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United Arab Emirates

Bastakia near Dubai's Khor (creek)

Dubai

March 6, 2010
Jumeirah Palm, Ski Dubai, & Burj Dubai

On the gangway onto the plane, the person in front of me had a sweatshirt that said "New Holstein Ice Fishing." I'm not sure if that's a varsity sport or just a club, but for some in Wisconsin, it's a religion. I'm guessing I won't see any such shirts in Dubai.

March 7, 2010

We arrived in Dubai late evening, about 7:30-8:00pm. I was mostly in a haze from the exhaustion, but what struck me was the humidity in the city. I've always thought of Dubai as being in the desert, but once I stepped off that plane I hit a wall of moist air that caught me by surprise.

March 8, 2010

Much of Dubai is defined by its people or the people it wants to attract and that seems to be everyone. There are people from everywhere here and from every economic background, which tends to define where you live and what you do once you arrive in Dubai.

We hired a driver from Pakistan for the day and began at the Burj al-Arab, the face of Dubai and the world's only "seven star" hotel (in reality there is no such thing as a seven star hotel). A doctor I was with told security that our concierge had made us a reservation at the restaurant for lunch, but they checked and turned us away when it was revealed that we had no reservation.

Our next stop was at the hotel next door, the Mina a-Salam, whose security wasn't as tight. We saw a great pier jutting out into the water to provide perfect views of the Burj al-Arab so said we planned to see the menu and make a reservation. We got on a boat which maneuvered around small islands, on which stood most of the hotel rooms. Our boat managed the maze of tributaries from the gulf until we reached the pier. The restaurant wasn't serving food yet, but said the bar was open. Being a Muslim country, the United Arab Emirates is fairly liberal in regards to alcohol in order to satisfy their tourists and guests. Although the only place alcohol is served is in hotels.

The views from here were perfect with the Burj al-Arab just across the waterway, the gulf to our left and the beach and other state of the art building to the right. The beach also catered for tourists and the swim suits of these foreigners would prove quite inappropriate for a conservative, or even middle-of-the-road Muslim.

The next stop was the Jumeirah Palm, a man-made series of peninsulas that look like a palm tree from 20,000 feet, but from the ground looks like an over-priced, ritzy neighborhood for the world's elite who are looking for a well-known address to flaunt. At the palm's peak is the Atlantis Hotel, which provided some great fish tanks and formerly white people, who currently boasted a pinkish-red ting colored skin.

As we drove to lunch at Dubai Marina one person I was with became fixated on the cars here. Thus far, in half a day, we've seen six Aston Martins, a few Ferraris, and two Bentleys, all of which help contribute to viewing a Mercedes or BMW as if it were a beat-up old truck.

Lunch was at a Turkish restaurant, the most "authentic" food we could find in a line of Italian, Mexican, and Chinese food restaurants. In many ways Dubai is like the United States in that it's an immigrant destination country, but the people here seem so temporary and tend to stay for only a couple years before returning to their home country.

True Dubai, I've been told, can only be found in the malls and our next stop was the Mall of the Emirates to see "Ski Dubai," the indoor ski hill. As we entered there was a sign that requested people dress appropriately, asking that no shoulders or knees be showing. Once we passed that sign we could have been anywhere. The Australian I was with appropriately observed "This could be America."

March 9, 2010
Meetings & Dinners

My meeting started today with the ribbon cutting by one of the Sheikhs. The Sheikh then walked around with his huge entourage, who appeared to be more of a security force that loving fans. As with all royalty, every place the Sheikh went was first covered with red carpet, which was constantly being vacuumed this morning in our vigil for his presence.

The meeting was quite ordinary other than the fact that the people here were mostly Middle Eastern and not American, or Polish, or wherever else my meetings tend to be. I met a young girl from Baghdad who stopped by and talked for some time. What struck me about our conversation was how "normal" it was. When I think Baghdad I think war, violence, chaos, etc., but she didn't seem to be escaping that life, but rather was only out of town for the weekend. In fact she said that Dubai is too contrived for her and she's ready to get back home in Baghdad.

The dress here often times is a clue into the person's origin. The Emirates and other men from the gulf coast wear all white including a white keffiyeh (head scarf), while Saudis, Jordanians, and some Kuwaitis wear red and white checkered, Palestinians wear black and white and other countries, like Oman tend to wear taqiyahs (tight fitting hats) as the Persians were more often dressed in suits or nice western clothes, rarely sporting a keffiyeh.

The women are more of a mystery in dress, however are also more specific and varied so dress can clue a knowledgeable person in on what region a women is from. All women have their heads covered, however most show their faces, although there are a few that cover everything but their hands and eyes. Although this latter group of women can be from everywhere, they tend to be from more conservative countries like Saudi Arabia.

March 10, 2010

The meeting today was again ordinary, however one girl stopped by dressed in all black with everything covered except her hands and eyes. We talked for some time and she constantly used God's name in vein, which I found rather interesting.

Our business dinner was a great banquet filled with entertainment, or so I thought. It turned out to be a long, drawn out political show to impress our visiting dignitary, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the United Arab Emirates, Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and Ruler of Dubai. Forget the rest of the titles, I want to be the ruler of something, it just sounds good... "Ruler of Dubai." We should get rid of "mayors" and replace them with "rulers."

Due to the Ruler of Dubai's presence, we got stuck with hours, literally hours, of speeches, presentations, and formalities. I wish I could say the food was worth the wait, but, well, at least I can say I got to watch the Ruler of Dubai play Wii on one of the presentations; that was the evening's highlight.

March 12, 2010

Yesterday was again ordinary as far as my meeting was concerned and today I headed out to Amman, Jordan so took off to the airport. As I was checking in at the airport, the guy helping me asked me where I was from. He didn't know Wisconsin, so I said near Chicago as I braced myself to hear all about Michael Jordan. Jordan is the only thing many people know about Chicago so I've become well-versed in having short, polite, meaningless conversations about his career. This person however caught me by surprise when he said "that's where CM Punkt is from! I love him!" CM Punkt, the wrestler? Yes, the wrestler.

(Note – After this comment I kept a close eye out for signs of wrestling obsession and found way too many John Cena shirts throughout my future travels of Jordan, Egypt, and even Oman)

As I passed the giant, multi-story waterfall to my gate I noticed an arrogant westerner with a badge sewn on his bag that read "Christian Infidel." Fortunately, it was also translated in Arabic so no local would be confused by his insensitive remarks.

As I strapped up for my first flight on the world's preeminent airline, Emirates I was welcomed by an English stewardess and American pilot. Then I become fixated by one question: why are airplane seatbelts and car seatbelts so different? If one is safer than the other why don't all forms of transportation use the safer one?

Continue the above trip to: Jordan

March 20, 2010
Dubai Khor, Al-Shindagha, & Deira

After arriving to the Dubai airport from Muscat, Oman, I dropped my bags off, got on the metro and headed to Dubai Khor (creek) to see old Dubai. The day was only awaking and unfortunately I had arrived before most of the people and tourist sites awoke. I had a couple hours to relax as I waited for places to open, so found a bench in the shade to read.

Once the day began, my first stop was at the western edge of the waterfront, which is home to a number of great historical buildings. The buildings have incredible character and seem to vastly alter the modern city of Dubai I saw just days ago. As the sun rose over these buildings the shadows made for perfect pictures while the heat and time of day encouraged me to continuously stop for a break as I took those pictures.

After this area, I continued on the southern shore of the creek, got some water for 2 dirhams, exactly 14 dirhams cheaper than the cost of the same water in my hotel last week, then continued on to the Dubai Museum, which was just opening. The museum is the largest tourist sight in the city and it documents the history and culture of the region's past. If I had only seen new Dubai I'd think I was looking at some sort of ancient civilization that has long since gone extinct, however in this area you feel some of that history and the exhibits don't require too much imagination.

After a quick stop in a grocery store or supermarket, I continued on to the souqs (markets), which were slowly opening on my way to the museum and were now in full swing. I started with the souqs near the museum, but soon realized it was just a clothing market, so I found a quite place on the creek to eat my food and determine my plan for the afternoon.

After lunch, I passed through the markets, which seem to be primarily Indian and Pakistani to the region of Bastakia, which reminded me of the area to the west of the creek, however the buildings are much closer and by now the heat was much more intense. This area comprised of art galleries, a few restaurants, and a couple hotels. I enjoyed my time here, but decided to move on to the northern half of the creek, known as Deira.

I stepped on a dhow (wooden boat), paid my 1 dirham and was shipped across the river with the locals. The trip was only a few minutes, but the scenes from the water were exciting and the dhows seem to perfectly contrast the modern buildings in the distance.

The souqs in Deira were more to my liking, however I had no interest in buying, just looking and more importantly, experiencing the atmosphere. I moved from one souq to the next, starting with spices filling the air, to the upscale shops of the gold souq. I was hoping to find beautiful gold Arabian lamps in the gold souq and other gold products, however the bulk of the shops are simply jewelry stores for the tourists.

Once I had watched the people for some time, I began my walk to the mall. I don't like malls, but I needed the Guinness Book of World Records in Arabic and I needed air conditioning, since it was 109 degrees by this time. I tried to save some money and walk, but two blocks later I bought a metro ticket and soon found myself at the Deira City Center Mall.

The first shop in the mall was a bookstore, so I asked about the Guinness Book of World Records and was informed that it's still being translated into Arabic. I had no reason left to be in this mall I just entered, but I longed for a place to sit and the air conditioning forbade me from leaving until I had to check into my flight that was scheduled to depart at 11:30pm. I spent the next couple hours people watching before catching my night flight home.

*    *    *

February 4, 2011
Burj Kalifa, Rain, & Sand Storms

I've been in Dubai since January 31 and have little to add from what I've written in the past other than a couple oddities. We made it to the viewing platform of Burj Kalifa (formerly Burj Dubai), the world's tallest building, which provides some incredible views. We also got caught in a downpour one day and a sand storm on another. Neither was very pleasant, but provided for some incredible weather changes in the desert. The food on this trip, much as it was last time, was incredible.

*    *    *

January 30, 2012
Desert Safari

I have another meeting in Dubai the next three days, but had some free time today to get out and enjoy my time here. I decided to go on a desert safari tour. I wanted to go on a tour that involved dune buggy racing and sand surfing, but it took off first thing in the morning when I had to work. So I went on a sunset dinner tour instead, but it was also incredible.

After getting picked up at my hotel, I met the others on my tour, our guide, a local who has been driving in the desert since he was 13, a young English couple on their honeymoon and an Indian mother and daughter. We headed into the desert and once we arrived at the park gate, we let much of the air out of our tires then drove on.

Our first stop was a concocted (man-made) oasis where we watched a falcon show, learning more about the relationship of the local people with migrating falcons. These birds would migrate to the region, the people would capture and train them, then as the seasons changed the birds would be released.

After the stop we began the highlight of the tour; off roading in the desert. Our driver and his friend (driving the car in front of us) seemed to compete, the leader taking tough lines in hopes that the follower would get stuck or turn over (our car had a roll bar though). Many times we were taking different lines than the other cars on the tour (about 40 in total), making our drive extremely exciting. The sand dunes were a couple stories tall at times and we regularly went over these mounds, while at other times we drove up the side, cocking the wheel at the very last minute just prior to tipping, racing down the hill. Many times it felt like a roller coaster, but it was unpredictable as there were no tracks we followed.

After a short stop on a high dune, overlooking the empty desert for miles in every direction, our driver took the lead as his friend followed behind. Again, this adventure was exhilarating. Along the path we also saw car after car get stuck; one on top of a large sand dune and a couple others losing grip up a hill, shortly after driving in reverse back down the hill. On our next stop, at another tall sand dune to watch the sunset, our driver, along with many others picked on the drivers who got stuck in the sand.

Our final stop on the tour was at a recreated desert village. At this camp we ate, watched a belly dancer, and rode camels. The entire trip was excellent, but by 9:00 pm I was exhausted and ready to head back to my hotel.

Three days of meetings ahead, then back home.

Learn more about the United Arab EmiratesReturn to Justin's Travel Blog