Sunday, April 12, 2009
11 April 2009 DUBAI --- An Arab Las Vegas? Not sure what we expected to see here, but we were completely surprised. Dubai is one of the 7 states of the United Arab Emirates and is the second largest. Population is about 1.2 million, but only 17% are natives – the rest are foreigners.
The first thing you notice is that everything is clean and neat – like Singapore. The next thing you notice is the skyline of skyscrapers including one under construction that will be the tallest building in the world when completed.
They do have oil wealth here, but some pretty wise leaders realized that won’t last forever and have invested in trying to make Dubai a tourism center, a financial and business center, and a trade center. They have invested heavily in infrastructure. On our tour we drove down a 12-lane expressway and passed the partially completed stations of a new mass transit light rail system. No poverty or beggars here. They also pride themselves as being one of the safest cities in the world. It is expected here that both men and women will cover their knees and shoulders in public, but we saw plenty of exceptions.
Traditional Arab dress was visible but not close to the majority of what you saw. Beachwear was what you would see anywhere, but perhaps a bit more conservative (no string bikinis).
You have all read or heard about the artificial islands they are building – mostly for hotels and vacation homes. On our tour we visited the one shaped like a palm tree – Palm Jamirah. The trunk of the palm tree is about 3 miles long and has a monorail that runs up and down it. Some of the arms of the palm have villas built which appear to be occupied. The trunk has hotels and shops -- mostly under construction. The Queen Elizabeth II is moored in Dubai. The plan is to fully restore it and moor it at the Palm Jamirah to be the anchor? hotel for a hotel and retail area. At the crest of the palm tree there is an Atlantis Hotel very much like the one in Nassau. Brian and Clyde went inside and visited the very impressive aquarium with such a large central tank that they had a whale shark as one of the occupants. While he was doing this Mary and our friend Doris stayed behind at one of the huge upscale malls that seem to be everywhere. They had a nice lunch and Mary had a $17 pedicure. Dubai wants to be a big shopping destination and they have two shopping festivals here each year. Their airport gets millions of passengers each year.
We joined up later to visit the world-famous (we had never heard of it) gold souk. A souk is a market and this place is amazing. Imagine maybe four square blocks of streets with stores that sold only gold and jewelry. They did not bother with anything less than 18K and most of what was offered was 22 or 24k – and talk about exotic stuff. Most of it was fashioned for Arab tastes and ran to ornate gold bracelets, belts and necklaces – some with precious stones. Most of the gold was a much darker color that you would see in gold jewelry in the US. Clyde was very impressed. The ladies were not all that hot to visit this souk but then it was hard to get them out of it. We had to grab a cab to be sure of making it back before the ship sailed.
Most things buildings and attractions were quite new, but they have gone out of their way to preserve some of the old buildings and markets. Some of the new things have been built in the old style too giving it a Disney-esque feel in some areas.
They had beautiful beaches here with white sand and blue water. This is that land of indoor ski slopes and malls with ice rinks. There are golf courses, fountains, lawns and flower beds that beautify the place.
The place had a boom town feel. Construction was going on like mad – there were cranes everywhere. Much of the architecture was futuristic and fanciful and there are so many tourist attractions and activities it had a definite Las Vegas fee.
Despite this being a Muslim country, the leaders are very practical and you can get a drink at the hotels. They even had a duty-free shop at our cruise terminal where we bought some good wine at reasonable prices. They have even established some “free zones” where businesses are not subject to any of the normal business restrictions usually imposed by the government.
All-in-all though I would just as soon go to Las Vegas and save the airfare.
Next three days at sea and then Oman. After that we go towards the Horn of Africa and “Pirate Alley”.