Dubai, the daydreaming emirate

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.

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.

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.


28 Responses to “Dubai, the daydreaming emirate”

  1. Christian 9 February 2011 0009 #

    Buy Sweden? What’s wrong with Denmark???

    Dubai is indeed unreal. I think you Norwegians are wiser with your oil money 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie 13 February 2011 1441 #

      @Christian: When in Dubai, I had a conversation with a Norwegian businessman. He was very impressed with Dubai’s many wild projects and thought our pension fund saving-scheme rather boring in comparison. (I agree with you, though.)

  2. jason 9 February 2011 0629 #

    Once you bought Sweden, what would you do with it? Use it as a big parking lot?
    Nice post – I look forward to reading about the other Emirates (as well as your cruise experience).

    • Anne-Sophie 13 February 2011 1442 #

      @Jason: Yes, indeed – what would one do with it. I suppose build a summer house or something 🙂

  3. Marie 9 February 2011 1146 #

    Dubai is an experience for sure. We joked about buying Belgium.

  4. Kim A. 9 February 2011 1547 #

    I’m drawn to those cool, blue twin towers

  5. Sonja 11 February 2011 1456 #

    It all sounds so outlandish!

  6. Wanderluster 11 February 2011 1805 #

    Your photos capture that “eclectic mix” quite well. What a fascinating place!

  7. Camels & Chocolate 12 February 2011 0731 #

    I was only in Dubai for two too-quick days last spring, but can’t wait to get back and spend more time there. I really wanted to make it out to Jumeirah, but again lacked the time. However, I was just at the Atlantis in the Bahamas in October and am blown away by how the two exteriors are practically duplicates of one another. I didn’t realize they’d be so similar!

  8. Turkey's For Life 13 February 2011 1142 #

    Well, looking forward to the other Emirates posts, as no, I know absolutely nothing about them. Interesting to find out about Dubai’s old quarter too. I’ve never thought it a particularly attractive place as I thought it was all new, and concrete, and glass…and over the top. Maybe we should go to visit and find out for ourselves!

  9. Anne-Sophie 13 February 2011 1443 #

    Thanks for your comments, everyone 🙂

  10. Nancie 24 February 2011 1158 #

    Wonderful post Sophie. If Dubai was a person I think we’d be saying it has multiple personality disorder 🙂

  11. Angela 24 February 2011 1226 #

    I’ve been to Dubai only twice and done very quick tours. I found it a bit artificial, but lately I was talking to a friend who lives there and he said things are getting better, they are trying to get a bit more authenticity back.
    I love Arab culture, I find it so fascinating and I was a little disappointed in Dubai. My next trip to the Middle East will certainly involve countries such as Oman and Lebanon, more traditional than the UAE.

  12. Candice Walsh 24 February 2011 1605 #

    Wow, haha. What a place. You’ve definitely piqued my interest…those skyscrapers are nutty!

  13. Michael Hodson 24 February 2011 1809 #

    this sounds really interesting. Trying to get over to the Middle East right now and need to add this to my list.

  14. home improvements 3 March 2011 1147 #

    I really like the layout of your blog.

  15. Sabina 6 March 2011 0936 #

    I hate to admit it, but I really liked the Dubai Mall. I am not a mall person at all, but this one was just so glamorous – ohhh, the Muslim women all decked out and strolling slowly in groups. Very, very cool. Plus, in the rear of the mall was the Burj Khalifa as well as an extremely upscale area with walkways, dining, etc. I actually went there more than once. Dubai grew on me. I was prepared to not like it, but it wasn’t nearly as phony as I thought it would be. It’s just a really nice, massive, ritzy clean city.

  16. Anne-Sophie 6 March 2011 2105 #

    @Sabina: You know, I liked it, too. Dubai is such a convenient base for visiting heaps of interesting countries in the neighbourhood, so I’ll probably go back soon. My kids really want to see Dubai Mall, too. 600 shops, an ice skating rink, an aquarium and the world’s tallest building – a kids’ paradise it must be 🙂

  17. Roiunlimited 11 March 2011 1717 #

    I’m also fond of roaming everywhere want to capture some beautiful memories in our video camera. Here you had shared your personal experiences while traveling in Dubai and other places, which i liked the most.

  18. Robert G. 12 March 2011 2349 #

    I’m going to Dubai soon. Good information, both in the post and in some of the comments. Thx!

    • Anne-Sophie 13 March 2011 0018 #

      Thanks, Robert.

  19. Dina 26 March 2011 0217 #

    We were there for several days in our transit from Athens to Sydney. It’s hard not to walk hand in hand with my husband since it’s our habit, we sneak hand-in-hand sometimes, but we didn’t break the no kissing rule. Burj Khalifa was not finished when we were there, and it was still Burj Dubai. I took picture of a ride in one of the big mall, and the parents of the girl that was in the ride told me that it was not allowed. Too bad.

  20. Susan 30 May 2011 1254 #

    Dubai is a wonderful place to visit. I especially like the dubai mall, ferry, and of course the Burj.

  21. hotel la rochelle pas cher 2 June 2011 1921 #

    Hello, Dubai is an experience for sure. It all sounds so outlandish. I’m drawn to those cool, blue twin towers

  22. savvytraveler 16 June 2011 0457 #


  23. Portable Hard Drives 27 July 2011 2120 #

    Dubai is on a small list of places I am ambivalent about. It doesn’t hold any attraction for me, and yet I think I should probably go to see what all the fuss is about. Your post and the comments by other readers did intrigue me, however, Anne-Sophie. I might get there sooner than I had thought.

  24. Abu Dhabi Expert 17 February 2012 0527 #

    We lived in Abu Dhabi for many years and visited Dubai regularly. It really is an amazing city with so many things to do-you can never get bored that is for sure!! We love the Jumeirah beach and the Dubai Creek-fab!


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