Thursday, February 25, 2016

Last day in Dubai

My last day in Dubai started off by actually getting out of Dubai and heading to one of the other emirates that makes up the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi.

It is about an hour drive from Dubai and my friend was kind enough to take me and we even brought one of his friends along who had never gone and actually toured the Grand Mosque.  The Grand Mosque was my reason for wanting to visit Abu Dhabi and also just to see a little of something outside of Dubai.  From what I had heard, Abu Dhabi is a bit more traditional and "authentic" if that makes any sense.  Whereas Dubai is as if Las Vegas and Miami had a Muslim love child (note: that reference is stole from someone else, but I actually think it is a pretty good description!)

We had a mini road trip, complete with lots of snacks, just as I like them and drove out to Abu Dhabi.  The most interesting part of the drive was the big difference when you crossed the "border" from Dubai into Abu Dhabi.  I know in the U.S. you can often see the difference/changes when you cross state borders, but for some reason it seemed more apparent to me.  The pavement was completely different, the street lights in Abu Dhabi were these massive 6-bulb giant things, and all the roads were lined with pretty green trees.  Whereas Dubai had nothing on either side and single bulb street lights. I am told that it is because Abu Dhabi is the capital (and really where all the money is in the UAE, despite the reputation that it is in Dubai.)

The Grand Mosque I thought was stunningly beautiful.  It is all white marble with flowers, massive, open, and extremely regal.  The sun shines on it and it just was stunning.

We were able to go inside of the Grand Mosque as well, which was filled with incredible chandeliers.  Apparently the chandelier inside the Grand Mosque used to be the biggest in the world, but then Oman got the biggest in the world or something like that.  I actually preferred the smaller of the two chandeliers within the Mosque, I thought the primary colors on the bigger one was an odd choice.

As you can see, I had to wear an hijab while I was inside the Grand Mosque and keep my hair covered.  I believe I have this correctly... but a hijab is anything that covers your hair, and it is not necessarily tied to Islam, but is often seen by Muslim women, however anyone can wear a hijab.  An abaya is the long black gown that is often seen.  I wore pants and long sleeves to the Grand Mosque and covered my hair with a scarf, whereas you would also see other women walking around in an abaya given to them because they had too much skin showing.

I really didn't mind covering my hair, it is a little fun to do it for a one time thing.  I couldn't imagine doing it always and also don't really agree with the reasoning behind it at all.  It is an interesting practice to me, but as I always do, I like to respect the cultures of where I travel.  Also, I wanted to see the Grand Mosque and I couldn't go in if I didn't have a scarf on. SO that settled that.

Otherwise, dress in Dubai was very normal.  I brought mainly more conservative clothing (not that I am very flashy of a dresser anyways.)  But even my exercise clothing I brought only short sleeved shirts, not wanting to bring tank tops or things with any cleavage or chest that could show.  I planned only to wear long dresses and pants and was sure to have a sweater on me always.  However, people there that I hung out with and saw were dressed far more normal and everyday and not as conservative as I was imagining whatsoever!  It was very, very normal.  And I continually thought it was interesting to see the mixture of modern and traditional when you would see men in traditional dress walking with girls dressed in revealing clothing.  Or seeing women in abayas walking around the mall with shopping bags.  This juxtaposition reminded me of a saying I had heard about the city of Munich when I first visited there in 2009.  It is called the city of "laptops and lederhosen" as it boasts a mix of high technology and also traditional Bavarian culture.  I felt the same way about Dubai.

After visiting the Grand Mosque we returned to Dubai for lunch where we went to a Lebanese restaurant.  Eating lunch at a Lebanese restaurant with three Lebanese guys, I told them to do the ordering and that I would eat whatever they felt was appropriate for me to try.  I must admit, I was then a little intrigued by what came out - which was in a cooked yogurt sauce - but it was delicious!

We ate salad with toasted pita chips, hummus, puffed bread, lentil soup, kebbeh bil laban, and sheesh barak. They were all incredible.  Kebbeh bil laban is like little meatballs made with bulgur in a cooked yogurt sauce.  It sounds a little intimidating but was delicious, and eaten with rice of course.  Sheesh barak came in the yogurt sauce as well, which are little meat dumplings.

With dessert of course, that was mohalabiyah, or a milk pudding with crushed pistachios on top.

The restaurant location we chose was in another mall - the third of the malls that I visited while in Dubai - the Mall of the Emirates. This mall is the home to the infamous indoor skiing facility in Dubai.  I was able to get a peak through the window of where you can go and rent cold weather clothes and experience the magic of the mountains... at an indoor, closed ski facility.  Only in Dubai!

The late afternoon into evening I spent meeting back up with my American friend who was living there, who brought me to a location she had been brought to by one of our mutual friends when she first arrived there.  We'd driven past it on our way out into the desert the day before and it was the Global Village of Dubai, that is up and open from October to April and features different shops/stands/foods from around the world.

When you first walk in you are greeted by various monuments from around the world such as Big Ben, the Statue of Liberty, and even a little mini version of the Burj Khalifa.

The Americas shops featured lots of NY and Canada gear and all the stereotypical American things that you could imagine.

In addition to being a complete visual feast for the eyes, what I thought was so interesting about the Global Village was to attend something like this in the Middle East.  The biggest sections of the event were for India and Pakistan and there were sections for Iran, Lebanon, Bahrain, Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, the Emirates, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, etc.

I feel like the world so often (and I include myself in this) lumps these countries together. I will be the first to admit that I am not very knowledgeable about the Middle East and the different nations that make it up. Heck, it took me getting to Dubai to understand what the United Arab Emirates even meant!  However, I also think it is a little bit natural as well.  When people think of the United States, they may not think of how different Rhode Island is from Georgia or from Wisconsin or from Arizona. Or maybe they would because the U.S. is big... so okay, the difference between Rhode Island and Massachusetts and New Hampshire and Vermont!  Because they are different!  So, to have every nation within the Middle East represented (which makes sense given I was in the region) and having specific pavilions devoted just to them, was very cool and neat to see.

There were also European sections with Turkey, Russia, Italy, Germany and Spain highlighted. A massive Africa region.  China, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and a few other areas in southeast Asian countries.  They were all very cool to explore.

Once we made it out of the Global Village (which I kept messing up and calling World Market) we met back up with my friend for a final drink and some snacks on my last night in Dubai.  We met at Pier 7, which is a 7 story building in the Dubai Marina area with different restaurants on each floor. The very top floor is a massive club and each of the restaurants have very different styles and feels.

Picture Source: Pier 7 Website
We were worried we were a bit under dressed, but went about things the true American way and just walked in confidently and didn't let anyone ask any questions about what we wearing.  The beautiful evening, good conversation, drinks, and of course the view made for an amazing final night in Dubai.

As I am sure that you can tell from these lengthy travel posts that I have been putting up (this is now my 5th post about a single trip) that it was a great experience.  One of the things that truly made it wonderful was the people that I was able to spend it with.  I was super disappointed when learning that the timing of the trip was going to be off by a few weeks of one of my good friends moving away from Dubai. However, was also thrilled that I had a few other friends to be able to enjoy the experiences with.  Both the more "native" people, my friend from Lebanon and all of his wonderful friends I was able to meet throughout the week.  And my friend who is now a local, originally from Louisiana, but exploring all that Dubai has to over for a year.  To everyone else I met along the way.

I am so, so thankful to what they taught me, showed me, the questions they let me ask, and how they went out of their way to make sure that my experience in Dubai was a great one.  I think it goes to show the incredible quality and caliber of the people who live in the city at how much they accommodated me when I was in town.

Dubai is a location I have specifically wanted to travel to since at the least, 2013.  A lot of times when I travel places it is more on a whim. Such as when Kristen e-mailed and said, "Do you want to go to Iceland?" and I said "Okay!" or when Daniella asked me if I wanted to run the Paris Marathon and (after some convincing) I said, "Sure!"  Which is nice, and suits my spontaneous lifestyle.   However, it was also truly amazing to be in a place I have wanted to explore for so long.

It was bittersweet getting on the plane to return home, but it was a wonderful week that I feel so lucky that I was able to have thanks to my job.  There is really not much better than a career that gives you such fulfilling opportunities and experiences.

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