Dubai – November 2018

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We’ll have a short stopover in Dubai on our way to Yangon. A couple of nights, with one clear day in the middle. I have no great expectations of Dubai, and anything I read or see just strengthens those thoughts. The vision presented on film and TV doesn’t really fit my idea of somewhere I’d like to go. But, I’m open to a different experience.

The flight is grand, it drags a little toward the end and there are only so many movies you can watch in a row, but overall not too bad. It does take us about an hour and a half to get out of the airport. This does not bode well for the return trip (where, as it happens, we had about thirty minutes to get from one gate the other gate two kilometres away. I’m still not completely sure how we made that). After wandering around aimlessly and without any apparent directions from any sort of sign, we find the shuttle bus to our hotel. A Scottish couple with their two small kids descend on us in a panic similar to our own. We take comfort in our familiar ground and we make it to the hotel together! For a moment, when I laid eyes on the queue for the taxis and we couldn’t find the bus, I thought about giving up.

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For the extreme early morning, there are altogether too many people trying to check into the hotel. For some reason we’re exhausted and make it, just in time, to the room for a small sleep. We hit snooze a few times the next morning before dragging ourselves out of bed. You’d almost think we weren’t in bed at the equivalent, for us, of 10pm last night. We grab a quick Cortado, or similar, in the 24 hour Costa at our hotel and make our plans for the day. Which amend and shift with breakneck speed. We’ll know when we get there.

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Our first stop is the Dubai Mall taking full advantage of the free shuttle bus to said mall. No different to any other shopping centre but, probably, for the volume of money changing hands. There is an abundance of tat. Hanging from every rail. Shopping is the same the world over. The place is wedged. The big difference though; this is a genuine tourist attraction. Imagine directing the latest American traveller to Liffey Valley or Blanch. Incredible. We do manage to get lost in the Mall. Orla playing a blinder as I curl up in a corner and condemn myself to life in this place. We eventually find the lift to the entrance to the tallest building on Earth. Situated, bizarrely, in the basement. At €125 to go up the Burj Khalifa, we skip the only tickets they have left available. We were at 37,000 feet yesterday, so you’re grand thanks. I’d rather see the scale from the outside anyway.

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We catch the fountain show on the lake, in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa. Dancing jets of water accompanied by traditional, but not too traditional, Arabic music. It’s nice. But after a while, at fifteen minutes intervals, we’re ready for off. That and the heat is seriously creeping up, for us anyway. It’s a temperature shift of 25 degrees Celsius minimum.

I manage to hail a taxi in spite of their very complex set of rules about where you can pick people up. He brings us to the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah where you’re not allowed past the front gate. You can take photos from a distance. A real immersive experience. Then he drops us off at the gold souks. He tries to bully us into him waiting for us, but we get our point across and we part ways. A short stroll around and a lot of offers of t-shirts and watches. I get the usual, ‘hey beard man, you want a nice watch’ or the new one ‘hey t-shirt man’. Yes, honing in on my two defining characteristics, my beard and the fact I’m wearing a t-shirt. C’est la vie. We get the Dubai Abra across to Old Dubai where I’m dressed up like a Sheikh by a guy selling some damn fine ladies pants and scarves. Note: not damn fine at all, awful is more accurate. The Abra is a small wooden boat with an outboard motor which brings you around the creek or back and forth to Old Dubai. One could be forgiven for slipping off the side of the packed little boats and into the murky waters. Safety is secondary on these water taxis.

The souks of Old Dubai offer an old world array of goods; Kashmir, gold, frankincense and spices which both delight, and assault the senses as you wander through the covered narrow streets. Definitely an outdoor activity for when the sun is trying to kill you. Probably not authentic at all, but it certainly feels somewhat that way. Apart from the offers of fake watches, fake as in counterfeit, they still tell time.

We had this idea that we were exactly where we needed to be for the famous tea house of Dubai but upon consulting my map, we are not. So, after a tired ten minute brisk walk, we arrive, somewhat on edge, to the Arabian Tea House in the Al Fahidi district. A beautiful restaurant, café, tea house, whatever that sits in an old pearl merchant’s house. The setting is gorgeous, but completely at odds with the immediate surrounding area.

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We head back to the hotel for a rooftop swim and to pack for our onward flight tomorrow. We couldn’t face heading to find somewhere to eat so take an admittedly large risk with the food at the Premier Inn. We are treated to a huge surprise. The food is incredible. Spiced potato like we’ve never had and an unbelievably good dahl. Orla is complimenting the chef via our waiter who simply looks at us like we’ve only just been let out.

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