Couple years ago I was watching Extreme Engineering program on Discovery channel about sheikhs spending fortune on their fantasy, building snowy ski resort in the middle of the desert. Last month I could see the roof of Ski Dubai from my hotel window, stare at the slopes through the windows in shopping center, and finally try it on my own (no, you do not skate in shorts and T-shirts, they provide clothes included in entry fee). It was just first extravagance I noticed after arrival since it is richest and fastest growing city of the world, keeping several world records: tallest building, biggest shopping center, biggest musical fountain, first snow ski resort on the desert, 2nd world biggest aquarium and so on.
Having just half day off and couple evenings I had to manage to get as much as possible from business trip (as always).I had to see two icons of Dubai I already knew about: Burj Khalifa (previously Burj Dubai) the tallest building in the world (at the moment), and Hotel Al Arab looking as sail of the ship. The latter was too far and away from public transportation so I could only take pictures from distance. Burj Khalifa in contrast is located next to Dubai Mall, well connected to public transportation, so I was able to explore it a little more.
I got from Kempinsky hotel to Dubai Mall in 4 metro stations. By the way, metro is also manifesto of oil money; they have built it in 2 years. The metro station is about 1000m away from the mall and Burj Khalifa, but there is a bus line looping around the mall and other buildings. Long straight metro line and small bus loops is cleaver idea. To avoid exposure to hostile environment metro stations are either directly connected to buildings, like shopping centers, with air conditioned tunnels, or they have stops near by usually with one bus waiting for passengers. First time when I get there in the day (only one day off), despite the Sun reached its zenith, I decided to take photos around walking towards Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa. First impression was “huh, its hot”. In terms of temperature it was not that bad, just a little over 40°C (104°F). However combined with extreme humidity it was blazing hot. Right after I stepped out of metro station to the street, I felt the water condensing on uncovered parts of my skin, same way as water immediately appears on a cold thing moved to a hot bathroom. Despite I was wearing ultra light clothes, just after 10 minutes stroll I was completely wet. In 20 minutes I was in Dubai Mall feeling unpleasant breeze of air conditioning cooling my sizzling torso. I could not imagine 100% humidity that happens in Dubai in the summer: locals say it is so much water that time in the air that buildings are hidden in haze. With 80% of humidity the night sky was not black, but beige, and distant buildings gray-beige.
Burj Khalifa looked really impressive. From distant place it is a needle on skyline of Dubai. Staying close to it, even hundred meters, you have to crane your neck to spot the top. If you want to get up there, you can use At The Top view platform on 124 floor. Unfortunately it is only 3/4 of the tower and it is hard to get ticked for the next day, unless you buy VIP immediate entry for 4 times more, which is 80 euro.
Dubai Mall next to Burj Khalifa is also overwhelming. It is not only biggest mall in the world, but it has one of world biggest aquariums. In one of alleys you can find glass wall several meters long and high, isolating shoppers from thousands of sea animals, sharks included. For more adventurous tourists, for extra fee, they offer scuba diving among sharks. Despite my diving license I skipped this one, to do something extraordinary next time in Dubai.
Another monument I could delight is Dubai Fountain located between Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa. In daylight it is just a artificial lake, that turns into water show in evenings. Hundreds of pumps built into the reservoir throw streams of water highlighted by spot lights. Power and direction of lines of water are synchronized with music. Most powerful pumps can eject stream of water over 70 meters high with explosion-like sound. This water show attracts crowds people waiting to be enchanted or just pedestrians.
While water and snow entertainment is natural in hot and humid region of Middle East, for automotive fans the way Dubai is driving is astonishing. In this place you do not need to watch Top Gear or any other moto news to be up to date. Most expensive and best equipped cars in the world are right here. When I was in USA first time 10 years ago, I was fascinated by powerful engines even in regular street cars. With the advent of world crisis, UAE being oil exporter, easily overtook the US. If I could pay 4 times less for gasoline as they do, I would think about 4-6 liter engine too.
If gurgling engine of you car is not enough to taste high-life style, you can get an apartment in living district part of Palm Jumeirah – artificial island shape of palm tree, as you may guess, many long and wide enough so that is visible from outer space. Investing into apartments is more risky than in gold, therefore urged to immediately convert money from you account into some gold pieces, there is solution already deployed. “Gold-to-go” vending machine work the same way as ATM for cash; enter you card, type the PIN code, choose the size (pedant, coin, or small bar) and… voila!
What you cannot find in Dubai is alcohol. You can order a drink in pub or restaurant, but you cannot buy a beer in supermarket. What is most funny, if you want to buy bottle of alcohol in one of the only two shops in Dubai, you must be granted by the Police to do so! They issue special permission, in form of card with chip and picture, you need to carry with you in case of control when driving a car for instance.
What else you cannot find is homeless or beggars. Even construction workers, who are heavily underpaid, are barely visible in streets. The government busily hides the dark side of success from observers. While Indians or Pakistanis are doing their hard work, Russians or Brits are having fun enjoying night life in hotel clubs.
If one would ask me to describe this place in one sentence, I would say: one big hot and humid construction site, full of modern buildings, placed between large stretches of sand and tarmac, the city of sheikhs’ dreams you can admire panache in every corner of it. Definitely I have to get back to see the remaining 80 percent of Dubai wonders I could not see.