M double U

2014 Dubai

Living On A Different Planet…

Overwhelming but also artificial and fake. A lot of money might have been spent in creating this world of superlatives but to be honest it was not our thing…

That was our verdict on Dubai after our short stay in 2011. Now 3 years later and we were flying via Dubai anyway on our way home from the Maldives we decided to give it another chance and visit Dubai again. This time we had some more time to explore it than during our last unexpected visit in 2011.

So just a couple of hours after we left the Maldives we found ourselves on a different planet, surrounded by the skyscrapers of Dubai. The contrast could not have been bigger…

As we really wanted to make an attempt to get to know und understand Dubai we had booked the first evening at the Sheikh Mohamed Centre for Cultural Understanding for a so called cultural dinner in which discussions would take place on the Emirates way of life. We had been enormously looking forward to this but unfortunately at the moment we checked in at our hotel we received a message the evening was cancelled. What a shame!

Fortunately Ivan, one of the dive marshals at Gangehi Island had recommended us Fogueira, a Brazilian restaurant at the 35th floor of the Ramada Plaza and overlooking the Dubai Marina. It was fabulous, and not only the views… 15 different cuts of meat and unlimited cocktails and wine…I never thought I would love the taste of chicken hearts and that had nothing to do with the amounts of alcohol we consumed that evening.

The Next day we headed towards Deira, the old and more traditional part of Dubai. After we left the metro it did only take a short walk before we were surrounded by the lovely aromas that were spread by the Spice Souq. An abundance of spices and herbs were to be found ant to be honest we could only name a few. The smells were wonderful and we could not resist to buy some high quality Iranian Safran to take home.

Not much further we ended up in the famous Gold Souq and I cannot remember a place we have seen so much gold in one go. One can discuss the style, certainly not ours and on (or should I say over) the edge of being tacky. The remarkable thing was though that in spite of the abundance of gold we never felt unsafe or were overwhelmed by strict security measures, it was all really relaxed, something a bit strange a western mindset…

The best part of Deira however was crossing the Creek by a River Taxi to Bur Dubai. Of course we we ended up in yet another Souq where sleazy shopkeepers tried all kinds of tricks in order to get you in their shop. I must say, that in spite of other Arabian countries I had visited the shopkeepers were never to smack in your face or rude so it was a very pleasant experience.

In the Afternoon we visited the Mall of the Emirates. A huge shopping center which in our thoughts was an extravagant exposure of decadence. We even had a glimpse of world’s largest indoor skying hall. Yes this is a desert city! Christmas decorations all over and although we still do not understand what Christmas has to do in an islamic country we somehow suspect it is all commerce driven, like most of the things in Dubai…

As we really wanted to experience several aspects of Dubai the next morning we had choosen the Gurunanak Darbar Sikh Temple as our next place to visit. It’s a holy Sikh temple for the large Indian expat community in Dubai and although the land was given to the Sikh community it was conveniently tucked far away from daily Dubai life. For us it was a peaceful center of serenity amidst the chaos. A tranquil place to relax and forget about the madness outside. Unfortunately we arrived when no Kirtan ceremony was taking place in the large prayer hall but still we admired the place. Everybody was so friendly and inviting, Paul ended up chatting a long time with the guard who’s son was studying in Bristol. Of course we were not allowed to leave before enjoying an Indian chai (tea) and some sweets. This is typical of Sikh hospitality and reminded us of our visit to a Sikh temple in Delhi where we were invited for lunch.

In the afternoon we headed to the Dubai Mall, another exposure of decadence that we had already seen during our fist visit to Dubai. After serious consideration both of us had selected our favorite gifts to ourselves, unfortunately (or maybe not) our credit cards were not authorized for buying our ultimate souvenir of Dubai.

This time however the Dubai Mall was not the main goal of our visit but only the entry point to the Burj Khalifa, (for at least now) the highest building in the world. And we had been lucky, just two weeks before our visit to Dubai, a new visitors platform had been opened. As advertised: “Soaring high at 555 meters, At the Top, Burj Khalifa SKY is fittingly Dubai’s most iconic destination. Get ready to enjoy exclusive access to the redefined, highest outdoor observatory in the world, spread across levels 148 and 125 of Burj Khalifa. Your journey begins when you step into the At the Top, Burj Khalifa SKY lounge, from where you will be personally escorted to a dedicated elevator. Inside, watch in amazement as specially designed projections give you the feeling of flying over global landmarks as you ascend to Level 125.”

And an extraordinary experience it was. From the moment we checked in we were treated as VIP’s and whilst waiting for our guide we were treated on Arabian coffee and local sweets, a true treat to our tastebuds. Once we received our laminated entry cards we were guided through God knows how many entries in the Guinness Book of Records but we were not ready of what was about to happen…

In the elevator we ascended at 10 meters a second past the Pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, The CN Tower in Toronto, The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Taipei 101, a lot of clouds and… Burj Khalifa. A perfect show to demonstrate the height of the building we were visiting but once the doors opened we had only arrived at the 125th floor and had to walk to another elevator which brought us to the 148th floor.

When we arrived there we were once again greeted with soft drinks and traditional Arabian bites, a wonderful touch but one  can expect that for this price…

With a drink in one hand and a snack in the other we rushed to the floor-to-ceiling glass walls where we were blown away by the view. We were under the impression we saw Dubai from a plane but we were definitely in a building at the 148th floor at 555 meters. Only at 2/3 of the actual building as there was still 275 meters of building above us. Absolutely amazing! There even was an outside terrace so we could not resist going there as well.

During our time at the 148th floor we were constantly spoiled with drinks and snacks, it was a very special experience indeed. After about 45 minutes our time was up so we descended to the 125th floor, one floor higher than the original At The Top viewing platform. Over there we were allowed to stay as long as we wanted. We really enjoyed the virtual telescopes where not only we could get a live close up of the places we were looking but by a simple press on a button we could get day and night time views and we could even travel in time to see what the place looked like 50 years ago (lots of sand indeed).

Initially we planned to witness sunset from the 125th floor but then, to be honest, there is only so much of buildings to admire and we did not feel like waiting an hour or so for something that would without doubt be spectacular. So we descended back to ground floor and headed towards the Dubai Fountain Lake. (The biggest man made lake in the world containing 22.000.000 liter of water, and yes, it is in the Guinness Book of World Records). After we enjoyed a drink at one of the terraces we found a perfect front-row spot to witness the spectacle of another Guinness record… The Dubai Fountain that shoots water up to 150 meter high! The show started at 6pm exactly and spectacular it was. With the Burj Khalifa in the background we witnessed a spectacular water and light show whilst the water jets were in sync with the high notes and beats of the music played. Well worth the wait!!

It had been a fantastic day indeed but we were not just done yet…  Instead of returning to our hotel we went to the Jumeirah beach area where we strolled over the promenade, watched the world go by and enjoyed a nice dinner. After Dinner we went to the Reel Cinemas to watch the last edition of The Hobbit. And of course this was done in total over the top Dubai style as we had purchased tickets for the Platinum Movie Suite with butler service during the movie. Whilst enjoying a drink in the dedicated lounge we waited for being escorted to our chairs and watched what was going on, it felt a bit surreal…

During the movie we could have opted for a 3 course dinner but we kept things simple with a drink and the traditional popcorn. It was a different way to experience a movie, full reclining leather seats, a blanket and pillow, a table to store our drinks and snacks between us and of course a button to call a butler in case we required a top up of our drink. “A high quality venue which offers a distinctive experience”. Whilst in Dubai we could not have opted for anything less!

For our last day in Dubai we had booked an Arabian Adventure… We were picked at our hotel up by a 4 wheel drive and headed towards the desert. There the tires were slightly deflated and we went off road. The first stop was at a camp for a falcon experience. A falconer explained about the falcons and what was going to happen after which he released the falcon and let it fly for a couple of minutes. Then he started to swing a piece of bait on a rope after which the falcon made several airstrikes to catch it. Of course he succeeded which was the end of this interesting show.

Next was some serious dune bashing. We had expected it to be spectacular and we were not disappointed. It was so much fun to conquer the high sand dunes in a 4 wheel drive. I would have loved to get behind the steering wheel myself but unfortunately that was not allowed. Guess I would have wrecked the car anyway…

Our driver found a beautiful spot to witness a spectacular sunset but before that started he had some brilliant ideas for some wonderful pictures. What fun this was!

Once the sun had set and we removed the sand from our shoes we went to the final stop for the day, a reconstructed Bedouin camp where we could have a henna tattoo, have a camel ride and witness some typical Arabian handcrafts. We were satisfied with the typical Arabian dinner and accompanying wine that was being served and tasted perfect after a full afternoon of adventures.

After dinner, still zipping our wine we were treated on a belly dancing performance. For us this was the perfect way to finish of our Dubai adventure. Once the performance had ended we were brought back to the hotel and the next day we returned to the airport for our final flight home.

The last 4 days in Dubai had been impressively spectacular to say the least. But did we change our mind of this extraordinary city in the middle of the desert? We’re afraid not…

Yes there were beautiful buildings, yes we had taken part in the most amazing experiences but somehow it still felt like the city was missing a heart and soul. Overwhelming but artificial and fake it remains to us. It does not matter how much money is spent on a collection of superlatives, for us it will never become “The place to be”. It was certainly worth making a stopover for a couple of days and we were glad we’ve got to know Dubai a bit better than last time.

But still, ehh…. No!