Dubai, UAE

The only reason we stopped in Dubai was to break up the flight home. Neither of us had visited the city before, so it seemed like a good opportunity to briefly see what this part of the world was all about.

 

After a smooth plane ride with the best veg meals I had ever received on a flight, we landed in the hottest place on earth. Okay, maybe not the hottest, but the heat was a killer. Not that we felt it straight away - the airport and train system were fully enclosed air-conditioned bubbles, lulling us into a false sense of hope. We jumped off the plane, caught the train to a different terminal to pick up our luggage, passed through a simple immigration and caught another train towards our hotel in the old town. That was when we hit a wall of heat. It was only a five minute walk but that was enough to know we didn't want to spend much time outside while we were here.

 

First item on the agenda was to go to bed. Neither of us had slept on the plane and our exhaustion was catching up with us. It was also a great way to avoid the afternoon heat. Roughly four hours later I emerged from the room, ready to check out the neighbourhood while Danny continued to sleep.

 

The late afternoon sun produced a haze over the town, preventing me from seeing too far off into the distance (or maybe that was my fatigue). The streets seemed empty - I guess everyone else was avoiding the heat too. All buildings were sand coloured, flat-roofed and adorned with ornate carvings. A few men here and there tried halfheartedly to lure me into their jewellery stores but I was in no mood for shopping (as if I was ever in the mood for shopping).

 

I wandered over to the creek and walked along the water's edge, watching the traditional wooden abras (boats) ferry people from one side to the other. From here I ventured through the Textile Souk, where every man, woman and child was begging me to look at their goods. There wasn't a moment's peace to look around alone. It became so frustrating that I sprinted through the rest of the souk to avoid further encounters with shopkeepers or their really-hard-to-say-no-to children.

I continued to explore the old town, winding my way through a maze of buildings containing small museums and galleries. I tried to enter a mosque but found I was not allowed as a tourist. So instead I watched the sunset over the creek before venturing back to the hotel.

I had to drag Danny out of bed to grab some dinner, which he wasn't too happy about but I was sure he would thank me later (he didn't). One positive about Dubai: vegetarian restaurants were plentiful. Particularly Indian restaurants, which was where we ended up. A couple of samosas, a couple of masalas and we were well and truly satiated.

 

Jet lag is a killer. Sleep for a few hours, awake for a couple, back to sleep again - my body clock was all over the place. Normally I wouldn't care, but in this case it made me miss the free breakfast buffet. I love free food, and missing an entire buffet did not put me in a good mood.

 

Danny's jet lag cure was to stay in bed all day. I knew I would go crazy if I did that, so I hit the streets again. I headed down to the waterfront to catch the abra across the creek. This area of Dubai, Deira, was popular for its souks, or covered street markets. The souks in Dubai were nothing like those we had visited in Turkey or Morocco, where the complex network of streets could have you lost for hours. Things seemed more orderly here, and were on a smaller scale. Unfortunately I made this trip on a Friday, when, unbeknownst to me, the souks didn't open until later in the day. Nearly all the stores were closed, and the few that were open started their sales pitch as soon as I was in eyesight. I hurried past, determined not to get trapped in a conversation that would lead me to being sucked in to buying an unwanted souvenir. 

I stuffed down a supermarket-bought sandwich for lunch before returning to the hotel to relax in air-conditioned comfort. At 43°C, it was a scorcher. Later in the day I managed to persuade Danny to come for a walk around town, to breathe some fresh air. The walk didn't last long. Next to the hotel was a bar showing the Ashes. Being an avid cricket fan, Danny took one look at the screen and plonked himself down on a stool. I surrendered and joined him, happy to be out of the heat and away from overbearing salespeople. Plus the barman gave us endless bowls of free popcorn (a weakness of ours - the popcorn and free stuff) so we made ourselves comfortable. 

 

My second night of jet lag was worse than the first. Two hours of sleep, awake at 2:30am, and didn't fall back to sleep until daylight. I only slept for an hour, intent on making it down for breakfast today. I was very, very, very glad I did. Toast, cereal, pasta, chickpea curry, paratha, rice pudding, salad, pastries - it was massive and it was all vegetarian. I was in buffet heaven! I wondered if I was in some sort of sleep-deprived, dreamlike state, scared that I would wake up to discover that it wasn't real. I didn't wake up. It was real. I ate so much that I was full until dinner.

 

Danny was up for exploring today so we caught the train to Dubai Mall, the largest in the world. Neither of us were in the market to buy anything, but we wanted to see how ridiculously extravagant it was. It met most of my expectations. Modern, flashy, upscale, interior waterfalls, and catering the people with money (i.e. not us). The mall went on forever but I was done with it after half an hour. Apparently the world's largest fountain was outside, but it wasn't turned on so I couldn't say if it was worth seeing or not.

No fountains outside but there were waterfalls inside.

Next stop was the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. At over 800m and 160 storeys, I can confirm that it was colossal. We bought tickets to the observation deck about halfway up (at over 400m it was still insanely high) but we knew something was wrong as soon as we were ushered into a lounge serving drinks and dates (the food, not the social act). I sat down for a moment, trying to remember if this lounge was part of the experience or if we had paid extra for it. Some quick currency conversions in my head told me that we had spent almost three times as much as we should have. I grabbed Danny and ran over to the host, explaining that this wasn't what we signed up for, we only wanted the lower (cheaper) deck. Reluctantly she guided us back to the ticket counter, who were very understanding and reimbursed us the difference. No lounge, no dates, but a lot more money in the bank account.

 

We didn't need the higher level anyway. From the 124th floor we were provided with hazy views in all directions. Skyscrapers as far as the eye could see, dozens more in the works, the sea, the main roads, the non-operational fountains - that was about it. Everything was a uniform grey and beige colour, punctuated by the occasional blue pool of water. It was okay, I was glad I experienced it but I don't think I would do it again. 

Back on the train, we ventured down to Mall of the Emirates, another over-sized complex selling almost exactly the same stuff. The only difference was that this mall contained a ski slope. It wasn't as high as I was expecting, but it was tall enough to require a short chairlift ride to reach the top of the various ski and toboggan runs (I'm sure the trip only lasted 10 seconds). I thought it was a great idea, and if we had been in Dubai for longer I would probably have made an effort to go in.

 

We decided to brave the heat and walk over two kilometres down to Burj Al Arab, the famous sail-shaped hotel. We didn't see a single other person out walking. When it's 44°C outside, I don't blame them. We reached the hotel but we weren't allowed past the main gate, so we took a few photos from the bottom and moved on. With nothing else to see or do in the area, we walked all the way back to the train station again. I wasn't sure if I had ever sweated so profusely in my entire life. We should have stopped being so stingy and caught a taxi.

 

After cooling and drying off somewhat in the wonderfully cold train network, I stupidly jumped off the train early so I could walk down the main street and admire the buildings. It was unbelievable just how many skyscrapers there were and how rapidly they were being erected. The heat, the haziness, the lack of traffic and the palm trees lining the side of the road brought a desert feel to the metropolis, creating a fusion of two worlds. I lasted about 30 minutes before needing the sweet, cool relief of the public transport system again.

Another vegetarian restaurant for dinner and another sensational buffet breakfast finished up our time in Dubai, and our holiday overall. We almost missed the plane as we were too busy duty-free shopping, so it could have been extended longer, but it was time to head home.

Our journey was incredible, far exceeding our expectations. We knew a Central American holiday was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I think we made the most of it. Are there places I would love to go back to? Absolutely. But with a large proportion of the world left to explore, we might travel somewhere different next time. Stay tuned for our next grand adventure.

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