The Recollection Diaries: Dubai

My recollection

Strongest memory: Catching the bus from near our hotel along the waterfront to the famous Burj Al Arab hotel (the one that looks like a giant sail). The scenery was unlike anything I’d ever ever seen before – every building was either wickedly flash or incredibly dilapidated, and the entire landscape was basically the same shade of sand. No exaggeration. I have also never been privy to such an obviously polluted city, it felt like we were enclosed in a giant grey dome. I tried to get a photo of the Burj Al Arab: to capture the whole hotel in the frame meant the hotel was barely visible over the smog, get any closer and the reason for wanting the photo in the first place was gone.  The bus journey ended up taking much longer than I anticipated, but actually served as a pretty good tour of the city. We had spent enough time outside already to have a solid idea of just how humid it was so I was  not-so-secretly enjoying the fact that we were getting a de facto tour from the comfort of our air conditioned seats.

Memorable meal: We had a little over 24 hours in Dubai and a free buffet breakfast at our hotel, so our meals were certainly limited. When recalling our time in Dubai, Andy has already questioned what our meals were, so I know for a fact his recollection is going to be of the highly delicious Vietnamese place we ate at on our last night of the trip. I’ll leave that write up to him and touch on the airport experience we had as we were leaving. Dubai was our last stop before heading back to New Zealand, and really,  it wasn’t even a stop – just an extended layover. We left for the airport too early for breakfast at the hotel, but as we were travelling on our anniversary I thought we could have some champagne or something with breakfast at the airport to celebrate our anniversary and the fact we were going home.  Dubai airport ended up being hugely disappointing: after checking in, passengers were immediately funneled off to an area of the airport near their gates which had extremely limited and beyond expensive food options. We started off looking at the restaurants for meals and champers, downgraded to looking at cafes for croissants and coffee and ending up buying a box of water crackers and a coffee to SHARE, to see us through until we were fed breakfast on the plane! Happy anniversary Andy xox

Best activity: Early in the morning (before it got too hot) we headed across the river to check out all the different souks in the old town marketplace. The wee neighbourhood was a warren of alleyways, signposted with descriptions indicating what kinds of goods would be found in each souk (like at the supermarket, but on a much larger scale). The gold souks were particularly impressive: items of all shapes and sizes and certainly of varying degrees of class. There were also  many shops selling herbs and spices, random knick knacks and of course, materials. The whole area is a sensory overload and I thrive in that environment, I get so excited – something like a child at a candy store. We were cashless in Dubai and most of the souks didn’t accept other methods of payment, so we weren’t really in the market for spending anything. There was definitely some great value goods on offer though. Eventually, the heat got to us and we headed back to the hotel for a quick swim before heading into the newer part of town.

Favourite place: The Dubai mall is pretty unreal. It is extremely well air conditioned (it sounds so bizarre, but it is such a reprieve from the outdoors) and there is so much to do and see, it would be easy to spend a whole weekend here and not get bored. Not only is there an aquarium, there is also an ice skating rink plus a billion different retail shops. The quality of the restaurants and cafes is incredibly high: besides having your stock standard McDonalds, there were also really cool cake shops, chocolate shops and fun cafes with decently priced menus. There is definitely something for everyone on the eating front. Every front actually. The whole mall opens up onto a big artificial lagoon that has features all around it and a bar on the other side. Many of the restaurants have views of the lagoon and at 7pm these restaurants are often crammed with people, preempting the beginning of the daily lights show. This is a must-see when in Dubai, and unlike a lot of lights shows I’ve seen in the past, it goes for an impressively long time. The whole experience evoked feelings similar to being at Disneyland.

Unforgettable sight: The Burj Khalifa. The world’s tallest building (830 metres!!) is pretty hard to miss, from anywhere in the city. It is probably more spectacular at night, when it is lit up in an array of different colours and a centre piece in the city’s sky line, compared to during the day when it is cloaked in a perpetual layer of pollution. Walking around its base and through the evening light show transported me right to the main strip of Las Vegas; all bright lights and manicured everything – one cannot help but marvel at the sheer amount of money that must have been spent on the development and upkeep (and one may also ask, for what good reason?)

Andy’s recollection

Strongest Memory: The Mall of Dubai is the pinnacle of urbana, the very antithesis of nature itself. The entire complex is engineered to the point where even its efforts to mimic natural environments only remind you more intensely of how far humanity has managed to extricate itself from the state of nature. It’s a case study of human defiance, refusal to simply accept the limitations of your locale. Born from this same attitude of defiance is my strongest memory of Dubai – hundreds of teenage kids, born and raised in a desert where the temperature tops 40 celsius year-round, and each and every one of them an expert ice skater. As we toured (got lost) in the inconceivably massive mall, we at one point found ourselves leaning against a low barrier that ringed an appropriately large ice rink, and for ten to fifteen minutes I was consumed by the task of trying to find a single person on the ice who didn’t look like they’d grown up in the frozen north. There was no such person.
Memorable Meal: Aside from breakfast buffets at our hotel, I’m weirdly devoid of many memories of eating any food in Dubai. Did we just give up on food because we were so close to finally make it home? Nah, couldn’t be us. There was one meal that truly did stick in my mind due to its quality and its outlook. A highly rated downtown Vietnamese restaurant, just outside of the Mall of Dubai complex but close enough to still sit at the very foot of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. Perhaps because of our fasting throughout the day, my prevailing memory of the meal was that it was completely delicious, and as we looked up at the Burj I remember thinking we could hardly have finished the trip on a better meal.
Best Activity: I didn’t see much appeal to Dubai’s beaches (at least not the one we visited), and short of spending time in the desert, there’s precious little to do that isn’t man made. Basically, the ‘best activity’ stakes boiled down to: (1) touring Old Dubai, a warren of traditional Souks (markets) that have an air of authenticity, but no air conditioning; or (2) new Dubai – the Dubai of unrelenting modernity, luxury and excess. In this case I have to give my endorsement to new Dubai. The Souks were interesting, sure, but Downtown and the Mall of Dubai area was truly spectacular. If you have only a small amount of time in Dubai (as most people do) and you’re choosing between the two, you definitely should not miss Downtown.
Favourite Place: Erm. I guess the answer to this one is also the Mall of Dubai. I’ll use this space to elaborate a bit more on why it’s so spectacular: A huge outdoor lagoon that plays host to what must be one of the planet’s most extravagant fountain shows (the Bellagio suffers in comparison); a huge indoor aquarium with respectably-sized sharks lazily swimming past you as you shop; fairly impressive internal water features (including a several storeys-high wall of water; every retail store that has ever been known to man; and the aforementioned ice skating rink.
Unforgettable sight: The Burj Khalifa. Still the world’s tallest building at the time of writing, and so terribly tall in-person that I found myself still craning upwards well past the point of neck discomfort. Sadly we did not have the time nor the funds to travel up to its observation deck (usually something that I would insist upon), but such is the duality of a tall building’s appeal – it is unforgettable both as the subject of a view, as well as the platform.

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