By Antonio Malara
As I wrote in my post about Shanghai, the trip to Dubai has been more like a base for the real trip to China than a trip itself. It was a two days stop but well organized, the leader planned our visit very carefully. At that time (it was 2010) Dubai was in the middle of its expansion or maybe it was at that time that all the world started to talk about this crazy city. Everyone knew Dubai for its impressive architecture, in fact the city reached the world record for buildings! In Dubai there is the Burji Kalhifa, the tallest tower in the world, the Burji Al Arab, an hotel which is shaped like a big sail and also the Palm Jumeirah, an entire neighborhood that is shaped like a palm tree (visible only from the sky or from the Burji Kalhifa). In addition to this, Dubai was also inviting because there, it was summer practically all the year. My mood for that short trip was like if I was going to visit some wonderland or Disney park rather than a real city.
That trip to Dubai wasn’t my only one, I came back there in 2016 and I noticed that Dubai never stopped to grow so I decided to talk about my both trips in one post, in this way I can compare, comment and share the singular way of its expansion.
In my first trip to Dubai, we arrived at night and after a while I noticed that “the big spaces” in Dubai were a lifestyle. I think we walked half hour to reach the baggage claim and on the pillars all around there were giant Rolex clocks to remind you the time. Big airport and big roads, Sheikh Zayed Road is a large highway which cut the city in two. The road was full of lights near the Burji Khalifa zone for the presence of others skyscrapers but except for that, it was deserted till our hotel.
The morning of the first day we were ready to discover the Burji Khalifa, when we left the hotel, I noticed that except for it and another building in front of it, there was nothing in the neighborhood. On the highway it was visible that the city was a “work in progress”, lots of desert zones, some residential homes, some buildings here and there but mostly desert. There was the presence of many elevated roads, a modern sky train, so it was clear that they were building great things.
Same story when we arrived at the Burji Khalifa, the giant tower, a couple of skyscrapers around it and some residential neighborhoods. Everyone was impressed by the Burji, the design, the color but we asked ourselves if Dubai was a city where it was possible to live. The point was that even in front of that kink of structure, the impression was to be all the time in a construction site!
Inside the building we visited for first a room where there was a model of the Burji, a sky window where it was possible to see the top of the tower and then some explanations about how they built the Burji. Finally it was the time to go up till the top to feel the emotion of being on top of the world. First thing I noticed; the speed of the elevator, really a bullet. In the moment you realize you’re going up, the door opens and you see the sky and lots of other buildings reflecting on the mirrored panel of The Burji. It was the top floor (not the very top which is higher) and it was divided in two, you needed to go inside to reach the other side. All around high glass and above us, the very top which gave the impression to fall on us. From one side there was the “downtown”, with many skyscrapers, right down the Dubai mall, the high building beside it and then as long as it was possible to see, only desert. The other side was even less nice, lots of residential homes, and far away skyscrapers in a zone that I later found out it was Dubai Marina, it was also visible “The Palm Jumeirah” the big neighborhood which was shaped like a palm tree and the Burji Al Arab (which was actually tiny from that distance). The experience btw it was cool, more for the high than for the view, in other words from there you could see the whole construction site of Dubai. Beside this considerations we had nice time taking pics and looking at this modern design.
Back on the ground floor we visited the Dubai mall, beyond the stores the mall was famous for an artificial cascade and for the big aquarium. The cascade was really impressive and it covered from bottom to top around three or four floors of the mall. Reproduction of lots of men were all along the cascade like if they were performing a dip. It was nice because with a little fantasy you could really think they were human jumping from the top. After that we went to the aquarium, well this was huge and full of fish. To be honest I never liked those kind of cages, even the home ones, but there it was a big attraction. In the area was impossible to take a pic because there was always someone beside you doing the same thing. All the people there were excited except me, it was like a cinema screen with strange fish inside. I have to say that it was possible to do a tour inside the aquarium, probably that experience was different and more interesting but we didn’t do it.
Just outside one of the exit of the ground floor there was the big “pool” (or more precisely an artificial lake). Here starting later in the afternoon there were the water show, we just had a walk there which is nice because there’s a cool view of the Burji Khalifa from the bottom.
We left the place heading to the beach beside the Burji Al Arab, we hadn’t a reservation for visiting the place, we just went at the beach and looked at the building from the outside. It was very hot and looking at the people on the beach I had the instinct to get undressed and go for a swim. We looked for the perspective to back home with the best pic with the building in the background. We didn’t spend lot of time there and after a while we left for lunch. Our van dropped us in Dubai Marina, this place was built taking inspiration from the best beach places in the world, it was also so European look like. Big roads, sidewalks beside the beach, tall buildings, restaurants and stores one next to another. Well it was for me love at first sight, I found there my favorite atmosphere. We had lunch and then we walked around to discover the place. Unfortunately we didn’t have so much time and we should hurry up to see all the places on our wishlist. The next destination was “Palm Jumeirah” the huge neighborhood. We arrived there using the van but we decided to go back by sky train, which was the only way to see the palm shaped site. The “end” of the palm was actually “The Atlantis” the impressive hotel, which was shaped like a big landscaping “A”.
Even here we hadn’t any reservations to visit the hotel from the inside and after the ritual of the pics we back by sky train. From the train we saw a nice sunset, and a beautiful view over the Dubai Marina skyline, the palm shaped homes were there but it was nothing special, sometimes they reminded to a modern Venice due to the canals.
The plan for the evening was to back to the Burji Khalifa to see the water show then dinner there. Probably because it was my first time watching that kind of show, I liked it. Of course it was uncomfortable for the hundred of people present there but the show was great even because of the loud music in the background. Also beautiful all the lights which were a fundamental part of show. Everyone was happy and we went inside the Dubai mall to have dinner in a Iranian restaurant. That night we set a big table full of people, it was unusual food for me and I remember I eat only cheese.
Day number two, Dubai was so modern and I remember it was an Arabian Islamic city that morning because it was planned the visit to the Jumeirah Mosque. The place was nice, near the old Dubai, it was more classic and definitely not looking like a construction site, all around lots of green places. The Mosque was simple, with two minarets, this is the only one in Dubai where non-islamic people are allowed to enter. It was my first time in front of a Mosque so I couldn’t compare with others. Here I discovered the first rule, you’re admitted inside the Mosque only with your bare feet, so we left all the shoes outside. The interior was nice, all blue moquette on the floor, pillars to form a square and inside this virtual space lots of chairs. We followed the speech of a woman who explained to us many things about Islam, it was interesting like all the cultural things that we don’t know. We also had some pictures inside and after the speech we left. Outside the mosque, the shoes were in the same spot where we left them, so cool!
Next destination was Al Fhaidi Historical Neighborhood. This place was originally an ancient Arabic housing which has been destroyed in the eighties but after that an architect come with the idea to preserve the neighborhood. Starting with the few houses remaining they rebuild the place maintaining the same style. Inside this small Medina there’s a house where we’ve been welcomed by a nice Arabic guy. We did with him the “tea ceremony" during which he explained to us things about Islam and Arabian culture. I liked the place design with a big carpet in the middle of the house and the glasses in the center of it. When we finished we went to walk in the neighborhood. The place was nice with light brown structure and tiny streets but it was clear that all the buildings were new constructions. It was so hot that day and it was even worse when we took smaller streets. We did some pictures all around and then we stopped for lunch in the restaurant inside the neighborhood. We had a relaxing lunch in the courtyard of the restaurant even if it was hot, I liked the experience which was so “Indiana Jones”, with everyone sweating and flys all around.
In order to go to the Dubai Souk which was to the other side of the sea, we had to reach the boats terminal. We did it with a walk and before to arrive we also saw from the outside another beautiful mosque. The terminal is something original, in fact here is possible to go to the other side paying just two or three Dirham for being on board of small rafts. These boats are made in woods and can host around thirty people. A guy take the money and drive the boats to he other side. It’s nice because you’re near the water, it’s not so safe but the experience is cool, is also common to see the small boats having funny crashes during the docking maneuvers. The Souk is the perfect chaos, here there are infinite stores of all kind. People on the street try to sell you everything, from the water to small accessories, plus there’s always someone who tries to escort you to their stores to make deals. This is also the old and original part of Dubai, with the old architecture and lifestyle so it is good to visit to have the real idea about the Arabian life. After a while I decided that for me was enough because I didn’t want to do any shopping. It was the last day and I wanted to see the Mall of the Emirates which is the one with a ski run inside. I was so curious about it and I went there with another person who was curious like me. We arrived at the mall with a taxi, the place was big but not like the Dubai mall. Without wasting time we went to the ski run. We didn’t go inside to ski, the plan was just to see this strange architecture structure. We saw it through high glass and it was funny to see people with all the skiing equipment. Maybe because we hadn’t a perfect view, maybe because I don’t like mountain and skiing, I haven’t been so impressed, I tried to take some pics then I went for my last mission. Before to left I went to Louis Vuitton store and I bought the “keep it” bracelets which was in my wishlist.
I don’t remember other things about the last day, probably we back to hotel and then dinner but the next day at the airport I saw another interesting thing. The departure section was a masterpiece of design because it looked like a mall rather than an airport. There was a central section which was like a street, stores on both sides, beyond the stores the gates. The point was that there were expansive stores, in fact it was possible to buy a 30.000 dollars Rolex, unbelievable!
This was my Dubai 2010, a big city project, but for me was still a big construction site. It was funny to visit it but I thought that most of the things there looked like a fake, this because everything was new, especially the big buildings, then all around dust. For me the Dubai 2010 wasn’t a city where to live, not a real identity yet. This was my thoughts about Dubai at that time, I knew it was a work in progress but I didn’t know it would grow so fast.
And here we go again, I arrived at the Dubai airport around ten pm, this time the walk till the baggage claim looked longer. Everything was the same, after I took my baggage, I reached the terminal 1 with a taxi. Here there was my ex girlfriend arriving from another city, after kisses we went to our destination. Our apartment was near The Damac Properties metro station, a nice place with lots of towers surrounding an artificial lake. Of course to reach the hotel we passed through Sheikh Zayed Road. I had the impression to see more lights on the road, this means there were more buildings than in my last visit, btw I couldn’t say because it was night and I was tired.
The apartment was beautiful with double bathroom, a big living room and the view over the sea, I was glad that everything went good for that day.
I left my heart in Dubai Marina so that was the first place I wanted to see again. Dubai is big so I think we walked almost one km before to reach the center of the Marina from the metro station. Anyway the walk was pleasant, because of big sidewalks and beautiful landscapes at every corner. No doubt that the city had grown a lot. Tall buildings were all over, Dubai Marina was a city inside a city now. We had breakfast then we move visiting the beach. Even here the big sidewalk between the restaurants and the beach was full of people, and what I noticed was that now people from all over the world was populating Dubai. Not only tourists but it was easy to find people from other countries working everywhere there. The warm weather, the green all around and all the nice people improved my mood, after the beach we walked to the stores and I really enjoyed that time looking at the building architecture present there. Not everyone agrees with tall buildings near the beach but I have to say that I like them, it’s a strong contrast. I would have stayed there for the whole day but at some point we left to go to The Burji Khalifa, we decided to have lunch at the mall because we had the reservation to go up for 3 pm.
We arrived at the Burji by metro and really was totally different since my last visit! Instead of a desert land, all around the Burji were buildings of all kinds. We walked for ten minutes from the station to the mall, unrecognizable for me. The funny thing was that many new buildings were under construction and plus it was all tunnels from the station so impossible to see the Burji from that side. Here again we went to see the aquarium, we walked all around till lunch time. We did all things with relax and we’ve been ready for our turn to go up to the Burji. Doing again the same things was nice but I was also glad to see the happiness of the person beside me who was experiencing those things for the first time. Once up I started looking and making pics with my camera trying to see the difference of the landscape. Well the desert was still there but now there were more towers and even more residential homes. Probably more finished infrastructures like roads, gave a different impression about the view. Now from the top it was easy to spot entire neighborhoods instead of isolated homes.
After that we went down and I showed to my ex gf the pool (or artificial lake) where they do the water show. While I was there I noticed that it was the only place where to see the entire Burji from the bottom. What I mean is that it was the only place for mass of people. If you want to have the best view you have to go there, in other words there wasn’t anymore the other perspective I had of the Burji during my first visit, it was buildings all around now. We deal to come back there for the show in the evening so we returned to the hotel for a little rest.
This time the show lasted a lot less, so they made a commercial format probably because in this way it was accessible to more people. I have to say that I liked the first one I saw in Dubai and in 2012 I also liked the same show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The last I saw in Dubai was really poor. Btw my ex enjoyed it and that’s was cool, I was happy because we were going to back to Dubai Marina for dinner. Even at night the Marina was beautiful, all the people dining outside in a perfect weather, not bad for that first day.
The following day I booked a ride with the jet-ski, it was so foggy that morning but we went anyway. Unfortunately the taxi driver brought us in the wrong port, after I showed him the right one on the map he took the right way but we arrived with twenty five minutes delays. The business was running by three young guys, I think they were Americans, they waited us and after the payment he explained to us how to manage the jet ski. With us, there was only another couple, the guy suggested us to do the short trip, which was till the Burji Al Arab, we got ready and we left. It was my first time on such a scooter and I learned how to drive it in just five minutes. In order to have fun, is essential to go fast. I don’t remember my top speed but I drove really fast and it was so cool even if there were bumps. When we arrived near the Burji we waited the other couple who was far back behind us, here I did a maneuver pretending I was already a top driver and I end up upside down. Fortunately we only got wet but not injury. The return trip was even better because the guy brought us under a big bridge. It was so thrilling passing under the bridge, I also had fun filming almost all the trip with a GoPro. When we finished we said good bye and we took a taxi till the Burji Khalifa, there we went through stores first then we stopped for lunch. After that we run back to the hotel to get ready for the second trip of the day, the safari on the desert. I booked the trip on Arabian Adventures and they were so professional, at three pm a driver was waiting us inside the hotel hall. We picked up another couple in Dubai Marina then we left to the desert. The trip was no longer and no short, we stop first in a big parking to flat the tires and then we moved to the first destination. It was a small oasis, after they served water and some food we attended to show. This was so boring, a guy playing with a big hawk and talking like a philosopher, the show didn’t have a point. Finally we left to the safari experience! My first time on such a ride, the driver was so good going up and down the dunes, I didn’t know that a suv car could be capable of some things. He drove fighting the gravity and I didn’t know how we never finished upside down like I did driving the jet ski. We finished just in time before someone started to get sick, he stopped us beside the other cars near some dunes. We had fun with pics, playing with the dust and then we saw the sunset. The trip wasn’t over because there was the visit to a bigger oasis for dinner and watching a belly dance show with some dancers. This oasis was really cool, big with all the services, a big “stage” in the middle and tents all around. We had a buffet dinner, there was infinite food, I don’t remember how many times I went from my tent to the tables. The nice thing was that they also served beer. Sitting under the tent we followed the belly dance show, it was typical but what I really liked that night was the atmosphere. The place, the warm night, the view of the dunes, us dining sitting on the carpet and then the dance, created a unique, exotic atmosphere. We back at the hotel late, tired but happy.
The last day was planned under the sign of relax. In the morning we went to Dubai Marina and after breakfast we took an umbrella on the beach. The weather was perfect and the water so warm, I liked the perspective from the water. The beautiful beach full of people and then the tall buildings behind. Of course I tried to capture this view even on my pics, the morning was going so good. I think it was two pm when we sadly left, our bodies were so red because of sun lights. We had lunch outside in a restaurant then we walked all around the Marina. There we found some 3D graffiti, it was a temporary project I think. This big paintings were on both side of the street and it was funny to play with the perspective. In fact if you put yourself in the right part of the frame, it was possible to take a picture pretending to be in the middle of the air or stuff like this (depends on the paint topic).
The afternoon we went to the Dubai Souk for shopping and visiting the place. We went buy sky train and it was the worse idea I had. The trip was too long, the train full of people and when we arrived we had to take a taxi anyway. The Souk was full of people, and plus the typical behavior of the sellers who tried to convince us to buy anything. It was hard at the beginning but step by step we learned how to manage the situation. We had headaches but at the end we bought the gifts. We back to the other side using the wood boat and I was happy that my ex liked it. That night we end up in my favorite place, we had another nice dinner there, looking at the sea while eating.
What to say about Dubai; if the first time was a work in progress city, something that looked like an experiment, Dubai in 2016 was a real city. In the last trip I had the impression to be in a real city, big road, big cars, then lots of offices with people coming in and out of the buildings. Plus as I said, the city becomes multiracial, you could meet people from all around the world. While in my first trip I was there just to see the tallest tower in the world and left, in my second trip I realize that Dubai it was a nice city to live in. Summer all year, more activities to do during the day and different cultures to interact with. Another great thing in Dubai is the lack of violence and crime, if you respect the rules nothing happens, I like this model, the police on the road was only a formality. This was what I’ve been thinking during my second trip, Dubai was probably one of the best place where to live, I don’t know what future will bring but if one day I should leave my city, Dubai will probably be my first destination.
Photo: Antonio Malara
Cameras: Nikon D3s (2010) Nikon D800 (2016)