Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The New Dubai: A Guest Post by Travel Writer Simon Woodward

Dubai. It's on my list and I'm sure it's probably on yours as well. There's always been something magical about it, something that seemed unreachable and unattainable. When I hear about indoor ski resorts and underwater hotels, I immediately come to the conclusion that Dubai is a vacation destination for the well-to-do, not for poor backpacking married couples.

But I'm honored to have Simon Woodward here today, who writes for Trailfinders, telling us about his experience in a changing Dubai that's becoming far more accessible to regular folk like you and I. How exciting! Now, If I could only just afford a plane ticket.


As we cruised down a curving slip road from the airport and joined the gleaming flow of traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road, my driver and guide Yeman, a Syrian ex-pat, raised an eyebrow and indicated the road with a sweep of his hand. 

 “Emiraties, they love their cars. Range Rovers, S Class Mercedes – top cars. The more the better.” 

Exceedingly luxurious with expensive daily running costs, it struck me just how similar that felt to my past Holidays in Dubai with Trailfinders .

 You only have to look in the ads of the weekly newspapers to know that Dubai’s luxury hotels are now more affordable than they ever have been. There’s still a common misconception, however, that dining and entertainment are restricted to Dubai’s pricey in-hotel restaurants and even if you did want to explore, it would mean eye watering taxi fares everywhere you go. 

This may have been partly true in the past, but Dubai is changing. The recently completed 1.7km long Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence is a good case in point. This palm-lined promenade of over three hundred shops, cafes and restaurants allows you to wander out from any of the Jumeirah Beach hotels and enjoy affordable alfresco dining and great people watching. 

I picked a cafĂ© at random and browsed the menu. 

“Hi sir, my name's Mercedes. I’ll be your server today. Are you ready to order?” 

Mercedes? Are even the waitresses named after cars in Dubai? 

At its southern end, the Walk broadened out and met the beach at Covent Garden Dubai. Against a backdrop of screams and Arabic pop music from the nearby funfair, a collection of little market stalls does a roaring trade selling Arabian crafts, sticky sweets, replica football shirts and inflatable Mickey Mouse hammers. 

In-between the beaches and old Dubai, sits another new development – Downtown Dubai. It isn’t hard to find. Just look for the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, a beautiful silver colossus tapering to a vertiginous spire. 

At the tower’s feet sits Dubai Lake, home to spectacular dancing fountains so large and bright they can be seen from space (which I presume is just above the top of the Burj Khalifa!). In the evening, the floodlit fountains sway and leap to stirring piped music and the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ of the crowd who stand rapt, camera phones raised to try and catch the magic. Surely the best free show in town. 

Others enjoy fabulous views of the performance from the dining terraces of the Souk Al Bahar or Dubai Mall. A little tip: it’s worth remembering that the superb Dubai Mall food court offers Lebanese meze for about half the price of the lake front restaurants. 

Much as the Walk and Downtown have enhanced Dubai, for a glimpse into the Emirate’s past and to find some real dining bargains, you need to head to the old city, around Dubai Creek. 

I decided to test the new Dubai Metro, a huge public transport project that links the new and old parts of the city. I jumped aboard – you can’t miss the stations, each one looks like a monumental golden seashell – and travelled a handful of stops to Khalid Bin Al Waleed station in Bur Dubai. The trip was quick, uncrowded and it cost just over a pound. 

It was dusk as I wound my way through busy back streets and arrived at the historic Bastakia Quarter. This warren of traditional buildings, dating from the early 20th century, once belonged to pearl merchants, and picturesque wind towers, a form of baroque Arabian airconditioning, rise majestically above their former homes. 

Bastakia led onto the Dubai museum, housed in the Al-Fahidi Fort (entrance a bargain at about 50p). Behind the museum, a muezzin’s call-to-prayer echoed out from the Grand Mosque and a gibbous moon hung atmospherically behind its minaret. Suddenly the sky was filled with swooping swallows hunting insects. Now I felt like I was in a different, older Arabia. 

I wove through the hustle and bustle of the wooden latticed arcades of Bur Dubai Souq and arrived at the Old Souk Abra station. These slender taxi-boats endlessly criss-cross the Creek, guttural engines rising and falling, as they carry out their daily dance in and out of the little jetties. 

Acting on a local tip off I jumped aboard, paid the equivalent of a 20p fee, and crossed to the opposite bank to dine at a Lebanese restaurant, Kanzaman. Here local families had gathered for a weekend meal and the air was filled with the sweet fragrance of shisha pipes, music and children’s laughter. 

I dined until I was fit to burst on humous, grilled halloumi, tabouli, grilled fish, pita and fatoush – a feast for little more than the equivalent of £10 – and then sat back to watch Old Dubai pass by. 

An old man on a bicycle cheeks puffed out and sweat beading his forehead, wobbled along the promenade with a huge bag of tin cans balanced precariously over his back wheel. Almost predictably, as he cycled past I saw that he had a hand-written sign dangling from his seat that read: BMW. It seems that in Dubai, even a bicycle can be a car. 

Simon Woodward – Trailfinders

Simon is Trailfinders’ North America, Caribbean and Indian Ocean Product Manager. Following Dubai, the rest of the year promises an eclectic mix of trips to Orlando, Crete, Vietnam and Kent


Megan said...

Great post! I love Dubai, I lived in Iraq for 3 years and traveled through Dubai and stayed their every 4 months. I love it. You should definitley go when you can.

Robyn said...

I have a couple of weekends coming up there,yes,there is no avoiding the fact that you will spend money when you go...the metro has far too few stops to only use it,but taxis are cheap and accommodation can be cheap.I'll be dancing under the stars at the Sundance festival soon,woop.

Amanda said...
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dubaimovers215 said...
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dubaimovers215 said...

What a amazing pictures thanks for sharing bro very nice sharing. i am shocked
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