Recently I was fortunate enough to travel to Dubai, United Arab Emirates to visit a close friend who has lived there going on three years. Because of her local knowledge of the best places to see and things to do plus her ability to speak Arabic, I was able to come away from my trip with a knowledge of the city that I would not have had otherwise.
The reason behind the dates I chose to go (March 24 April 1) was the richest horse race in the world, The Dubai World Cup, at the brand new Meydan Racecourse, with a purse of $10 million. Although they were putting the last minute touches on the facility when we arrived for the race, its still one of the nicest sporting facilities Ive had the opportunity to see with its many restaurants and the trackside Bubble Lounge champagne bar, all of which fit in perfectly among the swankily clad patrons draped in their designer duds.
Judging from the race alone you know that Dubai strives to be the fastest, the biggest and the best and that motto only continued as I toured the rest of the city. Just before my trip, the Burj Khalifa (the worlds tallest building) was completed. Although in their speedy quest to be the best, sometimes quality is overlooked, which is what happened when the elevator in the Burj Khalifa broke down with people in it. Sadly it was not yet repaired on my visit so I was not able to ride to the top. I was however able to experience the Burj al Arab, a self professed 7-star hotel in the shape of a sailboat. In order to even be allowed on the island where the Burj al Arab resides, you must have a reservation of some sort, be it for a hotel room, dinner at one of their restaurants, or high tea, which we decided to do. Although the hotel is a little gaudy for the typical Americans taste, the service and the food was impeccable as was the view from the 27th floor where high tea is served at two different seatings. Both man made islands, Palm Island and The World (whats completed of it) are visible on either side of the restaurant.
In typical tourist fashion we went on a desert safari that included dune bashing in a 4×4, riding camels, dinner consisting of local Emirate fare and a show that featured belly dancing. Another tourist attraction not to be missed is the indoor ski slope at the Mall of the Emirates. The fact that its 100 degrees in March in Dubai, but you can still go skiing is something you just have to see for yourself. Not to mention that the Emirate people and the expatriates that seem to make up a large portion of the Dubai population rarely intermingle socially, but at the malls you will find almost equal numbers of each.
Going where the locals are likely to be found is one of the more difficult tasks you come across when visiting any foreign country and for that reason the Gold, Spice and Textile Souks (Markets) were among my favorite places we visited. Youre able to get a feel for the local working class people and the old city instead of all of the sky scrapers and shiny hotel lobbies that have been built up over the past ten years. Because my host is knowledgeable about the local customs, we were even able to share tea with a shop owner as a celebratory gesture, the closing of a deal, after bargaining for pashminas to take home as souvenirs.
There are so many more factors that go into what Dubai is today, be it the upscale night clubs, the fancy cars that seem to exist in an alarmingly high percentage, all of the sky scrapers that are still under construction or in many cases at a stand still due to lack of funds, but I still find that the best part of any city is where the culture lies; the culture thats been there for more than ten years.