Greetings from Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. To the west and south the Emirates border Saudi Arabia, to the east and south Oman, and to the north the Persian Gulf (with Dubai being about a 30 minute flight to Iran’s Kish Island).
This journey began Thursday evening at O’Hare with a quick stop at Dulles before hitting the skies for the 12+ hour trip to the Middle East passing over the outskirts of Baghdad and directly over Basra before taking the homestretch route over the Gulf and into Dubai.
The Chicago-Dulles leg of the trip was highlighted by watching an episode of 30 Rock I had already seen (funny considering I’ve only seen five episodes or so) and part of an episode of Hannah Montana (the one where she thinks her brother has amnesia and she…nevermind).
I was initially SUPER excited about the second leg of the trip because when I checked in I had the entire row to myself. Not so fast there, mister!
Turns out a flight from Dulles to Paris had a little tire problem and aborted their take-off putting the majority of the plane’s passengers in our Dubai bound plane, including a church group en route Kenya that occupied the once vacant seats in row 22.
Directly across the aisle from me on the flight was a BBC producer that flew on plenty of the United charters with us back in the day. Guess I can’t fly international on United without the press! (Although, the copious amounts of food we used to enjoy were absent on this trip).
We landed in Dubai and did the traditional get your passport stamped dance. From there, I jumped in a cab and headed to the…wait for it…Rose Garden hotel. Seriously, it’s called the Rose Garden. You can’t make this stuff up, people.
My room was actually very spacious. It’s was a studio apartment complete with a kitchen. They could add a little more closet space, but no biggie. The basket of fruit upon arrival was a nice touch.
Since I didn’t land until Friday evening in Dubai, that meant that Saturday was my first full day on the ground. I headed out early in the morning to find the closest Metro stop. The Dubai Metro just opened in September and isn’t exactly fully operational yet. Maps show all the stops that WILL eventually be open, which can cause a little confusion.
Unlike a certain Metro station I remember in the U.S. (looking at you, D.C.), the escalators actually work in Dubai. Thank you! But the weirdly shaped gold plated exterior of the structures look like bicycle helmets and continually remind me of Rick Moranis in Spaceballs.
I jumped on the Metro and headed one stop away (well, four stops away when it’s all up and running) to Financial Center to grab a cab to the Jumeriah Mosque. It is the only one in the UAE that allows non-Muslims to visit, but only at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. A few minutes before 10, two women walked out with a cart of scarves and a basket of water bottles. They proceeded to ask us for our 10 dirhams (about $2.77 US). As part of the price we got not only the tour, but also a nice little pamphlet and our very own bottle of water. Not a bad deal.
Every female there for the tour that did not have one received a scarf to wear over their head while we were inside. Gentlemen, and ladies, were kindly asked to remove our shoes before entering. More on that later.
We headed over to the washing station first to see how people prepare for the five daily prayers. A few volunteers sat down and were instructed to wash their nose, mouth, face, arms and legs – three times each.
The group then headed inside, but not before taking our shoes off and placing them on the steps or in a little cabinet set up for shoes on the side of the Mosque.
Inside we sat down on the floor, or if you preferred, one of the many chairs that lined the side of the building, to hear a little talk and then Q&A. I know the ladies said some really interesting things but the whole time all I could think of was “Are my shoes safe? Is there a shoe thief coming by to steal them and sell them on the black market?”
Both women were very nice and obviously knowledgeable about the Mosque and their faith and one of them, Kristy, seemed very British to me. Most importantly though, they were both funny. In explaining why men and women are separated when attending a Mosque such as that one, they explained “Consider that when you stand in the Mosque there is no space between people, everyone is shoulder to shoulder. Men, would you be able to concentrate on your prayers if Angelina Jolie was rubbing up against you? Ladies, would you stumble on your words if Brad Pitt was touching your arm? Probably.” (Forget that neither practices Islam and it’s funny)
The one question I didn’t ask, and honestly, haven’t looked up yet is this: We were told that per the Koran, every Muslim is to donate 2.5% of their earnings/belongings to some type of charity at the end of the year. I wondered if that amount is specified in the book or something that has come about over time to be understood as a fair percentage. This is why Google exists, my friends.
Once we were done at the Mosque I started to walk back towards the big buildings. I told myself this was the easiest route. Why take an air conditioned taxi for a few minutes when I could walk in the 80 degree heat of Dubai to an undetermined location only known as “the big buildings” for one, maybe two, hours?
The buildings got closer as I walked, but the obstacles became greater. Construction, construction, construction, was everywhere. Dodging this detour and that detour got a little annoying. The sun was beating down harder and harder. Finally I decided a taxi was the best route.
My walk wasn’t entirely useless though. I was able to see some more residential areas of Dubai, all of which reminded me of Arizona. Houses looked like they had been plucked right out of Tucson and ferried across the Atlantic to Dubai.
I got back to the Metro and headed back to the Mall of the Emirates for lunch.
Now, let me explain the Mall of the Emirates. Dubai took the Mall of America concept and destroyed it. The Mall of the Emirates is crazy in size, scope and entertainment value…everything. Sure, the Mall of America has a roller coaster, but the Mall of the Emirates has ski slopes! And it’s 80 degrees outside!
After lunch I succumbed to the desire to take a nap and headed back to my hotel, about a five minute walk from the Mall. There I took what I assumed would be a 2 hour nap. Six hours later, I woke up.
That was pretty much Saturday.
Sunday started out at the Mall of the Emirates, my local hangout considering it is so close. After eating I headed to Union Metro Station for what again I assumed would be a short walk to the Gold Souk – a street lined with shops selling everything gold.
After getting off the Metro, I asked the Information desk how to get there. “Just walk straight down this street” I was assured. Sounded simple enough. So I walked down the street towards the Creek…and walked…and walked…and walked. Finally, I asked someone else, “Oh, it’s that way.” I was going in the wrong direction. So I took a left and started walking that way. And walked…and walked…and walked…finally I got to the Creek and asked someone else. “Just walk along the Creek, when you get to the next boat station, cross the road.” Ok, sounds easy enough. And I walked…and walked…and walked. Finally I got there. Ah ha! The famous Gold Souk.
I walked along the enclosed street and checked out the shops. Owners kept asking me to come inside, I stopped inside a few places. Each one pestered me about buying saffron and other spices and scents. After one or two shops I realized there was no gold. Something was wrong.
I asked a shop keeper if this was the Gold Souk, he said no. It was the Spice Souk. Makes sense. Then where is the Gold Souk, I asked. “Straight down that street.” Not this again.
And I walked…and walked…and walked…and finally, after asking two more people…I made it to the Gold Souk. For real. And half of it was closed. For real.
Shops that were open had plenty of shiny bling to go around. Although I was reluctant to ask how much any of it cost for fear of my eyes bulging out of my head at the price quoted. G. Gordon Liddy says to buy gold, but I’m sure not this gold.
I looked around and hailed a cab. Told the driver I wanted to go to the Dubai Mall. He looked at me and said, “New driver, don’t know.” “It’s the largest mall IN THE WORLD, how do you not know where it is?” The next driver knew.
So let me tell you a bit about the Dubai Mall.
They took the Mall of the Emirates concept, which had taken the Mall of America concept, and destroyed it. Dubai Mall is even crazier in size, scope and entertainment value…everything. Sure, the Mall of the Emirates has ski slopes, but Dubai Mall has a regulation size hockey rink, a gigantic aquarium with sting rays, a full size amusement park with rides and sits right next to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Dubai.
Yep, Dubai even beat Dubai.
I wandered around, took pictures, and finally sat down at Macaroni Grill for dinner. It felt good eating at one of my favorite restaurants from Arizona days half-way around the world.
Shortly before 6 p.m. I headed outside for the water show, which I expected would be very Bellagio-esque, just in the Middle East. It was. The only difference was instead of the show being in front of a very large and expensive hotel on the Las Vegas strip, this one was done in a pond of water with the world’s tallest building as the backdrop. Not bad.
After the show, I headed back to my hotel for what would be an early morning on Monday. The taxi driver that night was definitely interested in testing out his English skills. He told me a little bit about his native country – India – and said he was excited that Prime Minister Singh was in the United States. I told him I had seen Singh in person many times and he was shocked.