Monday, April 5, 2010

A day in Dubai

Travel to Dubai is easy when you fly Emirates to points in Asia. Pick a Dubai hotel, select a tour and break your long journey with a fascinating look into the United Arab Emirates. Levelers will travel safer by making a stop.

Tip: If you have special needs or could use help getting around, there's a special desk for you between rows A and B in the Departure Hall. There are also electric carts to assist in getting from one concourse to another.

I call it Arab easy. The Dubai airport is beautiful and efficient, the city is flat and residents - only 15 percent of whom are Emiratees - are more tolerant of Western-style dress and behavior than in other parts of the Middle East. Not that you want to be an ugly American - or Brit, Canadian, German, etc. Dress modestly and no smooching in public.

You still will be able to roam gold and spice souqs, learn about customs, see what can be accomplished in a mere 30 years and hear the captivating call to prayer that reminds every resident of every Muslim city and village what truly matters.

If flying from the U. S. or Canada, you will arrive in Dubai at night, just time for a look-around, a dip in the pool, a light bite and a good night's sleep. Wake the next morning refreshed, breakfast, tour, shop and enjoy one more night's sleep before catching an early morning flight eastward.

Getting around.

Getting around is easy. As I said, surfaces are flat, stairs are few, elevators and escalators proliferate. Cabs are inexpensive and there is a modern skyway, Metro Dubai, that no one seems to use. I wanted to but there wasn't time. By all means hop on an abra, a traditional water bus, and cross "the creek." It's fun, breezy and easy.  If you start on the beach side it will put you right at the spice and gold souqs which are easy to navigate.

Ride the Big Bus and tour the city - the red route takes you through the city, the blue route to the beaches and Mall of the Emirates.

Tip: Probably due to heat as well as cultural influences, there is no walking culture in Dubai. Everyone expects to ride in an air-conditioned vehicle to an air-conditioned destination whenever possible.

What to see.

Expect the exceptional and prepare for the superlatives - world's biggest, fanciest, best, newest, most luxurious. Although always a stop for traders, Dubai is modern; the buildings you see weren't begun until after 1971 when the UAE was formed. And what buildings - curved, twisted, sail-like, taller than tall and sprouting like weeds.

Burj Khalifa
You can't miss the Burj (Tower) Khalifa, the world's tallest building, but no word yet on when the observation deck will be open to visitors again. It wasn't when I was there. To see this striking tower, go to the Dubai Mall, the biggest in the world and the one with the aquarium, for the best view and photo site. There's a pudgy Botero horse there too. Of course you can't miss the ski slope within the Mall of the Emirates.

Speaking of shopping, there's a whole festival devoted to it (January and February) and there are no taxes. As if you needed an excuse.

Better for an unforgettable overview and panorama, make reservations for lunch, high tea or dinner at the Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah's flagship and the world's first seven-star hotel. Try to arrange a tour of its all two-story suite accommodations and spectacular restaurants. You won't be able to just walk in; advance reservations are required.

Hit the water - the beach to relax, the creek for its hustle and bustle, the Gulf for a cruise around The Palm Jumeirah.

Find out more about Islam, life in the Emirates, why women cover themselves in black or how men tie their headgear at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Theirs is an open doors, open minds policy. All questions are answered in a non-threatening environment; I found it fascinating.

Catch the excitement of creativity at Bastakya, a new complex of traditional Arab style architecture with museums and galleries. Don't miss XVA Gallery,, its thought-provoking exhibits and its lovely courtyard cafe.

This will keep you going for a day and then some and I haven't mentioned sports and festivals, two other Dubai specialties. Next visit, my plans are to take in the horse and camel racing, indulge in a desert safari complete with dune-bashing and camel riding, savor Art Dubai and catch the International Horse Fair.

Where to stay.

Dubai's 352 hotels are modern, high-tech and beautifully decorated. Whether three-, four-, five- or seven-star, you can count on a hospitable welcome. Yes, it would be lovely to stay at Jumeirah's Burj Al Arab if the $2500 per night price were no object. I've seen the suites - living, dining room downstairs, palacial bedroom and bath up - and talked to those who have stayed there and they rave on and on and on.

Tip: Levelers, there are suites with elevators if you'd rather not bother with a grand staircase.

The Westin Mina Seyahi overlooking the gulf was exceedingly comfortable and you can find every hotel chain in Dubai, from Holiday Inn to boutique hotels to where else, the Burj.

Like Las Vegas, another made from scratch city in the desert, Dubai was designed for tourists and I can't wait to be one there again, testing more of Dubai's hotels and tours before traveling through the rest of the Arab Emirates.


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