Thursday, May 30, 2013

A tale of two cities, Dubai edition

You know how it is – go away on a big trip, come back and fall into life and suddenly almost a month has gone by and the last part of the trip hasn’t been told. Hmmm – sorry about that!

 

Seeing Dubai was the starting point for this whole adventure, and throughout our trip people kept telling us ‘If you think that’s great, what ‘til you see the one in Dubai’, so we were pretty excited to actually get to the city. A little bit sad, too, because it meant the end of our great adventure, but first – a city to explore.

From our berth at Port Rashid we could look across to the famous skyline. Here’s a shot from later in the day, with the late day sun glinting off the Burj Kahlifa:

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The Burj is 163 stories tall, which means that those other buildings around it are also very tall, which in turn means that things are spread out quite a bit further than we first thought. The scale of everything is quite deceptive.

A bus service was in place to take us to the Dubai Mall, which seemed like as good a place as any to begin our adventures. We’re getting used to these giant Asian and Middle Eastern malls right? And the Dubai Mall is connected to the elevated train system, right? Well, yes and no.

Turns out the Dubai Mall is immense – 1200 shops, to begin with. I’ll tell you about it later. And it is connected to the train. By an air-conditioned sky walk (like Calgary’s Plus 15 network on steriods), which was nice. The presence of moving sidewalks throughout should have been a clue. It was probably about a kilometer to the train, but it was interesting, being above the traffic, looking down into one after another construction site.

There is an old town part of Dubai, which we visited on day two. But the city has pretty much been built since the early 1980’s. That does make for a certain kind of organization – there is a main expressway that runs parallel to the coastline, and the metro runs above and to the side of the expressway. On either side is a forest of high rise buildings – mostly office space but lots of condominiums, too. And shopping centres. Moving away from the transit corridor we could see subdivisions of various types laid out.

Reading the guide books most of the attractions seem to be centred around shopping centres – want to go skiing? Mall of the Emirates. Skating or a trip to the aquarium? Dubai Mall. Fancy shopping with an ancient Egyptian motif – there were at least two malls with that theme. We had a suggestion from a friend to check out the Ibn Battuta mall, so we decided to do that first, which was why we found our way to the metro and took the long ride to the suburbs.

I’ll let you look up Ibn Battuta for all the details – short version is that he was a famous scholar and explorer in the Medieval Arabic world. And the mall named in his honour is divided up into sections representing some of the many places that he visited. The guide books are quite sniffy about it, and the concierge at our hotel seemed surprised that we would bother going there. But it was a hoot. Totally over the top. The condescension comes, I believe, from the fact that it is not a really high end mall. No Chanel or fancy French designers. It is 1.3 km long – you can pay a couple of cents for a ride in a cart if you decide you don’t want to walk back and forth. Where else, after all, can you stop in what looks like a mosque and find a Starbucks?

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or a full sized Chinese junk dashed on the rocks in China?

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Our cart driver took us via Tunisia:

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so that we could get back to the exit for the train, which was the Egyptian area:

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All around the world, and groceries, too.

From Ibn Battuta we decided to head to another shopping/entertainment complex, so back on the train, then a taxi to the waterfront. We were headed for the Jumeirah district, where among other things they have a souk. We were in the souk in Muscat, which was very interesting. This one would be different, being indoors, for one thing. But since the temperature was about 35outside,  indoors seemed like a good idea.

First clue that we’re not in a regular souk – the lapis lazuli inlaid floors:

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Everything very pretty, very elegant, very just so for the tourists.

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Kind of like the Disney version of the real thing….

While we were in the Emirates is was hot, a bit humid (but not like Asia humid) hazy and threatening rain. In fact we ran into rain showers in all three Emirate cities. What this meant in Dubai was poor visibility. We had talked about going to the Burj al Arab hotel for a drink in the bar and a look at the view out over the Palm Islands, but decided that we probably wouldn’t be able to see anything. Instead we made our way to one of the hotels in the Jumeirah district where we could sit and look at the Burj al Arab itself.

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It was very pleasant, and they didn’t seem to mind sweaty, windblown tourists, so we had a beer and read some newspapers and admired the view. What with the rain some of the locals were considering it a bit cool and certainly too chilly to go to the beach, but from where we were sitting we could see the hardy Europeans sitting down on the beach. In the picture above that is a little lake that we over look, with little hire boats to take you about – something to do, don’t you know!

We made our way back via taxi, train, and moving sidewalk to the Dubai Mall – which was now wide awake and going full steam, unlike in the morning when things were just barely opening. We found a familiar site:

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for a restorative cup of Timmie’s best before finding our way back to our shuttle bus.

It was all very interesting, but it was strange, too. We had covered a lot of ground and seen many sights. But it was all within the confines of highly organized private spaces. From one shopping centre to another via public transit. Through private walkways to and from the shopping centre. Everything was corporate, branded, managed. It was all perfect, tidy, safe and clean. But there was nothing spontaneous, nothing lively, nothing real.

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