life travel

Dubai, December 2014

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Quick trip, just a miles run to make status for 2015. I stayed at the Sheraton Deira which was nice, beautiful rooftop pool that I swam in as planes landed overhead. Not much in Deira though, would have been better off across the river. Everyone drives everywhere (cabs are very cheap) but across the river I could have walked more. I didn’t get the breakfast package when I booked, but got it there and it was less than half as much (< 10 GBP).

I arrived at the airport, and got a bit lost – looking for an ATM, and water. The ATMs are right as you come out in arrivals, so I had to sneak back in under a barrier. The airport is hot and full of people, even late at night. The phone store was open, but couldn’t sell me a SIM card, so I just took a cab to the hotel. I was pretty excited because there were lady cabs, with lady drivers and pink detailing but I didn’t manage to catch another lady cab whilst I was there.

The first morning I set off to get a SIM card. I needed to go right across the road, but this is a city designed for cars, so I had to walk down the road, (including a small detour through a garden in the middle of the road) and then back the way I’d come on the other side. And then I had to go back because I’d forgotten my passport! It took the guy ages to sort out my SIM card but eventually it was done. The SIM with data cost about 20 GBP.

Reconnected to the internet, I took a cab then walked from the Gold Souk (market) along the river, took a commuter boat across (so fun!) and ended up at the Arabian Tea House, which was great. Then I walked to ChaTime for iced tea (my fave iced tea shop!) and picked up a taxi to take me to the Miracle Gardens. The Miracle Gardens are pretty bizarre, an artificial desert oasis. Beautiful, but something of a monument to excess – like many things in Dubai, really.

After the gardens, I went to the Dubai Mall where I got very lost, grabbed dinner at Shake Shack and saw the Dubai Fountain, which is pretty cool.

One of the landmarks of Dubai is this man made island shaped like a palm tree, at the end of which is a hotel called Atlantis. I wanted a regular cab, but one of the hotel cars was going off his shift and said it would be cheaper, so I ended up in his car. Seriously, the worst driver ever. He had no idea where I was going, drove me around in circles for ages, but didn’t admit he didn’t know. I kept saying I would just get out, but he was like, no, but eventually I used my GPS to navigate him to the monorail station. He then said he didn’t have enough change (despite me saying when I got in I only had large bills and was that OK) and asked if I wanted him to wait. Ha. As if. That monorail station was closed, and the guy there told me to take a car back to the previous one. I was like, no way, not getting in another car, and decided to walk. I found myself in a beautiful garden, walking along what I later realised was a running track. This was very nice until I got to the end, and realized I was trapped. Luckily there was a hole in the fencing, so I climbed out, walked past the security guard like I was supposed to be there, and set off to walk along the highway. The outgoing highway road disappeared, and so I ended up on the incoming highway, at first edging along the side of a hedge, and later on a gravel track that was raised from the highway but clearly not for pedestrians. Eventually I ran out of road, and was rescued by a cab driver who took me – hungry, thirsty and very grumpy – to Atlantis. Because it’s on a loop, he first had to take me all the way back the way I had come and out again.

Only in Dubai would they build an residential and holiday island and make it impassable on foot. I wonder if this will later become a problem if wealth inequality decreases and taxis can no longer be quite so cheap. My first sight of food on arriving at Atlantis was a Starbucks. Foursquare suggested some other restaurants but they were far away and I didn’t want to get stranded again. I ended up at Yuan, which is one of the hotel Atlantis restaurants. It was hideously expensive but very delicious (BBQ chicken buns! Pork seemed to be verboten in Dubai) with fantastic service and I emerged feeling much more human.

I took the monorail back, and it was pretty fantastic to see the way the island is being built. Atlantis itself looks like a disney castle.

Then I found myself on another highway, trying to find a cab in a bid to avoid any more town cars (the monorail exit signs bring you out in an underground carpark with only town cars). I went back to Dubai Mall to meet my friend who I did ski instructor training with, she’s just moved to Abu Dhabi which it turns out is only an hour away from Dubai. We moseyed around, ate dinner at Potbelly’s (I used to eat there when I lived in Minnesota!), and there was a Caribou Coffee (I first saw one at the Mall of America) and a Royce chocolate shop (Japanese, and IMO the best chocolate in the world). Dubai is something of an expat paradise. We watched divers in the enormous aquarium, and saw the fountains again, but skipped the tower – it was dark by the time we realised there were times open and I would have sooner gone up in daylight.

Last day in Dubai, and I went to the Mall of the Emirates with the goal of checking off one of my bucket list items – ski on the world’s longest indoor ski slope. I had lunch at Al Halleb (tasty hummus) and dinner at Miu Shanghai (pretty terrible). Skiing was weird. You have to wear their outfits, and I had just a thermal and no sweater so I was a bit cold, and it’s very short. But I love to ski and got very into the experience. And it was fun to watch some instructors doing ski training. Two hours was plenty though!

Then I took a cab back to the hotel. The traffic was horrible, and the cab driver was weird – saying he’d picked me up because he could tell I was a nice girl, and he wouldn’t have picked up [assorted ethnic minorities]. He laid on the guilt about lack of sick days, and poor pay, and so when I eventually I got out I felt manipulated into over-tipping him, as he’d intended. This has happened to me before (in NYC) and I find it really uncomfortable, and a little bit scary, to be in that kind of situation.

Dubai is a weird place. It seemed, initially, like the most racially diverse place I had ever been, but having spent a couple of days there I had noticed the racial divide between service staff and those shopping in the malls. The malls themselves are ridiculous, like Singapore, but maybe even more so. Everything starts after dark, and rush hour means the traffic moves slowly so the short trip for me meant I didn’t have enough evenings to see very much.

I don’t know if I would deliberately go back. It’s taken me so long to get around to going to Dubai because I feel like it’s a transit hub, and the kind of place you just end up. I wouldn’t mind ending up there again, though. If I did, I’d stay longer, maybe on Atlantis, and go swimming and play in the waterpark during the day, and head to see the sights at night.

My main Dubai tip is to avoid the town cars. The malls, hotels, everything seem to have their own car service and they just overcharge.

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