View of Dubai, with early morning fog, from our hotel in Deira
I was disappointed today, as I planned on going out for a walk along the Thames. But the weather is not cooperating with me and I decided to stay indoors. Exercising outdoors in London means going out even in the rain and cold weather (even in the summer), but I’m from southern Spain and I am apprehensive when it comes to walking/running and getting all wet.
That got me to thinking that if I lived somewhere warm and with eternal sunshine like Dubai, I wouldn’t have that problem. But then again, in Dubai, people like to stay indoors to avoid the heat and humidity of the street! I guess one can never win….
We visited Dubai in September last year. As we arrived at our hotel in Deira, near the unfinished Palm Island, it was early morning around 6am and the heat was just starting to get intense. There was a light fog lingering over the city, which threatened to blur my sightseeing later in the day. It turns out that September has the highest humidity of the summer months because as sea temperatures have reached a peak in August, there is a tendency for warm, humid air to reach the coast. Fog is a regular occurrence during the early morning because of this warm air mixing with the cooler night temperatures.
However, we are die-hard travellers. So, heat and humidity were not going to stop us from exploring the city. Dubai is one of the seven United Arab Emirates on the Arabian Peninsula. It is probably the most well-known, as it is famous for the original Jumeirah Palm Island, the World Islands and also now the tallest building in the world, Burj Al-Khalifa. By the way, the Burj (tower) was going to be named Burj Dubai. But as the emirate was hit hard by the financial crisis, it had to be rescued by Abu Dhabi, one of the other seven emirates of the U.A.E. So, in honour of the Khalifa of Abu Dhabi, the tower’s name was changed to what it is today.
Dhows on The Creek
On our first day in Dubai, we explored the old part of town. Dubai is a trade city par excellence, acting as a broker between the East and West. The Creek, the waterway into the city from the Arabian Gulf (also known as Persian Gulf), is packed with cargo boats from Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Oman, India, Yemen, Somailia and Sudan, with merchandise from these and other countries.
These boats, called dhows, are long, flat wooden vessels used typically in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea to transport goods. They are a marvel to see and it is interesting to understand just how they stay afloat, when they do not look so sturdy and are precariously loaded with maybe several cars, a truck, and a warehouse’s worth of merchandise.
Passenger abra, traditional wooden water taxi
Passenger abra, crossing The Creek
Loaded dhow, leaving Dubai
Heading past the Dhow Wharfage, our first discovery was the Spice Souq. Ah.. I was in heaven! It is probably my favourite souq in Dubai and a walk through it, is a pleasure for the senses. The market is not a tourist attraction, but rather a working souq, so you can find many household things, such as glass and plastic containers, being sold here, alongside the exotic spices. We let our noses and eyes pave the path, as the pungent aromas lead the way.
The Spice Souq
Heading away from the souq, we stumbled onto some interesting streets, where all kinds of merchandise was being sold. We even found a shop with flamenca dresses!
Street, off of the Spice Souq, with other merchandise
(even flamenca dresses! – albeit rather ugly and outdated)
Wheelcarts, waiting to be used
As we started the day so early, we were ahead of any tourist crowds there could be. So, by the time we arrived at the Heritage House, it was just opening. The Heritage House is a renovated 1890s courtyard house that once belonged to Sheikh Ahmed bin Dalmouk, the founder of the Al-Ahmadiya School, which we also visited later. The house offers a unique opportunity to see how a rich pearl merchant lived.
Dubai’s pearl industry, which was the mainstay of its economy for centuries, died out in the early 1900s, in large part due to the Great Depression and the discovery by the Japanese of how to cultivate pearls artificially. However, vestiges of this historical industry can still be seen today in parts of Deira, where the wealthy pearl merchants, fishermen, divers and others involved in the trade lived and worked. Many of the traditional wind towers have been restored, along with the houses, and can be viewed today, as part of the Shindagha Heritage Area, in Bur Dubai.
Enjoying a short reprieve from the heat at the Al-Ahmadiya School
Lunch at the Afgan Kebab House, near the Naif Mosque
After a delicious and filling lunch, it was hard to get motivated in the intense humidity filled the streets of Deira. So, we headed to The Creek to walk along the waterside. There we hopped on a traditional wooden taxi, called an abra, and for just Dh1, we crossed to the other side to Bur Dubai. According to the Dubai City Guide, by Lonely Planet, 15,000 people cross the Dubai Creek each day on abras! It’s an interesting experience, especially since not too many tourist take these water taxis; so it’s a fun way to mingle with the locals. And since you’re at water level, it’s a cheap way to enjoy a much needed cool breeze and a lovely view of the wharfage and skyline.
Entrance of Silk Souq, in Bur Dubai
Silk Souq, Bur Dubai
Wind tower, at Sheikh Juma Al-Maktoum House, in Bur Dubai
Lebanese cold mezzes at Shabetan Restaurant, inside the Radisson Blu Hotel
The next day, I explored on my own, as it was Sunday, the Islamic world’s Monday. First stop: Dubai Mall. In one word, WOW! It’s the world’s largest shopping mall, with 1200 stores, an aquarium, indoor amusement park, and an Olympic-sized ice rink! Dubai has a lot of “largest”, “tallest”, “most” appellatives, as it is trying its utmost to become the Las Vegas of the East, or the playground for the rich in the East. And Dubai Mall is just one example. The Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, inside the Dubai Mall, has the “world’s largest acrylic viewing panel”, as is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records.
The cave/tunnel leading to the main building of the Aquarium, where you can come nose to nose with sharks, mantas, and other fish
Me, with Burj Al-Khalifa in the background
Bloomingdale’s in Arabic!
Olympic-sized Ice Rink, inside the Dubai Mall
Attached to the Mall, and outside, is the Dubai Fountain, which has a spectacular water and light show in the evenings, and the Burj Al-Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. It’s quite an amazing view from the 124th floor, where the Observation Deck is located. In fact everything about it is amazing, even the full one minute it takes for the elevator to transport you up the 442m in the air to the public viewing area from the ground floor.
View from Observation Deck of the Burj Al-Khalifa
The following day, we explored bits of Jumeirah, which is the modern, newer area of Dubai, and where most of the “western” expatriates live. The poorer workers from Pakistan, India, and other parts of the world, live in Deira and less expensive areas.
Dubai is a city of adaptation, change and growth. When the pearl industry died out and oil was discovered, the city jumped on the bandwagon and evolved in part to what it is today. As the Dubai-tis are understanding that oil is not an unlimited resource, they are embracing the tourist, technology, film, and communication industries with fervor. You can see a lot of examples of this new path in the city’s growth in Jumeirah.
One such example is the Jumeirah Mosque, which offers free tours and is the only mosque in Dubai that is open to non-Muslims. It almost seems like it was built for this purpose alone!
A lovely English lady, who told us she was married to a native Dubai-ti, and has been living in the Emirates for over 15 years, conducted the tour and educational piece for our group. We all had to take off our shoes and the women in the group had to cover their heads, with scarves. Luckily I had planned in advance, and had a scarf ready. But the mosque offers wraps for use inside to tourists who forget them. Photography is allowed and although I felt a bit disrespectful taking pictures, I did indulge in a few. We learned about Islamic religion and culture, as well as a bit of Dubai history. The U.A.E. is one of the most open Islamic countries in the world, and foreigners do not need to cover up. In addition, pork and pork products can be sold (to non-Muslims) and eaten in Dubai, as well as alcohol can be consumed by non-Muslims.
Our group, inside Jumeirah Mosque
Digital clock, which states the time that the sun rises, and the five prayer times to be observed
Also in Jumeirah is the famous Burj Al-Arab, the iconic symbol of this ever-growing city. It is the sail-shaped building, home to a 5-star hotel (some people say it’s 7-star hotel, but that seems to be nonsense). It’s beautiful and alluring from the outside, as one approaches it along the causeway to the man-made island where it stand majestically. Inside, it’s a bit gaudy and glittery, but ever so impressive. As you cannot enter the hotel just to have a look, the only way in is to either stay there, of course, or book a reservation at one of the restaurants.
So, we booked Afternoon Champagne Tea. It wasn’t cheap, at about 80 USD per person, but we were left with little choice, as the rest of the options were even pricier. (By the way, according to the Lonely Planet edition we have, the tea consists of unlimited champagne, which is not the case. Only one glass is included in the price.)
The service and attention were exquisite. But then again, all service in Dubai is exquisite, except for maybe in the hustle and bustle areas of Deira. The views are magnificent. In fact, you can see the Jumeirah Palm Island from the Skyview Bar, where tea is served, and also other parts of Jumeirah Beach.
Cappuccino with 24-karat Gold Dust
Burj Al-Arab, as we left. The picture is blurry because my camera was trying to adjust to the hot and humid outside, after being indoors for hours!
After lingering as long as we could and were allowed, we headed back to our hotel for the night. On our way out, I tried to take some pictures of the impressive lighting on the building, but my camera lens couldn’t adjust to the hot and humid outside, after being indoors, in an air-conditioned place for so long! By the way, we were told at our hotel, that all the buildings must keep the air-conditioning on extra high, even when it is not so hot out, because the humidity causes condensation to occur, creating rain inside the buildings, if the a/c is not used! So, needless to say, one freezes inside and melts outside.
Mall of the Emirates, where Ski Dubai is located
Nice ride, waiting for its owner outside the Mall of the Emirates
On all my trips, I love to pick up literature that I find in the hotels and places we visit. On this particular trip, I picked up some magazines, which offered insight into the daily life of expatriates, as well as locals, in Dubai. Also, it had quite a few interesting recipes, one of which I’m sharing below.
As a side note: Arabic is written from right to left, and books and magazines, and the Qu’ran all open in reverse from their western counterparts. Magazines which are made for both audiences have two halves: one, as in the West, and then you flip the magazine around to read the Arabic version! Very creative.
Ginger Infused Strawberry & Celery Chilled Soup
- 2-3 tsp of olive oil
- 15g of white onion, chopped
- 2g of garlic, chopped
- 200g celery sticks, cleaned, peeled and chopped
- 400g of strawberries, cleaned
- 220ml of cold water
- 6ml ginger juice or 6g of fresh ginger, grated
- salt and pepper, to taste
- celery leaves and/or physalis for garnishing (optional)
In a pan, heat oil and saute onion, garlic and celery until soft. Add the strawberries and saute for a minute. Set aside to cool.
Place the mixture in a blender, add cold water and blend until you achieve a smooth consistency. Add ginger juice/grated ginger, salt and pepper.
Strain the soup using a fine strainer, if necessary, then pour into a bowl and chill in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
To serve, pour the soup into small glasses and garnish with celery leaves and/or physalis or a simple grissini stick.
I recommend peeling the ginger with a spoon