Sunday, January 20, 2008

Dealings in Dubai

The flight to Dubai was the first time I've travelled since Heathrow eased the baggage restrictions. What I didn't realize was they've also eased other restrictions. Previously your laptop had to be taken out of the bag and scanned separately, now the only thing that needs to be scanned separately is liquids. I imagine during the trials they ran last summer they realized people can get through the security lines quicker if they don't have to unpack and pack all their belongings after going through security so having 2 bags wasn't slowing down the process the extra work was.

Once through security I realized I had forgotten to go find out what type of power outlets are used in UAE. A quick stop to the Dixon's shop at the airport revealed that UAE uses the same power outlets as the UK no need for an adaptor.

After a quick 6 hour flight the plane lands in Dubai. What immediately struck me upon leaving the airport is the vast amount of new construction that is taking place in Dubai. Everywhere you look there are new skyscrapers going up, new roads being built, new hotels breaking ground. The most famous one of course is The Burj at 158 stories it is the world's largest skyscraper and makes all of the other buildings going up around it look like dwarves.

I've gotten used to seeing American stores when I travel throughout Europe but I have to say I was rather surprised to see a large number of American restaurants on the drive to the hotel including: Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC, Applebee's, Subway, and Hard Rock Cafe.

Of course coming in on the red-eye the hotel room was not yet ready so I freshened up and went out and hit the town. I never expected a trip to the Gold and Diamond Park to provide excitement and almost get me arrested (maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit here). The park wasn't all that exciting just like the diamond district in any other city - shop after shop of people selling the same stuff trying to give you the best price. While I was waiting for the bus to pick me up and return me to the hotel I decided to wander around and take some pictures - you know me. The license plates on the cars struck me as being photographic so I took a picture of one.

All of a sudden a security guard was asking me what I was doing and if I had permission from the owner to take a picture of the car. I told him I was just taking it for inclusion in my album and mostly just wanted the word Dubai written in English and Arabic. When I asked him if I needed to delete the picture he went on to say I'm not allowed to take pictures at the mall for security purposes as I may be casing the joint (OK he didn't use those words I'm paraphrasing). He didn't seem to want to answer whether or not I need to delete the photo he just kept going on and on. So I told him I was deleting the picture. This still didn't stop the guard and by this time another guy had joined the conversation. When I told them for the third time that I wasn't aware and had deleted the photo they then gave me permission to take the photo. At this point I said never mind and walked away, a few seconds later one of the guys came over to where I was standing and starting discussing this again talking about all sorts of police agencies in Dubai which meant nothing to me. I am not quite sure why they couldn't drop the issue after I apologized and deleted the photo. I did manage to take another photo later in the day when nobody was looking. (I've erased the license plate number to protect the car owners identity as I did not have permission to take this photo.)

After this excitement I headed into town to check out the spice souk (market). While walking through the market I couldn't help but feel like I was a stranger in a strange land. I really felt out of place walking through the streets, I felt very self conscious when I was taking photos which is something that has never happened to me before. This was most likely a result of the earlier incident and didn't want a repeat occurrence.

The aromas wafting through the air was stimulating walking down the streets you could smell cinnamon, nutmeg, cardmom it was almost sensory overload. Visually the souk was not what I was expecting, I imagined it was going to be an open-air market or stallslike Haymarket or Camden Markets but it was just a bunch of storefronts some of which sold spices but some sold shoes, fabrics, all sorts of different things. Some of the storefronts are wholesale trading companies while others are retail. At one of the retail outfits I bought some cashews and some saffron. I have to say the cashews may be the best I've ever had.

The trading companies may use these boats at the river to ship and receive goods. Never in my life have I seen anything like it. Unfortunately the pictures don't do it justice. The boxes and ships go on for at least a mile. Trucks drive up load their goods and then drive off. From what I could see there was nobody making sure items didn't just go walking off but I'm sure there is a system of some sort. Everything from electronics to food to clothing to appliances were just sitting at the docks.

Dinner was to be eaten at the hotel, I just didn't have the energy after getting next to no sleep on the plane to go anywhere. It was disappointing reading through the restaurant options to see that there were no arabic options. The hotel is really more of a vacation destination than a business hotel resultining in cuisines that would appeal to tourists French, Sushi, and of course Italian. Asking at the front desk which of the restaurants they would recommend as there is always one that's better than the others I was pleased when they said the main dining room has an Arabic buffet on Saturday nights along with traditional music, belly dancing and henna painting. Of course I had to try everything on the buffet including tangines, stews, kebabs, and cold mezes, needless to say I overate but it was worth it everything was fabulous. Unfortuntately I wasn't able to stick around for the belly dancing by the time my meal was completed it was 8:30 and I was ready for bed.

1 comment:

Morgan said...

During the aftermath of 9/11 I was in Manhattan for work (go figure) and took a stroll one night over to the Port Authority (near Time Square) and noticed that there were several US solders "milling" around on the sidewalk. Across the street I noticed figures "lurking" in the shadows. So in my finest wisdom I decided to turn my video camera on and film. I figured that if journalists can do it I should be able to do it...NOT! I was immediately surrounded by 4 guys in fatigues, toting M-16's, and told to turn off my camera and questioned about what I was doing. Well, I can definitely relate to your feeling of “self conscious” after that incident. I’ve even had somebody call the cops on me after I was trying to take a picture of a young boy playing on the beach (yeah, I know, but give me a break. I never did get the photo, I just didn’t have the right timing to get the right shot). I was questioned by the police in front of everyone on the beach and it really made me “self conscious”. After talking to me, the police said that I was free to take the pictures, but I left the beach completely embarrassed and frazzled. All in the name of getting the good shots!! - Cheers