Friday, May 10, 2013

Thoughts on Dubai

Recently the wife and I spend a long-ish weekend in Dubai.  Should you wish, you can view the pictures from our trip here on my Flickr account.  I liked Dubai, but I don't see myself returning there anytime soon.

The best way that I can think of how to explain it is to say that Dubai is a city without a soul.  For example, Paris has a romantic soul, Madrid has a laid-back soul, Rome has an ancient soul and Dublin has a drunken (and fun) soul.  Dubai is nothing but sand and tall buildings. At times, this is something that creates stark beauty.

Burj Khalifa

Dubai Marina
And, at times, it's something that just creates blah.
A Dubai Street
One of the more interesting dynamics, to me, was the UAE's attempts to juxtapose traditional Islamic culture with Western influences.  To me, this picture (taken by my wife) is the best representation of that problem.
A pork shop in Dubai Mall
Of all the locations in Dubai my favorite was Deira, the old part of town, where you find the Souks. It felt the most traditional in a city that's wiped away all of its tradition in the name of progress.

Deira

The Gold Souk
Given all of the attention paid to the malls, I think it's safe to say the Dubai Mall knocks the pants off of the Mall of the Emirates, as a matter of fact it's not even close.  The Dubai Mall is laid out better, it has better attractions and is much more open in design.  If you click on the picture link above you'll see several pictures from the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo that, and Deira obviously, was a highlight of the trip.

Mall of Dubai waterfall
Finally, if you ever wonder why people have a negative image of American food, I give you the American food section at the grocery store inside the Dubai Mall.
Old El Paso and Newman's Own.
Yum.

On the technical, travel side, we flew United Airlines from IAH, laying over at IAD both coming and going. The United lounge at IAD is OK, at DXB, before departure, we were given access to the Lufstansa lounge, it was tiny but well stocked.  While we were there the band Everclear came in, as they were on our same flight back to the States.  Unfortunately, my camera was stowed so I have no pictures.  I will say this, based on our limited time getting to talk with them they are a very nice groups of guys.  Really enjoyed speaking with them for the few minutes we did.

We stayed at the Sheraton in Deira Creek, which I booked on Hotels.com for around $150/night.  It was a nice hotel with very good customer service, six restaurants (the two we tried were good) and four bars.  The cover band that plays at the Marbles bar on various nights is outstanding.  The guitar player can play almost anything, and the three ladies and one guy doing vocals gives them the range to not make a dog's breakfast out of almost any song.  One lady even did a very solid version of Whitney Houston's "I will always love you" which is a hard song to sing.

Since you're in Dubai, be aware that there is no alcohol service before 6PM in any bar, even the ones at the hotels, and prices are high.  Food in Dubai, unless you're eating at one of the many Indian/Pakistani locals dives are expensive. I highly recommend popping into one of the sticky-floor joints where the local workers eat.  The food there is inexpensive and tastier than most of what's on offer at the higher-end establishments.

Speaking of the workers, I'm aware that Dubai has a horrible reputation for how it allows it's workers to be treated and you can see that on their faces.  If you want to see an example of no hope, take a look at the grunt-workers in Dubai.  If Dubai as a city is soulless the immigrant workforce is even more so.  As an Emirati, or an expat from a developed nation, life can be pretty good, it's very common to see Ferrari's and other luxury cars on the roads, if you're a manual laborer from a developing country however, life appears to be pretty Spartan. 

As I stated earlier, I enjoyed Dubai, but have no desire to return.  But the wife and I did want to see it before it's gone.  The fact is the UAE is rapidly running out of oil.  They're trying to re-invent themselves as a financial/travel destination but I don't see that having long-term staying power. Historically however I think the odds are against them. If history in this region has taught us anything, it's that the desert always wins.

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