So, what’s Dubai like?” I asked a colleague before heading out for my first Middle East trip. “It’s hot” he said. “Gee. Thanks”, I replied, “and let me guess, there’s sand too?” Before my facetious remark could settle he was off into a meeting leaving me to ponder why he couldn’t have spared another moment to describe Dubai a bit more. After spending a week there for business and pleasure I came to understand that he may have needed more than just another moment.
The holiday portion of my trip began after a 3 day conference and I was certainly ready for some R&R. I met my wife at our hotel around 10am expecting to store our bags for a check-in later that afternoon but the hotel staff at The Address, Dubai Marina were well-prepared to accept us and checked us in early. It was great to find that the outstanding local service I had become accustomed to during the conference wasn’t limited to big-spending businesses. Our room had a lovely balcony that looked over Dubai Marina offering a view of the world’s tallest twisted building, Cayan Tower.
We were tempted to switch on the “do not disturb” button and rest the day away in the comfort of our spacious room but adventures awaited us elsewhere. Before tiredness could creep in we popped our towels and trunks into a bag and headed off to Aquaventure Waterpark at Atlantis, on The Palm. Switching between a leisurely float along the circuitous rapids and the park’s more thrilling rides was a great way to spend a day after the long hours of a conference or, in my wife’s case, a long-haul flight. She did however opt out of the park’s ultimate thrill - Poseidon’s Revenge (check it out on YouTube or, in the words of their own website “step into a capsule and wait for the moment when the floor falls out beneath you and you begin to plummet through a waterslide at speeds of 60 kilometres per hour before the fury of Poseidon’s revenge propels you upside down.”) I thought it was insanely fun!
For the following 5 days I was inclined to permanently set up at our glorious hotel pool. I knew however that the sun would always be shining and there would be plenty of time to enjoy a swim so we decided to do some exploring. First up was a desert safari. Our safari guide drove us less than an hour outside of the city in a 4WD where we encountered a land of unending sand dunes. Before the dune-bashing commenced we were treated to a spot of falconry and a photo with a friendly camel. The following journey over the undulating dunes took us to a bedouin camp where a wide array of local foods were on offer along with belly dancing, camel-riding and a shisha under a multitude of stars. This really was something quite different and it was a great experience.
The following day I was determined to show my wife the Burj Khalifa at sunset. Our 20 minute taxi ride from Dubai Marina took us along the main highway which is thronged by sky-scrapers. At this moment I came to really appreciate the ambition embodied by these structures which aren’t just symbols of the emirate’s wealth and recent growth. They are extravagant statements that nothing is impossible, particularly when it comes to modern architecture, and we were headed towards the grandest of them all. Arriving in front of the world’s tallest building we were struck by its futuristic curving tiers rising into space against the pink and purple desert sky. For me it was an image of a galactic palace from another world. My wife on the other hand has less of an appreciation for the subtleties of science fiction and summed it up simply with an emphatic “Wow!” This was followed by an “Oooohh!” as the graceful water and light show of The Dubai Fountain began in the foreground. Our night was finished off with dinner at one of the many eateries in the expansive Dubai Mall nearby where we also spent a thoughtful 20 minutes gazing upon the vast population of sea life in the huge aquarium.
Amongst our excursions we did plenty of relaxing in the sun and pottering about the many shops but on our final day we made plans to do Friday brunch with friends. Many hotels in Dubai hold these weekly all-you-can-eat-and-drink events and they are particularly popular with expats. I was quick to discover why. Our chosen venue, the Fairmont Hotel Dubai, is reputed to have been the first hotel to hold a Friday brunch and they have put the intervening years to good use. They offer food from all over the globe and while I am not a fan of buffet style dining, this was one of my most enjoyable eating experiences. From the succulent wagyu beef roast to oysters on the half shell, it was a foodie’s dream and the various cocktails on offer ensured a merry atmosphere. Overall it epitomised the impressive quality of food, drink, and service that I had grown used to during my stay. With a sigh of satisfaction we returned to our hotel oasis for one final swim and to contemplate our surroundings.
I now knew that if my colleague had actually taken the time to try and describe Dubai we may have been standing at the communal urn for some time. It was also clear that any brief description other than “it’s hot” would have been too abstract. Impressive? Extravagant? Different? Unreal? Sure he could have used these words, but without having been there I could not have appreciated what he meant. Dubai is not London or Paris. It’s not Sydney or Hong Kong. Dubai is Dubai. It is impressive, extravagant and different (and hot). It is all these things and more, but to describe it simply in these words really isn’t enough. It must be experienced.