I recently had the opportunity to visit Dubai. A "Middle East newbie" and all the preconceived notions that goes with that. I had certainly heard a tremendous amount about Dubai and like Las Vegas I was expecting to not like it, this way Over-The-Top city in the desert. But you know what, I was pleasantly surprised (in Dubai not in Vegas). This arid flatland in the desert was not only rich with fabulous, brilliant skyscrapers and architecture, blow-your-mind resorts or the tallest "this" or the biggest "that" etc, etc. But it was richer yet in contradictions from the ancient world and its customs surrounding it. The glitzy and the ancient, the modern and the extremely traditional. So here I am, A Broad In Dubai, a peak into the fabulous contradiction in the Middle East.
The Burj Al Arab. The World's Only 7 Star Hotel
First, when did hotel ratings go beyond 5 Stars? Maybe it is a Middle East thing or maybe it is like Spinal Tap turning it up to 11 but regardless of 5 or 7 my God what a hotel. My dear friend Teran has a name for a place like this, she calls it a Total F*ck-Off Place. I mean it was the most incredible hotel I have seen inside and out. You could not get near it unless you were a guest or had a reservation for drinks or dinner. No photos or videos were allowed of any kind inside (see my photos and videos below). There were even security guards in kayaks surrounding the place by water. So we did what any curious tourist would do, we bit the bullet made a reservation for drinks at the bar on top on the hotel with their $100 per person minimum, which I discovered was extremely very easy to reach. We were talked into a cocktail by our very friendly server Raj called Toxic Love. A little too sweet but look how nice??
But what totally blew my mind was on the cocktail menu something called "Birth of An Icon". For a mere 6,900 Dirhams ($1,900US, $2,450 CDN or £1,500) you can have this rum and lime juice daiquiri finished off with gold dust. One drink!!!! ONE. Not a magnum of something aging in some billionaire's French Chateau somewhere. It is a daiquiri! Something was born alright but I wouldn’t call it an “icon”. I guess I will stop complaining about the $25 glass of Chardonnay the Four Seasons dings me with.
The hotel lobby was stunning. Without a question the most beautiful hotel lobby I have ever seen. Synchronized water fountains, a massive tropical aquarium and the design was spectacular. At night the sail-like exterior has lights projected on it. Incredible…
As an aside, we went back on our last night to have dinner there. Massively expensive and very disappointing food at best. Stick with Toxic Love to get the hotel experience.
We did this very touristy thing which I have to say was our personal highlight of our trip. We booked a safari into the desert. Our driver Ali was terrific, and he needed to be. Part of the experience was something they called Dune Bashing. 30 minutes in a 4 x 4 driving and doing wheelies over the desert's huge, rolling sand dunes. If it weren't for my motion sickness I would have really loved it.
We had a romantic (kinda) camel ride as the sun was setting. We watched a falcon show, had my hand painted with henna which I am still trying to remove and had this most wonderful meal cooked in the desert complete with Persian rugs and Moet & Chandon Champagne.
The night was capped off with a belly dancer, smoking a shisha or what I recall from my high school days as a water bong. The scenery was incredible. If you ever go to Dubai book this excursion with Desert Safari Dubai. Really was cool.
Up The Dubai Creek
The Dubai Creek used to be the central hub of activity and a active trade route. This is the old part of Dubai and nothing glitzy or new here. We hired a wooden dhow (a small boat) and took a hour trip up the creek. You can see the old fishing dhows coming and going and get a totally different feel of the city. You can hear the chanting and the call to prayer coming from the many mosques in the area. Sad and eerie sounding to the Western ear.
As a trade route Dubai has some old Souks (markets) that we loved exploring. My favourite was the Spice Souk. There were spices I had never heard of before. It was colourful and fragrant. Bought saffron, vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks and lavender. If anyone knows a great recipe with saffron love to hear it. Think I might have gone a little over board with the saffron.
There is also the Gold Souk and the Textile Souk. All are nearby. Bought a couple of beautiful inexpensive scarves but you do get pulled in by the sellers as they are very actively trying to sell their wares. Bargain for everything. Very different then The Dubai Mall. Famous for their indoor ski-hill and designer fashions. No bargaining (or bargains) there.
I loved the buildings and architecture of Dubai. Some places I felt were so clean and perfect that I felt I was in the middle of my own Sims City game. I am guessing the designers of Sims have been to Dubai.
Finally the beach. Although we had slightly unseasonable cooler and windier weather 20c (we were there in February and colder at night) it was still wonderful to visit and walk the beaches. We were staying on Jumeirah Beach at a wonderful place called Jumeirah Al Qasr. Highly recommend that area to stay. The Palm, also very popular and famous for its man-made islands that look like the top of a palm tree from the air. You can do a seaplane fly-by or a take a helicopter to fully get its impact. My Uber app in Dubai actually gave me the option of Uber Helicopter….of course it did. Next time.
Dubai was fasincating. It was interesting and there is still more to see and do…Everyone I met was very friendly. I think having no taxes to pay just tends to make you friendlier, just saying.
So there comes a time when everyone has to pack up their camel and head home. My trip to the desert was a great reminder that all who wander are certainly not lost.