Winging Off to Dubai

No, not us…though believe me, we’ve thought about it.

Our friends Hilary and Dan just returned a few days ago from the distant, shimmering shore of Dubai, back to their wintry home outside Chicago. I wanted to help them relive a week of wholly precious warmth.

Hilary used to be my favorite Pilates teacher here in Los Angeles, but followed her husband Dan, an airline pilot, to the O’Hare hub a few years back. Ever since, they’ve been increasingly worn down by the weather in Chicago, and dream of returning to sunny California.

But there are perks to a pilot’s life — namely, airline miles and making friends all over the world. For instance, Dan’s good friend and fellow pilot lives in sunny Dubai, the northeastern, Persian Gulf-coastal jewel of the United Arab Emirates. Just imagine…I mean, you’d almost have to go visit, just to not risk being impolite.

Hilary and Dan were dazzled and surprised by how purely different Dubai, which is sometimes called the Las Vegas of the Middle East, is from America. For instance, you aren’t allowed to register cars more than 15 years old, and because it’s an officially Muslim country, you need a license to purchase liquor outside of hotel restaurants.  And these two weren’t staying in a hotel.

For the week, they took up residence with their friend, whose apartment building has panoramic views of the city and, like most of new-millennium Dubai, is surrounded by new construction. Everything in the city, it seems, aims to be the biggest and best; 12 of the world’s top 100 tallest buildings can be found here.  

Number 30 on this list, Jumeirah’s Burj-al-Arab is the sailboat-shaped, wildly luxurious, 7-star-rated hotel (in a ballsy PR move, the two extra stars were self-appointed) that has become the veritable icon of this coastal playground in the desert. They’re serious about riff-raff control; if you’re not a hotel guest it costs $70 US per person for a tour, coupled with reservations for tea or a meal.

In Dubai, logic is sometimes sacrificed in The Great Real Estate Leap Forward: while Dubai spent billions to build manmade islands in the shape of The World, they didn’t fully think through water and erosion issues beforehand, and now much of it is uninhabitable. Like everywhere else in the world, debt is a serious problem here; however, the illusion of prosperity is on an often grander scale.

One enormous project that’s proven a success is the astonishing Mall of the Emirates, the largest mall on Planet Earth. In addition to approximately eleventy-billion retail stores, as well as two spa hotels in development, this mall has a two-story amusement park called Magic Planet, a 14-screen movie theater, a 500-seat theatre for plays, an art gallery, and perhaps most improbably, an indoor ski slope called Ski Dubai.  

At the mall’s valet parking, Hilary and Dan saw a gold Mercedes C63 AMGpainted with real honest-to-Allah gold

Now a gold car, we’d actually invest in.  Nice try, Monex.

 

  

 To see the other side of serious shopping in Dubai, they spent a day wandering around the old markets, or souks. Located all over town, there’s a souk for gold, fish, spices, handicrafts, antiques, perfume, and more. These are the places to people watch, haggle, revel in a costly attar of roses, or scarf down the best shawarma of your life.

They took a dhow ride on the almost absurd Dubai Creek, a natural inlet that’s been artificially excavated into a shipping port and river that runs  alongside a series of private clubs, hotels, and on and on; toured the Dubai Museum in the late 1700s Al Fahidi Fort; and protectively held up their jaws (lest they hit the floor) at the Gold & Diamond Park. The latter is yet another cavernous mall, this one featuring all fine jewelry, all the time (except Sundays).

Both Hilary and Dan concurred that no trip to Dubai would be complete without ogling the spectacular aquariums at the newly opened Atlantis Palm Dubai.  Sister hotel to the Atlantis in the Bahamas (where we spent Christmas 2004 in equally wide-eyed splendor), the UAE version sports a Moorish arch beneath its most expensive “room,” the palatial comes-with-a-manservant Bridge Suite.  

The highlight of their trip, though, as amazing as they found Dubai itself, was actually a two-hour drive along the ultra-curvy coastline of the Persian Gulf, into an oddly disconnected sliver of the neighboring country of Oman.  (Blame the British for this puzzling bit of national zoning.) They made it to the pristine port town of Khasab, capital of Oman’s Musandam Peninsula on the Strait of Hormuz, before having to turn around and head back for a night on the town.  Now that’s our idea of an exotic road trip.

As though, somehow, the idea of merely going to Dubai isn’t exotic enough.

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