Let me start by saying I did not take to Dubai. It is what I imagine you would get if you had zillions of pounds and decided to buy everything imaginable and plonk it in a desert. It was very hedonistic – you can stuff your face with ice cream all day, eat pizza, shop til you drop, and even do skiing or ice skating in a mall. If you have money to spend, there are a plethora of places to spend it.
Everything is the Biggest and the Best. We saw the Biggest gold ring in the world and then we went to the Biggest Mall in the world, which is next to the Biggest building in the world. Inside the Biggest Mall in the world is the Biggest single screen aquarium in the world. I was a bit sick of it by the end and longed for mediocrity – why can’t a mall be “average” or “OK”?! I guess I’m not coming from the right mindset, coming from a country where there is a book series called “Crap Towns” (and “Crap Towns 2”, because there were too many to fit in the first book!)
The Tallest Building In The World is called Burj Khalifa. (Although I read that another country was plotting another building that is 2 inches taller or something. Again – I’m sorry, but isn’t this just a massive phallic-symbol-measuring contest? Who cares if someone else’s is 2 inches
longer taller?? Not Cool.) Anyway, to go to the top, you had to pay 400 AED (a whopping £65!!) to go up immediately, or 125 AED (approx £20) to book a few days in advance. I wasn’t bothered about going up a tall building (well, I was, but not £130 worth of bovvered!) so we didn’t go up.
In the Malls, there were the usual chain shops that you get in Malls and High Streets all over the world. Obviously, a large food court with lots of choice – pizza, burgers, burritos, ice cream, etc etc. Everything and anything you could want for dinner, the usual coffee chains, etc. The Mall of the Emirates also had a Carrefour which is a large French supermarket, which I enjoyed (I’ve always loved French supermarkets from my holidays in France).
More unusually, in the Dubai Mall there was a massive aquarium with sharks and rays floating around that you can watch as you shop. There was also a Sega gaming area which my BF enjoyed, and a massive ice rink. In the Mall of the Emirates there was an indoor ski slope, complete with toboggan runs and a chairlift. It was well done, and clearly a lot of money had been thrown at it.
Talking of throwing money at things, did I mention the Palms? These are artificial beaches constructed so that they resemble a palm from the air (and one called The World, which is set out in the shape of the islands of the world). The Palm Jumeirah is the most well known, with the Atlantis Hotel at one end presiding over a state of the art monorail. Either side are rows of beautiful homes, each with their own section of private beach and most with swimming pools. However, I think this development spoils the view from the beach. On most beaches you’d get a beautiful view of the sunset, but here instead of looking out to sea your view is blocked by several apartment blocks.
We did something naughty. We snuck into the Atlantis. It’s guests-only, but my BF was adamant that we had to go there as he loves big hotels, and our doorman told us if you got a taxi and went to a certain entrance you could get in. We made it, and felt like we were on a secret mission, although I was so scared I will never do that again!! It was very big and grand inside, as can be expected, with a beautiful glass sculpture in the main lobby. There was also an aquarium inside – of course!
My BF had also wanted to go into the Burj Al Arab hotel (looks like a sail), but we got sidetracked by the beach, and in retrospect it’s a good job that we were… the Burj Al Arab is a 7 star hotel with a helicopter pad on the roof. I think they might have noticed two sketchy backpackers wandering in…
Many of the buildings were half-finished, and I understand that many projects suffered as a result of the recession. It’s a shame, as it left Dubai looking like a building site in many areas, and many buildings had cranes on top.
As to the transport system, the metro is good, fast and clean. However, although it spans the length of the city, it doesn’t get you to the coast so you still need to take a taxi or face a long walk between the metro and the coast. However the “building site” ethos pervades – not all of the stops on the map were built yet, which caused confusion with us and other tourists. I peered out of the metro windows at the empty streets of the city. As it’s so big there was no foot-traffic and it seemed lacking in soul; something no amount of massive buildings can replace in my view.
The Dubai Marina was pretty (I better say something nice after this barrage of negativity!) and we spent a nice evening wandering there and buying an expensive drink from an expensive bar. It was pretty though and we watched the sun set over the yachts.
I went to Dubai hoping for a cross between middle eastern culture and the luxury of having an easy life. We certainly got the easy life luxury element, but I was disappointed by the rest… The old town was interesting, but it wasn’t that old. I think I had envisaged authentic souks like Marrakesh, but the Gold Souk resembled a row of jewellery shops in my opinion.
One thing Dubai was not lacking was heat. It was HOT! It is the only time in my life where I have found myself wishing for the cold English winter. (And I hate the cold English winter!) So I guess the Malls do serve a purpose, as they are obviously all air-conditioned.
My favourite part of Dubai was watching men hoisting cars and vans onto ancient boats bound for Somalia, along with random Panasonic goods. We stood watching them for a while.
We took a boat across the Creek on a tiny boat for the locals, which was fun, and explored the small streets on the other side.
One thing to note – the guidebooks warned us to dress conservatively and cover up our skin, as a mark of respect to the culture. We covered up with long sleeves and trousers in loose, thin cotton. It was a good idea actually as I would have burnt to a crisp in the heat, and if there were any mosquitos there, they would have found me. But I was surprised to see some tourists wearing hot-pants in the malls (!) – although they were definitely a minority.
Of course there are strict laws in Dubai about sex, namely that you can’t do sex outside marriage. You also can’t hold hands. Or kiss. Or share a hotel room if you’re not married. I was quite scared as my BF and I shared a hotel room. I was terrified the hotel would ask if we were married at check-in, and we’d have to regale them with ridiculous fake-wedding stories. But luckily they didn’t ask. I think western hotels turn a blind eye as they know that if they didn’t, they’d have no hotel guests. We also made a conscious effort not to hold hands or hug or kiss in public all holiday… and we managed to stick to it – phew! 🙂
Ultimately, I did have a pleasant stay – our hotel was very comfortable and who wouldn’t like to partake in a nightly massive ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery with smarties added – yummy!! I am glad to be able to say that I have visited. I know Dubai is very “Cool” and has a great reputation with a certain young demographic, but Dubai was really not for me. Each to their own, eh?!
And talking of which, my boyfriend loved it! He loves vulgar displays of wealth (lucky for me! Ho ho! 😉 ), so he loves anything crazy and environmentally damaging like building a snowdome in a desert, Just Cos You Can! Each to their own indeed…
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