Into the heat and opulence that is Dubai
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Well and truly on the way home now. I managed about 5 hours sleep on the flight, repacked my 5kg of excess hand luggage into the suitcase at the airport and took the long taxi ride into the heat and metropolis that define Dubai. I had not appreciated the enormous scale of the buildings here, not just in terms of size, but also in quantity and geographic spread. The city stretches much further than you can see with distinct clusters of enormous skyscrapers placed at regular intervals along the way. The sheer volume of ongoing construction is striking as is the distinct beauty that they incorporate into the concrete giants they are creating. Spiralling outer walls, protruding and angled windows and platforms and lots of glass were the stand out features repeated across every part of the city.
After boosting my caffeine levels I headed out into the city. Quick visits to the two larger shopping malls, the Hall of Emirates and the Dubai Mall, reinforced the impression created by the scale of building here that power and money top the lists of desired attributes. I felt much more comfortable, despite the soaring heat (40 degrees) when I headed instead to the Dubai Museum and Al Fahidi Fort. They are small, quaint and pay homage to the people and traditions that existed here for over a thousand years. The museum focussed on scenes and attributes of everyday life and was a maze of dioramas of shops and rooms typical of average people. I clearly picked the right outfit to wear, having sought to be respectful of local customs, as twice I was thought by other visitors to be a part of the display. I tend to stand very still and read the detailed descriptions that accompany museum displays and I gave my viewers quite a fright when I suddenly moved as they neared me to make a closer inspection. I actually appreciated how those street performers feel who pretend to be statues then move as suspecting passers by brush close to them and it crossed my mind to start doing it deliberately. I wasn’t sure how well that would go down in socially conservative Dubai though so I left future encounters up to chance and didn’t get arrested.
After the museum I wandered around the gold souk hoping to find the bangle that had led to my stay in Dubai. Twenty years ago, when pregnant with Eideann, I had flown through Dubai airport on my way home from working offshore. I saw a beautiful gold bangle with inlaid panels of coloured stone which etched itself into my memory. My financial future was a bit uncertain (ok, grim) at that point so at $800 I decided that I needed to leave it where it was. The damn thing has haunted me ever since. The closest thing I found at the gold souk was over $1,000 and not exactly what I was after so again I walked away. I took a quick stroll through the spice souk – wonderful aromas as you would expect – then took a walk along the bank of the Dubai creek where the abras, the working boats, tie up and load. It is very much a working shoreline so there are boats darting back and forth across the creek (river to us) and larger boats near the souks were busy offloading cargo. It was a really refreshing view after the commercial feel of the malls and in keeping with my nautical background I found the aroma of diesel to be distinctly comforting. Yes, we know I have issues.
My visit coincided with the middle of Ramadan so during the day no food is visible and the majority of cafes are closed or patronised by only one or two (culturally insenstive) westerners. In the main malls and hotels restaurants and food halls open, but with barriers in place or curtains drawn so that they are not visible from outside. Behind the walls they operate as normal, with the exception that in the food hall your meal had to be handed to you in a thick plastic bag (think Myer style) to go from the kitchen to your table – I presume this is either so that there is not a direct handing over of food or just in case you want to take all or part of your meal away from the food hall. My friend Tracey had posted a comment on Instagram that morning about how much packaging comes with takeaway food and I looked at my meal incredulous at how much more can be added if you really try. I am not seeing Dubai at the top of the list of environmentally conscious countries.
After 7pm food is served as normal, but entertainment is wound back and alcohol is frowned upon. Eideann had highly recommended going to the Dubai Fountain which at night springs to life with displays choreographed to music. I found a restaurant overlooking the fountain (and the world’s tallest building) which avoided the crowds (the fountain is next to Dubai Mall so hundreds of people spill out of there to watch the shows) and meant that I could leisurely eat and take in two of the displays. They were stunning. The first was to traditional Indian music and the second to an Italian version of what sounded like “You Take My Breath Away”. Ohhhh, it was so romantic and it was amazing how the fountains really did seem like they were alive and dancing to the music. I wholly concur with Eideann – if you are going to Dubai this is a must see.
The following day I was planning to race out again to see a historical site and perhaps one last museum or gallery. It seemed a bit warm though and it struck me that I was on my last day of the holiday so instead I picked up a couple of gifts that I had spotted the previous day and retired to the pool for a last paddle and to read a book. Now, I didn’t think it was THAT hot, but I discovered later that it was 46 degrees so I am glad that I took the lazy option.
I rounded off the trip with a dinner cruise on a traditional dhow in the Dubai Marina, another Eideann suggestion. I was joined with a lovely mother and daughter pair from the Czech Republic, on holidays from the family farm. As you would expect, the city lights are beautiful and it was a still, warm night so a very relaxing way to spend the last night of my trip.
Time to wind down now, steel myself for the 30 degree drop in temperature back to Melbourne and ready myself to return to the real world. One more leg of the trip and I will be home.