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The International Writers Magazine: Dubai Weekend

A weekend in Dubai
Aurelie Montfrond

Although Abu Dhabi is the largest emirate economically, Dubai is home toone third of the population of the United Arab Emirates. It has a common border with Oman and Saudi Arabia. It has been governed by the Maktoum family since 1833.

The city on the desert is under construction. From the Palm islands growing into cities themselves just as Dubailand project, a city within the city being developed outside Dubai and due to completion by 2018. In ten years time, Dubai will become a global tourism destination.

all images © A Montfrond

Dubailand will comprise of several theme parks, residential lots including an exclusive residential area being built on its own private golf course, hotels, entertainement sport complex and the largest shopping mall ever in the world "Mall of Arabia".

This seems almost unrealistic but I had the chance to visit the offices of Dubailand and had a look at the maquettes and projects. It sounded insane and I liked it. The imagination it takes to come up with such ideas and to put them into the real world was something I could really appreciate. Some of the theme parks are due to open in 2011.

There will be for the first time ever a Dreamworks theme park. As the senior executive guides me through the office, he tells me discreetly that they might build an hotel in the shape of Shrek. A local Arabian theme park where the entrance will represent a distorted view of Dubai buildings. A legoland and Universal studios among others and a similarly area as in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic park where they will have monitored dinosaurs hanging around while you could learn more about them. When completed, Dubailand will have a living population of about 2.5 million which is almost twice the actual population of Dubai.

Dubai is better if you have a car or a chauffeur to drive you around. You can easily travel from and to the different parts of the city by taxi. I arrived at Dubai airport on a Friday, early in the morning. All I knew is that I was supposed to be picked up by a chauffeur. There he was, in his beige luxurious car with black tainted windows. The chauffeur asked for my bags and he smiled. I had a small backpack and I was carrying my small laptop under my arm. I had my cameras, wires, a few tee-shirts and "une trousse de toilette". Its only for a few days, you don't need to carry more. It was 8am and already 30 degrees. He brought me to my hotel and explained he would drive me around Dubai during my stay. I thought that was nice. I was eager to see Dubai. I asked him to come back in two hours.

The new five stars hotel "The address" is situated in downtown Burj Dubai between the new Dubai mall and the Burj Dubai itself. It opened only last October. I had a room among the floors reserved for the executives. They told me I had access to an executive lounge that was actually a few meters away from my room where I could have my breakfast and free beverages 24 hours a day. That was good as there were fewer people than there could have been in the main restaurant.

I had my breakfast and went into my room which was immense and it was equipped with an ipod dock and speakers. That was the first time I saw that. I put my small ipod and turned the music out loud ! To be honest I don’t think the speakers were more than 3 watts but that was enough. I took a shower, grabbed my camcorder and camera, got down to the reception and outside the hotel where my driver was waiting for me.

We started to embark for a whole tour of Dubai. We drove around eastern and western Jumeirah and the only island that we can access yet "Palm Jumeirah" where stands at its end the new Atlantis hotel, one of the world’s biggest hotel ever built. It has an indian style. It had a giant arch in the shape of one of the Taj Mahal domes. Palm Jumeirah is the only island accessible by car at the moment of writing. It is the smallest one.

There are three islands in total. The middle one still under construction represents the world map view from the sky. The largest one is "Palm Deira" with a lenght of 27 km. It has hotels and residential lots. Along the coast lies Jumeirah beaches. Most of them are free to access, whereas some others have a small entrance fee.

They are situated halfway between Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah mosque. These are not to be missed. Burj Al Arab has a futuristic shape and looks like a boat. It is known as an hotel and is 240 m high. The skyview bar at the top of the hotel gives you a fantastic view of The World islands development. Burj means "Tower". Burj Al Arab or the tower of the arabian is a landmark of Dubai. Jumeirah mosque is the largest mosque in Dubai and is the only one open to non-Muslims. I did not visit it but only had a look at the exterior. It has a really elegant architecture.

The mosque was built in 1975 in the medieval Fatimid style which is a copy of a larger mosque in Cairo, Egypt. The Mall of the Emirates is until now the largest mall in Dubai and has 400 shops. We stopped there to eat and there was a huge food court with all the fast foods possible. My driver was telling me that this was a paradise for people as it was cheap especially if I wanted to buy gold. I said to him "It might be cheap but you still have to pay for it and I don't want to pay for anything". He burst out laughing and he asked me if I was interested in gold. I replied "Not particularly, unless if I want to resell it but I just want to write at the moment". He laughed again and insisted "So you dont want to look around the gold souks," and I replied, "I could do it, but I am afraid I ll just end up bore myself, I prefer white gold by the way as the yellow gold looks cheap. At the end of the day, it is just a material and it does not have any meaning on its own." He agreed in his strong arabic accent.

Ski Dubai is a ski complex inside of the mall. It is like a big freezer with people wearing ski outfits and skis. Just have a look around out of curiosity. We were on our way back to my hotel. My driver thought I was courageous as I had just arrived in Dubai and we drove for four hours around the city. He asked me if I was not tired after all this trip. I replied "I’ll have the time to be tired when I come back to Ireland." He laughed and then he asked me "Island of what?" which turned out to be funny enough as people I encountered as I was relaxing in the executive lounge later on had no idea about where I was coming from. They were well traveled people though but they would not know. I did not blame them. They thought it was the UK. I told them that it was an island located at the western end of Europe, the last country before the United States and after the UK. We could not stop laughing. These two executive men from Saudi Arabia wearing the traditional white dress and scarf were sitting at my table drinking mango juice along with me. I kept asking them a lot of questions, they just knew everything or maybe I just did not know enough. I thought they were really cool and it contrasted so well with the westerners. I liked it. There is no such thing as a western culture anymore, yet we critizice and have the pretention to make moral judgements on other cultures. We only want to see the world the way we decide to shape it for ourselves.

On the next day, I woke up early and enjoyed an hour or so on my own hanging around outside my hotel with my MP3 player. I like doing that everywhere I go. I dont know if that sounds weird but my music is part of me and I had to listen to it for a while or it would drive me mad. My driver picks me up in the early afternoon and we head towards the old parts of Dubai , Deira and Bur Dubai. Dubai Museum is situated in Bur Dubai and housed in the 18th century Al Fahidi fort. It has several galleries that describe the life around Dubai over the 5000 year history of the settlement from its trading origins to the oil boom and finally the current construction fever.

One of the gallery shows a movie and photographs of Dubai in 1950. It was fascinating to see how from a village in the desert it developed into the Dubai of today, only 30 years later. The courtyard displays traditional housing and life in the desert. The last gallery on archeology shows pre-Christian objects found around Dubai such as bronze daggers among others. Bastakiya is a series of restored building lying around the creek near Dubai museum, dating back from the 1900. They housed museums, art galleries, shops and restaurants. This is a good spot for strolling around. It is also along the shore and the creek. We then walked along the creek where you can cross over with the narrow boats called "Abra" for 1 dirham. There is a magnificient view of the old Dubai along the new modern high-rise glass towers and the colourful old boats stationed along the creek.

Later in the afternoon I got back to my hotel.
I would spend the evening in the lounge using the Wi-Fi while having a capuccino in my right hand and a mango juice again in my left hand. As they were only a few people the waiters keep on asking me if I wanted anything. They were really nice, as the evening went by one would talk to me in French. Most of them were from Morroco, Tunisia or Algeria. They thought I was Arabic as for my middle eastern look and I would not drink alcohol. Its not refreshing and I do not want to be out of control. The lounge was agreeable. There was this guy on his own from the BBC reading a book. While some people from another channel were smiling to me. Everyone was in their mid-forties or fifties while I was in my mid twenties. They were wondering who I was. Well, just someone pretending to be someone just as everyone else.

I spent the rest of the evening talking with a guy from Los Angeles who was working in the oil industry. As I was on my own, I did not mind. I had several cappuccinos. He was this kind of pseudo-cynical and sympathical guy but superficial. He asked me a lot of questions, I asked him more. Questions led to answers and answers led to more questions. We had a nice conversation although I knew he could not understand me, he was a business man with no idea about music or sensitivity to art whatsoever. As the discussion went by, his devious ways to find out more about me were so obvious but I was pretending I would not know what he was doing. At a certain moment he asked me if I was religious. I did not see his point but I replied "well, if being romantic is being religious then I am religious." Later, the discussion grew darker and more cynical as we were talking about the world in general. There was a feel of derision about it. I then placed "Have you heard of Jarvis Cocker?" He replied "No". I insisted "You would not, of course. He is a musician and he made a point in one of his songs which is the point I am trying to make; why live in the world when you can live in your head?" The business man agreed. I was then tired and got back to my room. I would have liked to talk to this guy from the BBC. He seemed too shy to talk to anyone, well to the few people there and I could see that he would not even bother. I did not blame him.

The last day I went on a trip outside Dubai and saw the desert in direction of Hatta which is a small village in the mountains. If you are interested in going on an excursion outside Dubai and have limited time, make it this one. This is also a favourite destination for the locals as its air is fresher. We just passed by the village and unfortunately did not stop but the scenic route is worth the detour. The village has an hotel "Hatta fort hotel". It has 50 rooms with restaurants, a golf course and a swimming pool. There are rather a few attractions in the centre apart from two watchtowers dating from 1880.

We drove past the border at a certain point through Oman. I could see the extended desert lying across both sides of the road. The vegetation started to disappear. Almost reddish sand and low rise dunes were taking forms. A donkey was hanging around on his own along the road while I could see a small herd of camels from a distance. I could feel the warmth coming from the desert and the fresh air coming from us as we were driving at 180 km. It usually takes one hour drive to go to Hatta but my driver told me he will make it in 30 minutes. I told him I like the speed. I felt like on a racing track. We eventually stopped at a spot where you could see and ride camels. There were also falcons which are being used for the traditional sport actually of the Arab elite, falconry, in which you fly a falcon. It has a dedicated following in Dubai and birds can cost up to 150,000Dh each.

There was a baby monkey tied to a pillar eating some kind of nuts out of a plastic bag. I was telling my driver how human-like the monkey looked. It was fascinating to see him gesture and move around. I asked jokingly my driver who was sent by the government of Dubai if it was ok if I took the monkey and the falcon with me. They were so cute, even the falcon. I must be mad as at the end of the day it’s just a bird, but he looked so elegant and sophisticated. There was a couple of ostriches and camels. One of them approached me and posed for the photographs. Its funny as there were a lot of other people taking pictures but the camels would not even go near them. As I got closer to the camels, one of them walked slowly towards me and just stayed near me while all the other people with cameras suddenly rushed around me and started to take several shots of the camel. Animals sense our energy and they can sense wether you are a good or a bad person, something that we humans would tell with more difficulties. It looked like then there were a lot of bad persons around.

Back to Dubai, we drove through Dubai marina with its avenue full of palm trees along high rise buildings housing luxurious hotels and restaurants on one side and on the other side the sandy beach. It was sunset and I had never seen such colours. They were melting together slowly in the sky. That was because of the desertic climate. It looked perfect.

Dubai would be the most exotic I place I visited and people around the hotel, the airport and anywhere were so kind, I could not believe it. Generally I expect people to do not bother and if I am lost or I need information, I know that I would not get a proper response so I have the habit to do not seek for any explanation and to just walk away. I acted the same in Dubai aiport and as I was going to walk away I could hear the person explaining me in an intelligent and genuine way what I had do to get from point A to point B. That was the same all of the time, they were not just pretending but people were real. I could sense the sincerity and it was something I had missed for quite a long time. Dubai is worth a visit and several visits throughout the years to come as it keeps growing and turning into a new city all over again.

© Aurelie Montfrond December 16th 2008

More info:
The Dubai Department of Tourism and commerce marketing
From Dublin to London
From London to Dubai
The Address hotel, Downtown Burj Dubai, Dubai, UAE.
Lama desert tours offers diverse tours including desert driving, shopping trips ,trekking, tours to Hatta, Al Ain and Abu Dhabi.

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