Dubai, United Arab Emirates
I have been on some long flights in my travels, but the flight from Seattle to Dubai not only gives a new meaning to the word long, but I lost one complete day (which really mixed me up in how I was supposed to take my kidney meds… but that is another story). By the time I got through immigration and got to my hotel (the Al Manzil across from the Burj Khalifa) it was late Thursday evening and I left Seattle on Wednesday at 5:30. Yikes. (The eleven hour time difference didn’t help either.)
The drive to the hotel was pretty uneventful, but if I needed confirmation about what I always tell people about my travels (the only difference between human beings is language and culture), I certainly found it on the ride. When I got in the car, the driver had the radio blaring to some sporting event. He immediately turned it down, and I told him he didn’t need to turn it down. He turned and looked at me with a big grin and told me it was the semi-finals of some cricket event between Pakistan and Sri Lanka … yep same as most men I know … just a different sport.
So my hotel is absolutely fabulous and the view to the Burj is really just amazing. I can’t stop taking pictures from my balcony. My room could house a small family and the bath tub is best described as a soaking tub for ten. I’m actually thinking of moving into this place.
I managed to get a couple hours of sleep, but the 11 hour time difference really screws with your body. I finally got up around 6 a.m. and got some breakfast. I absolutely love the middle east breakfasts … primarily because there is always an assortment of dates (uh that would be the fruit and not the male variety … ), and the yogurt and honey are sublime!
I spent the morning wandering around the area and through the Dubai mall. The use of the term “mall” is actually a misnomer … it is more like a small city. There is an aquarium, skating rink, movie theater, game park and oh yea … a bazillion shops. (Callie I have found your meccca.) You know you are in the middle east when the call to prayer echos through the mall and there are prayer rooms all over the place.
There were two hightlights from wandering through the mall: Tim Hortons (timbits for you Canuckleheads and yes they had them in the display case) and a full on kids’ hockey practice at the skating rink. Yep, Canada had invaded Dubai! The hockey was pretty funny to watch amongst the traditionally dressed Muslim folks. Turns out there were a lot of ex-pat Canucks, Swiss and Russians on the ice. (The kids had patches on their jerseys to mark the country where they were from.) And the players were being coached by guys wearing Dubai Camels jerseys (seriously … you can’t make this stuff up). Laughed my ass off when I saw the jerseys. Unfortunately, I could not find one for sale. I ended up speaking to a guy from Britain for a while who was watching the practice with his kids, but he couldn’t tell me where to buy one either.
I decided to spend the afternoon riding a tour bus around old and new Dubai. The term “new” Dubai is a also something of a misnomer (perhaps this city needs to create a adjective to describe itself) because as near as I can tell all of Dubai is new. Everywhere you go … new buildings, new roads, new bridges. I never thought I would say this, but it made Seattle look historical. Anyway, I picked up the bus at the Dubai mall, put on the tour headphones and proceeded to ride around for a couple hours past a parade of even more malls. Lots of people out and about as it was Friday (the Islamic sabbath) and traffic became pretty congested. The commentary I listened to about Dubai was pretty sparse on history probably becuase it is a relatively new country). It gave a brief history of the UAE (comprised of 7 member states) and talked about how Dubai was founded by a group that came from Abu Dhabi in the late 18th century to work the fishing and pearl trades. The bus also took us along the water front where the Persian Gulf has been reclaimed for a ton of highrises, condos and hotels being built, including one of the few 7 star hotels in the world: the Burj Al Arab, which has been designed to look like a dhow (traditional wooden sailing ship). Quite the spectacular design … and no I did not go inside … no admittance unless you stay there or have a lunch or dinner reservation. Fine … you don’t want me … I don’t want you.
I ended up hopping off at the Souk Madinat Jumeirah (souk is the middle eastern term for traditional market shops), which turned out to be part of a huge hotel complex next to the Burj Al Arab. I wandered around for a while and then decided to take a boat ride on the canals that meandered around the complex. I really just wanted to cool off as it was well over 100 and because this is an Islamic country shorts and sleeveless shirts are frowned upon for women. As a result I was wearing pants and a short sleeve shirt and was pretty hot at this point. After the boat ride, I wandered around the souk and as luck would have it, I wandered by a little stand and low and behold CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS. Yep, the streak continues. I have yet to visit a country where I couldn’t find an ornament.
After my purchase, I hopped back on the next bus for a drive around the “old town” area, but not before the bus passed the Gold and Diamond Mart, which according to the commentary on the headset, was THE place to find real bargains on gold and diamonds. What the hell! How did I not know about this? A return trip to this market would be in order tomorrow to see about a ”bling” purchase.
The old town area was interesting and took us past the Dubai Creek neighborhood, but I was super tired so didn’t get out and wander. I was planning on a trip to this area, including the Bastakiya neighborhood, tomorrow anyways (the old quarter) as well as a trip to the Dubai Old Souk and an abra (traditional boat) ride on Dubai Creek. The old town tour could wait.
I finally hopped off at the Gold Souk near the end of the bus ride. I had planned on doing some bartering but now that I knew about the Gold & Diamond Mart, I would have to do some comparison shopping. The Gold Souk was something out of Ali Baba. Narrow alleys, the smell of incense in the air, massive crowds of people and gold, gold gold. Holy ****! I have never seen so much 22k gold in my life. Some of the shops were literally dripping with gold. The windows were full of intricately designed necklaces, bracelets and rings. And if I lingered for more than a minute in front of a window, a young man would come out to see if I saw anything I liked. I actually ended up going into a couple shops, where I was served something to drink while a salesman showed me a parade of jewelry. Some of the stores were packed and others not so much. It quickly became apparent which stores were reputable and had the longest standing clientel. This info would be helpful if I decided to actually buy something after doing some comparison shopping between the Gold Souk and the Gold & Diamond Mart.
And as entertaining as I found the shop windows and the salesmen, the real action was the young men of questionable character who wanted to take me down side alleys to sell me “fake designer” handbags and watches, not to mention every kind of scarf and pashmina under the sun. Madam you need handbag? Madame just like designer. Madame you need good fake designer rolex? I politely declined each guy who approached me, but after a while it became annoying. It kind of reminded me of all those young women in Siem Reap who just wanted to sell me a scarf. Enough already!
I ended up leaving the Souk, grabbed a cab back to the hotel and walked to Mezze restaurant, which I had spotted earlier a few blocks from my hotel. Turned out to be a good choice, although I was the only tourist in the place and the only female who was not wearing an abaya (long cloak) and head covering. Nevertheless, folks were very nice to me and the food was fabulous. Daniel, the G.M., ordered for me and brought out lots of traditional dishes with freshly made ingredients (hummus, breads, salad, grilled chicken and beef and kofta – yuuuuummy) and some pomegranate juice. Perfect. And oh yea … it was also a shisha bar. Everyone was smoking shisha pipes (a single or multi-stemmed instrument for smoking flavored tobacco called Mu’assel in which the smoke is passed through a glass water basin before inhalation) … I considered giving it a go … you know “when in Rome” … but changed my mind. There was so much smoking going on I didn’t need to be smoking a pipe to get the effect. I left the place smelling like apples. Quite nice actually.
By now it was 10 and time for bed. The Burj fountains were in high gear as I walked into my hotel room (more about those tomorrow). I was done for the day.