Monday, May 17, 2010

Dubai, UAE

Dubai, UAE
Tuesday, April 20 and Wednesday, April 21

The day was very hazy as the ship made its way into the port about 9:00 a.m.; I wanted to take photos, but I could barely see the Burj Khalifa through the haze, even though it was only a few of miles from the port. As I went to breakfast, I noticed how cool the weather was, and the low humidity. We were told that the high temperature for the day would be only 29 C (about 90 F), a beautiful day, and it turned out to be hot in the sun, but pleasant and dry and beautiful in the shade.

I had wanted to take a tour of the city the first day, and go to the Burj Al Arab Hotel the second; however, I had to reverse the order because the ship was not running the Burj Al Arab tour the second day. About 10:00, the bus set off to the Burj Al Arab, down a long straight street, the Jumeirah Road. This road is the oldest part of Dubai; it was where the original houses, businesses and hotels were located. This road reminds me of lots of beach towns in America, with flat, two-story buildings on each side of the road. We were told that a mosque would appear about every 500 meters to ensure adequate places for daily prayers. On Friday, most Muslims would go to the large Jumeirah Mosque, and would go to neighborhood mosques for daily prayers. I noticed how new the buildings looked, how there were no electrical lines anywhere, and how clean everything was.

I was also overwhelmed by the number of high rise buildings on the main road, the Sheikh Zayed Road, in the distance to the East, running parallel to the Jumeirah Road. The two main roads run North/South, with the coast line like the West Coast in Florida or California; Dubai is a West Coast city.

Our first stop was the Burj Al Arab hotel, for tea. I was pretty overwhelmed by the appearance of the hotel, built to resemble a giant sail on a dhow sail boat. Inside, the hotel was overwhelming, with an atrium reaching all the way to the 25th floor. The tea was on the 27th floor, and after tea, we were permitted to take photos from several rooms, including the tea room, another dining room, and the two story ballroom. We were not permitted to take photos from the top of the atrium down toward the lobby, perhaps for safety reasons (I’m sure they didn’t want cameras to fall on guests below).

The tour of the day was supposed to include a catamaran ride to “The World” Islands; however, because of rough seas, that part of the tour was cancelled. Instead, after tea and photos, we drove to the palm island -- the little palm island -- which was the first of the palm islands to be constructed. The island was constructed as a residential area, and we were told that it is almost completely sold out and occupied. Clearly people were living in all those high rise apartments and in the thousands of single family homes built on the palm leaves of the island. It was a beautiful place. All the way out to the end of the island is the Atlantis Hotel, and the bus stopped there for photos. The water was a beautiful green color; I had never seen water that color before. It was beautiful.

After leaving Palm Island, we drove through the newly developed area near Dubai Marina, Jumeirah Village. More than 120 high rise buildings have been built in this area in the past 12 years. The area is mainly a residential area, but it also includes Universities and the high tech sector of Dubai. The entire area is planned, with a lake, a canal, and beautiful landscape design, along with buildings of incredible architecture. The new ski slope is located in the Jumeirah area, and from the outside, it looks like a giant metal tube jutting out of a large building.

Dubai is divided into two main parts -- Downtown, near Dubai Creek, and Jumeirah, which is like a bedroom suburb in America. The two areas are separated by a large industrial park area, about five miles long. In each of the two parts of Dubai, beautiful high rise buildings have been built; the new Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, is located in the Downtown area, and that was the next stop of our tour.

The bus drove through the Downtown area, stopping at the Burj Khalifa for photos. This gleaming building is truly beautiful and impressive; it narrows soon and looks like a giant needle shooting into the heavens. Just in front of the Burj Khalifa, a large pond has been constructed with forced water fountain shows each night, like the ones at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Adjacent to the Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Mall, the largest shopping mall in Dubai, with more than 1500 stores. After half an hour of photos and walking in the area, the bus returned to the ship.

In the evening, I returned to the city with some others to walk through the old section, the “Souk”, a warren of alleyways filled with small shops. The place was really bustling in the evening, as locals were out shopping for everything from food to household utensils to spices to gold. It was wonderful to experience. We stopped in a spice store to buy some saffron; the man opened a large metal container filled with dark Iranian saffron, pinched off some, and used his scale to measure out ten grams. When the woman buying the saffron protested that it was too much, the shopkeeper seemed taken aback that anyone might want less than 10 grams.

After walking for a couple of hours, we took one of the little ferry boats across Dubai “creek”, which is almost as wide as the Potomac River, to another old area to continue walking. After a time, we took a taxi to the Dubai Mall to have dinner and watch the water show in front of the Burj Khalifa. We were able to get a table at an outdoor restaurant and watched the water show three times (it goes off every half hour) while having dinner. The air was cool and dry and the show was beautiful. The show changes each time it goes off.

Wednesday, I took the ship tour of the city. The first stop was on the beach near the Burj Al Arab for great photos. The bus then drove north along the Sheikh Sayed Road, a 10 lane freeway running north/south connecting all of Dubai, back toward the Burj Khalifa. We stopped for photos outside the Jumeirah Mosque, the oldest and largest mosque in Dubai, and then the bus took us to the Dubai Museum, which, unlike most museums, was very interesting, with displays showing how people lived in the desert community a hundred years ago. We then took a ferry boat across the Dubai Creek to the souk area, where tour passengers went for a walk before the bus returned to the ship. After the bus dropped us off at the ship, I immediately took the shuttle to the Dubai Mall to purchase another photo card for my camera, and there I learned that San Disk now has faster disks than the ones I have been using. I purchased two of them, and that should be sufficient for the remainder of the trip.

What a wonderful place Dubai is. I want to go back some January for a month. Bas and Monique priced a nice studio apartment for about $2500 per month (U.S.), and that seems quite reasonable to me. Two of the passengers, Sar and Nimu, have a son living in Dubai with his new wife, and they love it. I think I would, too.

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