April 26-27, 2015
We waved good-bye to the Maldives on our way to Dubai located on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf in the United Arab Emirates. Unfortunately, Emirates moved our flight back one hour from the original booking and in addition it was delayed due to congestion at the Male airport, so we only ended up with about 36 hours to explore the fascinating city. We certainly made the most of it.
From the airport we took a 20 or 30 minute taxi ride to our hotel, The Palace Downtown Dubai which was located across the man-made lake from the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. I’m thankful for a friend, Nilou, who used to live in Dubai, as she patiently answered all my questions about the city.
It was upon her recommendation that we stayed at the Palace Downtown Dubai which did not disappoint. Though pricey, it was conveniently located to many attractions in the city and frankly, it was luxurious! The lobby included a fountain with floating flower petals and beautiful flower arrangements. The long rectangular pool offered a limited view of the Burj Khalifa and fountain show from cushioned chaise lounges. I wish we could have spent a whole day just lounging in this magnificent place whose staff was as friendly as can be.
Instead, we needed to pound the pavement. It seems the thing to do in Dubai is shop. We walked next door to Souq Al Bahar. Souq means market. As such, I thought we were going to a “market” type atmosphere, perhaps outdoors. That was probably a dumb thought since Dubai’s average temperature is 92 degrees. Instead it was a labyrinth of shops and restaurants. With grumbling bellies, we decided to get a table on the balcony at Mango Tree so we could watch the fountain show. The fountain show was similar to that of the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The fountains’ water spewed in the air and swayed back and forth to music every half hour beginning at 6pm and ending at 11 or so. One time, the fountains danced to Michael Jackson music!
For some reason, we found ourselves thoroughly exhausted at a rather early time, so we went back to our hotel to enjoy the robes, slippers, expresso machine, nice bathroom and A/C in our room. It was a nice change from the boat! Little did we know we would hear the fountains exploding with the music in the background from our room. Wow, we were close!
The next day we awoke early and took a taxi to Al Bastakiya and Bur Dubai Souq, which is the preserved area of Dubai and its market. The taxi dropped us off, and he told us to just walk through the walled complex as he pointed to left. Given Dubai was a fishing village established in the early 18th century, I was expecting to see some old buildings. Perhaps we missed them, but I don’t think so as we passed by a relic of a wall with a sign that explained most of the buildings were torn down to make room for the expanding city. Instead, we found buildings from the 1960’s perhaps? Housed in the complex were several museums, art galleries and coffee shops. We meandered through the coffee museum and a few art galleries before we wandered aimlessly to the Bur Dubai Souq, another market.
Again, I was expecting an outdoor market in wooden stalls covered by tents. Not so! The market was somewhat outdoors. It was more like an outdoor shopping center. Air conditioned shops lined both sides of an open air street that was shaded by a canopy. The merchants were so welcoming, each showing off their fine garments and spices. We found a spice shop that we really enjoyed. I’m sick that I have forgotten the name of the gentleman who helped us, as I specifically asked given he provided us with a wealth of knowledge. After we bought some Turkish coffee and a variety of spices, we took his advice to try a famous restaurant nearby. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open for lunch yet, so we ventured back to store and asked if there were any restrooms nearby. He showed us where they were hidden. Then we asked about getting to the other markets across the river. He told us how to ride the water taxi which only cost 1 dirham and to be sure to ignore the people that offer a private tour for 60 dirhams a person!
The boat ride was so fun. It holds twenty people who range from tourists to locals to businessmen. What a motley crew. I’m glad we got to see the preserved area from the river too. Since we felt lost most of the time in Al Bastakiya and in search of Bur Dubai Souq, we decided to follow a Japanese tour group whose leader held up a yellow flag. They led us directly to the spice and gold markets on the other side of the river! Soon we returned via water taxi to our friendly shop owner to ask where we could find a taxi back to the hotel. He directed us to the best location.
I can’t even come close to explaining how friendly everyone was in Dubai. I don’t know if it was because we were tourists and tourism far outweighs the 5% of the economy supported by oil or what, but I was truly shocked. I recognize every middle eastern country is different, and the UAE is an ally, but I have to say I felt naïve and pre-disposed to false feelings about the muslim culture thanks to the liberal media. All we hear on the news these days are the negative stories and an occasional good one if it is extreme enough to be worthy. The fact is the general population is friendly. For that matter, so are most sharks!
This afternoon, we finally set foot in the Dubai Mall. Of course it comes as no surprise that it is the world’s largest covering over 13 million square feet. It is home to 1,200 shops, a hotel, a movie theater, an aquarium, a flight simulator, a full dinosaur skeleton from Wyoming, a gold car, waterfalls, an Olympic sized ice rink, and the Burj Khalifa. With 750,000 people visiting each week, the mall alone attracts more visitors than New York City on an annual basis!
The mall was representative of Dubai’s international feel. Shops from around the world filled the massive complex, Nike, TGI Friday’s, Chanel, Godiva, places from Lebanon, just to name a few. I think there were fourteen different chocolate stores! It seemed like candy was everywhere. Maybe it was just because we were hungry! At the recommendation of Nilou, we tried out Wafi Gourmet. I’m shocked at the ease we found the restaurant given I found myself lost more than once among the many twists and turns over multiple levels. Our lunch was fresh and tasty and perfect before we visited the Burj Khalifa.
Upon Nilou’s recommendation, we pre-purchased Burj Khalifa tickets for $30 or so, as the price increases at the door. We reserved our 3pm time slot, an off peak time. I can imagine day, night and sunset visits would be entirely different. I could easily return for another visit. Rising 2,722 feet, the building is the tallest free standing structure in the world. Along with this record, the building holds several more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burj_Khalifa
The hallway to the elevators was decorated with pictures of construction milestones. The elevators operated at lightening speed. The seconds it took to travel along with the number of floors it covered flashed on the elevator doors as we waited to step inside. Security cameras inundated the ceilings. I wonder how many guards it takes to watch all the feeds!
So there were a variety of ticket options for visiting. We chose to visit the 124th floor with an outdoor observation deck. I believe it was also possible to visit the 148th floor and even enjoy someone’s living area for a huge premium. The 124th floor offered quite a view, though it was a bit hazy. We circled the floor twice looking out in every direction. We could see our hotel below, the desert and another village beyond, the harbor with the man-made islands, and the skyline peppered with tall buildings and cranes. The whole city is still under construction. Had I realized the view wasn’t the best of the man-made islands, I would have made an attempt to go to the “sail building” also known as the Burj Al Arab, the world’s only seven star hotel. I didn’t know the star system exceeded five!
After our building tour, we spent some more time wandering around the mall and then one relaxing hour by the pool before we tried the hotel’s restaurant that provided the most elaborate buffet I have ever seen. I can’t say the food was outstanding, but I can say it was still worth it just to be able to select from at least 100 different food options…shrimp, crab, lobster, duck, oysters, beefs, salads, breads, fruits, cheeses, soups, a chocolate fountain, desserts and unknown items. I think we went to the buffet four times! I suppose we needed to fill up before our red-eye flight at 1am (Thanks to Rootie I’m in Business Class). We also got one last look at the fountains at night from our hotel garden. I’m so glad we added on the extra time to check out one of the most expensive, global cities in the world! ETB
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