The only time I had ever been to the UAE (United Arab Emirates) was to transit through Abu Dhabi in the old days when the airlines used it, or Saudi Arabia, as refuelling stop on the flight from Europe to Australia. Dubai has now become the focal point in the area and we arranged a stop over here for a couple of days before continuing on to Europe. Dubai is the capital city of the UAE which consists of seven Emirates, or what you could consider to be Sheikhdoms. Abu Dhabu (one of the Emirates) has oil, but Dubai is the dynamic commercial and trading centre of the region.
Arriving anywhere at 3.30 am is not a good time to be alert and active. Fortunately, we had a good sleep on the flight from Melbourne and while bleary eyed, we were somewhat overwhelmed by the grandeur of the airport here. It is huge! Like everything else in Dubai, it is modern and clean. You could have eaten a meal off the floor. Shiny marble and a tall ceiling supported by huge silver columns everywhere, along with lots of interesting architectural shapes. Once in the central concourse, we saw a glass wall that seemed to move up and down in large sections. These turned out to be enormous lifts that we had to take down two levels to the station level where another glass wall opened onto a train that travelled every two minutes to the central customs and immigration hall. Here were a long line of sixty customs stations, with a maze of red taped entries, although only about eight were manned at this time of the morning. Unlike the last few places where you had to declare your entire family history to gain a visa, here it was just a case of present your passport and no paperwork whatsoever. Then it was through to collect our baggage in a huge area with 14 baggage belts and then out to meet our chauffeur drive car to our hotel. A very long walk through the airport, but as smooth a process as you would want at such an ungodly hour.
We managed to get a few hours extra sleep once we had checked in to our hotel (The Conrad Dubai) and then at breakfast we came across some of the highest levels of service we have experienced anywhere. The staff could not have been more attentive. All we had to do was to look at something and immediately there would be a staff member at our side asking if they could serve us. Used plates were cleared in seconds and cooked eggs delivered to to the table.We asked about the pool area outside and the manager took us on a personal tour of the area and its facilities. Our room is large with a view across the city to the desert area in which Dubai exists.
A half day tour that we had booked on-line took us around the major sites of the city and even a couple of extra ones. Qantas sell a variety of tours and activities in many cities around the world on their web site. They are actually a product of a company called Viator and from past experience they work very well and provide good value.
Our driver / guide, Sabeer, originally came from Sri Lanka. He, like most other people we have met here, make Dubai a melting pot of people from a very diverse range of nationalities. Dubai has quite an open culture, especially for the Middle East. One can freely buy alcohol and also visit the mosque situated next for to the shopping centre. Although, the one thing that we have noticed, for religious reasons is a lack of pork and bacon although there are many interesting substitutes for breakfast. Every time we stopped, Sabeer would keep the engine running to keep the car cool. By early afternoon, the temperature had reached over 40 degrees and petrol here at 50c a litre is cheaper than water. On our tour, Sabeer wold point out one building after another, telling us some fact about it that made it the biggest or best in the world. I asked him if there was anything about Dubai that made it the smallest in the world and he replied telling us that there was a Hilton Hotel in Dubai that was the smallest Hilton in the world with only about 150 rooms!
This city is truly astonishing. The earliest mention of Dubai dates back to1095 AD, and the earliest recorded settlement in the region dates from 1799. In those early days it was famous for pearling and fishing. Its strategic geographic location made the town an important trading hub, and by the beginning of the 20th century, Dubai was already an important regional port. Today, Dubai has become s a cosmopolitan city and cultural hub of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region. It is also a major transport hub for passengers and cargo. Although Dubai’s economy was historically built on the oil industry, the emirate’s Western-style model of business drives its economy with the main revenues now coming from tourism, aviation, real estate, and financial services. All this in only fifty years, or so.
Dubai has recently attracted world attention through many innovative large construction projects and sports events. It looks as though it has held an architectural competition to create interesting tall buildings and then built every one of the entries. Recent creative activity has concentrated on some ambitious development projects including man-made islands in the shape of a palm tree, hotels, and some of the largest shopping malls in the region and the world.
We had heard a lot about the two market areas in the old part of town on the Dubai Creek (really a coastal inlet because this area receives only about 13mm of rain each year and this is not enough to form a creek). These were the Gold Souk (market) and the Spice Souk. I caught a little ferry boat across the creek (along with about 20 other people. There was no way that the boat man was going to leave unless every available square inch on the boat was taken. The short ride of a few minutes gave me a different perspective on the old town although I hd seen something of local culture in the outstanding museum that e had visited earlier. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with these two souks. The spice market consisted of only a few small shops and the gold market was predominantly along one covered alley way. Maybe I was expecting some very extensive markets like the ones in Istanbul, but these were much less impressive.
We are quite happy to admit that by mid afternoon, we were overcome by the heat and jet lag so we made a retreat back to our hotel. It was very pleasant to have a shower and lay back to read some more about this fascinating, opulent and unique city.