Dubai is a terrific location to fan out to any corner of the world, it has become on one the major global transport hubs leaving many of the older more established centres behind in the dust! My round the world flight was to begin in Dubai. I had arranged to go visit my sister-in-law (Roxi) there a few years back but didn’t go, long story, short version is I didn’t have a visa and got turned back at Heathrow…rookie error, expensive too! Lucky for me my cousin stays there with his family (Michael, Mariette his wife and two kids, Kaylah (+/- 21) and Aidan (+/- 19) – hardly kids) and offered for me to stay with them. Over the past 20 years I have only seen Michael in London five times at most, the last time I got to see the whole family when they stayed with me in London (I had last seen Kaylah shortly after she was born, it was the first time I met Aidan!). That is how life is, from a close greater family unit that you spent loads of time with when you were a kid to the dispersing family in later life only to see each other once in a blue moon…sometimes only at their/your funeral, what a shame, but such is life.
My intention wasn’t to explore Dubai fully, see the Michael and family and whilst there it would be silly not to do a little exploring. I know a few people, family, friends and colleagues who have lived and worked in Dubai, so I knew more than just what the TV and internet shows, expectations were amiss from reality by miles! The place is massive! Of course I knew there were highways and skyscrapers blah blah blah but the majority of pictures of Dubai are just a very small part, mostly the man-made islands, Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, Palm Jumeirah, Al Ghurair main road and the other spectacular tourist “sales” photos. There are five “cities” neither of which are close to each other, with colloquial names like Medical City, Financial City and so on and so on, the names give away what their functional hub is. Around these cities are luxurious apartment skyscrapers and after these come the residential areas, they are building on mass and quality that I do not think has ever been seen before. My sister-in-law left Dubai about two years ago, living almost in a solitary residential development far from any of the hubs, that area now has been enveloped and surpassed for thousands more residential complexes.
Looking at pictures from 20 years ago and looking at Dubai now, what they have achieved is phenomenal, I wouldn’t have thought it possible to do what they have done in 50yrs let alone 20! There seems no stopping their ambition, construction is going on everywhere, not just silly little buildings or housing, architecturally interesting and quality standards that would compete if not be world leading. My time there was unproductive, only because I had underestimate the spans this new sprawling metropolis is. My brother has said years ago when he lived there for a short while, “Dubai is the adult Disneyland”, he was not wrong, I think this is and understatement. You cannot argue Dubai has some extraordinary wealth flaunted around, I have never seen so many sports cars, Rolls Royce’s and fancy car you can think of driving about, Mayfair in London seems poor in comparison. Here, think of the most expensive item you can, now coat it with gold and encrust it with diamonds, that’s what you can buy here! Even so, I wouldn’t call Dubai ostentatious, no, it is the start of a global hub the likes of which we have never seen possibly in our history…and done so within less than a lifetime.
Taking the above into consideration I was expecting to head into the central business district, sure do a lot of walking, but focus all my time in one stretch of road and its peripherals and viola I’ve seen almost the whole of Dubai! Bloody hell I must have been dreaming! I have no idea how much I walk per day; many many kilometers and I saw a fraction of an inch of Dubai! Like I said and my experiences of other cities, I’ve tended not to like them much these days, but you cannot help marvel at what they have done here and in the time. Where else can you see a brand new metropolis on this scale, quality and build from scratch….just a reminder out of the barren dessert too!
Everything here is on a grand scale, the buildings, highways (many 6 lanes wide), the highway intersections give a whole new meaning to spaghetti junctions; unnecessarily huge and complicated with an extra touch of artistic flare just for the sake of it. The sections between the roads have lavish gardens with blossoming flowers more akin to the Chelsea Flower Show than a road side plantation, and they change them regularly. Although they seem to have picked and chosen the best that the world has to offer, either replicating it or bettering it, they somehow went overboard with the highway off-ramps; missing your turn-off for first time (even local residents) is common here as you need to b in the correct lane kilometers before you need to turn – I was also surprised by the amount of traffic!
Shopping isn’t my thing, I couldn’t help but visit some of the centres purely because of their mammoth scale with every food and clothing franchise you have ever seen anywhere is the world…and they are not cheap. That’s not to say that if you can’t afford a diamond encrusted mobile/cellular phone Dubai is out of your price range, no, here there is everything from the usual to things only the super-rich can attain. So not everything here is out of reach, there are cool roadside diners with retro aluminium caravans and pop-up eatery take away’s along the beaches…..so yes, you can cruise along the beach in your baggies, flip-flops and t-shirt and not have to worry about wearing your designer beach-ware.
I was actually very surprised how “Western” the beaches were, definitely not full of people covering up, oh no, there were plenty of skimpy bikinis on display!!! ? The beaches reminded me somewhat of the Mediterranean, no waves, with long sandy beaches. Jumping back to what I mentioned earlier about planning, here too they have put thought and planning into practise; the beaches have pedestrian and jogging routes (with marked distances) on an artificial surface that feels like walking on hard sponge…who knows, maybe this idea comes for California where thee beaches are filled with sunbathers, joggers and exercise machines…..here they are taken full advantage of.
To a small degree I knew how the Emirates came to be, what better way to find out than go to the museum to learn. Encased in a small but very modern building is the Etihad Museum; the building though small, is rather large for the size of display all which lie below ground level in what could be mistaken for modern minimalist conference centre. This museum does not cover the history of the region, it focuses on the amalgamation of the Emirate’s and just prior, so you wouldn’t expect too much on show to cover circa. 60 years. It must have been quite a balancing task to ensure each Emirate is displayed equally and in equal importance, I think they achieved this, not knowing the in’s and out’s of the regions politics I wouldn’t have a clue who, if any Emirate played a more dominant role. It only took about one hour of slow walking and reading just about everything to see the museum and I’m glad I did. Pride in what the Emirates did to combine forces, resources and plan for the future and what they have achieved in reality is something to be proud of, an example too.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Lucky for me Mariette likes art and Michael and Mariette’s mom (who was having an extended holiday/visit) were keen to see the new Louvre Abu Dhabi. A repeating pattern of the area keeps emerging, Ab Dhabi is only about 2 hours motorway drive away – I had no idea it was that close! Going off on a tangent, Emirates Airline and Etihad Airline must be in the top 5 airlines at least and they are practically neighbouring cities. That’s like Johannesburg & Pretoria or London and Oxford having their own airlines that just happen to be two of the best airlines in the world…you get the picture!
Expecting more or predominantly art, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has historical items as well as art. I fully appreciate the great museums and galleries but in order to fully explore them you need to visit numerous times, even then you don’t fully take-in everything nor see everything. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve visited the Tate, National Museum (London) or National Gallery and I could go hundreds of times more and there will always be something more and new to see.
I won’t get into individual pieces throughout the Louvre Abu Dhabi nor am I knowledgeable or qualified to do so, it does have a great display even with a few Arabian pieces though it is dominated with Western art, obviously with the crème de la crème of famous artists old and new – their old masters and modern section though small, is awesome, for me the modern section was my best and right up my alley! Ah yes, not to forget the ‘Ain Ghazal Statues, found in Jordan and date to around 6500 BC – one of the oldest statues every discovered.
Leaving the best for last, what makes the Louvre Abu Dhabi stand out, is the building, a minimalistic cubist design with multiple white block buildings, gunmetal soft sheen roof; a combination of overlapping geometric octagons, squares, hexagons and triangles forming a net like covering over the whole museum. Nestled against the harbour the water is incorporated into the enclosure adding to the tranquil environment bringing nature juxtaposed into this artwork of architecture which itself houses art. The parasol roof creates shade, shadow and mood reflecting the lapping water against the stairs leading into the harbour – stairs leaving nowhere yet is creates the feeling of no boundaries.
Lourve Abu Dhabi seems considerably smaller than it is, the foots-space is quite small, but the careful use of different levels including underground makes the Lourve Abu Dhabi cool compared to the relentless heat and sharp Arabian sun…and keeps the surface area small. If not for the art, the Lourve Abu Dhabi is worth going to see just for the building.
For my last evening we (Michael, Mariette, Aidan and I) headed to the see the Dubai Frame; the name is a perfect description of what it is, a picture frame Dubai style, massive! It opened the day before but unfortunately when we got there they weren’t allowing anyone in as it was over the capacity allowed. The views from the Dubai Frame must be pretty spectacular, the idea is like a looking glass into to past and present; one the one side you see the “new Dubai” the other “old Dubai”. I did the old “please let us in I’m leaving tomorrow”, but the security wouldn’t budge so we had to be satisfied with looking from the outside.
On a very separate note, Aidan booked a cab for us from Michael’s work (city centre) to the Dubai Frame, not just any cab, a Tesla Model x, the one with the wig doors, WOW! Four adults in the back and Aidan in the front and there was plenty of space. The interior is very smart, he dashboard console display looks like a 32 inch TV, silent as a mouse with ridiculous continuous acceleration! I’m not one to talk about cars but if I had the money it would be right on the top of my list to buy.
Dubai was interesting, not what I thought it was and honestly, I could see myself living there for a few years, but not too long. I left very impressed, yes there are parts that I didn’t find interesting and liked just like everywhere in the world. You come here to experience something different, you feel that this is the place for the future where great things could happen. Far from feeling like you’re in Arabia, nothing wrong with that, Dubai is possibly the most cosmopolitan place I have ever experienced. Not to contradict myself, I am tired of cities, but this is a different city, a new city, where the vibe is in its infancy, a city with a vision and heading full speed ahead to achieve it.
Next time I’m there I will know better and plan properly too, walking Dubai is possible but shit you would need months not a few days and I’ll definitely use the public trains a lot more!! Leaving Dubai I was very happy, I like seeing family I’ve not seen in a long time, reminiscing the past and telling old stories brings back great childhood memories. Next stop Bangkok, a new adventure, new things to learn and hopefully break some old habits to expand my being.
If you missed my visit to the Eastern Cape, South Africa here is the link Kenton-on-Sea/Bushmans