Three days in Dubai proved me wrong. All I’ve been hearing about this fancy desert city is true. After three days and 3 nights all I wished for was more time. I considered it artificial, too fake and opulent for my taste. Then I saw the best of Dubai and fell for it.
Al Fahidi neighborhood, at my first glance that late afternoon, the first one in 2020, didn’t look like the Dubai I imagined. I woke up late after the exhausting NYE “adventure” the night before. It was curious to see Dubai by day. I draw the dark heavy curtains and opened the window to the little garden in front where a few dusty palm-trees were the only green spots on a limestone shade paint. On the wide vacant lot in front, in a cloud of dust, e few barefoot boys were playing football with a worn-out ball. Yalla, yalla (cmon) was all I could hear. A strong smell of frying hit me from what seemed to be the kitchen of the hotel, judging by the noise. I thought this must be a reason for the cheap price I payed for 3 nights in a city where New Years Eve makes hotel prices explode like its famous fireworks. But the room was nice, large, clean and the location was good, a few minutes walk to the metro station.
Behind the dusty palm-trees, the vacant lot and the hotel’s kitchen, the city was already up, ready to start a new year filled with life. The noise of the urban chaos was calling.
I love Indian food and I soon discovered I love the prices it has in Dubai too. Bhindi masala (dish made with okra) and chicken masala was the name of my brunch. A spicy brunch. I got totally lost in the tens of meals with names I could hardly pronounce listed in the menu of the first restaurant I saw on the street. The waiter stole me from the competition near by meeting me meters away from the entrance, in the middle of the crosswalk. I let him believe his strategy was a success when in fact my decision was taken the moment I saw the place with people eating on the terrace. At 2pm, 28C and a burning sun, coming from the freezing temperatures back home, I felt I will melt if I don’t eat fast. Though it was a hasty decision picking the restaurant, the food was tasty.
It was time to be wowed by my first day in Dubai! I took the metro and headed towards downtown. One thing no one told me about Dubai is that there are so many Indians, it makes you wander if that’s truly Dubai, UAE, Middle East.
When it comes to skyscrapers, modern architecture and infrastructure, Dubai gets all the 5 stars. And the downtown area stands as a prove for this. You could easily end up with a glazed look, mouth opened, eyes looking up the sky, among high structures of steel and glass. I admitted, it’s impressive but I’m not a fan of modern buildings with their cold minimal shapes. Burj Khalifa still is so high it makes you dizzy. It dominates the city like a crowned god of buildings. 163 floors. My apartment back home is at 8.
I hate malls…
“I’ll just take a look, it won’t take long… it’s just a mall.” It started like this. After 5h, dizzy and exhausted I couldn’t solve this mystery: where did all that time vanished?!
There are two reasons why I enter a mall, in my city, in any city: see a movie or get my coats from the dry cleaning. This was before I stepped in Dubai Mall. It makes The Harrods in London or Galleries Lafayette in Paris seem like two little shops. This place is not a mall, but a wicked city where you enter in the morning and leave at night, wandering where did all that sunny day disappeared. From the butler at the entrance, the welcoming ladies offering sweets, to the 1200 large stores on 502,000 square metres, this place is madness, a shopping industry by itself and above all, it’s a time trap. A very pretty one that has everything inside: a hotel, an ice rink, an aquarium where people can go for a dive among sharks and leopard rays of who’s existence I had no idea before, a VR Park, a lake with a water fountain, access to the highest building in the world from the largest mall in the world. Dubai seems to love superlatives. Shopping there is an true experience. Benefiting from the large spaces, the brands have built stories out of their shops. In Dubai Mall the stores don’t just sell, they entertain and spoil. The prices seem a bit higher for a few brands I usually buy but it still is a shopper’s paradise on Earth.
From the Earth to the sky: Burj Khalifa
Seeing the tallest building in the world right outside the biggest mall in the world, moving your eyes from its base and all the way up to its top, it’s really something extraordinary. A blue huge pool in the middle of the desert, now downtown Dubai, stands for Burj Khalifa Lake. Why knot? If 218 millions where waiting to be spent. You can even take a boat ride in a traditional “abra”, probably the last reminder in that area of what Dubai was in times not that old: a poor fishing village. Right now the city looks like what all that money can built: artificial, as I used to consider it before, but so damn beautiful, as I was starting to see it.
Souk Al Bahar, the drop of tradition
I found it by chance, just wandering around Burj Khalifa, trying to find its best angle for a photo with the entire building. Or almost entire… This modern and luxury Arabian souk on the Old Town island brings back the magic in a place made of steel and glass. I spent long minutes admiring the details of Iranian hand made carpets and testing tens of luxury Arabian perfumes in precious bottles. The prices were just as precious too, up to 600 euro. Ehh…Dubai, places like that make me feel poor. There’s too much you can’t afford right under your nose.
The golden hour and the orange sun rays turned the city into gold as the night was coming. I felt overwhelmed by so much I’ve seen.
Dubai Marina by night
In this city with many worlds, Dubai Marina is one of them. A Western corner in a rich city. Skyscrapers, restaurants, shops, the beach and the promenade. I had in mind the image of the tall buildings reflecting in the harbour and I got lost trying to find it. I was exhausted and ready to go back to the metro for the 1h ride to my hotel when, I have no idea how, I found it:
If by day, iron and glass looks modern, by night it looks the best.
The Frame of dreams
The two sides of the city, the old and new are framed by The Frame, another architectural landmark of Dubai. The name of this square building, called the biggest picture frame on the planet, reflects its shape, 150m tall and 95m wide. From my seat in the metro, at passed 11 at night, heading to the old (and poor I should add) side of Dubai, this day seemed like a fantasy. All the glitter and gold of Dubai gives a feeling of mixed realities, polishing all in happiness. But The Frame, no mater how big it is, can’t include all the 3.331 million stories lived each day in this city. My story, as a visitor fulfilling another destination dream, the story of the Filipino woman that was selling ice-cream in the mall, waiting for her dream, the stories of the rich and good looking of all races I’ve noticed on Fashion Avenue, living their dream…. and the stories of the Indian workers I saw right next to Dubai Mall, up high on metallic scaffold, working in construction on January the 1st, building their dream.
A dream city that is made of so many different dreams, that is the big picture of Dubai.
Next: Day 2 in Dubai: helicopter ride, at the top of Burj Khalifa and more