Dubai: First Impressions
We arrived in Dubai in the wee hours of the morning. Passport control took ages but we didn't mind because we didn't want to arrive at our host's too early. We couldn't believe how slack the passport control process was. They didn't ask any questions and didnt even make us scan our eyes. And luckily, all was good with my visa.
We hung around the airport because we didn't want to wake our host up. Luckily there was free wifi so it allowed some Skype time with my family in Canada. When it was time to make our way to our host's apartment, we got on the metro.
The metro is in the "top 10 attractions in Dubai" list as voted by travelers on tripadviser. We understood why. You can see a lot of Dubai's famous buildings from it (like the Burj Al Arab and the Burj Khalifa). It runs along a very long strip called Sheikh Zayed Road which many of the sights are located near. Because it is primarily above ground, it provides a lot to look at. It is also spectacularly clean. It was quite hazy out when we first got on it but cleared up after the morning.
We met a nice lady from Ottawa on the metro. And when we got of the metro at Internet City, this man started showing us the way to the exit and to the cabs. He was from India and has lived with his family in Dubai for the last 13 years. He flagged a cab for us but the driver said he didn't know where the address was and then he flagged another one and that driver said it was too close for him to drive. So we said we would walk it as we were not having luck with the cabs and (thought we) wanted the exercise . The nice man that led us to the cabs said that he works right across where we were headed so he led us in the right direction. It was so nice of him. So far it seems that everyone is super friendly- except the cab drivers!
One thing we noticed immediately about the newer part of Dubai is that everything is just MASSIVE! Dubai itself is massive and it takes a while to get from one point to another but everything within it is also massive. The roads sometimes have 6 lanes, the sidewalks are so wide and they seem even wider because no uses them so you feel like an ant when you have a huge space of sidewalk and surrounded by large buildings. It is definitely not a pedestrian friendly city but the metro is VERY efficient (and air conditioned). All the maps we have looked at are also very misleading because everything looks really close but it takes ages to walk to a place that looks like it is across the street on a map. We are sure getting our exercise and blisters on our feet to prove it!
Another thing we felt about the more modern part of Dubai is that this is quite a strange city. It is so modern and seems really artificial at times. You really can't tell if you are in Dubai or London or America. It seems like a combination of Las Vegas, Florida and London...but that is judging by the buildings and Dubai Mall as Dubai Mall has every UK and American chain imaginable (we've come across Boots, Waitrose, WHSmith, New Look, Debenhams, Forever21, Top Shop, you name it, it's there!). Also, they are just building and building and building. There is so much land being built up. I would love to come back in 20 years and see what it looks like then. We have passed through a ton of construction zones today.
We ended up at the mall as we wanted to visit Burj Khalifa- the world's tallest building- and this is located at Dubai Mall. Now, the world's tallest building is UNREAL! It hurts your eyes to look up at it (although that probably has something to do with looking right at the sun) and when you compare it to nearby buildings, it really makes you wonder how in the world they built something that tall. It does not look real. We booked a tour to go up to the observation deck on Wednesday so we are quite excited for that. I might need some vertigo pills though! In front of this building and The Dubai Mall are musical fountains designed by the same people that are responsible for the fountains at the Bellagio in Vegas. We watched one show to some Arabian music and it was so awesome. The water goes so high that we ended up getting some heavy mist from the fountains splash us. We will definitely go back for more shows though as it looks spectacular, especially with an amazing building like the Burj Khalifa in the background.
So Dubai Mall is quite a dangerous place when it comes to food!! There is a Tim Hortons, a Hummingbird Bakery, a Cold Stone Creamery amongst other guilty pleasure foods (although we haven't come across a Cheesecake Factory) but our favorite is a very swanky chocolate shop called Patchi. My friend Diana brought us some chocolates from this chain when she visited the UAE and we were hooked-especially because they make this amazing cheesecake chocolate variety!!! So we stepped foot in one and bought some cheesecake chocolates an also a pistachio cream one. Mmmmmmm so good!! There were also tons of chain restaurants that you can find in the UK and America like TGIFridays and Macaroni Grill and Rainforest Cafe...like I said, you would never guess you are in Dubai by being at this mall...oh EXCEPT that every single shop sign has its Arabic equivalent written next to it...even places like Subway and WH Smith have a logo written in Arabic. I would love to know if they are literal translations.
We also stumbled across the Dubai Mall Aquarium. We didn't find it necessary to go in as there are huge observation areas scattered throughout the shops. We were there at a perfect time as we saw a bunch of scuba divers in there and what were they doing?? Window cleaning!!! Now that is an exciting job to have, scuba diving amongst sharks and exotic fish in order to clean the inside windows of tanks.
We also visited the older part of Dubai and this looked quite different from the newer part. It's the area where the gold souk and spice souk are. The buildings are quite old and crowded (much unlike the modern part) and there is evidently a large community of Indian residents. Tons of shops that cater to Indian goods and also tons of curry restaurants. This area got us excited for India!! The souks were pretty cool but its basically shop owners stopping you and asking you if you want a "pashmina, Ali baba shoes (which I actually really want but am waiting for India to purchase), purses, watches, perfume etc". Perry noticed that they always target the women even if he is standing right beside me. Some shop owners did try to get him in a traditional headdress though! No luck!! The gold souk had some beautiful jewelry. I especially loved the bangles but of course this place was not of much use to us at the moment as we are on a backpackers budget.
One thing that has surprised us about Dubai is that it is not as expensive as we thought it would be. Sure the hotels can be quite luxurious and some of the attractions like the water park at Atlantis and the aquarium are really overpriced but the food and transportation is ridiculously cheap! A day pass for the buses and metro is under £3/$5 and the water taxis that got us around the old part of Dubai were about 20 cents each way!! Crazy!! So now we think we completely overestimated how much to bring here which means we will probably have enough left over to spend an afternoon at the Atlantis waterpark (which has a slide that runs through the shark tanks!!!) or to go for a nice meal...or maybe to just convert to another currency for the rest of the trip.
Although it is quite a different city, we are still enjoying it and seeing the world's tallest building is worth it alone. Oh yeah and the heat is awesome too. Tomorrow we plan on visiting the waterfront area, but maybe we will splash about in our host's pool for a while. Our feet wouldn't mind some R&R!