A sweaty exploration of Dubai

It was June 2017, another sunny afternoon uni of Leeds students were spending cooped up inside various libraries making desperate attempts to revise. My friend Katherine and I were among these students, looking wistfully out at the sun and wishing exams were over. A process of 10 minute revision, 30 minutes procrastination led us to desperately decide that summer 2018 would be more exciting. We’d have finished our placements and will go on a huge, blow out holiday somewhere as far away from Leeds as possible.

August 2018. The trip didn’t get off to the best start, with our 15:37 train to Stansted being changed last minute to the 15:37 train to Cambridge, leading to us hopping on and off trains to get to the airport. But we were off. 3 days in Dubai before 18 in Bali.

Dubai is golden. Mad, insane. But most of all, Dubai is hot. People had warned me about the heat, and raised their eyebrows when I said I was going in August, but I was not prepared for the inferno temperatures we found there. 40 degrees by 11am with a wind chill of 52 degrees. It was like being trapped in a sauna. At one point we had to stand outside to wait for a bus for 20 minutes and I was beginning to feel like this was the end. No matter how much water you drank, it was never enough to make up for the amount we sweated out.

As well as heat, Dubai brought many ‘in the world’ moments. We flew into the third biggest airport in the world. We went to the biggest shopping Mall in the world. We went up the tallest building in the world.

As a result of the heat, we spend a lot of time in shopping malls, particularly Dubai Mall, the biggest in the world. Who knew how much a 51 metre tall, 20 metre wide aquarium wall could enrich your shopping experience? Not only that, you can pop out of Zara and go for a quick ice skate, all without going outside! I’ve never been to America before, so I had the chance to see American shops and restaurants like Bath & Body Works and the Cheesecake Factory. Being the biggest mall in the world, the amount of shops, cafes and restaurants seem endless. What was most shocking was when we came across Morelli’s Ice Cream Parlour – somewhere Katherine has been going all her life and a Northern Irish institution. Until she saw it, she thought it only existed in Northern Ireland – Dubai really does have everything.

Driving through Dubai was actually one of my favourite activities, just because of the absurdity of our surroundings. Dusty eight lane motorways were surrounded by glass fronted mansions in uniform design. Colossal billboards advertising new housing developments read ‘THIS WILL BE WHERE YOU HOLD YOUR BABY SHOWER’, which we thought was rather specific. Other billboards advertised Western schools that were moving to Dubai. What was most surreal was seeing road signs for Abu Dhabi and Oman. Both are places I’d love to visit, and it was a tease to have them so close but not have time to visit!

Without a doubt, the desert safari was the best experience I had in Dubai. We were picked up from our hotel in a 4×4 and driven until the tarmac roads turned to desert tracks, which turned into sand dunes. I wasn’t sure how scary dune bashing would be, until I noticed the 4×4 featured steel frames to keep it in place should we flip, discreetly wrapped in beige cushioned leather. God knows how fast we went, but I felt like I was on an episode of Top Gear as the driver flew up and down the sand dunes, desert sand looking like water as it splashed against the window screen.

After an hour of dune bashing, we arrived at what felt like an oasis, a Bedouin style camp. Welcomed by dates and rose water, we sat on cushions on the desert floor eating BBQ food and drinking as much of the free soft drinks as we physically could. The belly dancer succeeded in hypnotising us with her blue jewelled bralet and skirt, however her spell was a little broken by the sign next to the stage saying ‘IT IS AGAINST UAE LAW TO DANCE WITH THE BELLY DANCER’. We all held our breath when a 10 year old boy, not knowing any better, got into the flat stage to dance with this princess. She stopped dancing immediately until he got off and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

Our final morning was spent in the Jumeirah mosque – the only mosque in Dubai that admits tourists. We were presented to by an English lady who had become a Muslim and moved to Dubai, and it was so interesting to hear about why she and others of her faith choose to cover themselves. A clear message of peace was given, and it was obvious how much today’s terrorism is affecting Muslims all over the world.

During the trip, we used the Go Dubai City Card – something I hugely recommend to anyone going there! For only around £120 we were able to pick three attractions/activities – the desert safari, a dinner cruise and a hop-on hop-off bus tour.

We used the bus tour to take us to Atlantis The Palm Jumeriah, the place I had been most excited to see. Driving up the palm was surreal – luxury housing gathered on each literal branch. Like all of Dubai, the Palm was spotless, but with a certain extra glow that desert dust prevented in the suburbs. Atlantis appeared as a distant silhouette, towering over the rest of the Palm with a powerful aura. As we got closer, I realised why people describe it as the eighth wonder of the world.

A pink palace. It was beautiful. From the outside, at least. To be honest I was a little disappointed on the inside, it was almost tacky! *disclaimer* we were obviously only in the area non-guests were allowed – who knows what hidden wonders were on the other side!! Making the most of the air-con, we walked towards Nobu, a luxury restaurant the likes of Kim Kardashian frequent, but were quickly told we needed a reservation. It wasn’t till afterwards I wondered how the doorman knew we didn’t have a reservation? What was it about our awe-struck faces and carrier bags full of water that gave us away?

All in all, I think we were both thankful to escape Dubai. The people were lovely and the city was inspiring, but the heat was just too much. Heat, and the fact that to truly experience the place, we’d have needed a hell of a lot more money. My last straw with the heat came when I walked out of the hotel in my glasses, and they steamed up, as they would when opening an oven. I’ll definitely never complain about English heat again!

Next stop – Bali!

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