We’re just back from a cruise. The boat was Norwegian, yet we were just about the only “locals” on board. Sailing south along the calm Pacific, we went through the Panama Canal and back north along the much choppier waters of the Atlantic. Quite the experience. However, travelling with kids is not conducive to writing, or even taking notes, so it might be a while for any cruise posts to appear. Instead, for the next few days, I’ll talk about the United Arab Emirates – all 7 of them, beginning with the easiest. Here’s our little Dubai travel story.

Dubai travel story
Abra, Dubai creek

Never did the clichéd phrase “eclectic mixture of old and new” more aptly describe a city. Really! A short ride on an abra (open boat, often with very temperamental captains) across Dubai creek illustrates this beautifully. On one side, the fantastic old souk partly hidden below wooden beamed roofs in narrow alleyways; you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in India. On the other side, hyper-modern skyscrapers of the most futuristic designs.

Twin towers, Dubai

We stayed in Bur Dubai, near the old Bastakiya quarter, across the street from Al Fahidi Fort and Dubai Museum, just 2 minutes from the old souk, a mosque, a Hindu temple and the fluttering activity of the creek. It was a lively, energetic area, and I’d chose it again – not least because of our favourite breakfast spot, the very agreeable Basta Art Cafe, a breezy courtyard by an old wind tower.

I didn’t see Dubai Museum as thoroughly as I would have liked. Dummies were an integral part of the dioramas showing Dubai through the ages and my youngest daughter has a fear of “false doll-people”; they’re just life-like enough to be a bit scary. But I saw enough of Dubai Museum to recommend it, certainly.

Dubai shopping

My daughters would rather recommend Dubai’s shopping malls, I’m sure. One favourite was Mall of the Emirates: Catarina would have liked to live in the colossal toy shop with life-size soft toys: horses, enormous elephants, mountainous mammoths and her favourite, a fierce dragon. Alexandra loved Tiffany’s, mostly because she adores Audrey Hepburn.

At the Mall of the Emirates, hot Ferraris and Rolls-Royces are parked by valets! You’d think people were arriving at the Cannes film festival or something! A bit much? I think so. (I may be biased, of course. In Norway, there is no valet parking. Nor valet anything else. Not even serviced filling stations. We’re the ultimate do-it-yourselfers.)

Dubai’s malls would surely make for fascinating socio-anthropological study projects – and worthy of a photo post on their own. I was especially intrigued by the Emirati women in their various stages of hiding. From the ones completely covered in chadors (even eyes covered!) to beautifully made up young women in black hooded cloaks, but fully opened, revealing shining jewellery, super-tight jeans and impossibly high heels underneath. Such contrasts.

Then, of course, there’s Ski Dubai. Ski slopes inside a shopping mall. Complete with lifts. We didn’t enter. After 4 months of freezing temperatures and shovelling snow, we didn’t feel the need, frankly.

Dubai beaches

On the other end of the temperature spectrum, Dubai’s beaches are worth a mention. With soft, white sand and gorgeous waters, most are in the Jumeirah district, home to numerous luxury hotels, including the iconic Burj-al-Arab. Just beware of the undercover police patrols. No ogling women, guys. Or kissing. An no camera on beach.

No camera on beach

On the tip of Palm Jumeirah, an artificial archipelago dredged from reclaimed land, is another surreal hotel, the fairy-tale, pink Atlantis. I meant to go inside to have a peek, but ended up just gawking at it from the outside for a few minutes. We weren’t alone.

I also meant to see The World, another artificial archipelago in the shape of a world map – and maybe buy Sweden or something. Good thing I didn’t, as the islands appear to be sinking.

Every time we passed Burj Dubai (now Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building), ominously reminding me of a dentist’s drill, I meant to stop and take the lift to the top. But in the end, it was all a bit too much for this sober Scandinavian. Maybe another time. Instead, we had a look at the other 6 emirates. Know their names? Tune in tomorrow-ish for Ras al Khaimah.