First Trip to the Middle EastI spent 4 nights in Dubai last week for work. I had stopped over here previously on a journey from NZ to the UK but airport stops don't count in my list of life highlights. This trip was definitely an eye opener as I had heard from so many folks about their enjoyment of living and working here and so I was curious to see it all for myself.
Most of my time in Dubai was spent working but the evenings were free for me to explore and with my travelling companions I was able to squeeze in a bunch of fun... here are the details of my new adventure.
I flew direct to Dubai from London on British Airways. This is the 2nd time I've flown BA (the first being my return flight from New York to London) and their service still doesn't impress me. The interior of the plane cabin is circa 1988 with a pathetic in-flight entertainment console and even worse dinner options. Lesson learned - I'll avoid BA in the future. Short hops will be OK but on an 8 hour flight and longer comfort really does matter. Anyway the flight into Dubai was uneventful until we were coming into land and my ear infection flared up. Ah the pain! Due to fog we had to stay in a flight pattern over the city for over 30 minutes before we were notified that the flight was being diverted to Abu Dhabi instead! By this stage I was in a lot of pain and trying my hardest to keep it all together (I may have shed a few tears). We spent 3 hours on the tarmac on the plane in Abu Dhabi before finally completing the 30 minute flight back to Dubai. As this was an overnight flight (left at 10pm and arrived at 6:30am local time... well actually 10am after all the delays) and I'd worked the whole day before departure, I was knackered by the time I finally got to the hotel.
The Media Rotana was located about 30 minutes from the airport by taxi but unfortunately when I arrived they said they didn't have a room for me! I was blowing away on my kleenex (a cold... not crying) and I think the receptionist felt sorry for me and upgraded me in order to find me a room immediately. When I got to the room the door wouldn't open. The housekeeping staff also couldn't open it. I returned to reception and they upgraded me again... I ended up in a huge suite on the top floor - 21st with a massive room with 2 beds all to myself :-) I spent the rest of the day sleeping and ordered a hamburger meal from room service as I was too sick to even contemplate heading out to explore.
DAY 2. Spent the day working but on the shuttle to work was able to spot the tallest building in the world. Didn't manage to find time to go up it and tickets were sold out days in advance.
Later that night I went out with new friends and we had dinner and cocktails at the Intercontinental Hotel before going to the Amy Winehouse concert. Although I do very much like her music, I didn't have high expectations for the concert. Amy was awful. Really awful. She was booed off stage multiple times and spent 90% of the concert scratching at her arms and cleaning her nails. She was wasted. Couldn't remember the words. Only sung about 6 songs. Here is a review.http://www.mirror.co.uk/celebs/columnists/dean-piper/2011/02/13/amy-winehouse-plays-another-shambolic-gig-115875-22919125/
I want my money back!
After the concert (more like midway through as we left early) we headed to the mall and did some late night shopping. The mall was open until 1am! Pay day is not for a few weeks yet so being short of cash I only bought a new bag for work. I'm pleased with my purchase. Prices really were not any cheaper than in London but it was nice to shop without the crowds. We taxied back to the hotel. Taxi's are somewhat cheap here making it much easier than catching the metro.
Worked all day and then in the evening went out to the Spice Souk. Having lived in Uzbekistan, I'm I wasn't that overawed by the spice market but did enjoy talking with the boatmen who were transporting goods on wooden flat bottomed boats to Iran. The journey takes 10 days. It would be so awesome one day to make this journey.
I loved this part of Dubai as it was not so opulaent. I found it easy to strike up conversations with the people I met. I also enjoy the people watching :-)
Four of us managed to eat out for dinner at a small street stall for 40 AED (about 8 pounds UK). This price contrasted starkly with the meal on Day 4...
More work and then in the evening before my 2am flight we all donned our 'glad rags' and headed out to the 'Atlantis' on Palm Island for dinner. http://www.atlantisthepalm.com/dining/specialoccasions/seafiresteakhouse.aspx
What a fabulous evening with great company. I remember having a couple of great cocktails and then an amazing smoked duck salad and a side order of calamari (I am more than slightly addicted to calamari and these were cooked oh so perfectly). They served fresh bread and we requested olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I think we had some spicy wedges somewhere along the way too... the sweet Joven bought us over some complimentary mini-icecreams. Check these out...
I think he was supposed to share them with other guests but we found them all too tasty and he finally relented and left the entire tray at our table!
The taxi ride back to the hotel was the most amazing experience as we discovered that one of our companions is a classical singer and she blew us away with her talent! What a privilege to hear Miss Candice sing like an angel. She later belted out 'I Will Always Love You' in the hotel lobby which really did cause me to shed a few tears as it is always so hard to have to say goodbye to great friends! Hopefully we'll all get to meet up again in London sooner rather than later!
I flew out later that night and awoke half way through the flight to find I'd lost my voice completely... but that is another story. My overall impression of Dubai is that it is all about excess. If you're into shopping (I'm not) and living the high life (again not for me) and you're willing to sacrifice exposure to natural beauty in the environment (such as trees and grass... or you do love the desert) and don't mind the sandy winds, construction sites and can develop a thick skin to ward off the ill-treatment of foreign workers by locals, then perhaps you'll enjoy Dubai. For me it was interesting to see but I very much doubt I could live there. Never say never though, right.