Middle East

Dubai & Abu Dhabi

img_1285I was at breakfast this morning at mentioned to the waiter, “It’s already hot.” He politely replied, “It is Oman, sir.” Which was, I believe, his way of saying, “yes, you idiot. You’re in Oman in May, no wonder it’s hot. Where did you think you were?”

Oh well. It’s fun to be out, at least. It’s definitely been awhile since I last blogged. I’ve even changed jobs since then, so that goes to show how sparse the writing hsa been. But this has always been a travel blog, so I didn’t want to bore everyone with my daily life.

This trip consists of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Doha. It was spurred by my friends James and Abby, who live in Doha. Old friends from Kansas City, I really wanted to make sure to visit them while they’re abroad. We got such pleasure from having friends visit us in Paris, that we wanted to pay it back as possible. I definitely understand that Doha is a long way from KC, so it takes a certain type of crazy to come out for a short trip. We are clearly that kind of crazy.

Jamesimg_1288 and Abby met us in Dubai for the weekend, even taking Sunday off to show us the city. (The workweek is Sunday through Thursday in Dubai and Doha.) It was absolutely a blast to hang out with them and catchup, as well as get reacquainted with Ellen, who we haven’t seen for a number of years.

They chose a hotel in the middle of the marina district, which was absolutely fabulous. There was a great place to walk around the harbour/canal and see all the massive construction underway. James claims that Doha has even more underway, so I’ll be interested to see that when I get there.

While I knew that Dubai was basically a massive, modern city in the middle of the desert, I was definitely unprepared for the scale. There sheer number of 30+ story buildings is impressive, though less impressive when you realize most of them are empty. There are some artificial economic/financial conditions that are prompting all the building, but still… wow.

We only had two days there, so it was a quick look, but we did get to pass by the Gold Souk and have lunch under the Burj Al-Kalifa (highest tower in the world). I definitely wanted to see the Palm where img_1301they had lived during their stay in Dubai, so we did that. It was fun to meet their expat friends, and even here some updates on people I used to work with during my days at Cerner.

I can definitely imagine them enjoying the days around the pool, hanging out at the beach and just enjoying all the amazing amenities that expat life in Dubai has to offer. It certainly has stirred some desires to head back out for another spell. But probably not Dubai….

Erin and I went to the desert the night that James and Abby headed back to Doha. It was an adventure, to say the least. 4×4 offroading was not quite advertised as well as it could have beenimg_1382. My expectation was to head out to the desert (check), see a falcon show (check), have and interesting dinner (check) and then hopefully see a belly dance (nope), then see the stars in the nighttime sky (check).

What I hadn’t realized was that transportation out there is in the form generally called “dune bashing,” which consists of stress testing vehicles’ limits in multiple axis simultaneously. For instance, how steep a dune can the Land Rover go up? (very steep). down? (steeper still). What about sideways? (Disconcertingly/impressively). What about hitting a dune at speed to make a turn? (once again, stomach wrenchingly possible).

This was the unspoken part of the tour, which our Italian friend’s stomach promptly protested. This kept us on the milder side of the experience, which i think was ok by most people in the car.

From the desert safari, we headed down to Abu Dhabi for a couple days in the cultural capital. I’m not sure that we had the opportunity to see as much culture as we wanted, but it was certainly more diverse than Dubai.

We ended up walking the corniche down to the Emirate Palace, which was a spectacle to be seen, no doubt. The Bentleys (Bentlies?) parked outside gave a quick indication of how much money img_1465was in this building. No where else have I seen cultural and historical artifacts blatantly on sale for obscene amounts of money. Mayan ceramic? Just $50k or so. Very odd, indeed.

It was a very quick tour of the city, so we tried to make the most of it. We visited the Grand Mosque, which supposedly fits 40,000 visitors at one time. I think I believe it’s possible, but it’d certainly be a tight fit. Needless to say, it was massive. In addition, it was actually quite beautiful, characteristics which sometimes don’t marry well.

There was a great deal of intricate design both on the inside and the outside of the mosque. There were massive inlaid marble designs of flowers from the northern and southern hemispheres, asimg_1498 well as flowers of the Middle East in the center. The largest handwoven carpet in the world is there, impressive in it’s own right. It was absolutely fantastic to see something so well done, and be able to take pictures as well.

After an afternoon of walking around markets and the filled streets, we had our last night at the top of a hotel in an incredibly cheesy revolving restaurant that was clearly overpriced. But it was fun to see the entire city laid out along the corniche (boardwalk) and talk about all the interesting things we’ve experienced.

That next day (Wednesday), img_1540Erin went to London to meet up with her sisters, while I continued to Muscat, Oman, for a short weekend. Today, I head to Doha after a few days here, and will be there until next weekend, staying with James and Abby and abusing their hospitality.

It’s been an eye opening trip so far, raising far more questions that I have the time to list or let along answer. My curiosity, which was fairly vague and poorly focused, is now piqued. There are so many interesting aspects to the cultural environment here that I want to know more.

I will be covering Oman soon, but it offers such an incredibly different perspective that it warrants it’s own post. The culture is totally different, the landscape rugged and untamed. Where Dubai is reclaiming land from the ocean, Muscat is nestled into the mountains like a traditional port city under attack from marauders.

But… I will not start that yet, though I nearly did there. I suppose you could call that a teaser.