Dubai is Las Vegas in the early 2000s. Lots of hype, some very unique, over-the-top attractions, and construction crews everywhere. Everywhere. The only parts of the city that felt complete were the mall and buildings directly around the Burj Khalifa and Marina Beach. Anywhere else was enshrouded by cranes, caution tape, and “coming soon” signs. I’ll be very interested to see if the building boom is met by continued demand or if the city ends up stranded with half-built skyscrapers and monorails. I’m already planning to come back in 10 years. If all goes well, I’m confident this city will cement its place on the world’s must-see list.
We loved being in a first-world place again after lots of time in Southeast Asia. We were even happier that my brother Zach, his wife Jenn and their son Jackson met us for a few days. We had a great time together eating local food (and shake shack!), cramming into taxis (surprisingly the cheapest and easiest way to get around), and seeing the spectacles of Dubai. Here are a few of the highlights:
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. It is over half a mile tall, has 57 elevators and over 160 floors. We went to the highest viewpoint on floor 158. It honestly was hard to take in just how high we were. The surrounding skyscrapers looked miniscule and the vast Bellagio-esk fountain at the base was a tiny puddle. The ride to the top take about a minute. Once you exit you can hear a loud windy sound when the elevator descends and displaced the air.
We decided to go at sunset. I wouldn’t recommend this. The whole place was teeming with people and the view would have been just as good during the day when the crowds are minimal. I would, however recommend buying tickets in advance to ensure yourself a slot.
This mosque was in Abu Dhabi. We rode in a taxi together there and back. The operation was orderly as they shepherded us through underground tunnels for security searches, ticketing (free!), and wardrobe (if you’re not properly dressed, they provide rentals). The mosque certainly earns its title of “Grand.” The architecture is stunning in both size and embellishment. It’s not gaudy per-we but rather tasteful and modest, but on a grand scale.
We visited Marina beach twice. It’s a fun beach next to an urban center with lots of restaurants. We had Greek and Turkish food here and didn’t regret either. Stella even got her first introduction to Turkish ice cream. She was a bit confused as the ice cream man / magician gave, took away, flipped and spun her ice cream before finally delivering it to her. It was fun and impressive to watch even if the ice cream was so-so (strange texture).
Stella has fun at the beach making friends with other kids and sharing their sand toys. The second time, she and Jackson, along with Zach and I dug a big put and filled it with water. We all enjoyed some time in the water as well.
While on the beach we watched as camels walked by for photo shoots. They were a more pleasant sight than the crab-colored tourists we also saw who had clearly forgotten sunblock or a watch, or both. The airfield for skydiving was across the marina and we had fun watching them deploy skydivers who floated back slowly to earth. They were so quick with taking off and landing that it was almost like watching lemmings!
Dubai seemed in love with malls. They were huge and everywhere. Of course, we passed several that were being constructed as well. The mall of the Emirates was walking distance from our condo. This is home to Ski Dubai (the indoor ski hill). We decided against paying $70 each for a 2-hour bunny hill sesh, but I was very tempted. The best was reading the reviews, most of which highlighted that the room is “very cold inside.” I guess that’s surprising when you live in Dubai.
We also visited a few “Souks” or markets. The main one we saw was the gold souk. The salespeople are very eager to lure you in, or in fact trap you! In one section they would try to wrap the scarf around your head from behind and then convince you to buy it. Good thing I dance like a butterfly.
The gold shops were over-the-top. They often showed off these golden chain mail apron-looking things.Imagine 4-5ft of Golden links hanging from a necklace. I have no idea when would be an appropriate time to wear that. They also had enough earrings, necklaces, and bracelets to keep a belly dancer satisfied for a lifetime.
The best discovery at the souk was candied dates. I bought a variety pack of chocolate, coconut, and whites chocolate covered dates. Often they had nuts or toffee in place of the pit. These were incredible. They made me want to start eating dates. We bought more throughout the trip, so addicting!
We also at at some fun local restaurants. One was a ways out in a residential area. When we pulled up in our shoddy taxi (3 adults, 2 kids, and a driver in a midsize sedan), we were greeted by a high end black Mercedes, glossy Bentley, and a few other ultra luxury cars. We started to wonder how we’d be accepted in our jeans and t shirts. Turns out the restaurant was very chill and pretty empty? Maybe a shell to cover up for something else…? The food was good, anyway.
On the last day of our stay we went to this local fish restaurant that came heralded by Anthony Bordain. I was expecting some medium to high end joint. It was described as a place where they have the catch of the day and that is what you get. We walked into a small building near the docks and looked around at about 10 taxi drivers scattered across 15 tables. They each had a single small fish, some rice, and a bowl of curry. Most were eating with their hands and some were just leaving the discarded fish carcasses on the table.
It was exciting. We strolled to the counter where we found 2 types of raw, whole fish slathered in some spicy looking sauce, laying in a non-iced chafing dish. On the counter were the small fried fish that the drivers were eating and a bowl of fresh, raw shrimp in a marinade.
We stared confusedly at the counter until finally a worker appeared and we sheepishly admitted we had no idea how this was supposed to work. He communicated eventually that we choose our fish, they cook it, we eat it. We picked a good looking one, and asked for some rice, shrimp, and curry sauce as well. Pretty much everything on the non-existent menu.
The fish and shrimp ended up being delicious. I decided to eat with my hands since everyone else was doing it. The curry was spicy as expected but worked well. Stella has fun shoveling rice into her mouth and my lap. I think I ate half the fish myself. Would recommend.
Thanks for reading,