Dubai

4 days in Arabland!

Dubai is a city of extremes! Even though the luxury and grandeur are easily seen, one must not forget those that contribute daily, probably in most cases living in very harsh conditions, to its constant development. Nothing is impossible. If there’s imagination, the money here will certainly achieve it. It’s a combination of old and new and even though many might not like it, we can’t ignore that it’s one of a kind and its unique beauty has to be appreciated.

December 30th

Finally arrived at the last destination of our amazing trip, Dubai!

As we arrived at the airport, the bright and grand building was only a sample of what we were to expect to encounter in this spectacular city born out of an enormous desert. Here you can actually see what a man’s imagination together with a large, very large bank account can create.

It was very early in the morning and the airport was pretty quiet. We easily found the way to the metro and purchased our tickets. I recommend the first class cabin metro tickets as it’s less crowded, especially because we had luggage and the price is not that much more than a regular ticket. Don’t purchase a two-way ticket as this is only valid for the day and if staying for several days you’ll have to purchase another ticket. On the metro ride to our hotel we were greeted by a beautiful sunrise peeking from behind the downtown skyscrapers.

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As the day unfolded before our eyes, there it was, majestically standing in the early morning light, the one and only, Burj Khalifa, presently the tallest structure in the world, standing at almost 830 m (829.8). As I looked at it, I felt great excitement knowing that later on in the day I would be looking over the city from the very top. I purchased the tickets “At the Top Sky” (Level 148+125+124) before leaving, to make sure we would have availability at our preferred time. I not only wanted to visit the building but at the same time have the opportunity to experience the sunset from high above. This meant that we had to purchase the most expensive tickets because you need to enter before 6pm which is the time that tickets are less expensive.

We were staying right by the metro station Dubai Internet City, which is probably a 45-minute ride from the airport. After checking-in at the hotel we went to our room on the 33rd floor with a breathtaking view of downtown and the sea. The room as I imagined, was decorated in a traditional Arabic motif and felt very cozy. Just one thing to always check when booking a room for 3 people is that the sofa actually opens or it’s even long enough for an adult. It wasn’t the case, but we managed to all sleep comfortably in the two single beds.

Well, here we are, quite early in the morning and now what to do and where to go first. In the meantime, I text an old friend that I hadn’t seen since my Saudi days and now lives in Dubai, just to let him know that we had arrived. Even though he had mentioned that he wasn’t going to be around during our visit perhaps he would give us some good tips. It’s always great when locals can share non touristy things to do or see, it makes the trip that more special.

It just so happened that in fact he was in the city and we ended up going to meet for breakfast at the Emirates Golf Course. What a wonderful morning reliving great moments and old times. It’s great to meet friends after such a long time, 27 years to be more precise. But this wasn’t the only encounter I was going to have.

Dubai

Before arriving in Dubai I had already purchased tickets to visit Burj Khalifa and the City Tour. I figured that 4 days in the city had to be used wisely to see the most and purchasing a city tour seemed like the best idea. We got the 2 day ticket with BigBus Dubai, which also comes with a lot of other tours that can be used up to 14 days after the tickets are first used. Unfortunately, we didn’t take advantage of all the other offers, except for one – Sunset in the Desert, but it was still well worth it. (Map & tours) Nothing like planning before leaving on your trip and finding the best deal.

Bus Tour

Since we spent the morning at the Golf Club and then had tickets to visit Burj Khalifa at 4pm it didn’t leave much time to do anything else so we decided to go and visit the Dubai Mall and have lunch. It’s a huge mall, like many with lots of stores and great for the shopping lover, however there are many other things to see and do at this mall. I might add, that here you have a souk with everything you can think of. Just remember you can’t take everything with you on that plane back home.

Dubai Mall

It was time to go for our visit, finally something that I had longed for quite a while. We were escorted to a lounge area and served an Arabic coffee and dates. We then entered the elevator which runs 10m/s. It takes a minute from 0 to the 124th floor, while viewing specially designed projections as you ascend. We then take another elevator that takes you to the 148th floor. Soaring high at 555 meters is the highest outdoor observatory in the world and what a spectacular place to be at.

Burj

In beautiful and relaxing lounge with complimentary drinks and snacks, you can sit or walk around. Take in all the beauty that surrounds in a very calm and uncrowded atmosphere. The New Year’s Eve fireworks apparatus were visible all around the tower. You can spend as much time as you wish and when ready to leave, hop back in the elevator to level 125th which also has another outdoor deck but much more crowded. We did get to see the beautiful sunset. After dark, you can also get an aerial view of the Dancing Fountain down below, however make sure to see the show once you’re at the bottom, even though it’s extremely crowded, it’s well worth it. The shows are every 30 minutes, so if you have patience, wait around for the next show as most people leave and easier to find a better view.

Sunset at the Burj

 

December 31st

Today was filled with loads of sightseeing. We started with the Beach Tour (green line) starting at the Dubai Mall, along Al Sufouh Rd., then over the bridge along the middle of the Palm Jumeirah all the way to the tip, going through a tunnel and coming out the other way, in front of the Arabian Gulf and with Atlantis, The Palm right behind.

Atlantis

Beach

Burj al arab

The bus then comes back the same way to the mainland and onto another one of Dubai’s main roads Sheikh Zayed Rd back to the Dubai Mall. However, because we wanted to take the Marina Tour (Blue line) we got off at the Mall of the Emirates.

Marina

This is another new area of Dubai filled with more skyscrapers, not like the previous tour where it’s also residential areas, but predominantly private homes and much lower buildings.

Homes Mosque

After a long day of sightseeing it was time to rest a bit and get ready for the big night. Little did we know, it was going to be full of unexpected events.

To be around the Dancing Fountain for the midnight fireworks, the latest you can get to the area is 5pm, as it’s closed off and packed for that matter. We went for dinner at the Dubai Mall and walked around to kill some time. As we were about to walk out and search for a good place to see the fireworks, we noticed some unexpected commotion in the mall. People were walking out a lot faster, stores were closing and as we reached the escalators the security guards started yelling out “Yallah, Yallah” motioning with their arms for people to get moving. At that point many thoughts crossed my mind, but funny enough, no fear. I just wondered what was going on. We walked for about 10 minutes or more through the underground parking, it felt like we were walking forever, but everyone was pretty calm. As we finally reached the exterior, there was a large crowd gathered and lots of commotion.

Crowd

I looked back and saw a lot of black smoke, there was a fire in one of the hotels around the Burj Khalifa. The Address was burning and very quickly as the flames engulfed the side of the building. Well, who knew that this was going to be such a memorable night, with such tragedy.

 

Luckily, it was more of a scare and property damage as most people were able to miraculously escape pretty much unharmed except for a very few injuries and unfortunately one death. At this point we thought that perhaps the midnight fireworks celebration would be cancelled. It was a mixed of feelings as it didn’t feel right to be celebrating considering the situation but at the same time a feeling of an uncompleted trip if we wouldn’t get to see the Burj New Year’s Eve fireworks.

More and more people were gathering out on the streets and pretty much all around the Burj awaiting the big moment. Some saying that it would be cancelled but many hoping that it wouldn’t.

As the crowd roared in contentment, it was midnight and the splendid fireworks started. You must see it for yourself… no words to describe the feeling of actually being at a place only seen on TV before.

New Years Eve2

New Years Eve1

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These are moments added to one’s life experiences. Experiences, what really matters in life as far as I’m concern. And speaking of experiences, the one that was to come was even more unexpected. There were thousands of people to see the fireworks and now they were all trying to leave the area, which was actually done quite easily until we reached the metro station.

Streets

What a site! People all over the place, no way of knowing where to line-up, they were all just circling the area, a lot of pushing and shoving but not going anywhere. We finally decided to move out and away from the crowd to try to locate the entrance. Officials set up barriers in order to create a line-up but there were so many people that soon everything got pretty much out of control. The pushing and shoving was already taking its toll as the police tried to keep it under control by using their batons. It was somewhat starting to get scary. Desperately trying to get out of that scene, which looked like one from a movie, I decided to put my arms up and yell help. Soon enough, as I hear the police’s yelling voice getting closer, my heart started beating really fast as I thought the worse scenario. To my amazement the crowd started opening up in front of me, and there he was. A police officer with a baton in his hand standing six, seven meters across from me speaking Arabic… I froze! What was going to happen now? A happy ending to an odyssey…he was signaling for us to move forward and finally go to the metro station. I quickly pushed my sons to move ahead of me and called on another foreign couple that had been next to us, to come with us as if we were all together… it was now or never!

From this point on it was an easy ride and soon we were in our hotel room. Looking back, I think our mistake was to walk to the metro station in the opposite direction of our hotel. It’s impossible to take a taxi anywhere out of the Burj area but walking is very safe and if we had gone towards our hotel, instead of the opposite way, we could have kept walking until the crowds around the metro stations got smaller. Well, you know what they say! We live and learn. Even after this experience, a scary one if I may say so, I would do it again, just differently.

January 1st

Mosque

Another day of sightseeing, but this time to the oldest part of Dubai, Deira. This area has been the commercial center of Dubai, but lately loosing this status. Here you’ll find the Gold, Perfume and  Spice Souks. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to visit these as it was a Friday, businesses are closed on Friday mornings, and in the afternoon we were going to have our Sunset in the Desert tour. So here’s a good reason to go back to Dubai as much was left unseen.

Ships

Many Dhows can be seen here in the Dubai Creek and cruises are available for those that enjoy some relaxing by the water sightseeing. It’s very much visible the first settlements in this area and to get a better feel you can visit the Dubai Museum, the main museum in Dubai, located in the Al Fahidi Fort. It was built in 1787 and is the oldest existing building in Dubai. Soon we arrived at Wafi Mall, an Egyptian like complex, where we would change buses to go on the sunset tour. We were quite early for our pick-up, so we just walked around and grabbed a bite to eat. We were amongst the first 12 or 15 people but suddenly a crowd arrived at the bus stop. To my amazement, these people started pushing and shoving each other as if the world was going to end. How could people, that for sure classify themselves as civilized and with manners be acting in such an unruly manner?  Anyway, there were two buses and everyone got on and there we went on our merry way. Less than half hour arriving at the Al Sahra Desert Resort to take in the beauty of a desert sunset. Greeted with an Arabic tea, we then were free to roam around the complex.

Al Sahra

They offered camel rides, which for me are totally out of the question and unacceptable as we are against any usage of animals for entertainment purposes, but many people did. I guess when you aren’t aware of something it’s impossible to see the problem in it. A person that’s aware of the suffering and imprisonment of a sentient being, animals that I’m sure are being kept and made to work against their will, will never support their exploitation even if in this case it was a chance to experience something I never did.

camel

So I decided to comfort one instead and take a picture with her as she gave the photographer her best side. We walked around the many different areas, the restaurant and the outside kitchen, the sitting areas, the shops, took some pictures, acknowledged the fact that we were actually standing there, in the desert, taking in the energy and later got a seat to witness the miracle of a sunset. This was in fact a beautiful and breathtaking moment. One might say that a sunset is a sunset, but for me a sunset is always something special even if I’m just going to the grocery store. Each place has its own energy and witnessing such beauty of nature in special places, well, I don’t have words to describe it. Sorry!

We then walked around a bit more and ended up getting a Mehndi design on my hand (henna tattoo). It was time to say good-bye to a beautiful place and an amazing experience it was.

As we were heading back it was actually a bit chilly. Still great weather but compared to the day temperature it can get quite cool in the evenings especially out in the desert.

Our trip was coming to an end but not without a pleasant encounter. We met up with an old roommate of mine again from my Saudi days. We hadn’t seen each other since 1988 and many memories and new happenings we had to share. We met at the Mall of the Emirates and in fact if you need some last minute souvenirs there’s a fantastic shop where you can pick up all kinds of different stuff, the Al Jaber Gallery.

Souvenier Shop

It was indeed a trip full of adventure, sightseeing and great encounters. Must go back one day to accomplish a bucket list item which is to do a tandem jump above the Dubai Palm Tree.

Skydive Dubai

Until next time, happy travels! 🙂

Photo credits – Despertar pra viver – Awaken for living

Photo Album – more photos

 

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