Published: October 5th 2012October 5th 2012
Arriving in a country that lays claim to 360 ‘sunny’ days a year makes it hard to arrive on a cool day. Our arrival into Dubai was no exception and even at 0700 as our flight touched down, we were told that it was already 30° heading for 40° later in the afternoon – it felt a long way from Prague and the chilly 12° of a few days before. If our visit to Las Vegas in April was a leap from reality then Dubai must go close to rivalling it. Dubai is a place of extremes that is full of uniquely styled modern buildings that sparkle and glisten in the sun. If ‘wealth’ was to build a city then this is it and a measure of the old ideal ‘if you build it they will come’. Maybe it is not a step from reality rather an economic experiment to show what can be done within an area that is mostly devoid of the natural resources we all take for granted, but underpinned by an obscene amount of oil riches and officials that will not say ‘la’ to progress.
There is no better place to experience Dubai’s development
than a visit to the museum situated in the Creek area. It is here that you can get a perspective of the change. From nomadic villagers with little infrastructure or money to a nation built on opulence and fantasy; all in the space of a few generations. Today it is a step back in time as you walk from the station to the museum with old style laundry facilities, barbers and wholesalers lining the road. This is old time Dubai and a direct line to what went before. We are able to see what changes have occurred by looking at the array of buildings that line the edges of the Persian Gulf; go back 50 years and a completely different Dubai is in place and only the very brilliant of soothsayers would have foreseen its transition. Even in 1968 when they took the first official census only 58,000 people lived in the Emirate; today that figure is past 2 million and it is reported that on any given day in Dubai that number could be 3 million. They are staggering figures that are intertwined with the rapid progress and development that Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum began in the
1970s and 80s. As a ruler he recognised that the Emirates progress was based on its oil riches but had a realisation that it would not last forever. In a comment attributed to him he said: "My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel." Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has adopted his father’s principles and continued the development of Dubai into a mecca for IT, the Media, sporting institutions, tourism, fashion and retail – and to confirm his standing his face stares down on you from many high rises or archways. The most recent announcement is the construction of a Taj Mahal replica that will be four times the size of the original – and why build the billion dollar monument? Simply put, for no other reason than the desire for Dubai to become a wedding destination. It is a conscious effort of “if you build it they will come” and perhaps extend their time and wealth in the sun.
That aside Dubai has still been affected by the global downturn.
The demographics of the population have changed significantly and from what we could see there are many buildings and hotels that have never been completed. From our visit in 2010 we could see buildings that were still to be finished – the most iconic being the Infinity building, which had set out to be a 90° twist building that soared 73 floors above Jumeriah Beach. Its design is stunning and it is a building of great beauty but it has been beset by construction problems since 2006. Six years later it is only nearing completion after monetary and flooding problems. Not long after they began building they pierced the Dubai Marina wall and water poured into the site. It could only be an architect’s nightmare. However, when it comes to infrastructure Dubai knows no bounds. Since we were last there a world class Metro system has been opened, which allows for a much easier commute. In 2010 it was taxis all the way but now 50km of track connects all the major sites on the Dubai strip – it is spotlessly clean, glides silently, needs no driver, and runs to a level of precision that could put a Swiss clock
maker to shame. In fact the safety record is so good and they are so confident in its ability they only put a safety attendant on every second train – this attendant would take the controls in the event of an emergency. We used it on numerous occasions and our daily passes cost us no more than NZ$6 each. Now that the Metro is up and running they are turning their attention to a tram system from Jumeriah Beach – who knows what will be next on the design agenda. They have had the luxury of designing and building a city from scratch, from the ground up, and with the benefit of no previous authority having done something ‘on the cheap’ or placed a building in front of proposed motorway access. It does not take long to find the foundations for the next elevated motorway or where new Metro tracks are to be laid – and I guess if they ever do find something in their way they are autocratic enough to build under, over or through it.
Our travel on the Metro took us to the Museum and Gold Souks, to the Dubai Mall, Mall of
the Emirates, and to the Burj Kalifa. The image of 828m of glass and 163 floors of building emerging from the sand is like nothing else and evokes a sort of Mad Max meets New York feel. If ever you feel small from a man-made point of view this is it – our visit to Zion Canyon may have shown off all of Mother Nature’s glory but the Burj Kalifa is a marvel on a human scale. Beneath the Burj is one of the many malls, which we visited. The malls are a step from reality and an oasis of cool – the air-conditioning bills must be astronomical. To capture the non-shopping market they have aquariums, acres of food halls, full scale Chinese Junks, traditional gold souks, a ski-field complete with chair lifts and chalets, and a seemingly endless array of high performance motorcars either parked outside or on display – hence the photo of the all new McLaren. Malls worldwide do tend to have the same smells, shops, look and feel; in fact as Narelle wandered about she ran into a colleague from home who commented that ‘we could be at Westfield’ – maybe a slight stretch when you
are standing next to Tiffany’s, Cartier and a gold leaf embossed pillar, but the notion is right.
We could not fault our accommodation at the Sheraton on Jumeriah Beach. It may be one of the older hotels in the Emirate but it was ideally situated and had a very private feel to it. Of course we did not have much planned so we acquainted ourselves with the pool and beach area and we enjoyed sitting amongst the palm trees above the beach. The temperature of the pool was tepid but the sea was even warmer – it felt like walking into a bath and it was paradise to just lie there in the waves. Bliss was may be a better word as the bar above the beach was called ‘Bliss’ and it was a perfect place to sit and watch the sunset over the Persian Gulf – the colours were stunning and every night was as magic as the last. We gave up the chance to have sunset photos, which according to the brochure would have transformed us into models more commonly seen in Sports Illustrated – Photoshop is a wonderful tool. The beach was an area
that we frequented right up until we grabbed the hotel driver and headed to the airport; Narelle was reluctantly dragged away to shower and change only half an hour before.
When we originally booked this trip we were to stay with Narelle’s brother and his family. Understandably due to events earlier in the year they had headed home to settle in Hervey Bay after seeing us in France - as such we were enjoying Sheraton hospitality. Our link to David and Peta was not lost as we did get a chance to meet up with Sara and baby Wujoud – she had been born three months ago in the UK. Narelle and Sara are Godmothers to David and Peta’s girls and as such they could compare notes. It was nice to see her and meet ‘Juju’ and hear of their exciting times ahead as they move to Abu Dhabi – they have managed to find a seven bedroom, 7 bathroom, and two kitchen house to squeeze into so Abu Dhabi is going on our next itinerary.
The only other person that I feel I met, but with no family ties, was the barber who
cut my hair. He was Syrian and had moved to Dubai to work and earn money for his siblings who had not been able to flee the civil war that has beset their country. He had 10 brothers and sisters and four of them had been killed – it was heart-breaking to listen to and in a small but inoffensive way I was glad he cut hair quickly. I have had my hair cut in NY by Mickey who lost his uncle in 9/11, and now a Syrian who has been personally affected by the events of the civil war. They are not easy stories to listen to but one cannot blank them out – I did leave my new Syrian mate a tip along with the instructions that it must be for his family. Point to self: stop asking barbers how their families are.
One area that has really been transformed in the last two years is the Dubai Marina, which is in a small way like the viaduct harbour in Auckland in that it offers inner city moorings for many of the city dwellers – some of whom can tie up right outside their apartment
doors. The array of boats is stunning and many must be worth millions – some of the tenders attached would be worth hundreds of thousands. The Marina waterways are at either end of Jumeriah Beach and we took the opportunity to cruise in the new Dubai Ferry. The 60 minute trip takes you out into the Persian Gulf and you get a wonderful look back onto the beaches and high-rises that tower above them. There is always a hazy feel to the skyline and from the sea this is accentuated – in fact the shoreline was obscured not long after we left. The cruise was a non-stop look at The Palm and the hotels and apartment buildings, which line the crescent shape. This is where the famous Atlantis Hotel sits – the hotel opened in 2007 to much fanfare and celebrity gushing. The Palm crescent looks incomplete and is not a great advert for the credit crunch; half-finished blocks lay waiting for another cash injection or worse still lots lie empty. The Trump Hotel was an early casualty. However, the actual idea was unique and a great deal more successful than the World archipelago, which sits mainly bare and unloved
some four kilometres off shore. I have no idea who has bought the New Zealand island but do know that a Yacht Club has been opened on the Lebanon Island – well according to the font of all modern knowledge “Wikipedia” it has. The ferry cruise is highly recommended and a great way of seeing Dubai from a completely different vantage point – there was not one commuter on the ferry just many tourists out for a nosey. It is like a mini-version of what happens with the Staten Island ferry in NY.
I was ready to leave Dubai when the time arose but I do like the place and the way you are treated in any restaurant, hotel, shop or bar. The country grows on you while you are there but with the intense heat a week is enough for me; it never went below 30° at any point of our stay. However, the growth of the country fascinates me coupled with what it will become in the future. The buildings and landscape are stunning and everywhere you look is new and exciting. Who knows what it will be like in 100 years well after the
oil has gone but nobody could fault them on the ideas and monuments they have put in place to ensure their future generations will still have a serious source of income. It is a new Vegas without the gambling.
We left for the airport with the sun low to the water, our tans topped up and with a feeling of complete relaxation; it had been Dubai at its best.
There are more photos below