After leaving Iraq, my colleagues and I had 36 hours to spend in Dubai and here is what we did:
Wednesday, 12 p.m.
1) FIRST IMPRESSIONS
A driver was waiting to pick us up at the Dubai International Airport. His name was Raj and he had emigrated from India to work in Dubai. This booming city is full of migrant workers. With the amount of construction that is occurring, city officials will need all the labor they can find. Raj took us on a brief took around the city before checking into the hotel. Dubai is the land of superlatives. The biggest this, the longest that, the world’s only such and such can be found in this magnificent city. And if what you’re looking for is not already there, just wait a minute and it will be built. Dubai is building and expanding at such break neck speeds that 20 percent of the world’s cranes are located there. I was in awe at the spectacular architecture – a mixture or modern and traditional Arabian and Mediterranean styles. I couldn’t wait to go out and really explore.
2) GETTING SETTLED
Our hotel, the City Star Hotel in Deira Dubai, was nothing special, but my room was much nicer than the containerized housing unit (CHU) that I had been living in for the past two weeks. We were all tired so we decided to take a quick nap before venturing out for the night.
3) DINNER AND A DRINK
After two weeks in the desert, my colleagues were craving a beer and a hamburger. We walked to the Renaissance Dubai Hotel and headed to a bar called Harry’s Place. The bouncer immediately turned us away because one of my colleagues, Mike, violated the dress code by wearing shorts. He returned to the hotel to put on long pants while we waited for him at the Tiki Bar that was down the hall. I had a glass of wine and the other two guys gulped down beers as we waited. The wait staff was friendly and chatted us up until Mike came back. With everyone in long pants, we returned to Harry’s Place. The bar was full of ex-pats puffing on cigars and trying to look cool. We ordered burgers and a couple of more drinks and settled in to relax. The burgers were unimpressive, but they served to sate our craving for American food. A few minutes later, an 80s and 90s cover band took the stage. They were entertaining in a karaoke kind of way. After a couple of hours of hanging out, Steve and I decided to turn in. Mike and Arnold were having so much fun that they stayed until 2 a.m.
Thursday, 9 a.m.
4) BREAKFAST AND MORE SHORTS
I was awakened by the phone’s ringing. I answered and a voice with a Middle Eastern accent said, “This is your wake up call.” I was confused because I didn’t request a wake up call. I soon realized that it was Mike playing a joke on me. “Come downstairs and let’s have breakfast,” he said. I met him a few minutes later and we enjoyed a nice meal in the hotel’s restaurant. Mike was wearing shorts and a T-shirt again. “Don’t you ever learn your lesson,” I asked him. “I’m from Cali,” he replied. “What do you expect?”
5) MIKE & ROCKY
We took a cab to the Deira City Centre Mall to take a sightseeing tour. I told the cab driver our destination, but he didn’t understand. Mike interjected, “We want to go to el mall-o.” I sighed and told Mike that we were in Dubai, not Mexico and that “el mall-o” wasn’t even a real phase in any language. At the mall, we were immediately approached by a guy who called himself Rocky. He told us that he was from Dubai but grew up in Michigan so that made him a “homeboy.” He offered to take us on a tour in his car. It was Mike’s wardrobe that labeled us as easy marks. Arnold and I quickened our pace, while Mike continued to negotiate with Rocky. Eventually, I had to pull Mike away and let him know that we would not get into a stranger’s car in a foreign country. “But he gave me a card,” he said before finally agreeing to ditch Rocky.
6) TOURING DUBAI ON THE BIG BUS
We decided to take The Big Bus Company’s city tour. They operate double decker tour buses and the fare was 200 dirhams (about $55 USD) and the ticket is valid for 24 hours. There were two routes to chose from – the Red traveled to the more traditional sites and the Blue traveled to the more modern sites. We chose the Blue line.
7) THE JUMEIRAH MOSQUE
We got off the bus to visit the Jumeirah Mosque. It is the only mosque in Dubai that allows non-Muslims to visit. Arnold and I removed our shoes then went inside to look while Mike, whose shorts prevented him from entering, smoked outside. The mosque was a beautiful representation of traditional Arabian architecture. I was amazed by the ornate details inside and out. There is a guided tour every Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday at 10am. The fee is 10 dirhams per person.
8) JUMEIRAH BEACH, BURJ AL ARAB, THE WORLD
We boarded the tour bus to head to the next stop. After a few minutes of waiting, the bus driver came upstairs and asked everyone to refrain from sticking their hands outside the bus. He went back to his seat, but came right back up. He walked directly to Mike and pleaded with him to abide by the rule. Mike argued that it was his elbow that was hanging out and not his hand. Arnold and I pretended not to know him. We soon arrived at the Jumeirah Public Beach and saw the iconic Burj Al Arab, the only 7 star hotel in the world. It was designed to symbolize Dubai’s urban transformation and to mimic the sail of a boat. We took off our shoes and walked along the coastline so we could get some nice photographs of the hotels. The beach was full of tourists and locals enjoying a day in the sun. Off the coast, we saw The World, a man-made archipelago of 300 islands constructed in the shape of a world map. I wished that I could have gotten and aerial view.
9) SOUK MADINAT, JUMEIRAH
We stopped at Souk Madinat, Jumeirah for a little shopping and lunch. The shopping mall is a recreation of a traditional Middle Eastern bazaar with narrow, twisting passageways, carved wooden archways and open-front shops. Souk Madinat Jumeirah specializes in traditional Arabian and Middle Eastern goods. After picking up a few souvenirs, we decide dine on Asian cuisine at The Noodle House.
10) JUMEIRAH PALM ISLAND
We decided that it was no longer a good idea to sit on the top deck of the bus because of the intense heat and humidity. After we were seated in the air-conditioned section of the bus, Mike fell asleep. At least we knew that he couldn’t cause any trouble. The bus took us on a short drive around Jumeirah Palm Island. The Palm Jumeirah consists of a trunk, a crown with 17 fronds. Several other Palm Islands were being built along the coast. Building these islands is an incredible engineering feat. I am impressed by the ingenuity and vision of Dubai’s leader, Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktum.
10) MALL OF THE EMIRATES
The Mall of the Emirates is one of the largest malls in the world. The most fascinating attraction is Ski Dubai, an indoor ski slope. I wished that I had enough time to make a run down the slope, but we only had a few hours left to visit. We spent the next hour or so walking through vast shopping mall. Mike and Arnold picked up some postcards and trinkets. I was hoping Mike would purchase some pants, but no luck. When I travel, I like to get my kids souvenirs that reflect the local culture. Since my daughter likes dolls, I bought her Fulla, an 11 1/2 inch fashion doll marketed to girls in Islamic countries as an alternative to Barbie. I couldn’t find any boy toys representative of the local culture so I got my son a rugby ball with Dubai printed on the side.
12) OUR TOUR COMES TO AN END
We wanted to take the Red Line to visit the Dubai Museum and the Textile and Gold Souks, but everyone was worn out and hungry. On the way back to the hotel, we caught a glimpse of what will soon be the world’s tallest building: the Burj Dubai. As I watched the cab’s meter, I soon realized that the first cab driver ripped us off because he charged us 50 dirhams and the actual cost was 10 dirhams. Note: Make sure that you negotiate the cab fare before you reach your destination. We grabbed a quick bite at the hotel’s restaurant before going back to our rooms to pack. I discovered later that Mike and Arnold returned to Harry’s Place for another drink before we got on the plane.
13) DUBAI DUTY FREE
Our driver took us to the airport where we had to wait in long lines to get through passport control and security. When we finally had our boarding passes, we made one last shopping stop at Dubai Duty Free to get rid of our dirhams. This was the largest Duty Free shop that I had ever been in. I bought my wife some 22K gold earrings and a Dishdashah, Thagiyah, Shumag, and Ogal for myself (when I wore the outfit at home, my daughter asked me if I were a shepherd).
14) BACK TO THE USA
We boarded the plane to make our 16 hour journey back home. During the flight, Mike kept ordering beers. It got so bad that the flight attendants started making excuses to not serve him. I just shook my head and went to sleep.