of girls, although by and large expats, not hesitating to impress with short skirts, high heels and low necklines. The bars that I enjoyed the most were the Jetty Lounge in the One & Only Royal Mirage Dubai hotel complex, Bar 44 at the top of Grosvenor House hotel, Calabar in the Address hotel which was perfect for marveling water fountain show in front of Burj Khalifa.
Dubai also combines beach and city life nicely. I visited the Jumeirah Beach which was quite packed even at the start of January when the weather doesn’t climb much above +25C degrees. I didn’t have time to go to the Wild Wadi Waterpark which my friend told me is fun. Instead I decided to enjoy the cafes and shops along the shopping street by Jumeirah Beach.
We did a quick day trip to Abu Dhabi which is only 1 hour drive from Dubai. My friend took me for a fancy coffee, date and cake treat at the Emirates Palace Hotel and to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre which was an experience even because of the long dress and a head scarf (you can borrow one from the centre) that I had to wear during the visit, but even more so because of the striking beauty of this mosque. 82 pure white, perfectly symmetric domes, beautiful flower formations made out of different coloured pieces of marble, water pools which reflect the arches of the spectacular building. Overall, Abu Dhabi felt more authentic and traditional than Dubai but it had still its fair share of skyscrapers to decorate its skyline.
Although the main reason for my travel was to visit my friend and catch up with her before she disappeared 15 hour flight away, I’m very glad that I got to know UAE and experience it with my own eyes. The trip also helped me to get perhaps closer to the Middle Eastern culture and feel like it is ok to visit these countries without a need to necessary hide away one’s Western identity. I doubt I will be rushing back soon as there are so many interesting other places I haven’t seen yet, but I’m curious to find out what other world records Dubai will be breaking in the near future!
Mall of Emirates
The Dubai Mall
Metro: Burj Khalifa Station
Al Fahidi Fort, Bur Dubai
Metro: Al Fahidi
Grosvenor Tower Two, Dubai Marina
Tel: +971 4 399 8888
Sho Cho Japanese Restaurant
Dubai Marine Beach Resort and Spa
Tel: +971 4 346 1111
The Jetty Lounge
One & Only Royal Mirage Dubai
Grosvenor House Hotel, Dubai Marina
The Address Hotel, Dubai Downtown
Emirates Palace Hotel
West Corniche Road
Tel: +971 2 690 9000
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Tel: +971 2 4416444
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