I had always imagined that Dubai would be overwhelmingly glitzy. A place that builds that tallest building in the world doesn’t want to blend into the background. You would expect that it would be the sort of place where you could watch people do ridiculous things (like ride camels in high heels a la Sex & the City movie) but it would be okay because that’s what Dubai is all about.
In reality, Dubai is a much quieter place. This may have been our experience because we stayed near the Creek in so-called “Old Dubai”, where the skyline was just visible in the distant haze. Everyone seemed very laid-back. On our first morning we went for a walk to find the gold “souk” (market) and got hopelessly lost. Disorientated and sweating in 35 degree heat, we saw a McDonalds so thought it was a good idea to stop to order a cold drink with a side of helpful directions. It turned out the lady at the counter had no idea where the gold souk was. Instead she laughed at us and said “doesn’t matter!”. Vaguely insulted, we kept on walking, sure that we would find those markets. We were wrong and she was right, as we later found out. The souk was closed for the weekend.
This is not something our jetlagged addled minds even considered given that it was Friday. But the weekend is Friday-Saturday in Dubai. The taxi driver told us that the weekend used to start a day earlier (Thursday – Friday) however this changed a few years ago to include a day of the more widely used weekend. This sort of variation of the traditional seems to be typical of how things are done in Dubai. As a predominantly Muslim country, you are expected to respect the rules. Yet there are a lot of allowances made for non-Muslims and tourists. While it’s illegal to drink in public, alcohol is widely available in hotels (at a price, $40 for a glass of wine!!). Pork bacon can be found on most menus, carefully denoted with a (P) (although the widely used substitute veal bacon is surprisingly not that bad).
Step into Dubai Mall and you realise how truly international the city is, with its interesting mix of British and US brands (Forever 21!). Not just a huge indoor strip of shops, the mall houses an aquarium and an indoor skiing place. It’s all as confusing as it sounds and you got totally lost. Still looking for some markets, we followed a sign promising to take us to ‘The Souk’ but instead found a Cheesecake Factory and a display of dinosaur bones.
Writing this from the Sapphire Princess, off the coast of Yemen – 3 days since we left, 3 until we arrive at our first port. Next blog post all about 6 days on a cruise ship! (: