UAE, the land of superlatives – for fun I decided to note when something was the best, tallest, largest, etc in the world. After weeks of calm in Oman, it was time to be pick up the pace and be bedazzled. It didn’t take long to understand why Dubai in particular has earned its reputation for creating world-class sights. Situated within the Arabian Desert, it was interesting to fly into as the outer reaches slowly gave way to the city. Apparently, sand has to be imported for Dubai to build on as its native sand is too smooth to support concrete foundations. (Dubai, Nov 15-23/22)
The 360-degree view from its observation deck extended from the sandy outskirts of the city to the west and the ocean to the east. Above: the view down into just a portion of the ‘Downtown Dubai’ development of Burj Khalifa and its fountains, opera house, Dubai Mall, hotels, and restaurants. The scale was staggering.
The Dubai Mall has over 1,200 stores (Metrotown has 330) along with a 4-story aquarium and an ice rink. Fun fact: Canada makes the list - our West Edmonton Mall ties with the Dubai Mall for 26th place in the largest ‘gross leasable area’ category. Anything will be measured :). Because the mall was on a transit line, we made it a regular stop to walk through enroute to our next destination. Every time we got lost. It has the largest aquarium viewing panel in the world.
Away from the glitz was the Al Seef Historic District. Homes and businesses had wind towers over the top floor to provide natural air conditioning up until the 1970’s. The openings in the tower would allow air in to cool as it made its way down the shaft to the lowest floor. They had been restored here, adding an architectural touch to the neighborhood.
It turned out we needed to book tickets weeks in advance to visit the Museum of the Future, but seeing it from the outside made the trip worthwhile. It was just one of the city’s architectural highlights… we loved spotting buildings with playful spheres at the tops, lights running down others, story-high skyways connecting sets of buildings, one with a pool on the skyway, etc.
Getting around… without fail, when we take transit, I am offered a seat and Rick is often as well. We’ve had a few bumps though - one day we were obliviously standing in the ladies only car and on another enjoying an actual seat until we realized we were in the gold transit card car. At the next stop we slunk out and joined the cattle cars (wearing masks). Although Uber is in some Gulf countries, Careem dominated the market. We knew we were in Dubai when every Careem we took was a Lexus.
Palm Jumeirah, the 5km long palm tree shaped community of all things luxury, was made by creating a group of islands. How they dredged sand from the Arabian Gulf and rock from nearby mountains to accomplish the engineering feat is interesting. As a result Dubai got an additional 300 km of coastline. In my mind it was what put the city on the map for us as a tourist destination.
Down the road from Palm Jumeirah was the Madinat Jumeirah, a modern take on an historic Arabian village complete with a souq, waterways, traditional boats (abras), palm trees and the ubiquitous bougainvillea. Situated by the Arabian Gulf, taking an abra ride through the saltwater canals was a scenic way to see the exclusive neighbourhood.
The abra driver only had 4 of us on board, so he went into professional photographer mode taking several pics of each couple with the Burj Arab building behind us. Its sail design set along the coast with a blue sky in the background was another architectural fave. Fun fact: it's the tallest all-suite hotel in the world and in 2008 it made the Guinness World Record for the most expensive cocktail ($9.835 CAD)!
We expected our credit cards to crash and burn here, but for the average visitor not going to the Burj Arab for cocktails, we found prices comparable to Vancouver. And public transit and Careem was less expensive. Rick found us a nice apartment (no quaint guesthouses here :) on the canal with a huge patio about a 20min walk from Burj Khalifa - the biggest draw in the city - for less than a Vancouver hotel room.
The Global Village was like a world fair for shoppers. With a pavilion each for nearby countries and smaller ones for continents further afield we spent hours checking out the regional food, lively entertainment and goods for sale from each part of the world. There were some serious shopping opportunities, from fur coats in the Afghanistan pavilion, leather goods in Turkey and fabric from Pakistan. For the high-volume consumers there were porters to follow them around as they filled their Costco sized shopping cart.
In partnership with the Louvre in France and with the ocean running beside and under it, the Louvre Abu Dhabi was stunning. The pewter-coloured dome that perched over a collection of buildings was designed to create the effect of sun dappling through a canopy of date palms when you walked through the various open spaces and seating areas.
Rather than large displays of similar objects, the museum showcased only a few of the most impeccably preserved pieces. It made the museum collection less overwhelming, but often you had to take a second glance at a date to appreciate how long ago a piece was crafted. This statue is one of only 15 found (when a highway in Jordan was being excavated). They’re believed to be 9,000 years old and one of the earliest representations of the human form before the age of pottery made them commonplace. It’s amazing that the bitumen outlined eyes are in such pristine condition after so long.
A lighting system is set so that the pure white marble clad mosque changes colour with the phases of the moon. Across the highway from the mosque is a memorial site with a reflection pond. We, along with a handful of others, waited for that magic time when the sky and the mosque lit up. With that, we’ll say goodbye to the UAE. Home and an over 30C change in temperature awaits us.