Our visit to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates
September 27, 2014 – October 1, 2014
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
After one more night in Bucharest after leaving Brasov, we were once again at the airport and on our way to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This time we would stay for much longer than an 8 hour layover, giving the sprawling modern city which sprouted right out of the barren desert a proper visit.
We found a high rise apartment for rent in Dubai to use as our base, once again found on airbnb. With hostels nearly non-existent and the hotels in and around Dubai being very expensive, if you want something nice AND reasonably priced, airbnb or something similar is your best bet.
We were happy to find that Dubai has a very nice and easy to use metro system. Since the city is truly massive, stretching for miles along the ocean, a long straight metro running parallel to the water is essential to getting around. Almost nothing is walkable, as the distances are enormous, as well as the temperatures.
We stayed in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers complex. A city in itself, built up to house the hundreds of thousands of ex-patriots (foreigners) who work in and around Dubai. The UAE’s population is 9.2 million people, with only 1.4 million Emirati citizens, so 7.8 million ex-patriots have been brought in to help develop the country and to work for the Emiratis.
Our final evening in Dubai, we went for a stroll around the Dubai Marina, within walking distance of Jumeirah Lakes Towers.
One of our first stops was the Dubai Museum, which was entirely about the history of Dubai from its beginnings as a fly speck village, used as a stopping off point by Indian merchants sailing goods farther north, where Bedouin traders would meet to trade before heading back out into the desert. The city also was known for its pearls, pearl divers have collected the tiny treasures for hundreds of years just offshore here. The city itself was tiny, just a few square kilometers until the 1960’s, when the oil industry discovered vast wells of oil.
Dubai – one of seven Emirates which make up the United Arab Emirates – exploded after oil was found, their economy increased tremendously almost overnight and the city began its steady and so far unending expansion and building projects.
A walk around Old Dubai
Old downtown Dubai is a tiny area, compared to the rest of the city, where the original fortresses, homes and marketplaces were built along a short river running into the sea. Many of the markets, called souqs still exist and can be explored.
Once we had taken the ultra modern water taxis across the river from the Dubai Museum, we could explore the various souqs or marketplaces, such as the Gold Souq and the Spice Souq. In truth, we found the souqs to be a bit disappointing, and found the walk around Old Dubai to be more interesting.
Dubai – The Land of Malls
If you like shopping, the world’s largest mall is located here (largest in the world by total area. This massive mall is also located right beneath the Burj Khalifa, which is currently the worlds tallest building. And if you visit the mall and don’t think its all that big, don’t worry, Dubai is currently building another even bigger mall.
The Burj Khalifa – The World’s Tallest Building
Looming high above the mall, and in fact everything in the city, is the Burj Khalifa, which at 2,722ft is currently the tallest man made structure of any kind in the world.
Visiting the tower is popular so it is best to buy your tickets in advance, we purchased ours about three weeks early. Ticket times before sunset are the most popular and worth going for. We bought the only time before sunset that was available, even three weeks early, for 4:30pm. We recommend getting to the top before dark so you can see the city in the light of day as well as sunset and early night when all the colors are changing around the city, but book early as these times are popular.
It’s only a 60 second elevator ride to the 124th floor where the observation deck sits. The tower itself rises an additional 36 stories more to a total height of 160 stories. After our ear popping 60 second ride to 1,821 feet, we arrived at the observation deck, and looked down at other ‘skyscrapers’ in the city that now looked puny by comparison – and we were only about two thirds of the way up!
There is an indoor and outdoor portion of the observation deck so if you feel like sticking your head out between the balcony’s glass you can look straight down. There is a large man made lake beneath the tower which has musical fountain shows (similar to the Bellagio in Las Vegas) every half hour daily starting at 6pm (another reason the sunset observation deck tickets are in demand).
You can see the whole world from the Burj Khalifa… at least “The World” man made island building project just offshore. A collection of man made islands designed to look like the landmasses of the entire world. (worth a look on Google Earth) Dubai has many man made island and peninsula building projects such as The Palm and The World. The World seems to have been put on hold or possibly failed altogether as only one ‘island’ has been built upon, and there does not seem to be any evidence of development anywhere else on The World. Perhaps investors are worried about sea levels rising, or no one wants to have to take a helicopter or boat to get to the mall.
The Burj Al Arab
Yet another massive building looming over the city, if not quite as high, is the Burj Al Arab, a seven star hotel.
We actually found it difficult to get close to this hotel. They don’t allow tours unless you have a reservation there or at one of the restaurants, apparently stopping in for some ultra expensive tea is the cheapest way to go. We elected to just take a few pics of the outside from Souk Madinat Jumeirah.
Dubai is not just a city but the name of the entire Emirate or state where we were staying. Another well known Emirate, and again city, is Abu Dhabi, Dubai’s larger and even richer neighbor to the south.
You can get there via taxi or a simple two hour bus ride, the metro does not extend all the way to Abu Dhabi. We took the bus for a day trip to explore Abu Dhabi, specifically two sites for which it is well known. The Grand Mosque and the Emirates Palace Hotel, yet another seven star hotel in the UAE.
The Emirates Palace Hotel
This seven star hotel sits along the waterfront of Abu Dhabi, and unlike the Burj Al Arab, they do allow tourists to come and freely wander most of the public areas. A movie was being filmed there when we arrived so there were some sections we were not able to visit. The hotel is luxurious in just about every way imaginable, there is even a gold vending machine inside – the world’s first of course.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, or often just called the Grand Mosque, is a beautiful and truly massive mosque which turned out to be Krista’s favorite sight in the UAE, and it is easy to see why. The Grand Mosque is free to visit and even offers surprisingly extensive free guided tours. Women must wear loose clothing which covers the ankles, as well as cover up their head and hair with a hijab or head scarf to enter. Krista did not have a hijab but made do with a simple scarf. If you show up without one the guard station at the entrance will provide one to you free of charge (in exchange for some identification).
The mosque was built by the country’s late president Sheikh Zayed and is the eighth largest in the world.
The interior of the mosque has some truly massive chandeliers as well the world’s largest unsectioned carpet. The carpet looks to be about the size of football field and is entirely one piece, there are no seams.
There are no seams in the carpet but there are many raised sections which make lines running parallel down its length, they were created by clipping down the carpet in the other areas leaving the lines raised. The lines serve as guides for worshippers to know where to stand.
After staying in one of the most extravagant and over the top cities in the world, it was time to say goodbye to the abundance of modern conveniences. We caught one of the last metro trains of the evening to the airport, where we would spend the wee hours of the morning prior to our 6:30am flight. We were off to Tanzania to start our exploration of East Africa and go on a safari.