United Arab Emirates

Written by on November 21, 2012 in General, Middle East & Gulf States with 3 Comments

I didn’t know what to expect when I landed in Dubai.  I knew the UAE was a country that did everything over the top.   I had heard about the indoor skiing attached to a mall, the air conditioners on the beach, and of course knew they had the tallest building in the world…the Burj Khalifa, standing at 160 stories tall…over 2,700 feet.  I didn’t expect it to be so awesome!  I could see it when my flight was landing, but up close, it’s even cooler.

I knew there was a lot of wealth there, but really had no clue until I saw it with my own eyes.  This Bugati was a good example…and wasn’t the first one I saw.

The UAE is only recently rich, due to a huge oil discovery in the 1960s leading to the UAE now having the 7th largest oil reserve in the world today.  It also happens to have the 7th largest natural gas reserves.

Dubai is not a backpacker type of place as there are zero low-budget accommodation options, but luckily my ex-colleague and friend Sherie who I’d known from RBS in the UK had relocated to Dubai about a year ago and is now running the GTS practice for the Middle East.  She was kind enough to put me up in her villa for the duration of my stay.  Her and her family’s kindness allowed me to stay a lot longer than I would have been able to afford in a hostel or hotel and I can’t thank her enough!   Thanks soooo much!  I also met up with a former Golden Gateway tennis player who had relocated to Dubai and was able to finally play some tennis in the Middle East.   Thanks Dave!

I found the UAE to be a funny place.  I was definitely NOT in the Middle East anymore.  Definitely still a lot of Arabs, however it was different here.  One thing that really jumped out at me is how ORGANIZED everything there seemed.  It jumps right out at you in the Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world, which happened to be my first stop.  You would think that shopping in the biggest mall in the world would make it tough to find what you’re looking for.  Not the case.  The mall is mostly divided into sections or floors.  If you want a watch, all the watch stores are right next to each other.  Children’s clothing, toys or appliances…all on the upper floor.  High end kids stores like Baby Dior, Armani Junior and the like…all clustered together (and ridiculous!)

The mall was gorgeous, btw!  This was in the luxury section, just before the exit out to the Burj Khalifa fountains.

Dubai has also organized its businesses into areas or neighborhoods.  There is a Media City (where all the media companies have buildings), Internet City (for all the tech co’s), Healthcare City, Learning City, Sports City, Studio City, and the list goes on.  I found it really interesting!

Anyway…Eid, which is a huge Muslim holiday, was coming up in a couple of days, so I wanted to make sure to get most of the touristy stuff out of the way to avoid crowds, traffic, etc., so decided to take a trip down to check out Abu Dhabi early on and get it out of the way while I was still waking up pretty early naturally.  I took a shared taxi down and headed straight for the Sheikh al Hussein mosque, which had an 11a walking tour…as long as I wore the traditional black abaya before going in.

I’m so glad I went.  The mosque was absolutely GORGEOUS!

I think even I would pray more if I had a place like this to go to!  Well…maybe not.  But still…the mosque was only recently completed in 2007, and the Sheikh spared no expense. I would have expected it to be flashy or garish, but instead it was elegant, peaceful, classy…and really beautiful.

I also went to check out the Emirates Palace Hotel, the other major tourist site in Abu Dhabi, which was quite the opposite and totally ugly, in my opinion.

I did find it interesting when I got the quickie tour and was told that the entire top floor is reserved for “Rulers” only.  I wonder what those rooms look like!  Abu Dhabi has big plans for tourism in the future, with a new Louvre and Guggenheim museum already under construction, as well as plenty of other cultural and architectural feats in the works.  Unlike Dubai, Abu Dhabi has a nice corniche that makes the city more livable and would be good for evening walks, but it was way too hot when I was there to do much walking.  I did manage to find a shopping mall, which is all too common in the UAE and caught the 2p showing of “Arbitrage” as I needed a place to stay cool for a couple hours before catching my bus back to Dubai..and I needed my popcorn fix!

The bus ride back went quickly and since I was still in tourist mode, I decided to hop on the Dubai-by-night tour, figuring I’d get to take some cool night shots and figure out the lay of the land so I knew where everything was to explore in coming days.

The skyline here is insane and very futuristic.

I know some people don’t dig it, but I thought it was super cool.

Even the metro was nice.  I especially like that they have a separate car for ladies and family.  The workers, or “slaves” as Sherie’s husband Dave refers to them, are mostly Indian or Pakistani and are apparently very good at making women uncomfortable.  I didn’t experience this here, but definitely did when I was in India.  Anyway, they also have lady taxis, in case one of the Emirati women don’t want to be alone in a taxi with a male driver.  A lady taxi driver is a woman and she wears a cute pink outfit and drives a pink taxi!  Too funny.

Sherie has a great place and a beautiful and generous family who took me in for the week, while I ran around being a tourist, but I knew they’d be busy with work and school, so I also reached out to the Couch Surfer community in Dubai to see if anyone was up for meeting for drinks.  I ended up meeting up with a couple guys, and now think that maybe this will be a better way for me to utilize the CS website rather than staying in someone’s house.

I don’t mind doing most things on my own (obviously!), but I really hate going to a trendy bar or club alone.  A sports bar or dive bar or a quieter place where I can pull up a seat at the bar and watch tv or talk to the bartender…no problem.  But I wanted to check out some of the cool night-spots in Dubai, so went to CS to call in the reinforcements.

Luckily I met Walid, who was totally on the same page as me, who invited me to join him and his 6 lovely friends for dinner and drinks at the Buddha Bar, and then we went to another place across the street called Toro Toro.  The next night he invited me to a BBQ at his apartment with another set of his amazing friends and he and his brother broke out their guitars and started singing.  It was, in a way, surreal to be included in such a personal experience and I have a feeling this is exactly why so many people love Couch Surfing…and travelling…and living…and experiencing other people’s cultures…and I could go on…and on…and on!  🙂

Anyway…the rest of the week went by in a drunken haze.  I had an unbelievable time in Dubai and can actually see myself doing an expat tour-of-duty there someday…if a bank or other willing firm might have me.  There were definite similarities to Scottsdale, AZ (where I grew up), and it seemed like pretty much everyone I met was living a REALLY NICE lifestyle.  There are plenty of tennis courts, golf courses, great restaurants, amazing brunch places and fun clubs to keep me busy for awhile, that is for sure!

Dubai is definitely not cheap… so after just over a week, it was time to move on to Oman.



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3 Reader Comments

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  1. Chris says:

    Looks and sounds like my kinda place. Great post, love the pictures.

  2. Maria says:

    Gorgeous pics! Thanks for sharing your post. Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  3. Wendy says:

    Really liked what you had to say in your post, United Arab Emirates | Round the World with Deb, thanks for the good read!
    — Wendy


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