My first visit to an Arab market or souk was in Dubai at a place called Madinat. It was not a real market, rather a touristy adaptation attached to a beach resort. Being a souk virgin, the place looked, felt, and smelled authentic to me.The owners spent a lot of architecture, but the presence of Cinnabon and Trader Vic’s spoiled the atmosphere.
Next, I visited the original market of Dubai, which is at the port. One can drive, but it’s more authentic to arrive by boat. Although hardly matching the photos I had seen of souks in Istanbul or Marrakech, the place was more like I expected, oozing with atmosphere and local colour. Of course, tourists were attracted, but wise traders could do business and informed shoppers could find bargains. Staples needed for everyday life were on display, as well as world-class gold/jewellery area.
I thought of this a week ago today, as I peered out the window of an airplane departing Dubai Airport. I could recognise the location of the market (nestled in the curve of the Creek (looks like a river, but isn’t). In the distance, the high-rise towers of Downtown Dubai (a misnomer because this part of Dubai is only a few years old, whereas the Creek district is centuries old), mark the location of the most-modern markets known to man: the mall.
Inside the Dubai Mall is a “souk”, recreated to attract modern-day shoppers. They have done a better job than the folks that built Madinat. But, the malls are a bit extreme, with skating rinks, aquariums, dancing fountains, and ski slopes; movie theatres and countless restaurants; huge grocery chains and every high end brand; and massive decoration, from waterfalls to huge mobiles to dinosaur fossils.
The souk has evolved...
That’s the nice thing about Dubai: there’s something for every taste…in market, food, hotel, and entertainment.
Here is the ultimate contrast in cultures: Arab design combined with US gluttony, proving that tolerance is possible…where money is involved.
This US chain is located on the edge of the Souk portion of the Dubai mall, which means that a few tables have been set up in the mosque-like space.
Some rich guy bought the world’s largest complete skeleton of a dinosaur.
This former vegetarian is on display in the Dubai Mall, in hopes of luring tourists to the desert wonderland. This alone will not do it, but it adds to the list of attractions. At the moment, it is located in an atrium just inside the main entrance.
I was most-impressed/surprised by the size of the (former) beast’s head in relation to the body. Supposedly, it was the size of a walnut. A walnut is larger than a pea, so this beast was more intelligent than pea-brained advocates of unlimited and uncontrolled gun ownership and fans of Fox News.
This our last day at the beach. The flight home is tomorrow. We have had two vacations for the price of two: one week at the Jumeirah Al Qasr and one week at the Ritz. The setting, decor, and ambience are different, so we felt like having two vacations. We liked the contrasts and enjoyed great Dubai weather at both locations. The appeal of this country is the certain good weather...and the malls. This “city” has something for everyone, although summers are tough (50 degrees Celsius). We choose fall and spring, when the weather is perfect for sun-starved residents of central and northern Europe.
Some complain about the rules, but not wanting to have sex on the beach or to become drunk in public, we find few restrictions. I can wait until noon to order an alcoholic drink. Service is excellent almost everyone one might seek it. The infrastructure is modern and functions well.
We will be back...
Here is a bit of advice for anyone traveling to Dubai.
Taxis are the cheapest I have found anywhere in the world. This seems to be a function of cheap gas, low wages, and no taxes. For the same cost of merely turning on the meter in a taxi in Frankfurt, one can travel quite some distance in Dubai.
There is something even better than a taxi: a Lexus taxi. These are late model, white, Lexus sedans with no markings, but with a meter. They cost about 10% more than a taxi but are worth every penny, when one compares them to the cost and shabbiness of even German taxis (I won’t even consider taxi indignity in the United States.) These cars are found outside most good hotels, if you know what you’re looking for or are wise enough to ask the concierge. These are the best deal in transportation in any country or city.
Today, I visited the hotel spa and had a massage. I am not a big fan of massages, but the rest of the family--sans 2-year old--booked massages, so I did not want to be a party pooper. My wife usually has massages, when we stay at a resort, but I rarely do. I find them to be a waste of time and money, as well as providing little pleasure.
Each massage has been a Que sera moment. With the exception of oily skin, I feel the same after the massage as before. I tell myself that the oil is good for my skin, but that might be merely rationalization.
We have stayed at two hotels in Dubai this time (I know, wretched excess). Each has a beautiful spa, ranked with the best in the world. One is reached by boat and is located amongst palm trees. The other is more modern, located on the fourth floor of the hotel. Each has advantages and disadvantages, when one bothers to compare, but each is very pleasant. I did not use the one in the first hotel.
My masseur looked like a young Lurch. His name was Nikita. When he spoke, he sounded Russian, but was from Bulgaria. He had worked in a hospital, where he had learned about physiology. I told him that he was lucky to have ended up in a spa in a luxury hotel, rather than a third world hospital. He agreed. Fortunately, he did not place his hands around my neck and squeeze.
A small building in a tiny park located in lower Manhattan is well-known to New Yorkers and many non-residents. Its name is Shake Shack. In a city known for hustle and bustle and pushiness, each day lines of people wait patiently for--I must say--a rather good hamburger, French fries, and milk shake. I believe that they also offer soft drinks and hotdogs. The building is unembellished, packaging is rudimentary, service is efficient, if brusk, and seating is outside on wooden tables and benches in whatever weather is prevailing. This is a quintessential American establishment, which cannot be improved or copied, because the formula has been proven and the location part of the appeal.
Because of this, I was surprised to discover a “Shake Shake” in a mall in Dubai during my last trip. I did not sample the offer, but was skeptical about trying to copy something unique.
This trip, I discovered another “Shake Shack”, which is larger and located on a strip of newly developed residential and commercial properties at the new Dubai marina. This area is quintessential Dubai: luxurious habitable space wrested from inhabitable desert, spiced by American chains. The setting, decor, and ambience of this so-called “Shake Shack” (well, actually the signs says it) could not be further removed from the original...until one is opened on Mars.
I did sample the wares and was pleasantly surprised. The hamburger was excellent--much better than MacDonalds--and as I remembered the one I had in New York. To indicate how good it was, out 2-year old ate an entire hamburger for the first time in his life.
The ambience was very different, but that is not essential. Someone had managed to transport a culinary experience from a shack in Manhattan to a purpose-built city in the desert of Arabia.
In Dubai, one sees every automobile model, especially the expensive ones. Ferraris, Maseratis, Aston Martins, and Lamborghinis are a dime a dozen. Top model Mercedes, BMW’s, and Audis are so common to be uninteresting.
Stretched versions of various limousines are spotted daily, I of which I find a bit ridiculous. I have had the misfortune of riding in a stretched Cadillac, so I do not understand the appeal. Until today, the most ridiculous stretched monstrosity was a Hummer. A Hummer is dumb enough, but a stretched one?
Today, I spotted a stretched automobile and I had to stare to figure out what it was. I never would have imagined that anyone would be foolish enough to do this and I could even less imagine why anyone would want to ride in it. Perhaps, it is for people who know nothing about cars, beyond that it is a vehicle with four wheels and an engine.
After watching programs on the background on many writers, singers, and actors, I have reached the conclusion that an “overnight success” takes a minimum of ten years. This is the only explanation as to why anyone would build, rent, or ride in a stretched Chevrolet!
Unfortunately--no, on second thought, fortunately--I did not take a photograph. This is not something I need to see a second time...
A glimpse of this chandelier is enough to convince me that the budget--if there was one--to build the Jumeirah Al Qasar Hotel in Dubai was huge to open-ended. Where a simple lamp would have been sufficient to light the stairway, they chose the biggest bunch of crystal available.
This provides an idea of the opulence and evidence that US accounting principles and financial controllers were not involved. No pennies were pinched...
Dubai is a place where concerns about the environment take a back seat to fulfilling human desires for comfort and enjoyment. This hotel caters to many visitors from Russia, a country not leading the charge to save the planet. Not wishing to upset guests, no efforts are made to limit towel use or linen changes. Only food wastage exceeds towel generosity. Trailer loads pass by each evening on the way to a washing machine, the size of which I cannot imagine. Multiply that by the number of hotels and that's a bunch of wash powder and water and electricity.
Of course, one does tend to want to leave real-world concerns behind when on vacation--especially at the price one pays for the privilege--even if one resides in a country known for its Green movement. One does try, but the majority tends to rule this roost, so I have been known to use a towel or two more than needed.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.