We are in Dubai
We laughed a lot at the joke we had imagined would feature in our travel notes on Dubai, and namely how George would bite and scrawl at the wall that divided our obligatory separate hotel rooms. This was a story from the day before our trip, when we read somewhere that an unmarried couple is not allowed to share a room in Dubai. That was it…. And while I was terrified by the dry weather and high temperatures expected, George was determined to devise a strategy of how to get to my chambers. If we were in a film plot, script writers would have quickly married us off, just to fit the story-line. Now let me tell you…. The fact you will not be sleeping together since you haven’t pledged eternal friendship, faithfulness and passion does not involve another set of bed linen. Forget what the Internet says. There is a lot written there about Dubai. Well, we’ve checked how much of this “lot” contains very little truth, in fact.
When we dropped a word we were going to UAE, some of our friends reacted like this: “What on earth would you two do there? That people like you are going to like it is out of the question! It’s all megalomania, high-rise buildings, luxury and sand.” Little did they know that the two of us would have fun, even if we sat in a mud puddle right in the middle of a country road.
As for the luxury, I admit I am a bit of Georges Sand while George’s ascendant sign is Leo, so our attitudes to luxury meet somewhere half-way. Well, there’s everything in Dubai – a Lamborghini not yet seen in Europe was parked in front of our hotel, and at the other end of the road people were taking the underground and changing trains, hurrying as if their life depended on it. About the tall buildings… Some people see them as examples of megalomania. We saw architecture and engineering obstinacy behind the idea of bringing water to a height of 828 meters, or the last floor of the building. In short, we aren’t going to use 3 words to say “We like Dubai”. We’ll use five instead: “We’ll come back for more.” But some day. Not right now.
We’re always honest in our accounts. Our first encounter with Dubai dampened our enthusiasm as quickly, as a curious mischievous child blows a candle. I kept on dwelling on all the hours ahead that had to be spent on two major activities: walking in the sun and hiding from the sun. However, I quickly shed off these dismal thoughts, once I gave in to my habits, blended with the atmosphere and immersed myself with the tastes and colours of Dubai. This is a very different city. Very different. George was calm. After they had addressed only him at the reception (with the two passports in his hand), it was clear we would put them into the same drawer … and in the same room.
For four days in Dubai we felt safe and free, the only prohibition we obeyed was “no kisses, no hugs”. We didn’t even hold hands. We didn’t have a spare 250 – 5000 dirham to pay through the nose for a kiss. Now the issue of kissing is somewhat exaggerated or else is a matter of luck. The locals do have the right to complain, if you snog indiscriminately, as you disturb their comfort and hurt their understanding of the world. A sinful kiss may officially result in deportation. Immediate deportation. It hasn’t happened often, but who knows when they’ll run out of luck? We kept close to each other whenever we popped in for a coffee or a quick snack at the numerous touristic establishments, covered with black curtains, as it was the Ramadan and the local people, who had been devotedly fasting and praying, should not be exposed to temptations.
Day one… We arrive late at night in an area with lots of construction going on and many hotels. Before us is the city highway. Behind us, in the distance – low-rise construction and new excavation works. Not a single green tree; the basic colour scheme is blue for the sky and ochre for the sand( for building purposes) The area is under development, the project is getting on, soon there will be palm trees. We can hear the roar of the hundreds of cars overtaking each other along the six lanes in one direction only. George and I are also puzzled by the stationary cars in front of shops and hotels, with no people in them, but with their engines working. Later we’ll learn this is because of the air-conditioning. You get into the car, and, oh, you are in heaven… 18 degrees C. We are hungry. There is a Lebanese restaurant nearby, #hashtag for a name. We are in the Al Barsha area. It’s 33 degrees outside. We have a hot night.
“You coming with me?”
“What time is it, George?”
“Come on! Let’s find our little places, far from the buzz of traffic and cranes. I’ll be taking photos. You’ll find a story to tell.”
I’m somewhat tempted. In my other half, however, I’m still sleeping, and then, without having pulled my own weight, I merely go to see whatever George found at 33 degrees and 5 o’clock in the morning. And I already have a story… We arrive in the days of the Ramadan. No eating or drinking, not even water, from sunrise till sunset, smoking takes place in secret. Based on these props only, I can create a funny short story about how George is training his will power, as only his coffee must come six times a day. If he misses one, he gets as jittery as a woman whose salary is not enough for those shoes “to die for”.
I get up. This site is called Red Sneakers, not A Single Red Sneaker, isn’t it? We leave the hotel. George disappears to hide somewhere for a cigarette in secret. I lean back on the swing in the hotel lobby. We take a taxi and tell the driver to take us to Burj Al Arab. And when we arrive, we jump out with a spring in our eager steps, ready for views and words. We logically calculate that if the hotel with the outline of a sailing boat features in every other photo of Dubai (you know those shots, where tourists seem to hold the peak of the building)… we assume we are near this hyper popular photo point. But, no. We walk along the second main boulevard ”Jumeirah Road” and are looking for an entrance to the beach. Hotels line the highway, one after the other – magnificent gardens, gems of architecture, but why wonder, this is not the village of Shkorpilovzi for you, is it, where we just run along and the whole coastline is an endless entrance to the beach. At last we find a tiny entrance and realize the distance we have covered is mind-blowing, as Burj Al Arab itself is already a mere point. We ought to have found Jumeirah Open Beach, but we never saw any directions to it. And then it dawns in on us that this city is very different. Here we cannot get from point A to point B in a leisurely walk, first because the sun is rising higher in the sky and the heat is unbearable, and second, whoever takes walks along highways? George mounts the 16 kilos of photo equipment on his back and we resign to the thought that we will be the first who would not support the top of the world’s only 7-star- hotel in their pictures. And we set off. We trudge slowly on, on the verge of a sunstroke. The most valuable thing we had in our luggage was not our bathing suits, which we never used anyway, but shawls and scarves. We had packed very light clothes covering the whole body plus many shawls.
We reach a cluster of buildings in antique Arab style with beautiful windows that seem to have come straight from the story of Aladdin, and plenty of canals. We later learn this is the so called Arab Venice with the same boats and five kilometers of artificial canals. One of the favourite tourist attractions is Madina Jumeirah
From there on, straight on along Jumeirah Road, past the beautiful gates of the Sheikh family palaces. Initially we have decided to walk to the skyscrapers of Dubai Marina. But this is a mistake. Don’t do what we did. The notion that we’ll be there in a minute is an illusion. It’s probably how in the past Bedouins saw oases in the desert. The view of the tall buildings straight ahead, which look imposing even though far away, distorts our intuitive notion of distance. We catch a taxi. Our driver’s name is Ali.He came to Dubai from Pakistan 8 months ago and is happy with his choice. He provides the helpful information that we can take a taxi in front of any hotel or at the Taxi Exit in front of each mall. He stops at the centre of Dubai Marina and gives us about 15 minutes to look around. Here the second moment comes when we know where we are. We are in a place that is like no other. Mind you, we’re not saying yet whether this place is good, or not so good. Now we’re going to let out a secret: we want to return and travel for a while in the smaller emirates: Fujairah with its rocky landscapes and Sharjah with its cultural influence and 15 museums.
Ali drives us back to the hotel. Again George disappears for a clandestine cigarette. Again I am on the swing. We have substituted the heat with a 30 min cooling time in the hotel lobby. Then we set out yet again with Krissy and Alex. They’ve both lived in Dubai for long. They work in the tourism business. “Many people think of Dubai within all the fostered frameworks and prejudices about the Arab world, whereas life here is in many aspects modern and cosmopolitan and the emirates are a kind of school to teach you tolerance. So many ethnic groups inhabit the territory. At the same time it is very safe, with nearly zero crime. The law applies to everyone and is above everything”, says Alex, while he’s driving along a mega boulevard linking the separate regions of the city. It truly isn’t for pedestrians, we think… And right on cue, Krissy cuts into our thoughts…”If you love walks, go downtown where Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall Fountains are. Or walk around Dubai Marina. It is romantic there and very beautiful, especially in the evening.” We are romantic, so we are going.
We have some water and go out in the street, where you are hungry and thirsty until sunset. You don’t grumble. Both George and I travel taking into consideration the life of the host country. There, think how much ginjinha we drank in Portugal! It must have been a compensation for Dubai. It must have been written in the books right then that we’ll find ourselves in the emirate in times of fast.
We climb up the escalators from the parking lot and reach ground level… And what we see is already our Dubai. It reminds us of the arts quarter in Plovdiv. Earthen colours everywhere, the shadows of equally high opposite houses falling over the narrow streets. For an admission fee of 10 dirhams we enter the Museum of Coffee which exhibits coffee mills from all over the world, Ethiopian flavours, stories about coffee in dates and years, a cup of Arabic coffee and a date as a welcoming gift. Next we enter a gallery of various art spaces… Garments, jewellery, a café, accommodation. It is exactly here, at XVA, that we try the most delicious lemonade ever. Lemon mint lemonade is as thick as an ice cream, very fresh and icy as hell. In the bill its price features as “the well- known”. We have a fabulous afternoon in Bastakia* on the side of Creek.
* Local heritage can be seen in the small authentic quarter of Bastakia. Here you can take a walk among the old houses wind towers – the natural air-conditioning of the past. Bastakia is the art quarter of Dubai. The name derives from Iranian roots and comes from the village of Bastak in Iran. Some say that part of the local population once came from the region of Bastak. Iranian ships stopped at Creek channel and discovered the area. On the other hand, the history of the local population being related with the desert tribes is even carved on the 1 dirham coin as the symbol of Bedouin hospitality – the traditional Arab Dallah teapot.
In the evening we are about to enter Dubai Mall. We don’t get fined for a long-awaited impatient kiss. We get into the world’s biggest mall. The night shines bright in Dubai. Skyscrapers, malls, streets, cars. It’s beautiful. Millions of diode lights encompass the city and turn it into a glowering brand. Only in Bastakia light comes from lanterns. Only in the markets light comes from street lamps. The spirit is different there. It is the spirit that comes from the dallah pot.
In Dubai Mall we don’t climb up to Burj Khalifa. We pick up a great spot on the terrace of the Apple store and watch the dancing fountains. I don’t know how one cannot like Dubai. Here everything that staggers with its scale and impresses with its vision is a product of strategy, of human thought and labour, of the talent of the best architects in the industry and top engineering. Singing fountains. Dancing fountains. I keep thinking about the vision of a person who changed this place over 40 years; he got Dubai off from the camel saddle in the desert in order to put the city in a limousine; to take it out of the Bedouin tent and whizz it up with the world’s fastest lift to the top of the world’s tallest building. An Arab state where the sheikh welcomes progress, while also taking care not to fulfill the prophecy of the Holy book, according to which where the high-rise buildings begin, religion will end. Even if this were the only contrast in Dubai, it is worth the experience.
And while Bastakia remains our favourite place in Dubai with its romantic feel and the secret tale of pearl divers, the Lahbab safari blew our heads off! Now this is a top experience. At some point in time the car has only two tyres on the edge of a high dune, the ground is “swimming”, the driver is a master of the sands. He has Arab music on and is telling about his clan. I ask him how many wives he has. He answers: ”Two!” I ask how a man can love two women. He grins. ”With one heart”, I answer my own question. Later we’ll hear another story about polygamy, which is more connected with past history and less with religion. In the past, when men died in wars, somebody had to take care of the women, and this was a man’s duty. Many women were left without husbands and someone had to look after them. Polygamy is care, no wonder each wife is entitled to an equal share of everything… Property, car, money and attention. The same for each one. And yet the first wife is “first among equals”, as she has to agree about any next rival. Friday is a day off in Dubai. It is the day of the clan and the family. I dare not ask the taxi driver who exactly he is going to be with on Friday. I remain baffled.
Day next… We are at the Souk.
Ali is the boy from the spice shop in one of the 3 popular souks (markets) in the old part of Dubai. Two of the souks, for gold and spices, are in Deira, and the one about fabrics – in Bur Dubai.
Ali’s beaming smile makes us stop in our way. It’s the kind of smile that’s not only on the face, but also in the gestures, in the eyes. He sells spices with the same drive and enthusiasm an auctioneer strikes a deal. We appreciate his qualities of a trader, as he manages to sell a dozen spices to two people like us, who are not exactly famous for their passion for cooking.
“О, no, it’s not for cooking. It’s for bad eyes”, Ali says and remains surprised at our desire to buy pink pepper to enhance the taste of cocktails. After that we start thinking that what looks like pepper is some cure for eye ailments. But it wasn’t that.
“There are people with evil eyes, who can cause harm. And when such an evil glance comes your way, you pick up several seeds and put them in the candle. They burn away, and so does the evil someone wished on you,” Ali goes on.
– Can your girl cook delicious?
– Very delicious. – says George.
– Yes, yes, I thought so –Ali laughs and gives George a friendly pat on the belly.
We leave with three dried lemons, pink pepper, tea and saffron. A kilo of saffron in the Bur Dubai market is between 20 000 and 30 000 dirhams. We learn a lot about this extremely expensive spice from Ali, including how to season rice with it. He shows us four boxes – from prime to fourth quality stuff. He puts our saffron in a little gilded box, offers us some dates and shows us a magic trick with mint seeds. The smoke that fills the little shop will protect us from colds at least until the end of summer.
Ali is from Iran. He came to Dubai a year ago to earn better wages. He shares with us that it’s beautiful in Iran and we must go some day. Ali collects banknotes. The one we leave him will be put next to the Romanian leia.
Now we think and talk about the people…. About the colour scheme of a city they create. It’s the colour scheme of the soul, not of the ethnos or religion.
And Dubai… Dubai amazes us with the unique condition of humans in terms of engineering thought, architectural vision and an idea of the future. In Dubai they are already in the future. Together with Abu Dhabi they are preparing one of their greatest infrastructural projects and have already provided a track for the execution of Hyperloop (Elon Musk’s supersonic jet plane) it will take only 12 minutes to cover the 125 km from Abu Dhabi to Dubai at the speed of 1200 km/h.
In Dubai they already know what the city will look like in 2050 and have shot a short film about their dream of the future. It can be seen at the Dubai Framework – a huge construction framing the link between past and future and installed between the old part and the new part of Dubai.
Our most romantic experience remains the galley trip around Dubai Marina and the tastes of the Arab world. During the dinner we try a lot of kebab, schawarma and some small fried dough balls in milk-and–sugar syrup.
The next day we wake up with a conversation that can well be told as a joke….
– I want to go to the beach… (I’m testing how strong and unconditional George’s love is).
– No, you don’t! (he loves me, he doesn’t want me to overheat)
An hour later we don the shawls, put on the long linen shirts and take the bus to Abu Dhabi. The White mosque is a real masterpiece. It is an architectural example of the Arab world that was built in historical detail: the arches follow the moon phases. Columns – all 1096 of them remind one of the date palms, of which there were 1200 when the city was founded. The mosque is a jewel named after Sheikh Zayed, the first UAE President and the emir who declared petrol a national wealth.
The construction of the White Mosque took 10 years, and a year after the first prayer took place there, in 2008, it was open for tourists. The large hall boasts the world’s biggest carpet – 2400 sq.m. and the largest mosque chandelier in the world. It weighs 12 ton, has a diameter of 10m and is decorated with the most expensive Swarowski crystals.
Apart from a remarkable tourist sight, Sheikh Zayed mosque is a working religious temple. Many call it “the most welcoming mosque”.
Remember that if on visiting the mosque you have lipstick, perfume, cigarettes or a gas lighter, they will be confiscated.
Abu Dhabi is much greener than Dubai. There are 20 parks in this city. The late Sheikh Zayed, who turned the desert into a garden of Eden, was awarded two prizes in recognition of his contribution to ecology, one of which posthumously.
In Abu Dhabi the palm date is truly of national importance, together with the falcon.
Whether you are going to like it in Dubai…we don’t know. It first depends on who you’re travelling with. And to the same extent, on whether you have an understanding of differences. We not only understand them, we often embrace them. In a moment of such appreciation we enter a dark booth and get out in abaya and kandura. We have always been told we look like Italians. This time the photographer quietly whispered “Mashallah”. Greetings from Adhadiat Riadit Hamra (i.e. from the Red Sneakers)
Travel, people! Wherever the sun rises and sets, because this way, in between the sun going up and then down, you will find a place like no other in the world. Because we like to travel… Because we find people’s world interesting, and places are a mere direction in this world.
Curious facts about Dubai and Abu Dhabi…
° Out of 195 recorded nationalities in the world, 165 are present on the territory of UAE with its seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Ras Al Kaimah, Umm Al – Quwayn, Fujeira and Sharja.
° Dubai is the city with highest turnover in the world.
° Dubai was first settled in the region of Bur Dubai, where today is Bastakia. The population was 1200.
° Pearl diving was the major livelihood until the beginning of the 20th century. Then Japan started to raise natural pearls in man- made farms. This is why the locals say: “When god took us the pearls, he gave us petrol.”
° 1966 sets the beginning of the “after petrol” era.
° Try the taste of Dubai in umali – a dessert reminding of Bulgarian “popara” or in karak –Arab drink of tea leaves and sweet condensed milk.
° for Expo 2020 the Museum of the Future will be ready. With its oval shape and a hole in the middle it recreates the connection between earth and sky and points towards the unknown. The windows of the museum have the shapes of Arabic words from the Holy Book.
° Dubai Marina was built from ground zero in less than ten years’ time.
° The world’s largest Ferris wheel is about to turn in Dubai – 240 m.
° Five out of the ten tallest hotels in the world are in Dubai.
° 10 m a second is the speed of the lift in Burj Khalifa, or exactly 1 minute to the 124th floor.
° 1600 m of gilded ornaments can be seen in Burj Al Arab, the world’s first 7-star – hotel.
° 11 million liters of water is the volume of the aquarium in The Atlantis hotel.
° A small figure on the registration plate of a car equals huge wealth. Number 1 goes to the Sheikh’s car.
° In Dubai the highest sunscreen factor is 110.
Useful in Dubai…
We didn’t go to the beach, we admit it. However, this is what we found out: At Palm Jumeirah there is The Point, from where you can enjoy the beautiful view of the biggest hotel in the city – The Atlantis. JBR is the beach at Dubai Marina. A shower there costs 5 dirham a minute and the admission fee is 180 dirham (90 lv). Jumeira Open Beach is wide and free, but there are no showers.
All taxis in Dubai are state-owned and coloured yellow to beige with the roof painted differently. The minimum fee you have to pay, even if the meter shows less, is 12 dirham.
Well, this is it! In Dubai you can be sure something will draw your attention and you will meet at least one man named Ali.