Monday, February 22, 2016

Visiting the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mail

There are certain experiences that sometimes have me at a loss of words. Certain weekends, like my uncles’ wedding in Provincetown and when I went on “runcation”, or accomplishments such as the Chicago or Paris Marathons, that sometimes I have a hard time explaining. Travel is one of those things for me. Whenever I return from a trip like the one I just took to Dubai, I struggle to figure out how to explain it. I struggle to figure out how to put into words something that makes you feel alive, that makes you feel energized, that makes you whole body feel electrified with happiness. How do you explain that?

Traveling, and exploring new places, and meeting new people is something that does that for me. And particularly, doing that in places outside of what my normal day-to-day is. Going to a place like Dubai, which was my first time to the Middle East, certainly was one of those experiences for me.

So I could write about the remainder of the week following my work events and meetings in a couple of different ways. I could write about what I did from day to day and moment by moment or I could write about what it was like and what I felt as a whole.

I think I will do a little bit of both.

Or at least attempt to.

I left off on Tuesday evening of last week and so I will pick up with Wednesday morning. I still had work events taking place that day which kept me busy throughout the morning. In the early afternoon things wrapped up and I was able to hop into an Uber to head into the city of Dubai for the first time since arriving. Well, I guess I should say the city center.

Dubai is one of seven “emirates” that make up the United Arab Emirates, which is a country. The seven different emirates are what we would normally call city-states, similar to where I traveled last year with Singapore. Where the given name isn’t just for a city but for an entire operating governmental body that is broader than just a specific city. However, the difference between a state and an emirate is that a state is made up of elected officials and an emirate is made up of appointed/ruling bodies. I realized that the mailing address/postal code of “Dubai” covers not just the city-like area with tall buildings and populated areas, but even an hour or so outside of the “city”- everything is Dubai. This may seem sort of basic but it was not something that I had thought about much before arriving. I thought of Dubai as a city. A city within a country. Not necessarily as its own operating/functioning mini-country type thing.

I took a cab that brought me to the Mall of Dubai, somewhere that I had been recommended to check out and also a hub nearby to a few other things I wanted to check out. One of the things I learned quickly is that malls seem to be a big thing in Dubai. That is likely because it is so hot in the summer months that nobody wants individual shops and locations that you have to walk to, but having things clustered together in one location where you don’t have to walk outside is extremely convenient.

I wandered the mall for a bit, which was EXTREMELY massive and easy to get lost within. There were tons of stores that included some of the most high end designers, restaurants, and also a full aquarium with a giant tank that you could observe just as you wandered around the mall. Oh and an ice skating rink.

I checked this out for a bit before having the opportunity to meet up with a friend from college who has been living in Dubai for about a year. I had seen via Facebook that she was living there and had reached out before heading over. We luckily were going to be in the same place at around the same time, so we were able to meet up for a short 20 minutes in the Dubai Mall on Wednesday afternoon.

That was pretty neat for me as we hadn’t seen each other in maybe 8 years and to meet up on the other side of the world was pretty incredible. I love meeting other people who have the same desire for meeting new people, exploring cultures, and are satisfying their itch for wanderlust. This particular friend has gone even beyond that and is expecting a baby in the next few months and will begin to raise a child outside of the U.S. I think that’s an amazing experience and loved hearing about her and her husbands’ adventures. It is amazing to see where things have gone for us both since the days at Syracuse University.

After our short meeting, I connected with work colleagues to do one of the touristy things that was on the agenda for the week – which was go to the top of the Burj Khalifa, which is the tallest building in the world! We had made reservations to go around sunset time to the 124th floor, which is not even the actual top – which is at about 160 floors.

“Burj” in Arabic means building/tower and “Khalifa” is the family name of the ruling family in Abu Dhabi. Apparently when the Burj Khalifa was originally under construction, the financial crisis hit and the city of Dubai did not have enough money to finish the project. They asked Abu Dhabi for money and they agreed to fund the project if they named it after their ruling family. So in that sense, even though the tower is in Dubai, it really is owned by Abu Dhabi (which, is one of the other seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.)

The experience was very cool and the building honestly didn’t scare me as much as I thought it would (sometimes things like that can freak me out.) However, what did scare me was the fact that while we were at the top of the building, a storm rolled through Dubai – which apparently only happens like 5 times a year. The rain and clouds prevented us from having the normal sunset views we were anticipating, but also gave us a rather unique viewpoint that not many people have necessarily had. While at the top we could see lightning crashing all around with giant bolts flashing through the sky on all side.

 Now, I have no problem admitting that THIS did scare me a bit. Ever since I have been a little kid I have hated thunder and lightning storms. And being on top of the tallest building in the world in the middle of one? Yeah, no thanks.

Luckily we made it back down without incident, which led us outside of the Dubai Mail/Burj Khalifa area. Right outside the building is a boardwalk area that you can walk around that is lined with restaurants. Many are American restaurants brought over to Dubai, and many others are local (although still commercial since they are right in the heart of the touristy areas.) We chose to eat at a Lebanese restaurant called Karam and shared a number of dishes including spicy kebab, kebab with pistachios, kebab with cheese, hummus, and this amazing puffed out warm bread that was extremely delicious. Oh and dessert of baklava.

One of the things that I found rather interesting from this dinner is that with it, they brought out a plate of vegetables – much of which were just huge raw vegetables untouched. Including half a head of lettuce, full tomatoes and radishes, and other vegetables. We were totally unsure of what to do with this, and although I did snag the carrot sticks, we left most of it untouched. They hadn’t given us a knife or anything to cut the vegetables with so we really were unsure. Later in the week when talking with some Lebanese friends, they said that the presentation was just a marketing effort, but it did reinforce that with Lebanese cooking it is normal to have fresh, raw vegetables with every meal.

While dining we saw the first of the 4 shows we ended up seeing that night of the Dubai Fountains. It reminded me of the fountain show outside of the Bellagio in Las Vegas, but honestly, I don’t recall being quite as impressed at the Vegas shows! The fountain show was artfully choreographed to music selections that ranged from Celine Dion to Marc Anthony to more traditional Arabic and Indian sounding music. The water fountains seemed to embody the emotion of the music and I was totally transfixed by watching the shows every time that they started on the half hour.

Having the Burj Khalifa directly behind it and twinkling beautifully in the night sky didn’t hurt either in making this an extremely beautiful and visually appealing experience.

I ended up making my way to an exit where I attempted to call an Uber to head over to where I would be staying for the remainder of the week. Earlier in the day I checked out of my hotel in Festival City and had left my bags with a friend, who I was going to be staying with from Wednesday to Sunday when I left. As I went to leave the Dubai Mall that night, is when a few little mini crises popped up that had me feeling really anxious by the time it was ready for bed.

First off, the battery died on my phone. I was in the process of calling an Uber and my phone went dead. Without my phone to access Uber and with zero cash on me to be able to use with a cab I felt a little lost. Why not take money out of an ATM? Well I also realized that I forgot to bring a debit card with me to Dubai. So I was stranded at 10pm at a mall with no phone and no cash and needed to somehow make my way to my friend’s place where I was staying. The Apple store directed me to a mall “concierge” who let me know that they would charge me money in order to let me charge my phone… which seemed like a fine option except for the fact that they didn’t take credit for these transactions and part of the problem was that I had no cash.

Seeing that I was almost about to cry, the girl at the concierge desk let me charge my phone for free. I was very thankful and sat around for a bit while my phone charged enough to get in an Uber. And I ended up giving them some good business anyways by purchasing an extra battery for my phone so I could charge on the go. I think my phone is getting old because lately I cannot keep my phone charged whatsoever.

When I finally made it to my friend’s place, my freak out continued a little bit in realizing that the hotel concierge had given him one of the wrong bags and my laptop bag was missing! In exchange he had been given a laptop bag from a different coworker of mine who was flying out that night! It was a bit of a panic and stress on Wednesday, as these things don’t sit lightly with me very much. However, in the end, we got the bags sorted out and I went to sleep on Wednesday night with all of my belongings in my position and a fully charged phone!

With that, I think I will wrap up this first post recapping the days in Dubai and will continue to post about my trip this week.  Hope your week is off to a great start!

1 comment:

  1. i learned SO MUCH from this post! Thanks for sharing Katie - so glad you had a great time (and that they let you charge your phone .. I panicked for you!).