Ashkeling 2005/6 trip - Dubai
Last Updated: 4-Mar-06
We are spending a week in a villa in Dubai with Latha & Suku & their family. This is a change of pace to our travels so far, and we don't plan to record it in the same detail. But, where there are highlights, we will try to write something.
25-Dec-05 Dubai - X-mas at Wild Wadi
Right at the base of the Burj Al Arab is a water theme park called Wild Wadi (a wadi is a dry river bed), or as I prefer to call it, Wadi World. It seemed to be a great place to spend Christmas. The mascot seems to be a rip-off of Disney's Aladdin character. When you go in, you get an RFID bracelet which you can charge up with money for spending at the various shops and restaurants; it's also your ticket. Little did we know that it would be a great way to get a low-cost credit card cash advance, but we found out once it was too late to do much about it. The water park is compact; it is dense with a network of tubes and sluices which can take you up and down and around (and also remove your swimsuit if you hit a jet the wrong way). There are several major rides including a wakeboard permanent wave for surfing, a huge wave pool, a lazy river for tubing, and a tall, steep slide (Jumierah Sceirah) which accelerates you downwards at up to 30 mph while giving you a fabric enema with your suit. Only a small portion of the rides is suitable for small children, but overall, the place is well done. The guests are a real mix of nationalities (as are the workers, of course), with clothing ranging from bikinis to women enjoying the water in their abayas or specially designed swimsuits which cover legs, arms, and head. The food is standard for an amusement park (burgers, fish & chips, & such), but the views are much better. Besides great people watching, the park lies right between the Burj Al Arab and the wave-shaped Jumierah Beach Hotel, providing great views of each, particularly from the Sceirah's tower. A good time was had by all.
|In the shadow of the Burj al Arab and the Jumierah Beach Hotel
|We went on the inner tube ride
||Slow and relaxed
|Until someone started splashing
||While Suku's dad relaxed
|I tried to get Suku to stand under this
||But he wasn't having any of it
|This is how it's done
|This is not
|The Jumeirah Sceirah
In the evening, several of us went into Dubai - the Arabian Ranches residential areas is a far 30 km away - to eat at a restaurant which is highly rated in several books, review sites, and so on: Fatafeet. Besides serving typical Middle Eastern cuisine, it also has a great selection of shisha. There was only one problem: we could not find it. It turned out that it no longer existed, so, we moved on to Kan Zaman in the Dubai Heritage and Diving Center. The restaurant is right on Dubai Creek (a finger of salt water which wiggles its way into the center of Dubai), so it was a very pleasant mild evening. We got a bowl of strawberry shisha to enjoy with the hummus, very tasty eggplant matoush, tabouli, grilled shrimp, mixed grill, and heart-shaped felafel. Suku's dad showed us how to smoke shisha (which he claims to have never done before).
|Riding down the Sceirah
||And the fast inner tube ride
26-Dec-05 Dubai - Dubai, and then More Dune Bashing
|Latha stayed home to model that thing
||...and watch the kids model that thing
||Tej takes the first hit
|But Mr. Ramanathan shows us how it's done
||Scott jumps in
|Time for a bit more shisha
||Feeling the effects?
|This is how they prep the coals
||Picking ice cream for dessert
While Suku watched the kids, we headed towards the Dubai Creek to visit the museum, which, like many of them, is built inside an old fort. Befitting Dubai, it is done with polish and expense, and it actually pretty good. The museum also addresses the area's history of pearl fishing and its catastrophic collapse.
|Most of the museum is underground, under the fort
We also stopped off at the market to do some shopping (and photography). Suku's mom is an amazing negotiator.
|A fabric wind tower
||Rekha tries out the bedouin hut
|Uncle collects details
||Model of a souq
||The only museum we saw with a good store
"Scott, your assignment is to come back with a photo of my mother on a camel," was what Suku told me as we left for our Desert Adventure. Although Roswitha and I had done dune bashing in Qatar, Nettour's operation in Dubai was supposed to be very good. Arnul (from the Philippines) picked us up at Arabian Ranches and drove out to the meeting point on the Dubai-Hatta Road. About thirty 4x4s were gathered at a little strip mall along with their passenger loads. We had a bit of time to stock up on singing camels, Lucite models of the Burj, overpriced water, and use the well-taxed toilets. (Latha declared them to be horrible, but they were quite a bit better than many we had encountered to date.) Once everything was ready, the drivers let some air out of the tires, and caravanned into the rusty dunes. The dune bashing was similar to that done in Qatar, except that it felt as though we were part of a desert invasion. There was a lead car (with flag), many in the middle, and a trailing car (also with flag).
|The super negotiator
||Fruit & veggies from around the world
|fish horseplay |Tej frames a shot
||He's cheating - it's dried
|Is this a good idea?
Early into the ride, Arnul aggressively dived the car over a dune, and blew out a tire. It was not punctured, but had instead been forced off of the rim so that it lost a seal. "Five minutes," he said. Another truck stopped to help. They jacked it up, pried the tire back onto the rim, and inflated it with a portable compressor. In the meantime, we had the chance to examine the sand, which seemed to have two layers. The lower one was dun, and the upper, finer one was almost rust red. The combination, sculpted by the wind, created a striking pattern of color layered onto the waves of sand. The fractal pattern was not only physical (waves up to dunes), but colored as well. We also made sand angels while waiting.
|Part of the attack
Within a few minutes, the 4x4 was ready to go again, so we fell back into line and continued the assault on the dunes. As before, the vehicles made a few stops to allow regrouping, smoke, look at the dunes, and watch the sunset. We also looked out across the dunes and saw similar other groups racing like armies of ants over the landscape; one group seemed to have at least forty 4x4s.
|The tire fell off...
||Such an angel
||Over it goes
|It's a pile-up
|Rolling down the hill
||How did that sand get in my camera?
||...and shooting it
It was time for the rest of the Desert Adventure, so the line of vehicles jounced over to what looked like a permanent pseudo Bedouin camp installation. Just outside were camels, including a baby that was tied down and straining towards whoever was holding its feeding bottle. Just inside the camp was the start of the various stations, one with coffee, tea, and dates. There were appetizers of chicken shwarma served by a Syrian caterer. You could hold a falcon, get a henna tattoo (which Roswitha did), dress up in a dishdasha or abaya (which we all did), buy alcohol, smoke some shisha (apple, grape, strawberry), or use the toilet. Floor tables with pillows were arranged in a ring around a huge raised stage (oooh, maybe dancing girls…).
There was time to get in a camel ride. "Auntie, it's time to get your camel ride photo."
|Learning bad habits
||Try and stay focussed
|Even Roswitha joins in
||Three at once
|Getting a henna tattoo
||Who is that mysterious beauty?
|Latha and friend
"Come, come. Your son said that you have to."
"Let's just go look at them."
"OK, well, just come stand over here so I can get a picture."
"Uncle, please help me get her over for a photo."
"I can't - she won't do what I tell her unless she wants to."
"Here, Auntie, just sit on it for a minute."
"No, it's too high. I can't get up"
"I'll bend down - you can use my leg like a stool."
"Just for a minute."
"OK, but don't let it stand up. It's too high."
In the meantime, everyone else had gotten onto his or her beast, so Auntie was the last one up. The moment she was on, her camel rocked into standing position.
"Smile!" And she did.
The camels were led around in a small circle, and then dropped down for the next group to get on. I got onto the lead camel. Backwards, so I could shoot Roswitha seated on the next one. "Stupid tourist," thought the Arab who was leading the line of camels.
Dinner was served buffet style, with various salads, lamb, chicken, and fish kabobs, foul (chick pea paste), potatoes, watermelon, and rice pudding. A musician played songs on a string instrument (whose name I don't know but should) as we ate, entertaining us with traditional Arabic tunes, well-disguised classical music, and a selection of Christmas greats. Then the announcement: it's time for Lena, the belly dancer. Woo-hoo, a dancing girl. After going through several typical dances, she started dragging people onto stage. Suku's dad was pushed onto the stage, and started to outdo the dancer, at least in enthusiasm. Once that wound down, we headed out, and back to Arabian Ranches.
||Scott rides backwards
|Tej is a natural
||The better to photograph you
|Three new riders
||Roswitha and friend
|Grilling some kabobs
||The veggie pendulum
27-Dec-05 Dubai - Souq
|Hey! Who's that up there?
I was having a bit of Attaturk's revenge (I think that it was the previous day's Burger King lunch), so Roswitha went off to the gold and spice souqs with the rest of the group.
We celebrated our anniversary at the villa, with a candle-lit dinner outside. Relatives of a friend of Suku's joined us. A lovely evening!
|A non-wind tower
||A wind tower
|In the Gold Souq
|More dried flowers
||On Dubai Creek
|Rekha enjoys lunch
||Lunch of veggies, foul & fries, pita, juice
28-Dec-05 Dubai - Al Qasr hotel
||Good food & conversation
A large complex of three hotels and a modern interpretation of a souq were recently built just next to the Al Burj. The Al Qasr (those in El Paso, and visitors to Spain will be familiar with the more familiar name: the Alcazar) is the swankiest one; it is built in a grand Arabian Nights style. Upon entry, a guy in a tan coat with a walkie-talkie advised Roswitha that we were not allowed to take photos with professional cameras. I tried to shoot the entry hall, and he quickly came over. "I said that you could not use professional cameras here."
"I'm sorry - you did not tell me."
"I told your partner. It is hotel policy."
"Are you married?"
This confused him. "Yes."
"Does your wife tell you everything?"
He smiled. "Please don't take photos."
We were allowed to shoot with small point-and-shoots, but the distinction of the fact that they can have good quality escaped him. We walked out onto the balcony, which overlooked the souq and another hotel, as well as the Burj. Roswitha tried to shoot the Burj, but he had followed us out (clearly, we were trouble), and said that we could not shoot even outside. He then crossed the balcony and watched us intensely. As we sat down to order drinks, he crossed over to the opposite side, and watched some more. I wanted to ask him to shoot a photo of our group, but he wandered inside before I could approach him. He was no doubt watching from inside the building. Roswitha asked our waitress if we could shoot photos off the balcony, and she said that it was OK. We enjoyed drinks and snacks. As we left, the waitress came over and said that she was sorry, but she was mistaken, and it was not allowed for us to photograph - she must have been admonished.
|Illegal photo of the Al Qasr entrance
||Illegal photo of the Al Qasr stairs and fountain
The hotel is beautiful, and very tastefully done. The architecture is superb, and each space is balanced and nuanced. It sprawls along several stories, and we wandered towards the souq, shooting photos, of course. Soon enough, another tan-jacketed guy came up and told us we could not use professional cameras, although we protested that it is just an amateur hobby. He followed us for a while, until we were handed off to another guy near the entrance to the souq.
|View of the Burj from Al Qasr
||Illegal photo of our snack
The souq is basically a modern shopping mall with overdone Arabian decorations, and a few "handicraft" shops. A Las Vegas-style Venice-like moat meanders through as well; you can get little boat trips, which we did not. We found our way through the souq to the lower-budget Medinat hotel. It is clearly not as sensitive as the Al Qasr; no one harassed us about photos. A portion of the hotel's moat is dedicated to green and leatherback turtle rehabilitation; we saw several big ones lazing in their fenced-off pool.
||Like something out of Arabian Nights
|Model of the hotels
|Painted camel (after Chicago's cow project)
We headed to Peshawar, an Indian restaurant suggested by our driver for lunch. The food was very good, and cheap, although, as pointed out by Uncle, not as cheap as India. (And thanks, Suku, for helping me remember the details.)
|In the fake souq
||Souq-style photo shop
Part of the group returned to Arabian Ranches, while Roswitha, Tej, and I drove into Dubai to go to the Naif Souq, which is one of the older ones, and borders the gold, spice, and electronics souqs. We neither got lost nor bought too much.
|Naan, lamb rogan josh, chicken makhani masala, rajma (beans), and chole (garbanzo)
We decided to do a bit of bar hopping, and went to the Jumierah Beach Hotel. Their round bar out in the water had a great nighttime view of the Burj; we sat out on their terrace.
|Tej negotiates the shirt off the guy's rack
|Driving back along Sheikh Zayed Road
29-Dec-05 Dubai - Into the Burj
|Fruit plate, Campari, nuts
||Burj Al Arab
|In the Jumierah elevator
How can we visit, and not get our own local costumes? Roswitha had already gotten her abaya, but was still on the lookout for a specific kind of pants. Although the Mall of the Emirates was mostly about western shops, there was an eddy of local wardrobe shops. Without too much effort, I was able to get a complete dishdasha set, except for the underwear, although I realized too late that even here in the mall, I could have negotiated. Roswitha got shooed out of one ladies shop (maybe because she did not have male supervision, maybe because she was western, maybe because she was in shorts), but once I showed up and we asked for specific things, they showed her the one thing which came somewhat close, but was not the right thing. In another shop when she asked for the pants, the guy - it seems incongruous, but men always run the ladies shops - very distinctly checked out the shopping bag we carried (maybe to see if we were up to their class) before taking us to speak to the manager. In the end, she did not find the pants she was looking for.
The Burj Al Arab (Tower of Arabia) is considered to be the world's only seven star hotel (on a scale of 1 to 5), with rooms (all are two story suites) running up to US$10,000 a night, although it is possible to find some for about US$1000. It is very exclusive (or exclusionary), and therefore hard to get into, and they were 100% booked for the week. The Burj has also become an icon of the success of Dubai; it stands off from the coastline on its own little island, connected by a bridge. The tall hotel, looking like an impressionistic sail, dominates the view along the coast. At night, it is lit by an ever-changing rainbow of lights. (I've also read that it is never shown from the seaward side because the structure unfortunately looks like a huge cross, formed by the main spine and the crossbeam restaurant.) We could have taken a tour for $35 a person, but we instead decided to have high tea (US$52/person) on the mezzanine level. Of course, we needed reservations. We were also told that once we were inside, we'd be able to go to the restaurant/bar at the top.
|Not bad, eh?
||We drove past the Potemkin Roller Coaster of theDubailand park
|Tej gets a new perspective
||Look! I'm almost as tall as the Burj
As we drove in, the first guard looked us up on the reservation list; we were waved through the second checkpoint and on to the entrance behind the dancing fountain. Our Honda Civic was dropped off with valet parking, and for some reason they chose to not park it up front with the Bentley, two Rolls, and the Mercedes M500. A greeter offered huge, sweet dates - the largest I've ever seen - from a polished rosewood box. A stair-stepped fountain (water is always a key feature of the best Arab architecture) was flanked by escalators and walls made of saltwater aquaria. (Sadly, the aquaria were not in very good shape; the coral was covered with algae, and many of the fish showed signs of fungus and damage. Two scuba divers were cleaning off the coral.) The escalator carried us up into the towering triangular central space of the hotel, supported by four soaring gold columns. (Supposedly everything in the hotel which is gold-colored IS gold, although I have doubts about some of the bathroom fixtures.) A row of shops lined each side, with names like Chopard, Bvlgari, Rodeo Drive, and others. A 24 ct gold vest was displayed in one window, and other windows sparkled with large diamonds and platinum. On the side viewing the land, the wide curve of the hotel below the fabric sail cups the tea lounge. We were led to a sofa and cluster of chairs, handed chilled oshibori scented of rose water, and advised that photos were not allowed in the lounge area (although they were allowed elsewhere in the hotel) - as before this just seemed to be directed at the big SLR cameras. Layered tiers of doors to the hotel suites towered above us like a modern version of the arabesque in the archways of the Alhambra.
|The array of cars at the entrance
|The lobby, with huge fountain, VIP entrance, casino entrance, and two large salt-water aquaria
||Suite doors tower over the atrium - notice all the gold
||The 2nd-floor atrium, the main space of the Burj
Tea service started with a view of the menu; we had choices of numerous pots of teas and coffees, including some of the more exotic of each (varieties of black teas, jasmine, rose, ginger peach, pearl, and coffees including Jamaican Blue Mountain and Malabar). The first course included an arrangement of canapés: sandwiches of beef, shrimp, cucumber, tuna salad, egg salad, salmon, and chicken. Several of them benefited from a sprinkling of Red Savina habanero powder. Scones, along with Devonshire Clotted Cream, and Passion fruit and strawberry jams made up the next course. Finally, we had a variety of pastries. Although the food was easily five-star, the service was disappointing. Like many other places, the staff hailed from all over, and they did not seem to be particularly well trained, nor did they seem to communicate much with each other.
|Rekha seems to be at home
||Cafe area, under the "sail"
Once we were in, it seemed that we had few restrictions to wander around the building. We heard helicopters ferrying guests to and from the topside helipad, but could not (and were unlikely to) find how to get up to it. Contrary to Tej's guess, the toilet paper in the subtly-appointed bathrooms was mere paper, but the floor was embedded with mother of pearl, the walls with chips of tiger's eye, and the wooden doors were decorated with burl. A ground-level seafood restaurant is themed to appear to be under the sea, with a huge aquarium dominating a curved wall. We took the windowed elevators up the mast of the sail to the top floor and the restaurant and bar. Seen from below, it was hard to tell what was going on in the bar, but inside, we could see the multi-colored half-moon lights which lined the ceiling, again like a modern arabesque. We relaxed and had a last drink up there before heading back to Arabian Ranches.
|Scones & tea
||Tej ponders his choices
|Yummy finger sandwiches
||Roswitha's henna tattoo fits in
|This is the life!
|Entrance to the restaurant
||The "underwater" restaurant
|Upstairs restaurant, in the crossbeam
||Looking for celebrities, Dubai in the background
||Bar snacks (olives, nuts)
|A view of the Palm Jumierah (under construction), and the Dubai Marina (onshore tall buildings)
|Dancing fountain at the entrance
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