Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dubai III: Arabian Adventures

A must-do in Dubai is to go dune bashing, although when you're doing it it actually feels the other way around—it's you who's taking a bashing. Fortunately the adventure involves more than just dune bashing and a great time was had by all who went, because Nicol├ís was not feeling well and had to stay home with Dianny. Our hosts, even though they've done this several times, were kind enough to come with us and show us a good Arabian adventure.

A huge 4x4 SUV picks you up near your house or hotel and takes you into the desert, which is not too far from anywhere. First they show you how the Bedouins trained falcons and used them to catch food. After that everyone gets in their SUVs and the caravan starts. My guess is there were 30-40 SUVs. They make a rest stop halfway, which was not a moment too soon for me, and another stop to watch the sunset. We also had to stop to rescue an SUV that got stuck in the sand. Miraculously, Daniela got sick only once, towards the end of the ride, but even so she said she enjoyed the ride.

We arrived at dusk at their campsite, "with Bedouin-style seating," where we enjoyed a great feast. They also had activities for the kids such as camel riding and henna tattooing, and even an "authentic" belly dancer, who, rumor has it, was Russian, or maybe Ukrainian, but definitely not Arab.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dubai II: Burj Khalifa and Palm Jumeirah

Right next to the Dubai Mall is the Burj Khalifa, Dubai's new urban masterpiece and currently the tallest building in the world. From up there you can see the World Islands, an artificial archipelago of various small islands being built in the rough shape of a world map. This project is either cancelled or delayed due to the financial crisis.

The other artificial archipelago created in Dubai is the Palm Jumeirah, which has roughly doubled Dubai’s shoreline. On it are homes, villas, and hotels, including the Palm Atlantis, where we spent the afternoon enjoying the sun while the kids swam in the pool. The hotel is modeled after the Atlantis in the Bahamas and features a majestic sculpture made of Murano glass in the lobby and a huge aquarium inside. Oh, and an ATM that dispenses gold, in case you run out of it during the day. From the beach you have a nice view of Dubai, including the seven star Burj Al Arab hotel.

One night we had dinner in the Madinat Jumeirah, another luxurious resort owned by the same company that owns the Burj Al Arab hotel. It is designed to resemble a traditional Arabian town—a very luxurious one.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dubai I: Skyscrapers and Malls

It's a short flight from Amman, and as soon as you land and make your way through the airport you know you are in Dubai. The airport, the hub of Emirates and one of the world's busiest, is modern, efficient, and huuuge. Our friend Ricardo was waiting for us at the terminal and drove us straight into town, where all you see are three-, four-, and five-lane highways, modern skyscrapers, and an even more modern metro system. There's still a lot of construction going on in Dubai.

Plenty has been written about Dubai, but it's another thing to actually see it. The city was described to us by our local friends as a cross between Miami and Las Vegas, and that seems pretty accurate, except that in Dubai everything seems more something: more luxurious, more outrageous, more big, or more over the top. More extravagant.

Life and tourism seem to revolve around malls and hotels, and English is spoken just about everywhere. We made a quick stop at the Mall of the Emirates, in the heart of Dubai. This is the mall that has its own indoor ski run, as well as a five star Kempinski Hotel, and the first thing you see when you get there is the structure for the ski run. There were plenty of kids skiing inside.

The next day we visited the waterfront area near the Dubai Marina, where our hosts invited us to a great Sunday brunch, which in this part of the world happens on Saturday. It's no coincidence they took us to Paul, a wonderful French bakery and restaurant. Here we are with Paola and Ricardo and their kids.

We also visited the Dubai Mall, "the world's largest mall," located in the Downtown Dubai development. This one has it's own aquarium, ice skating rink, the largest candy store, and the Divers Fountain, a cool waterfall that runs through the entire height of the mall and is adorned with art sculptures of human divers. There's a beautiful esplanade between the mall and the man-made Burj Khalifa lake that has dozens of outdoor cafes and restaurants. In the middle of the lake they've built the Dubai Fountain, a choreographed fountain system designed by the same company that did the fountains at the Bellagio Hotel Lake in Las Vegas. We were fortunate to see it at night, although my picture does not do it justice.