Can I see your identity?
Wow, it feels like I just wrote the blog about leaving India and here I am already writing a blog covering our time in the United Arab Emirates. We only spent a total of 10 days here, visiting only three of the seven united emirates that make up the country – Dubai, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi. Our time spent in just these three emirates was really amazing, but I hope to make it back here some time soon to see the ones we didn’t make it to. In the words of Catherine, “I like it here.”
It’s really interesting to think that 150 years ago this country was really a series of small fishing villages. Pearling and fishing were the two main sources of income at the time, until the Japanese discovered a way to produce pearls in a controlled environment. It’s a good thing they discovered oil here! This of course attracted the attention of the British, who gracefully folded this region under their wing. (I’ve noticed the British have turned up in just about every place we’ve been so far. I guess for a time the sun really didn’t set on the British Empire.) When the British left in 1971, the new ruler unified the Emirates and turned the UAE into what it is today. And wow, what it is today. We spent the first 5 days in Dubai, which although not the capital is probably the most well known city. Ultra modern in every way, the city is very clean and beautiful no matter where you look. It is very safe here as well; we were even told that you could walk around with all your money in your hand and no one would give you a second look. We didn’t put that to the test though. The city is also known for its ultra modern buildings, including some that seem to defy the laws of physics, including the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world – and it is entirely freestanding.
Looks this nice everywhere
The city is spread out running north to south somewhat narrowly along the water (who wouldn’t want some beachfront?), and we stayed toward the north. There is a fast metro system that follows the lay of the land; it can just take a while to get from north to south. This was our main way around the city, as trips only cost about 1 US Dollar each way. We spent our first day simply exploring the massive, 1200+ store Dubai Mall, which sits right under the Burj. I don’t think we even had shopping in mind, we just wanted to see such a crazy mall. Besides stores, it also housed an aquarium, an ice staking rink, a waterfall, and was home to a massive fountain which danced to music every night. We also used our time here to head to the top of the Burj, and I mean THE TOP – we paid top dollar for a VIP experience that took us to the 154th floor and included more fancy snacks and desserts than I could possibly eat – and believe me, I tried. Oh, the views were really amazing as well. There was even an outdoor viewing platform over a quarter mile off the ground.
Inside Dubai Mall
Also inside Dubai MallAlso inside Dubai Mall
ALSO inside Dubai Mall...
154 floors up
Treats at the top of the Burj Khalifa
We spent day two exploring the “old” part of the city. There’s not a building older than 150 years, and many of the oldest have been carefully restored and almost look too new, but it was still an insight into life before oil. We got to wander through the souqs, including the impressive gold souq. On day three we headed along the beachfront to the Burj al Arab, the only 7 star hotel that I know off. I had read we could go inside but this wasn’t the case. At least we got to see it from the outside. I can only imagine who stays there, and how much it must cost!
Yeah...I can't afford that
Burj al Arab, 7 star hotel
After all this we spent a day in Sharjah, the emirate only about 45 minutes north of Dubai by car. Sharjah has a different, more traditional feel to it, and they even have signs declaring a dress code where shoulders and knees must be covered. I don’t know how strictly it is enforced, however. Sharjah has its own heritage area with museums and information about life before oil. This area was hit hardest by the loss of the pearling industry; perhaps that is why it hasn’t reached the splendor of Dubai.
Finally, we traveled a few hours south from Dubai to the capital of the Emirates, Abu Dhabi. Dubbed the city of gold, it’s clear that a lot of money went into creating the city and keeping it maintained. The several mile long Corniche is filled with palms, flowers, beautiful paths, and is spotlessly clean. It is home to the Emirates Palace, a massive ultra-luxury hotel that covers a large area of land. There are many skyscrapers here, and like in Dubai, each is uniquely designed to defy physics and be more impressive than the last. For instance, one has a giant golf ball lodged into it, one leans more than the leaning tower of Pisa, and one is shaped like a coin sitting on its edge. Who comes up with this stuff?
Abu Dhabi city centre
The beautiful Corniche
The massive Emirates Palace
Abu Dhabi is also home to the Skeikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world and absolutely breathtaking to see. Everything in it was intricately designed, from the 12 ton chandelier (the biggest of seven) to the carpet, weighing 7 tons and entirely sewn by hand (it only took 2 years), to the minarets and domes with peaks made out of 24 carat gold. To see it up close is truly a testament to what man is capable of.
Walking the halls
The main prayer hall
Looking back, the biggest oddity of the United Arab Emirates for me was figuring out just what the country is trying to be. With so many American and European stores and restaurants, from McDonald’s to Osh Kosh B’Gosh, I am not really sure what it means to be Emirati. Even when we asked about local cuisine, we were directed to a Lebanese restaurant or a place serving Indian food rebranded as something local. Plus, with all the expats running around, I’m just not sure what it means to identify yourself an Emirati. Maybe the definition of the UAE is international, tolerant, accepting, peaceful. In any case, it’s an amazing country, and as we head to Oman I look forward to returning to the UAE some day.