Monday, 19 April 2010

Dubai: city of superlatives

I wandered around, getting lost a few times… this shopping center sure is big! I popped into H&M and bought a lovely new top, then into Next and Debenhams just to check things out. Eventually I got a bit weary and headed for Starbucks and a Dulce de Leche Frappuccino (my favourite!) and walked out of the mall and into the bright sunshine: when straight ahead of me I suddenly noticed this simply enormous building:

Yup, I was in Dubai. I had only arrived that morning but already I was having a look around what is supposedly the world’s biggest mall: Dubai Mall. Besides the usual UK high street brands and popular US shops they also have a bunch of real high-end designer shops and even some more Middle Eastern shops along with hundreds of others… the place sure feels big. And extremely clean, flashy, upmarket and opulent. Pretty much like the rest of Dubai.

Our trip was sudden but it had been in the cards for a while. It really was a business trip for my DH and he’d been trying to work out a date when we could go but leave the kids behind with grandparents so the Easter break worked out best. However, I had a few work commitments that clashed a little, so the timing was crucial. Once the trip was confirmed at his end, it was time to book my flights and cross my fingers that the visa turned up in time.

Ultimately all systems appeared to be go and before I knew it I had my visa, my ticket and my annual leave all booked. In a few days I’d be in Dubai! And I might finally see some sunshine!

My flight was on the Saturday from London Heathrow and I was at The Gadget Show all day – in Birmingham. This meant I had to take a train from the NEC in Birmingham down to London, cross the city and then head out the other end towards the airport. We had it all planned down to the last minute and initially it all appeared to work well… until an accident disrupted the trains and my travel suddenly slowed down. At 5.30pm I was supposed to be nearly at the airport but instead I was still in Milton Keynes!

It was a frustrating and stressful journey, to say the least. I had no idea what was going on as train staff didn’t seem to know themselves and I really did think I wasn’t going to make my flight. Thankfully I was in constant contact with my DH who was in Kent at the time, dropping off the children at his parents. He had a bit of time up his sleeve so he told me he would come and collect me from one of the stations on my route. In an epic journey worthy of Top Gear (I could imagine the little map in my head, with little dots representing each of us, getting closer and closer) we met in Watford with unbelievable timing: the minute I stepped outside the train station, he drove up!

After this ridiculous journey we eventually made it to the airport and to our flight. We arrived in Dubai at 7am and after the usual immigration and baggage collection and stuff we found our way out of the airport – one of the most OTT airports I’ve ever seen, btw. We got to our hotel very quickly (due, in part, to the taxi driver’s crazy driving, which we later found out is the usual way taxi drivers get around here!) and were pleased to note that we had a great view of the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) from our room. In fact, we were almost opposite the Dubai Mall and if it wasn’t for the complex roadworks between here and there, we could have walked to it.

The city itself is quite impressive: tall buildings everywhere, with wide highways between them and tons of building works and road works everywhere. The impression I have of Dubai is mainly that it is a huge building site, a works in progress. Whatever is already there is amazing and very impressive but also verging on tacky and sometimes ridiculous. I mean, the fountains outside the Burj Khalifa (the biggest fountains in the world) are clearly impressive and amazing but let’s not forget this is the middle of the desert – is this a little bit of a waste of resources? There is a metro system which is clean and easy to use but isn’t it a bit much to deck the stations in marble, to have escalators and travelators in every single one and to air-condition the whole lot?

After a few days I realized that this place reminded me a lot of Las Vegas, minus the gambling of course. And with a beach. There is the obvious similarities of being deserts, of having enormous hotels and manicured gardens. But also there was the feeling that you could really be anywhere but, at the same time, nowhere else. It was crazy – in a good way. I enjoyed looking around The Palm island, the Atlantis hotel, all the Jumeirah properties around the beach, the numerous malls around, the Dubai Creek, the gold Souk... there was lots to see.

Much has been said about the people and the amazing service one gets everywhere. This was indeed very true but I must say (patriotically) that I find the same great service at most Mexican resorts and indeed a lot of US hotels too. What was noticeable is that the mix of people is like none I’ve ever seen before: there was literally everyone from everywhere. It was just as easy to spot typical tourists in shorts and strappy tops (which are not really allowed in public places, btw) as it was to spot women in amazing saris, men in national costume or girls decked out in black from head to toe, carrying fabulous designer handbags. I really liked that – it was almost like wandering around Epcot World Showcase, but for real.

I only spent 3 nights in Dubai but it was enough to convince me to come back for a little longer next time, and bring the kids. It is a pretty weird place but it is also very friendly, full of superlatives and very, very sunny. I may just wait for them to finish building it all though.

2 comments:

Julie W said...

I'm so glad you had such a good time! I had a similar experience in Doha, but that city is years behind the development in Dubai. Doha actually has a city skyline of tall buildings, but they are all empty! And as for the tourists, I also didn't like that some of the ladies went ahead and wore tops that revealed their shoulders and chest. It's like, if you want to dress like that, go somewhere else, but NOT the most conservative, Islamic nation out there!! The lack of respect for a culture ... ugh.

Your photos are awesome. I can't imagine being on the top of that building looking down. Yikes!

And Claudia, I love how you always manage to mention Disney World in some way. I just LOVE it - it's so you!!! :)

Shazza911 said...

Thanks for sharing... Dubai is on my list of places to go, and reading your account just adds fuel to that fire!!

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