Tuesday, February 27, 2007

December in Dubai, Suzy's Site Inspection

My passion for travel is still a fire deep in my soul that occasionally must be stirred. I've always been drawn to Arabia and set out now on my own desert fantasy. My mom seems to think my life is one big vacation by leading groups around the world. In reality it's been years since I had my own getaway.

I can't remember the last time I saw something for the first time. Already I miss my husband, but need this escape to recharge my over stressed batteries. It's a deep need to forget myself, to play and to be astonished. No better place than 21st century Dubai which was like landing on another planet.

It's my first flight on award winning Emirates Airlines with the world's fastest growing fleet that now fly's 55 countries. Very impressive with in-seat massage system, sandwiches on demand from the galley and twinkling star's that sparkle on the ceiling when the lights are dimmed.

EK won the Best Inflight Entertainment Award. I can choose from 600 movies, 6000 audio tracks and books, 40 games, check email and view the new Pilots Camera where take off's and landings are seen from a camera mounted below the aircrafts nose. Coach class can't get any better than this!

There are 7 emirates on the Arabian Gulf that are sandwiched between Iran, Qatar, Saudi rand Oman. What's an emirate? A kingdom ruled by a Sheik. Dubai became a Sheikdom in 1833, but nomadic tribes had settled here 3,000 years ago. They survived off the sea in this arid land.

Once upon a time, this rich but obscured kingdom decided to become the world's premier tourist destination. It expanded at an alarming rate by adding 500 miles of new waterfront with countless man made islands. Now it is called the "Las Vegas of the Middle East" with its sun, sand, sea, snow and sex. It's also referred to as the "St. Tropez of the Gulf" or "Monaco of the Desert" because it's so ultra-chic.

Here tolerance and hospitality are highly prized virtues. Dubai is a pocket of freedom in Arabia, like Hong Kong is to China. And a bit of a dichotomy with its Islamic culture in an environment of Western affluence, a total fusion of East meets West.

I nevertheless packed modestly for this trip with my "covered elbow to knee" rule. Still at night, there are a plethora of clubs where anything goes. Dubai's population is 1.3 million. Only 12% are nationals who can own property here. All others are foreigners. I witnessed zero poverty and was told that Sheik Al Maktoun is good to all with free social services. It's clean and truly crime free along with year round sunshine.

I do have an agenda on my "vacation." I flew with my Uganda group as far as Dubai. They continued on from here to Entebbe for gorilla trekking. I've also arranged site inspections with suppliers through the Ministery of Tourism. On airport arrival, I was greeted with my name sign by a chauffer.

He transferred me to the deluxe Grand Hyatt, an oasis of tranquility. There was an ice skating rink to the right of the lobby. All rooms are Gulf view. Mine overlooked "The Palms", a spectacular wonder of fanned out artificial islands that are filled with priceless residences. This is near "The World" with its 300 manmade islands where one may purchase a "country." Plans or no plans, my favored mode of travel is to let the wind blow me where it may.

My private city tour revealed a shimmering futuristic skyline. There are unprecedented developments here with extravagant creations that make Vegas dull in comparison. It seems every crane in the world is here now. Some hotels are simply indescribable. Grand boulevards are lined with palm trees.

The new city Bur Dubai has the most prestigious mile on earth now. In contrast, there is old Deira area with historic architecture in ancient wind-towers, forts, royal palaces and a mosque on every corner.

My dream has been to visit the Burj Al Arab, inarguably the most amazing hotel structure on earth. This masterpiece is shaped like an enormous billowing sail and set on its own island. It rates "7 stars" with a staff to guest ratio of 5 to 1. Room rates start from $950 per night and they are booked full through 2007.

Tourists are no longer allowed to visit with the $50 entrance fee. The only chance to enter is by lunch ($160), high tea ($85) or dinner (if you have to ask, you can't afford it.) I decided to break my budget for any option but my concierge was unable to procure me a reservation on any given day. Mind you I'm only here for 97 hours! So I headed to Jumerirah Beach instead to use my time well.

Traffic is insane as the the city is growing too fast for it britches due to an influx of 3,000 people moving here each month. It is expensive considering I paid $4 for my bag of Cheetos however petrol is as cheap as bottled water in this oil rich region.

My first evening was spent getting lost in the Spice market and worlds largest Gold Souk that covers a square mile of bling bling. I bought nothing but was dazzled by the endless glittering gold and diamonds. I returned back to the Hyatt at 2am. The staff had repeatedly assured me that it was completely safe for a lone woman to wander anytime in Dubai. What a delight.

After a morning swim, I had some appointments with major tour operators. There was typical Middle Eastern business protocol of courteous salesmanship and a lot of cardamom coffees.

Later I hailed a taxi to Mall of the Emirates. At 5:37pm, it was the call for the forth prayer of the day. My devout driver pulls over, exits with his worn prayer mat and bows down on the street. I soon arrive to a mega-structure that looked like another city with 460 stores to make me feel right at home.

This is the duty free capital of the world. Shopping here is a national pastime. I'm a mall rat and this one sparkled with enticements. There were festive tree's but no Santa's as I guess that would be a graven image. It was packed with people. Men were robed in white kanduras.

Women were covered head to toe in black abayahs, some with their eyes hidden. Their carts were filled with packages. It always perplexes me. Why do woman here bother to adorn themselves if no one can see their under attire? I spent an hour stalking a group of 5 young veiled women for my own sociological study. They hit the top designer boutiques on the third floor not browsing but spending cash like Paris Hilton on steroids. They bought Dior, Channel, countless shoes, lingerie and perfumes that were priceless to me.

There were plenty of venues to entertain the men in this mall city. It had a spa, skating rink, indoor pool, 15 cinemas and skiing. At the north end, I see what looks to be a mirage. Ski Dubai is the world's only indoor snow resort. Try to envision a 25 story mountain with chairlifts and ski chalets on 6 acres under one roof. There are 5 ski runs including a Black Diamond and bobsled run. Hidden ceiling machines drop 3 ft. of snow each day. Full winter gear is included in the nominal entrance fee.

I enter for an hour of sledding and the snow maze with the children. It was 30 degrees inside and 90 degrees outside, the only place where one can both water and snow ski within one day. After dinner and more shopping, I called a taxi. It was midnight.

The next day I woke to rain, an extremely rare occurrence here. The locals open their windows and dance in the streets. All traffic jams. My invitation to the Royal Stables was cancelled. The purebred Arabian horses here are the most prized and the Dubai Cup is the richest race in the world.

On my third day, a thrilling desert safari was arranged. I headed out of town in a caravan of 12 jeeps. First stop was a place where we rode ATV's, fed baby camels and saw a demonstration of falconry. We then headed deep into the desert for an hour of Dune Bashing.

I got the best/worst driver of the 4x4's names Wajed. He drove maniacally up and over the steepest dunes like a drunken sailor at high seas. The scariest part was sliding perpendicular down the mountains of sand. We nearly tipped twice. As I screamed, Wajed chatted on his cell phone with a friend.

We stopped to view a breathtaking sunset over the multi-hued desert-scapes. Then continued on to an oasis with oryx and camels. We entered a tented camp for some real Bedouin culture. The safari price included sand-skiing, sand-boarding, henna tattoos, camel rides and smoking the "hubbly bubbly pipes". I declined the cherry tobacco and dressed up like a veiled Arab woman. A BBQ buffet was served under the stars as belly dancers performed. It was all like a tale from "The Thousand and One Nights."

My last day was spent sightseeing. For my own farewell dinner, I booked a dhow cruise. These traditional wooden boats have plied the Gulf waters for centuries of trading. From the Dubai Creek, they still today export goods to Africa and India. The music and seafood was excellent with the backdrop of a shimmering illuminated skyline, far too romantic to do this alone. I felt isolated amongst the group of tipsy Russians.

Reflecting on a perfect holiday, I feel more balanced and vow to return to this captivating land of Sheeba. Dubai has magical affects and a vision that knows no end. I tasted only an appetizer from its buffet of entertaining delights.

I designed some fabulous itineraries for future groups such as 4 days in Dubai along with 4 days in Cairo or Istanbul which are only a stones throw away. You too can discover a place to indulge all your senses. There's no place like Dubai. On my return, I will lunch at the Burj Al Arab. I better make my reservation now. Author Resource:- Former Miss Wisconsin Suzy Davis has traveled the world for nearly 30 years,
initially as a flight attendant and now with her company