Dubai...and then some

Dubai…and then some

I just returned from a trip to the Middle East which included time in Israel and the Emirates. However, for the purpose to creating “bite-size” chunks, I will focus this post on the Emirates, primarily Dubai.

The Emirates, along with a long list of other exotic geographic locales, has been on my bucket list for quite a few years. 2012 was the year to check off the Emirates (although I never realized how much I would love it so there may be a few more check marks added!).

When asked about my 2012 goals, I recall telling my father that my plan was to travel to new places. Somehow, I don’t think travel was the answer he was looking for.

However, I packed up and went. It was the best decision I ever made on many fronts!

It was May and although most would find the 100-106 degrees Fahrenheit (albeit dry) intolerable, I was quite content. I could wash my clothes, hang them outside and in less than 30 minutes, they were piping hot. Talk about environmentally friendly!

Robert, who has lived and worked in the Emirates for 6 years, was my incredible tour guide for the week. With such a savvy and knowledgeable host, how could I NOT have a great time?

We spent a lot of time moving around. It was nonstop AND at the same time, amazing. I never wanted to leave!!

With such limited knowledge and awareness of Dubai and the Emirates, I went in with eyes wide open (and a deer in headlights look). All I had been told was that Dubai was the Las Vegas of the Middle East, and that everything was over the top. There were rumors that all women had to be fully covered due to Islamic law.

Well, some of it was correct.

Dubai can be considered a “fantastical” contemporary city especially when one considers that it was only just a desert several decades ago. It can be over the top with the bling bling, the glam, the superficiality…Dubai and the Emirates, in general have a lot of money (despite the economic conditions which affected Dubai greatly a number of years ago). Seeing young kids drive up in the newest Mercedes-Benz with Delorean style wing doors, Lamborghini’s or Ferrari’s or one more expensive jewelry store after the next (I was salivating…could have nicknamed me Pavlov), made NYC seem poorer by comparison.

After a few days of being in Dubai however, I did forget that this country was so new and didn’t notice the “artificiality” that so many had warned about. In fact, much of what I saw reminded me a lot of southern Florida (and I am a huge fan).

Some of the positives of the wealth in Dubai and the Emirates translated into a spotlessly clean, safe and service-oriented country. I don’t recall seeing any garbage on the roads (you could probably walk in bare feet or eat off the streets if you wanted). Using public restrooms in shopping malls…I am NOT a fan. However, in the Emirates, you could. There were always 2-3 attendants waiting to clean the stalls after each person walked out! Customer service…if the US thinks they understand service, they need to do some research. Everyone was extremely polite, helpful, and friendly and went out of their way to ensure you had everything you needed.

I did see women dressed in the abaya (a long black robe completely covering their normal clothes) and even a few wearing a burka which is the abaya with a face covering. Equally so, if not more, I noticed more women, expats, wearing Western style clothes. Tank tops, summer dresses, shorts…it was not an unusual sight. In fact, in my opinion at night, (there were) some women went out with less clothing on than what you would encounter on a typical Saturday out on the town in NYC’s trendy meatpacking district!

From my opinion, Dubai seemed to be more liberal compared to the stories I had been told. However, it is still important to remember that when visiting, you are in a Muslim country.

So don’t think about having sex on a beach in the Emirates. Like anywhere, do your due diligence and understand the rules prior to traveling…anywhere.

With that said, I felt extremely safe in the Emirates.

My lovely host Robert, organized absolutely everything. We drove everywhere and at times, he gave me the keys to his Land Rover, which is, unbeknownst to him, what I consider my Land Rover now…or I would like to believe so. And it was great! My driving skills fit right in, according to Robert. I drove like a maniac but hey, I am a woman…hear me (and my engine) roar!

We spent quite a bit of time in Dubai, visited Abu Dhabi a few times and went to Al Ain (other Emirati cities). Additionally, we went to the border of Oman so I could get my passport stamped! Slowly but surely, my passport will start looking very exotic! Now I have a 30 day visa for Oman. Sadly, I am back in NYC now so I can’t take advantage of it. 🙁

Back in Dubai, a few amazing places I visited or things I saw included the Burj Al-Arab, Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall which has everything from Dean and Deluca to Sephora (why go back to the US when they are bringing the US to the Middle East?) among many other incredible sights.

It was also great to see the range of possibilities as well. You can easily organize a day where you trek out in the sand dunes during the day and end it having high tea at the Atlantis Hotel. However if you do trek out in the sand dunes, make sure you have some extra vertebrae as it is an incredibly bumpy ride…I think I lost a few…in fact, I only lasted 2 minutes! High tea is definitely more my thing. However, if it hadn’t been for the sand dune experience, I would have never seen the Emirati mascot…or mascots I should say…families of camels everywhere…this made it all worthwhile.

As it gets considerably hotter in the summer, the malls become a key hangout. My favorite was the Dubai Mall. It is huge and beautiful. You literally can spend the entire day or possibly a week there…just make sure to have a lot of spending money. It has anything and everything you could ever want. Additionally, they have an enormous aquarium that can keep your kids entertained for ages…in fact the little ones may be so mesmerized by it all that they may not even notice you left them long ago to shop!

Being in the Dubai Mall was reminiscent of NYC with familiar stores including Le Pain Quotidien, Nine West, Zara, Elie Saab, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and the list goes. The best surprise was to see that the Cheesecake Factory was opening in not just one but 2 locations in Dubai! I can’t even find one in NYC, considered home of the cheesecake!!!

In addition to my excitement over the Cheesecake Factory, there were the most amazing chocolate shops including Patchi, incredible dates from Bateel, patisseries galore include Delice, which had the most beautifully decorated windows filled with pyramids of macarons! I was about to move into Al Hallab, this incredible Lebanese restaurant and take-out that reminded me of Adonis market in Montreal. The incredible array of options on the menu was endless.

There is also Mall of the Emirates which didn’t feel as big as Dubai Mall nor as upscale but they did have Dubai Ski…so if you don’t find it fulfilling to ski on sand dunes, you can come to the Mall of the Emirates and hit the slopes…or just use it as an excuse to cool off from the heat outside!

There are some amazing restaurants, lounges and bars including my favorite, 101 Dining Lounge and Bar. The Cavalli Club, Buddha Bar and Armani Hotel are all well worth checking out.

Be sure if you are traveling to Dubai and the Emirates that you have your trusty tour guide with you as it makes all the difference in your experience.

It is only when you leave Dubai and the Emirates and travel anywhere else that you realize how much of a movie set it is. I went through initial shock when I returned to Tel Aviv. Let’s just say that I had to remind myself that Tel Aviv, which is known for its energy, vibrancy, innovation and pioneering mentality is not to be compared to a Dubai. The priorities are just different.

This post is dedicated to my incredible host and tour guide, Robert. Had it not been for you, I would have never brought home such treasured memories and a yearning to return for a much longer visit. For all your generosity, kindness and thoughtfulness, the words “thank you” does not come close to being sufficient.

Robert’s MUST-DO list when visiting the Emirates:

101 at Royal Mirage (The Palm)

Atlantis Hotel: High Tea at Platos and Seafire Steakhouse

Burj Al Arab: Skyview Bar

Pierchic Restaurant (known for its seafood)

Cavalli Club Dubai

Karma Kafe (next to Dubai Mall)

Armani Hotel, Dubai

The top of the Burj Khalifa (recommendation: make reservations)

Dubai Marina Yacht Club

Buddha Bar

Traiteur at Park Hyatt Dubai

The Dubai Beach (close to Burj Al Arab)

The Dubai Marina Beach

Mercure Grand Jebel Hafeet Al Ain Hotel

Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi

Manarat Al Saadiyat Abu Dhabi