I have seen the future and..... it's hot
14.10.2007 41 °C
I'd been interested in visiting Dubai for some time but when we actually arrived I was just so tired that I didn't really care. Alot of people I know had said the Emirates were a really good airline with excellent service, but this was not our experience. The flight from Milan to Dubai goes via Rome. The flight takes a little over an hour and then there is an hour stopover. After welcoming us on board at Milan we never saw any of the crew again. There wasn't even the offer of a glass of water during the flight. As soon we we landed the crew announced that all passengers travelling on were to remain in their seats while the plane refueled, was cleaned and the crews changed. Then the crew left. So we waited another hour, again without even the offer of a glass of water. There was chaos as the new passengers got on at Rome and the new crew tried to work out where everyone needed to sit, then, as soon as everyone was on-board the first and business class passengers got their drinks service while the rest of us plebs had gone nearly three hours without a drink.
We arrived in Dubai around midnight. We rapidly transitted through immigration and out of the airport. The heat and humidity of Dubai crashed down on us like a wall. It was unbelievable, unbearable. We'd booked a room at the Ramlee Guestline Hotel through LastMinute.com and had only sketchy details about where it was or what it even looked like. Our taxi driver advised that actually there were three Ramlee Guestlines in the city - two of them on the same street - so it was a bit pot luck. He dropped us off at the first Ramlee Guestline and I tried to confirm with the staff whether this was the correct hotel. The staff were all Indian and mutually there was a bit of struggle with accents but the concierge eventually confirmed we did have a reservation. As soon as they tried to check us in however it became increasingly obvious that this was not the right hotel. The booking was in the Malcolm and Mr Malcolm hadn't paid, whereas we had. Nevertheless, the staff were helpful and agreed we could stay in the room until the payment issue could be dealt with by the day staff. It was then off to the room.
Cost had been the primary factor in choosing the Ramlee, but we were a little disappointed in the hotel. It was quite old and shabby, with very 1980's decor, but when we were let into the room we were gobsmacked. Firstly it wasn't a room, but a huge hotel suite with three separate bedrooms, lounge with a flatscreen TV, dining room and a bathroom large enough to practice surfing in. True, it was decorated in 1980's style, but that was hardly the point. Clearly this was not our room. We tried to convince the bellboy, but he just wanted to show us how to work the TV and airconditioning. So I phoned the front desk. They too had become a little suspicious that we were not Mr Malcolm (having checked out our passports) so we all traipsed downstairs again. They very kindly apologised for the mix up and sent us over to the correct hotel in the hotel car. The second Ramlee was much more modern than the first so although our room did not contain its own private swimming pool we were very satisfied.
Shelly was keen to get up early and set off to explore and do some shopping, but we were both exhausted. We had breakfast at the hotel and then went back to our room and plan. Today however was Friday, the Muslim Holy day, and we were in the middle of Ramadan, the Muslim Holy month. Consequently all restaurants were closed all day and the shops are shut until late afternoon. The streets outside our hotel were deserted. So we slept until 1pm. I was so thankful at last to get some restful sleep. About 2.30 we dragged ourselves outside. The helpful staff tried to determine where we were going but the advice they gave was either contradictory or incomprehensible (eg, "Don't walk, take a taxi" "Can you order us a taxi?" "No." "Where do we get one then?" "Oh, just walk up the road. But if you go shopping, no need for a taxi. Just walk up here. Big shop. All the same." "Err, okay, thanks").
The heat was scorching. The only other comparable heat I'd felt was in Aswan in Egypt - dry, baking, desert heat. We walked up a couple of blocks (walking! In this heat? Are we crazy?). The only other people on the street were a couple of tourists wandering aimlessly like ourselves. An Indian guest worker hurried up to us to beg for money, but we had none. We turned towards the Dhow Jetty, a couple of blocks from our hotel. It's supposed to be a good tourist attraction, but there was nothing to see today. Everything was shut. Piles of goods were stacked up on the dockside. Indian workers were lying around under the shade of the few trees and stared as we walked past. We decided to leave. We'd only been out for about half an hour and were already drenched in sweat so we grabbed the first taxi we saw and went to The Mall of the Emirates, a gigantic shopping mall in New Dubai. We drove through the new CBD, which seemed to be nothing more than a showcase for exceptional modernist architecture. It was stunning, and highlighted the apparent dearth of architectural creativity in our own home city of Perth (honestly, don't get me started on Perth, planning and architecture! It will only end in tears). In the centre of the Mall is a model of a new development - Dubai Waters - that is the stuff of science fiction fantasy. All of this city - which is bigger than the current city of Dubai and many other cities of the world - is to be built on reclaimed desert with an artificial waterway. It's visionary and incredible.
But models of future cities is not Mall of the Emirates' claim to fame - it's the famous indoor ski run and alpine village. It's such an incredibly crazy idea - an artificial ski field in a shopping centre in a desert country. Not being skiers we did not go on the run but we did do toboganing. It was extremely cold (durr!) and great fun. The rest of the day was spent shopping. Now, I'm not well known for my stamina when shopping, but suspecting this might be a long day I'd gone to Borders bookstore and bought myself a decent book (worked a treat). After visiting every single shoe store and dress shop in the Mall we finally left around 1am.
The next day we decided to take in some actual sight seeing and went to the Old Town and Spice and Gold souks. As far as souks go it certainly wasn't the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, and the architecture of the Old Town wasn't particulary interesting. By mid-afternoon we were done and took a taxi back to the hotel. We had a swim, cooled off and then took a taxi over to the Burj al-Arab, the famous sail shaped hotel that has become symbolic of Dubai. After an almost half hour taxi ride we were a little surprised to find that you cannot actually approach the Burj unless you are a guest or have a reservation. I can understand the hotel and its guests not wanting to be disturbed by tourists wanting a bit of gawp, but then this building was created specifically as a symbol for Dubai and is advertised as such. Certainly there should be some viewpoint from which people can look at the building a take a photo. Instead Shelly quickly snapped a shot from the driveway as the taxi was turned about. Frustrated as the light began to fade we we went to the Jumeriah Medina complex next door. This luxury hotel, resort and shopping complex was built in the style of the old city (except on a monumental scale). As a place it was fairly lifeless but it was the only place from which you could actually get a decent glimpse of the Burj. We wandered around it's artifical canals, palm groves and shops before catching another taxi to another theme park shopping mall, the Ibn Battuta Mall.
Ibn Battuta was an Islamic Marco Polo, leaving his home in Tunisia to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca in the thirteenth century, he decided to keep on travelling. Like Polo, who travelled in the same era, he capitalised on the Pax Mongolica to travel in the wake of the Great Khan across central Asia to China. Both travellers threw in their lot with the Mongols, Polo becoming an Admiral in the Chinese navy and Battuta became a Moslem judge in the Imperial Court (the Mongol Khans were quite flexible in matters of religion - they variously used the services of Christians, Moslems, Buddhists and Pagans as it suited them). Battuta travelled for some 40 odd years before finally settling down again in Tunisa, where he dictated his memoirs describing his adventures in North Africa, Egypt, Syria, Arabia, Byzantium, the Ukraine and Steppes of Central Asia, China, India, Sumatra, Indonesia, the Maldives, Zanzibar, East and Central Africa. Like Marco Polo, he was disbelieved and ridiculed as an inverterant liar during his lifetime. Only one single, long forgotten copy of his memoir survived and is now recognised as critical source of information about life in the thirteenth century.
The Ibn Battuta Mall is absolutely enormous, seeming to stretch for kilometre after kilometre. But it isn't all about shopping, each wing of the Mall is built and decorated in a style appropriate to each of the main empires Ibn Battuta travelled through. We started in the China Mall which is built like the Forbidden Palace in Beijing. Inside the gigantic hall a Chinese junk, sails afurl is displayed along with information about Ibn Battuta's travels through China and his lucky escape from a shipwreck between India and China. Then we progressed through the other Malls, the Persian Mall, the Egyptian Mall, the Tunisian Mall, the Andalusian Mall, and the Mogul Indian Mall. There many interesting and informative displays on Islamic science and culture from the Golden Age of Islam (850-1300), which certainly kept me amused while Shelly shopped, although it did lead to us getting lost a couple of times. Again we finished up about 1am.
We had certainly shopped up a storm at the end of our trip, but our bags were still underweight when we checked in to the airport - a surprise (and a godsend!). Eleven hours later we arrived in Perth - tired and frustrated, to join the long winding queue of fellow travellers subjected to the newly rigorous customs checks.
And then it was over.