Saturday, 17 May 2014

Dizzy Dubai

I’ll begin this blog with a fun fact: in the last forty-eight hours I have drank more water than I would in a typical week. The United Arab Emirates is hot and dry, and sightseeing is thirsty work.

Backtracking slightly, the flight was fine. I had the good fortune of a window seat with an empty seat beside me and I slept a fair bit. I watched Bedknobs and Broomsticks until the acid-trip special effects did my head in, then fell in all of Sleeping Beauty’s plot holes before I found my way to The Avengers. The descent was interesting; the vast expanse of scrub-dotted sands, fences and roads like pencil lines on a page. Then came the estates. Tended squares of green; wide, flat roofs. Pillared mansions, arched exteriors and palm flanked drives. Finally, skyscrapers were glimpsed through a sandstorm haze.

I was put in a ladies’ taxi upon leaving the airport. A woman no bigger than Prue Everdeen wrestled my suitcase from me and loaded it into her pink-topped van, and even though she took me to the wrong hotel (Winchester vs Winchester Grand… I can see where things went wrong), it was a pleasant, incense-rich ride.

Later, I made Chandler Bing look smooth in the practice of clumsy tipping. I suck at tipping. I suck at the whole set-up. Just give me my bag, I’ve got it this far. And I reckon I can find the fridge on my own, thanks. So, so awkwardly done. I haven’t been able to look the guy in the eye since, although I swear he keeps grinning at me.

Speaking of: the local men stare. Unabashedly. They don’t smile, either. It’s disconcerting.

My first tourist excursion was an abysmal failure. Armed with a map and a questionable sense of confidence, I struck out for the nearest Big Bus stop, but I never found it. There were freeways. Back streets. Kilometres of shade-free footpaths. I saw a side of Bur Dubai that most tourists wouldn’t, and I have a sunburned face and cracked lips to show for it. When I finally found my way to a road that had cabs (by cutting through the lobby of a glamourous hotel), I realised I’d spent three hours glitz parallel.

Good to know my shocking sense of direction hasn’t changed.

I got a good look at the Sheikh Zayed Road on the way back, then collapsed into bed at 5:00pm. I may have had sunstroke. There were symptoms.

For those who say travel is like riding a bike, I say different. It’s like falling into a pair of rollerskates. My first day was a clumsy mess.

But I really hit my stride on the second day.

The Big Bus tour has been a brilliant way to see the United Arab Emirates. It has an audio commentary, a city route, and a beach route. A river tour was included, and I got to jump off whenever something interested me, knowing that another bus would be along every half hour. I saw the spectacular Palm Jumeirah and Atlantis the Palm. Ski Dubai. The Burj Al Arab. The Burj Khalifa – the tallest man-made structure on earth. Some of the thirty major shopping complexes, and dozens of mosques. Easy to do when there’s one every five hundred metres! Souks. The bustling ‘creek’. It was a brilliant, full-on day.

I did the night tour after a few short hours reprieve, and the night just improves this place. It was the best experience so far. The Arab Emirates… glitters. It’s a very green, very advanced place teeming with innovative design, world replicas, effective transport systems, and obvious wealth. There’s construction everywhere, and big plans to further impress. My tour guide told me about up and coming projects, including a district of life-sized replicas of the wonders of the world. Extending the creek towards Jumeriah Beach – effectively making part of the Emirates an island. More shopping centres – because there clearly aren’t enough! The leaders of this country have incredible foresight; they’ve invested heavily in infrastructure and public amenities, high-class destinations and tourism. When the oil runs out, Dubai will continue to flourish. And with millions of visitors expected during its 2020 World Fair extravaganza, it will be on the tip of tongues for a long time.

If you haven’t been here and you get the opportunity – give yourself a few days at least. Get a 48hr hop-on hop-off bus ticket. Sit on the top level on the back seat at the right – it’s the best vantage point by far (if you don’t mind your gums flapping in the wind).

Dubai has awed me. I feel like I could spend weeks here exploring each point of interest, but I’m out of time. Today I fly to Istanbul, and tonight I begin my Turkish adventure.

In the meantime, I've been writing heaps!

It’s been an excellent, albeit clumsy start, and somehow I’ve already been away from home nearly a week.

Will update this blog when time and WIFI permits. Would love your comments – have you been to Dubai? Were you similarly blown away? What did you buy? Where you also alarmed by the hamburger, pizza slice, chicken drumstick, fries and a coke value meals? 


Above: The Burj Al Arab. Design reminiscent of an open sail, and symbolic of the city moving forward.


Above: Atlantis The Palm, a reconstruction of Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas, and very impressive.


Above: Ski Dubai. The first indoor ski resort in the Middle East.


Above: Hundreds gathered for prayer on the top level of a shopping centre.


Above: Be prepared to come back, especially on a Friday, which is roughly the equivalent of Aussie Sunday.


Above: Just one of the footwear wonders.


Above: Love a good pun!


Above: One of the world's largest shopping malls, The Dubai Mall.


Above: The tallest man-made structure in the world, the Burj Khalifa


Above: One of the night tour highlights.