Ah, Dubai….. often referred to as the “Las Vegas of the Middle East”, I had high expectations as I arrived at 7:30pm on a friday night. Of course, after 13 hours on a plane, even with the jet lag making me feel 8 hours behind (so around 5pm) all I had energy for was a wander around my hotel (the lovely JW Marriott, Dubai, where my check-in girl, Grace, kindly upgraded me to the Abu Dhabi Suite in order to accommodate my request for a non-smoking room when I reserved my room), a snack in the piano bar, and then an early bedtime. I did stop at the concierge before I headed up to bed, because with only just over 36 hours in Dubai, I wanted to make the most of my very first trip to the Middle East. The concierge reserved the night time desert tour for me, which would start at 3:30pm the next day, and I inquired about daytime touring options. He presented me with two options: for 75 AED I could get a ticket for the hop-on-hop-off bus or I could get a private tour with an English-speaking driver for 30 AED/hour. The bus tour could take up to 4 hours, which is more time that I wanted to spend the next day, and the private tour sounded like such a good value (that’s just under $30 US/hour) that I opted for the private car. Besides, realizing that I would be jet lagged and would want some time to rest between the day tour and the evening one, being driven around sounded much more appealing than having to find the bus stops and hopping on and hopping off!! I went off to bed with a 10:30am reservation for the private tour.
The next morning, promptly at 10:30am, my driver arrived at the hotel to pick me up. He was a very nice, young Pakistani guy, who took me around and showed me the sights. First, he took me over to the port area, and pointed out the hotels along the way. We passed the spice market, which you could smell from a distance with a rich variety of spices, and the fish market, which (thankfully) you could not smell from a distance. Then it was over to the Gold Souq (a souq is a market – it can also be spelled suq, souk, sooq or a few other ways! See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Souq), where he dropped me off to walk around a little bit. It reminded me a little bit of the jewelry district in Philadelphia, but it’s much bigger and a bit overwhelming. It was store after store with windows full of rings, necklaces, bracelettes, etc., all glittering and glistening in the bright lights and Dubai heat. I didn’t know where to begin! I didn’t even end up going into a single store, as they all seemed to have similar merchandise, and none really seemed to set itself apart from any other in any notable way, so I couldn’t decide where to go in!! Plus, it was the first day of my trip, so I was hesitant to start in on the shopping! After all, I’ll be away for over 6 months! And I will likely be back to Dubai on another layover at some point, so maybe I’ll buy some gold next time! I will say that the prices did look reasonable, and there were some pretty things. Of course, I also have a preference for white or rose gold over yellow gold, and perhaps that was another reason nothing particularly caught my eye, as it was mostly yellow gold. But there were some designs that looked different than what you would find back home in the US, so I will probably be back and pick up a couple of things. I like to get things that are different when I travel, because why get the same old thing that everyone has, right? 🙂
Anyway, after the Gold Souq, we went over to the Heritage Village. The Heritage Village is an area of the city by the Creek where the old style of buildings have been recreated (my driver said that they were restored, not recreated, but this site says they were recreated…. not sure who is right: http://www.dubaicity.com/what_to_do_in_dubai/dubai_heritage.htm). I walked around a little bit, and explored the Diving Village. It was a pretty cool place! Apparently in the evenings, the shops open up and the restaurants throw open their doors, but when I went there in the morning, I had the whole place to myself. It was a sunny day, so quite hot (well over 90 degrees, and mildly humid), so wandering out-doors did not seem like too popular activity around noon! But, like I said before, I wanted to make the most of what little time I had in Dubai, and didn’t want to just hide in the A/C all day. Though I will say, getting back into the air conditioned car after every bit of walking around I did felt fantastic!!
After the Heritage Village, we drove past the Dubai museum – if I had more time, I definitely would have gone in, but I wasn’t going to have time to do it right, so I just looked at it from the outside, and moved along. We started driving towards Jumeirah Beach and Palm Island, where all the resorts are. Along the way, we passed some beautiful beaches and many, many malls! It seems like everything in Dubai is attached either to a mall or to a hotel. We passed one mall that had an indoor ski facility attached, another that had an aquarium inside it, and another with a skating rink in it. As we went along, we also passed many many mosques, all beautiful and intricately decorated. Here are two of them:
The mosques provided a contrast to the commercial focus of the culture here and decadent luxury that is present throughout the rest of what Dubai seems to have to offer. The mosques seem to sort of ground the city and keep it from getting even more over the top!! While it might be the “Vegas of the Middle East”, Dubai falls short of the excesses of the real Las Vegas in Nevada! The level of excess in Vegas would be way too much in this Islamic country!!
A few examples of the over-the-top luxury of Dubai can be found in the hotels along Jumeirah Beach Road, and out on Palm Island. No discussion of Dubai luxury hotels can be had without including Dubai’s self-proclaimed “seven star” hotel – the Burj Al Arab hotel (pictured below).
Now, as much as I was curious to see what the inside of a “seven-star” hotel looked like, I did not want to pay the hefty price of admission (around $100 US) just to have a peek around. I had to satisfy my curiosity just like anyone else who wants a free peek can: on the internet! Here’s a link if you want to see the opulent fanciness! http://www.jumeirah.com/en/Hotels-and-Resorts/Destinations/Dubai/Burj-Al-Arab/?cm_mmc_o=PyzEp%20C%20VV2CjCZBfwkl%20J-H%20CazyTwf%20-uybgzCjCPAyX%20-k%20-yz_%20C%20KA_zbCjCPAyX%20-k%20-yz_%20tBfwk%20pA_zb. Apparently, the rooms have butlers and guests arrive by a variety of means including Rolls Royces (Perhaps a better pluralization would be Rolls Royci? Just kidding!), helicopter, and various other luxurious means….. what, you mean my regular stretch limo would seem merely ordinary here??? (Once again, kidding! I’m a Chitalian on a budget here, more likely to use the Lonely Planet “On A Shoestring” series than a fancy car or chopper service!) I wouldn’t complain if anyone would wish to chauffeur me around in such conveyances, but they certainly aren’t necessary for me – I’m just a simple gal!
Next door to the “seven star” hotel is another luxurious hotel, complete with gilded-horse fountains and fancy cars parked out front. They have created canals around this hotel/resort, and you can get around by boat (possibly gondola….. again, I didn’t stay here, so I can’t speak to the details beyond what you see in the pictures below, but here’s a link if you want to learn more! http://www.jumeirah.com/en/hotels-and-resorts/destinations/dubai/madinat-jumeirah/al-qasr-hotel/)
OK, enough with the virtual tour of hotels! After these, I had pretty much had enough and was ready to get back to my own hotel, but my driver seemed keen to take me to one more….. it was the Atlantis Resort on Palm Island. Now, I might have been more impressed had I never been to Paradise Island’s Atlantis Resort….. but what sort of bothered me about Atlantis Dubai is the fully artificial environment you find it in. I mean, the ocean is real, and the original beach was probably beautiful…… but they’ve gone and constructed Palm Island. The concept makes sense from a real estate perspective, I suppose. Palm Island is an artificial island that was built, you guessed it, in the shape of a Palm Tree. Each “leaf” of the Palm Tree is home to a bunch of condos/apartments/hotels/villas, and the advantage of its shape is that EVERYONE has waterfront property and their own beach. But I have to say, I’m much more impressed when nature makes a beautiful beach than when man makes one. So, after giving it a cursory-I’m-just-trying-to-be-polite-but-can-we-please-go-now look around, I was finally headed back to my hotel to relax and get a little snack from room service before heading out to the desert night tour. I’ll post separately about that though – this post is long enough! One little negative, for anyone who is looking to do a private tour like this though: it wasn’t 30AED/ hour in the end – it came to $30 an hour – so no matter what the concierge tells you, confirm the price with the driver before you get in! It still was worth it to me, but I did end up spending more than I thought I would. Anyway, I’ll leave you with a picture of my room service yummy snack – the original TC’s favorite: Hummus!
Til the next post,