Our visit to Dubai was framed by our first experience as house (and pet) sitters. Dubai was not in our original list of destinations. But then, during the days we spent in Amsterdam in December, other than catching up with friends and remembering what it feels like to wear jeans -and a different pair of shoes-, we also did some research on “house-sitting”.
This is a concept we had heard about amongst the community of long-term travelers. Basically, you agree to take care of someone’s home -and most of the time their pets and/or garden as well- while they are away. In return, you get free accommodation. Cool idea, huh? It’s not so easy to get started though, as without prior experience (therefore lacking references) it’s not easy to get someone to trust you with their properties and beloved pets. Anyway, any question about how we managed to do it, feel free to ask, but in short, we were “accepted” by this nice South African woman in Dubai, to take care of her apartment, her 10 years-old Labrador Habibi and her 12 years-old Chow Chow Alia.
Being India the next country we wanted to visit, Dubai was conveniently located on the path from Amsterdam, so we thought, why not?
– off to the United Arab Emirates –
Super nice experience, this “house-sitting” thing. We had to walk Habibi and Alia two times per day, feed them and give them some love, which was not difficult at all… just look at them :). It did bring some limitations in terms of the amount of time we could spend away from home (as we had to come back for the afternoon walk) but, having so many days in Dubai, it worked just fine.
– meet Habibi (aka Bobby) and Alia –
– and this was the view from the apartment… not bad, huh? –
Impressions of Dubai
Dubai, commercial and touristic capital of the UAE (the political capital is Abu Dhabi) is, as most of you I’m sure already know or imagine, a place of luxury and abundance in money. But do not think for a second that every bit of Dubai is like that. In some areas you do feel like you are walking in Monaco or Saint Tropez, next to Russian women who don’t give a damn about the “dress conservatively” and “no public displays of affection” rules and walk through the malls in tight crop tops, with three Prada shopping bags in each hand. But there are other areas where it is more like…hmm let’s say Jakarta, with less-educated people pushing their way through the masses without much consideration for the by-standers (example, very few will wait for people to go out of the metro before forcing their ways into it).
– of course! didn’t your apartment also come with a Tesla? tssss –
It’s almost like two parallel realities. You’ll see plenty of luxury super-cars and opulence in and around the big malls, fancy hotels or along the beach promenade of the Dubai Marina… and then a rater chaotic wharf and crowded old markets full of touts in old Dubai, where we felt as if our upcoming India chapter was giving us a sneak peak of what was to come.
It can also be that we noticed that contrast very clearly because we stayed longer than the average tourist and, while staying in a fancy area, took many buses and metros and walked quite a bit (unlike that Prada-holic Russian and the many Lamborghini drivers, I’m sure). Also, with the memories of Aussie’s pristine public toilets still so fresh in our memory, we certainly felt the change.
– “regular” people commuting … 7-star hotel in the background –
Dubai is in permanent construction mode. If you read what I wrote about Christchurch and its many (re)construction sites, well that was NOTHING. They say 20% of all construction cranes in the world are currently in Dubai. And they will host the World Expo 2020, so the construction pace is probably at its peak. This of course brings plenty of construction workers from nearby countries, which doesn’t help much with the average level of civism you encounter. So many construction sites also make it less appealing to drive/walk/cycle around, and probably add to the permanent fogginess you see in the air, which we weren’t able to fully define…was it smog? fog? desert dust? construction dust? … probably a mix.
– almost impossible to get a clear, sharp picture of Dubai’s wonderful skyline –
It’s also not so much of a bike/walk-friendly city (with the exception of certain areas, like the Dubai Marina, where we were staying). One day we decided to rent bikes and go tour the famous Palm Jumeirah (you know, that piece of land claimed back from the sea, with the shape of a palm tree). We thought it would be like a Santa Monica boulevard type of bike stroll. But not. Bad idea … the trunk of the palm is a 5 km long highway with nothing but not-too-appealing buildings (well.. and construction sites) on each side. The 11 km long crescent around the palm is not even accessible by bike and all “fronds” have only-for-residents barricades at their gates. Unless you are staying in one of the 5-star hotels over there or visiting the Atlantis Hotel’s attractions (Aquarium, Water Park…), you can safely skip the famous Palm (and a second one is under construction, a bit further south…. and 50% larger!).
– looks much nicer on Goggle Earth 😦 –
It was interesting to learn that the Emirati Nationals (“the locals”) are a minority. Yes, about 85% of the people living in the UAE are NOT Emirati Nationals, but expats. By the way, you can only be a “local” if your family was always Emirati … you won’t gain that status by being born and/or raised there.
Having said that, Islam is naturally the official religion. Other religions are tolerated -except Judaism- but, interestingly enough, the churches/temples for those other religions -at least the ones we saw- were all together in some sort of “religion center” (like the financial centers you most likely know, with many banks and ATMS together in the same complex) …. Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, Sikh, Korean… all together elbow to elbow. Like saying “we tolerate your religion, but your ceremonies please only in this allocated piece of land”. Mosques, on the other side, are a little bit more ubiquitous (just a little), as by law there must be one every 300 meters.
Here my pic selection…
Superlatives … many genuine ones, some to justify the audio-guide
Boy, do they love their superlatives. Think of any adjective… they’ll probably have the world record. Many are indisputable, of course, like their grand flagship Burj Khalifa, not only the tallest building but the tallest man-made structure on earth (or anywhere else, for that matter), with its 828 meters. Parenthesis on this one, not too long ago we visited The Petronas in Kuala Lumpur and I have to say that our Malaysian friends have a muuuuuuuuch better organized visit. Very impressive, nevertheless, both the Building and the fountain and water show at its feet.
– it is tall, super very tall –
Back to the superlatives, in other cases, you’ll get a subtle “disclaimer” in the same sentence. So, you’ll have the biggest residential complex in the world (…in front of the sea), the largest shopping mall in the world (…based on ground surface), the tallest hotel in the world (…at the time of its construction), the fastest (…double-decker) elevator, the longest (…driver-less, fully automated) metro line, the longest (…acrylic) aquarium panel, and so on. In extreme cases, you’ll get the very generic “… of its kind” -whatever that means-, and in those cases where not even a filtering disclaimer will do, you’ll hear a frankly desperate sounding “one of the most…”.
– it is fast, super very fast-
So much do they love their records that when Saudi Arabia announced the construction of a building taller than the Burj Khalifa…. well Dubai announced the construction of another building with a “yet to be announced final height” (rumor hast it, it will be way over one kilometer tall). Unless the Saudis have a hidden card under the sleeves (and they do wear very ample sleeves), our Emirati friends will not allow to have that record stolen from them.
Last one on this topic… they were probably debating which other record was missing in their files, so now they want to be the “happiest city in the world”. Go figure. So there are “how happy was your experience?” voting stations in many places, and they have even created a “Ministry of happiness”. The measures they are taking to achieve this were not too clear for us though -I didn’t check the website, to be honest- … but I’m sure they will soon announce that “according to the ABCwhatever scale ” they are now THE happiest.
– let us know if you check the site and learn something interesting –
Some Other highlights
We bought 5-day passes for one of those hop-on hop-off buses. They promised so many “free extras” that we thought it was a trick, but we ended up using them ALL! They probably offer so much because most tourists won’t have enough time in Dubai to take advantage…but they didn’t count on us! So, for no extra charges, we visited the smaller emirate north of Dubai, Sharjah, the cool aquarium at the equally cool Atlantis hotel (in the not-so-cool-by-bike Palm Jumeirah), the Dubai museum (ok, the official price for this one was super low anyway), we had a night version of the bus tour, a short cruise in the Dubai Marina, a short cruise in the Dubai Creek and even a short tour to the desert. This last one included 30 seconds on a camel, 30 seconds with a falcon on your arm, a henna tattoo (which took about 30 seconds) and watching the sun go down behind a dune. I don’t complain about the short camel ride though. Any longer and I would have needed and ice pack in the evening. Gee those guys are uncomfortable.
– thank you Big Bus tours!… don’t think you made much profit with us though –
Here some pics from the extras we got “for free” …
New Year in Dubai
Not only did we spend Christmas eve in Dubai (having Lebanese food with our soon-to-leave host, discussing dog-walking routes and such) but also New Year’s Eve. Now, you will think there had to be soooo many extravagant and fancy parties to choose from, in such a place for such a night… and there certainly were. Small detail, we didn’t have the budget not the looks. Our most elegant shoes were our Nikes, worn non-stop for the past 6 months, and both of my pants have more zippers and pockets than Michael Jackson’s “Bad” outfit, so, any decent party was out of the question. We heard that the metro would be operational throughout the night, so decided to go and check the light show at the Burj Khalifa. Arriving was not too bad… and the fact they had separate viewing areas for “bachelors” and “couples/families” (quite a common practice here) also helped. If only we hadn’t ended up at the wrong side of the tower, where the light show was probably only 20% as cool as on the “main side”. Oh, and we only had to walk about 8 km back through highways with no sidewalks, given the thousands of souls trying to get into the metro stations after midnight. That’s basically how our 2018 started.
– wrong side versus correct side –
We took a day tour to Abu Dhabi and its own set of superlatives (had to pay for this one, unfortunately 🙂 ). They have the largest Ferrari logo which covers the fastest roller coaster in the world. Those were probably the most expensive minutes in our trip so far, but well worth it!!! (no guarantee Sandra will agree with that last statement, though).
What we saw of Abu Dhabi was considerably modern and also in growing mode. Our tour bus passed -amongst many other landmarks- by a building more inclined -by design- than the Tower of Pisa, the recently opened Louvre and, best for last, the impressive Great Mosque. Very very impressive, including their very own record-holders, please give it up for the world’s biggest crystal chandelier and the largest Persian rug!
Here some of the pics from the crush course we had about Abu Dhabi:
And so, after 15 relaxing days (did I mention the gym, pool and steam bath we had in the building?) and after a nice dinner where we tried real Emirati food for the first time (very tasty, by the way), came the end to our Emirati (and house-sitting!) adventure. We loved the concept and and enjoyed the experience very much.
About Dubai…not sure we’d love living here, but it’s definitely a good place for a quick holiday escape, with an interesting combination of cultures, plenty of landmarks and cool places to visit, lot’s of potential shopping and a confirmation that even if money can’t buy everything, it can certainly buy a lot.
And I don’t have any musical moment this time, so I’ll leave you with a few seconds of the interior of the Great Mosque in Abu Dhabi (which by the way earned its spot in the featured picture of this post about Dubai 🙂 ).
Jaipur – India, February 13th, 2018