Friday, March 08, 2013

Friday, March 08, 2013

Dubai

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM

A permanent haze hovered over the city blanketing the otherwise glistening skyscrapers. E said there was no view of the city below. I was sitting on the wrong side of the plane so I saw nothing. The weather was hot and dry.

The Mall of Emirates was enormous. Even the super (hyper) market inside the mall was huge. It sold everything from TV to underwear to cheese to washing machine. It had two food courts with international food which I frequented almost daily. 5 Starbucks on only 1 floor. None had the big Dubai mug. Every day we had to walk through the mall in order to catch the metro. Luckily once through the Kempinski hotel, Ski Dubai was just right there, so we always had a point of reference if we got lost, which I did many times. "which way is Ski Dubai?" always saved the day.

I have mixed feelings about Dubai. I cant say for sure if I liked it or disliked it. The architecture of the modern skyscrapers was a wonder to admire, especially the ones in the Dubai Marina. I simply couldnt get enough of them. Having the Burj Al Arab in front of you, really made a difference. I've never thought it was so stunningly imposing until I saw it right in front of me. The Jumeirah beach is not just any beach with white sand. It had the view of the Al Arab and the gorgeous metallic reflective Jumeirah Beach hotel that looked like a bird with soaring wings. Besides this was the Persian Gulf!

The elevated metro stations were covered with a copper cone shell. Even the escalator going up to the station had the shell cover albeit in a smaller scale. I really liked this design. The metro zipped you from one end of the city to the next, providing clear views of the all the major towers, from the sharply tilted Ski Dubai building, to the twin Emirate Towers, the Burj Khalifa, and the sea front from afar. The sunset Dhow cruise on the Dubai creek, which came free with the Big Bus tour, was nothing short of spectacular. The sun was round and big and clear near the mouth of the creek. Very relaxing way to admire the Deira (old Dubai) buildings along the creek. People on the abras, taxing across the creek, showed a different side of this modern city .

But aside from plasticky towers and the beaches and resorts, there's nothing else. The Palm Jumeirah only looked good from the top. Once you're in it, you actually couldnt see much of anything as the apartment buildings on the palm leaves obscured the sea view and you couldnt walk there as the beaches were all private. Even found the fountain show at the Dubai Mall wanting. The sound and light at the Wafi was a little better. Dubai stretched out along the coast, with pockets of interesting buildings, like the Jumeirah area, the downtown area with the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa, the Business Bay, and Dubai Marina, intermittent with industrial areas in between, making the city looked dumpy and disconnected. The locals werent friendly. The men were arrogant and the women, with their bodies and faces covered, pretended you didnt exist. They resembled the Rapanuis who did not welcome visitors. After a week in UAE and encountering the women in abaya or hijab, I've wanted to rip their coverings off. But I was on their turf and must respect their custom, however degrading it was.

"Papers? No, no chekpoints. All emirabs are u-nee-ted". The 6 lane highway to the capital city was lined with palm trees and electric lights. Beyond them, the sand stretched as far as the eye could see. On the bridge into Abu Dhabi island, first sign of an oil refinery, the Abu Dhabi National Oil company. I like Abu Dhabi much better. The streets and buildings were better laid out, the corniche resembled the Chicago waterfront, and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, stunning architecture, a beautiful structure to visit. Also the Starbucks city mug was much more beautiful than the Dubai one. The top of the revolving tower in the Marina Mall offered great 360 views of the city and all the nearby islands. However, the permanent haze of Dubai was here in Abu Dhabi as well. Pity.

The following day we drove through the rest of the 5 Emirates to get to Fujairah. The landscape was dry, dull and boring. Only once we got into the Hajar mountains that the scenery became interesting. The jagged hills were welcomed after days on the flat coast with nothing but sand and man made structures. The only fort in Fujairah was not open to tourists. The adjacent museum was small but offered a little glimpse of the Bedouin lifestyle. They're building their grand mosque which once completed, should make the city more interesting to the tourists.

The Dubai Mall was the biggest of these beasts. The aquarium boasted of the biggest single piece of glass in the world. Several stingrays swam in it. I had wanted to simply walk through the tunnel to see the fish, but one needed to buy the complete package, which included a tour to the underground aquarium and the aquarium store. No ticket for just the tunnel. We've got to the mall early and waited for the fountain show. In less than a minute the first piece was over and we had to wait 30 min for the next 1 minute piece. E was fed up and left. I've sat for 2 more, both still short and not very well choreographed. they had a lot to learn from the Bellagio. The night bus tour was wonderful if not for the cold evening breeze. Most buildings were illuminated and if you're a sucker for lights like the Hippo, this could very well be the highlight of the city.

Possibly the best part of Dubai was the Dubai Marina Island. The skyscrapers were super tall (some still under construction of course, as in everywhere in UAE). I've spent an entire afternoon photographing them and just couldnt get enough of them, especially the Infinity Tower which was a metallic tower twisted on itself. The seafront was packed with tourists sunbathing on the hotel private beaches. The water, of course, just as clear and blue as in the mainland. Elsewhere the streets were quite empty, even the Marina Mall was not crowded. A good place to get away from the crowds in Dubai proper. Had wanted a dhow cruise in the sea, but was content with a short ferry ride back to the mainland. The sea was choppy but I've enjoyed the ride.

Flying out of Dubai on Emirates proved nothing special. Planes landed and took off towards the sea and as we're going south to Muscat, the plane banked left and I sweared it would hit Burj Khalifa. It looked that close.

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