Published: April 8th 2011December 25th 2010
Burj Khalifa is 828 meters high and that makes it the highest building in the world
Arabs also have tacky Christmas decorations. Just not so many
This year, while Emma celebrated Christmas with her parents and sisters, Ake was in the United Arab Emirates. So this blog entry is written by Ake only.
You don’t have to feel sorry for me for being abroad instead of celebrating traditional Christmas. I am more than happy to be away for a couple of days in the end of December. The Swedish winter is much too cold and way too dark for me. I need to get away for a while to survive. So spending Christmas in UAE rather than Sweden is just the way I want things.
For various reasons I could only take six days off for this trip. Six days isn’t much time and all I had time to do was to see the must-see things in Dubai and a day-trip to Abu Dhabi.
I arrived in Dubai airport in the middle of the night. I took a taxi to Dubai Youth Hostel, checked in and went to bed immediately. Since the first night was cut short I was not much in the mood for sightseeing the next day. But I still
Burj Khalifa is so high that if you put two Empire State Buildings on top of each other it is still 70 meters shorter than Burj Khalifa
went to central town to see if I could find something to do.
I ended up in the old part of Dubai, an area called Deira or Deira North. In Deira some of the old Arabic traditions still linger on. The streets are narrow, there is a traditional house and an old school preserved as museums, there are traditional boats, known as Dhows, moored in the harbour and there are several so called Souqs in Deira. Souq is an old word for market place or shopping mall. The bus I took from the youth hostel to town took me to the Gold Souq bus station. The Gold Souq is where all the gold shops and jewellers in Deira are concentrated. Nearby is the Spice Souq, where herbs and spices are sold. There is also a Perfume Souq and a Covered Souq nearby. All the souqs are crowded and busy places.
This historical area was a perfect place for me to roam around on this day. It is sort of a compulsory place to visit if you are in Dubai. But when you have walked around there for a while it all starts to look the same. Since I
Burj Khalifa lit from behind
hadn’t slept much the night before I was happy for not having to be focused for more than a short while. After that I could zombie around for two hours looking like a good tourist but in reality being a sleepwalker. To be honest, I did return for a revisit a few days later. I found it quite relaxing to walk around in the old quarters of Deira.
The souqs in Deira are not the only places for shopping in Dubai. There are plenty of shopping malls too. Dubai is a paradise for shopping addicts. I'll get back to the shopping malls later in this blog entry.
After I had walked around for a while in the Gold Souq and the Covered Souq I came to the two small museums I mentioned above. One is called the Heritage House and the other Al-Ahmadiya School. In both these museums they have tried to preserve what Dubai looked like 70 or 80 years ago. In the Al-Ahmadiya School it is possible to see what a school looked like in the old days and in the heritage house what a rich man's home looked like. After I had walked around the
Burj Khalifa by night
exhibitions at the heritage house I was offered tea and dried dates in the courtyard. Eating dates is an Arabic tradition I like very much.
The traditional cargo ships in the Persian Gulf are the dhows. Even though much of the cargo these days go with container ships the dhows still cruise in the waters around the Arabian Peninsula. In Dubai the dhows load and unload cargo near the souqs in Deira. It's nice to see that these traditional ships still are used. They are more attractive to watch than the large modern cargo ships are.
The second day I was in Dubai I went to see the Burj Khalifa
. At 828 meters it is the highest building in the world. Burj Khalifa is so high that if you put two Empire State Buildings
on top of each other it would still be 70 meters shorter than Burj Khalifa.
I went there in the morning hoping that I would be able to visit the visitor's level in the building the same day or possibly the day after. It turned out that the daytime tickets often are sold out a week or more in advance. So I had
The Dubai Fountain water show
to settle for a ticket in the late evening.
After I had bought the ticket I spent two hours or so on walking around the Burj Khalifa taking photos from various angels. I also watched the Dubai Fountain
which is located next to Burj Khalifa.
The Dubai Fountain is said to be the largest fountain system in the world. Three times every hour there is a show where water is sprayed from thousands of mouthpieces accompanied by a lightshow and music. It's an impressive show and it can be enjoyed many times over. A new position gives you a new show. In the night I watched the show from the visitor's platform in Burj Khalifa. That was pretty cool! I took a short film of the water show and I uploaded it onto the blog. Take a look and you can at least get an idea of what it looked like.
Next to Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Mall which is billed as being the largest shopping mall in the world. That may or may not be true, depending on how you measure, but large it is. Even if you are not a big fan of shopping
Dubai Mall as seen from 450 meters up Burj Khalifa
malls and not addicted to shopping it is still worth a visit. In the shopping mall there is among other things a large aquarium, an ice rink and a several stories high waterfall covering an entire wall. The aquarium is huge and parts of it can be viewed for free.
One of the reasons I for the last couple of years have insisted on going abroad over Christmas is to avoid all the Christmas decorations at home. In Sweden the first signs that Christmas is coming up can usually be seen in August (sadly I'm neither joking nor exaggerating) when various entertainment organisers start to advertise the Christmas shows. The first Christmas decorations for sale usually pop up in early October and the first Christmas decorations that are hung in shops and malls come up in late October. By December I am fed up with the whole Christmas thing and just want to get away. But I didn't get away from Christmas decorations altogether. The Arabs sometimes put up Christmas decorations in their shopping malls, pretty tacky ones as well. But at least there are much fewer decorations in UAE than in Sweden.
A good thing about the
It's a nice photo I think. I believe it's a mosque but I might be wrong
shopping mall is that in summer there is a controlled climate there. I visited Dubai in December and then the temperatures outdoors were comfortable. But in summer when Dubai more resembles a frying pan than anything else the various shopping malls in Dubai must be a most welcome retreat from the heat.
There are also other shopping malls in Dubai of course. I will mention one of the others later on in this blog entry.
The rest of this day I spent walking around in a historical part of Dubai seeing some windcatchers
and a fortress that has been converted into a museum. Windcatchers are a kind of early aircon. In the days before electricity houses were cooled down by letting air flow through the houses. The purpose of the windcatchers was to catch the breeze.
In the evening of this day I went back to Burj Khalifa to go up to the visitor's platform. This is located at the 124th floor which is 452 meters above ground. But that is nowhere near the top. From the visitor's platform there is another 376 meters, equivalent to nearly one entire Empire State Building, to the top of the
The traditional cargo ships in the Persian Gulf are the dhows
Burj Khalifa is the highest manmade freestanding structure in the world and an economical fiasco of similar proportions. In a few years in the late 1990-ies and at start of the 21st century hundreds of different construction projects were started in various parts of Dubai. Some of these were true mega projects that cost billions of dollars. Unlike some of the other Arabic countries Dubai doesn't have much oil and the few oil wells they have are rapidly drying out. The idea with the heavy investments was that Dubai in the future could attract millions of tourists each year. The income from the booming tourist business was going to pay for all these huge investments. Somewhere along the line this plan failed. A few years ago the banks and other investors who had given Dubai huge loans to pay for these investments started to make some calculations on their own and came to the conclusion that Dubai must be close to being bankrupt. So they asked Dubai to start paying at least the interest on the loans. They then had to admit that they couldn't, because they really were bankrupt.
When it was clear to everyone how
A clock tower near Deira city center
deep in debt Dubai really was many of the ongoing the constructions were halted. The immediate loans that were due to be paid were taken over by the much richer neighbouring emirate Abu Dhabi. Originally Burj Khalifa was not supposed to have that name. It was supposed to be called Burj Dubai. But when Abu Dhabi bailed out Dubai they also demanded the building to be renamed after the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed.
Burj Khalifa was almost finished when Abu Dhabi stepped in and handed over a few billion dollars and saved the day. With the help from the fresh dough from the rich "cousin" Burj Khalifa could be completed. Today the building is open for visitors, it is possible to rent office space there, there is a hotel and a night club in Burj Khalifa and you can even buy an apartment and live there. The visitors part is a success but I doubt that it generates any big money. The rest of the building generates even less money per square meter.
Most of the office space remains empty, very few of the flats have people living in them and large sections of
In a historical part of Dubai I visited a fortress that has been converted into a museum
it is best described as an empty tower where they haven't even bothered to put in proper floors and certainly not ceilings. But even though Burj Dubai to me looks more like a monument of failure than anything else it is the highest building in the world and nobody can take that away from them. But it came at a price that I doubt Dubai think was worth it.
I don't feel sorry for them though. You don't have to be an economist to understand that buildings higher than 400 meters are not very productive. The cost of erecting one 400 meter high building is much larger than the cost of building two high-rise buildings each 200 meters high and the advantage of having to buy or pay rent for only one land lot instead of two is less than the disadvantage that arises when it comes to transporting people up and down in the building. With additional height a larger percentage of the building must be used for elevator shafts and consequently less of the building can be used as office space and generate money. So building a skyscraper to the height of 828 meters is pointless from
In a historical part of Dubai I sew some windcatchers, kind of pre-electricity aircon
an economical standpoint. Everything above 400 meters, that is the top half of the building, is there for the only purpose of setting a world record.
But even though Burj Khalifa is a fiasco I absolutely loved to see it. It's the highest building in the world! I have seen, and even been inside, the highest building in the world! How cool is that? It's super cool if you ask me! It is also a beautiful building so I truly enjoyed visiting it. But economically it is still a fiasco.
When I think about it there are also other interesting tourist sites that can be labelled fiascos.
• The Great Wall of China
was designed as a protection against invading tribes from the north. As a protective wall it was a fiasco however. The tribes weren't stopped by the wall because they quickly realised that the guards on the wall were so easily bribed.
• The Leaning Tower of Pisa
was never supposed to lean in the first place.
• The warship Vasa
, then the pride of the Swedish Navy, sank on her maiden journey. She didn't even make it out of Stockholm harbour. Today the Vasa is
Tacky Christmas tree
The Arabs sometimes put up Christmas decorations in their shopping malls, pretty tacky ones as well.
in a museum in Stockholm, a museum that attracts more than one million visitors each year. Follow this link to a blog entry
with photos of Vasa.
• Little Bighorn, the site where the 7th Cavalry Regiment lost its final battle is today a tourist site. Loosing a battle must be thought of as a fiasco.
• The building of Göta Canal
was a mega project in Sweden in early 19th century. The purpose was to make a "water highway" from one end to the other in Sweden. It was soon replaced by railway so the massive initial investments never paid off. Nowadays it is open in summer for tourist traffic.
• The city, or maybe it is more proper to call it a ghost town, Fatehpur Sikri
in India was built as a capital but was abandoned after only ten years or so due to difficulties to find drinking water. Today Fatehpur Sikri is a world heritage site.
• The construction and erection of the statues of Easter Island
drained the islands resources to the point that it led to a collapse of the eco system and a famine on the island. It is said that the situation on
Dubai Mall waterfall
In the Dubai Mall there is a several stories high waterfall covering an entire wall.
Easter Island became so desperate that the people turned to cannibalism to survive.
• I could also argue that Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was a huge fiasco and today it is a tourist site
Do you know any other previous fiasco that today is a tourist site? If you do please let me know by writing the name of the place down in the comment box further down this page.
One of the other mega projects in Dubai is the Palm Jumeirah. It is one of three planned palm islands
. The palm islands are artificial islands shaped like a palm tree were tourists are supposed to stay and enjoy themselves and where people can buy or rent holiday homes. The palm islands are supposed to hold shopping malls, luxury hotels, amusement parks and much more. The Palm Jumeirah, the first one of these islands, today holds an Atlantis resort which is open and running. There is a train that takes passengers from the main land to the Atlantis resort and there are many villas built on the palm leaves. But I can't shake off the feeling that it is far from a success. The train on the island
Looks futuristic to me
has two stops on the way to the Atlantis resort, Palm Mall and Trump Tower. But the stations where the train stops are both in the middle of nowhere. There is no shopping mall to be seen at the Palm Mall stop and I couldn't see any Trump Tower at the Trump Tower stop.
What will happen to the other two palm islands, Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Deira, still remains to be seen.
A mega project in Dubai that has been terminated and most likely will never be restarted again is the World
. It is an archipelago consisting of maybe a hundred or so artificial islands. From above the islands combined look like a huge map of the world, hence the name. The idea was that rich people were going to buy an island each where they would build luxury holiday homes. It turned out that "rich people" weren't very interested. Today the project is more or less abandoned and the islands are sinking back into the ocean again. Maybe in the future the World can be added to my list of "places that started as fiascos but later turned into tourist sites"?
Not only the
Look at the photo and I hope you appreciate the joke
construction of the mega projects has stopped in Dubai. All over town there are various building sites that look abandoned.
But far from everything in Dubai is an economical fiasco. There is the luxury hotel Burj Al Arab
for instance. It is shaped like a sail and is regularly visited by the rich and famous. There is even a hefty price tag on going inside the hotel for a look so I didn't bother doing that.
Also the larger shopping malls are fairly successful. I have already mentioned the Dubai Mall. But there is one more shopping mall in Dubai that deserves to be mentioned here in this blog entry. That is the Mall of the Emirates
. In that mall they have an indoor ski slope called Ski Dubai. So in one of the hottest countries in the world it is actually possible to go downhill skiing. That is funny. I went there to have a look only because it is such a crazy thing to be able to ski indoors. From what I understand Ski Dubai is quite popular.
Now in the end of this blog entry I'd like to change subject and write about the
Burj Al Arab
The luxury hotel Burj Al Arab is shaped like a sail and is regularly visited by the rich and famous.
Amnesia Club. One day when I took the subway I looked out through the window on a stretch where the train was going on an elevated track. I then saw what I thought was a Hard Rock Cafe. I stepped out at the next station and walked to the house I had seen. It turned out I had been wrong. The nightclub that had been there was no longer in business. The house was empty, only the decorations were left. Also it never was a Hard Rock Cafe to start with. It was a club called Amnesia. It was obvious however, that when they created the Amnesia Club they were inspired by Hard Rock Cafe. The house the nightclub had been in was open so I decided to go in and have a look. The bar and the decorated windows were still there.
I enjoy visiting places that have been abandoned. Emma and I visited the abandoned city Pripyat
in Ukraine a few years ago and that was a very interesting experience. I have also visited the ghost town Sinaw
in Oman and I have once or twice before entered abandoned buildings when I have seen that the doors
In the Mall of the Emirates they have an indoor ski slope called Ski Dubai
are open. I guess I could get in trouble for venturing inside buildings so it is not something I would recommend anyone to do.
There are more photos below