Friday, May 20, 2011

New Thing 8 :24 Hours in Dubai

So, I'm sitting at the Dubai Airport right now.  It's 2:00 am here, and I'm waiting with two of my favorite newly graduated Saint Michael's seniors, Kate and Alexsis, for it to be 4:30 so that we can check in for our 7:30 am flight to Amman, Jordan.  It's all part of the MDG book project that I've written lots of posts on (and will be writing more as the summer unfolds).  But today's post is devoted to our 24 hour layover in Dubai, which actually was a long time coming, considering that it was on the heels of an epic ten-hour overnight bus ride from Burlington to New York City and a twelve hour flight from JFK to Dubai.

This morning we rolled off the plane, put our backpacks in "left luggage" for the day and headed into town after changing some cash and getting complementary visas from the government of the United Arab Emirates. Not knowing which way was up, we decided to take a river tour along the "Creek" which runs from the Indian Ocean through much of downtown Dubai, and we lazily hopped in a cab to get there.  Our first surprise came when we were tucked into a "Ladies Cab" -- which could easily be distinguished by its pink top and woman drive (and its slightly heftier price tag than the "ordinary" cabs).
Alexsis and Kate enjoying the shade while we wait for our Creek tour to begin.

It was hot hot HOT in Dubai today, and we were more than happy to sit in the shade with about 25 other tourists and listen to an recorded English-language detailing all the notable buildings we were passing on both sides of the Creek.  And one thing you can't help quickly picking up on is that Dubai pretty much exists to be notable.  If there is a way for something in Dubai to be biggest/tallest/priciest/mostest-in-any-way, it will be, and if possible the new superlative thing will be attached to a gargantuan mall, where affluent (or at least heavily indebted) people of every race, religion and creed can gather together in the common purpose of shopping till they drop.
Oh look!  It just wouldn't be a proper Dubai attraction if it didn't set SOME kind of record -- in this case, the largest plexiglass sheet ever.  But walking underneath sharks and sting rays, I must admit, was pretty cool.

Anyone who knows me well may not believe this, but today my day centered around shopping (though I actually didn't buy a thing beyond some food and admission tickets).  Alexsis, Kate and I went to two of the biggest malls in the world, as well as one of the world's most famous gold markets (or Souk, as it's known here).  And while we were checking these places out, we naturally wound up viewing the world's only indoor ski resort with an actual functioning chair lift and everything, as well as an aquarium and "water zoo" that of course, had to set a Guiness World Book record (however obscure).
After a winter of skiing together at Smugg's Alexsis and I couldn't bring ourselves to shell out the money to try indoor skiing -- it just looked so silly (and yes, that's a real chair lift that we're pointing to). 

In the interim I am proud to say that we did also manage to eat a lunch at a local Iranian restaurant, where Kate got to try the Middle East staple of schwarma (Alexsis, who studied abroad in Turkey and travelled widely during that semester, is an old pro) AND we figured out the city's rather excellent public transportation system.  After our first pricey cab ride we ditched that option and bought day-long tickets that worked on the metro, public water taxis and buses, all of which we rode on multiple occasions. Finally, around 10:30 pm we came back to the airport, retrieved our packpacks and had some less-than-divine airport food.  Now Alexsis and Kate are napping and I am blogging.
Kate and Alexsis standing in front of their millionth gold shop in the Gold Souk during our evening of window shopping.

I am quite positive that the UAE has much more to offer, culturally, historically, and physically, than the gazillions of buying opportunities we saw today.  If you love the glitz and over-the-top quality of Vegas, you're going to adore Dubai.  If Vegas and/or shopping are not your things, you might want to dig a bit deeper than we did, because Dubai at face value is a bit surreal. For us, it's onward tomorrow to Jordan and then on to the Palestinian Territories and Israel.

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