2 Days in Dubai

DAY 1 DUBAI

Start at the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU), where you can have a traditional breakfast and learn about the culture of Dubai and the UAE in general. Tradition remains a strong current throughout UAE society, while it adapts to tolerate, if not embrace, some of the modern social mores of the 80-90% ex-pat population.

The SMCCU is located in an old wind-tower house in the Al Fahidi district (also known as Bastakiya) of Bur Dubai on the western side of Khor Dubai (Dubai Creek). The district is named for Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest standing building in Dubai. The residential area that grew up around the fort was planned to make life in the extreme climate as comfortable as possible. Houses were built around narrow, winding lanes to maximize shade and draw cooling breezes through. Towers on the houses drew air down past water, which cooled the rooms as it evaporated on the wind.

Take an abras (water taxi) across the creek to Deira, where you’ll find the souks. If you’ve been to souks in Fez, Istanbul, Jerusalem and Cairo, Dubai’s souks probably won’t blow your socks off, but they do have local charm and are well worth some poking around. The Gold Souk is really something to behold and many visitors to Dubai come just for the gold.

Then travel in a matter of minutes from old Dubai to the number-one icon of new Dubai, Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. I like buildings and have raved about this one more than once in this blog: here and here. Take the At The Top tour for access to the observation deck on the 124th floor. Burj Khalifa is part of the Downtown Dubai development, which includes the Dubai Mall (for a completely different shopping experience from the souks) and the musical Dubai Fountain.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE, photo by Sallie Volotzky

Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE, photo by Sallie Volotzky

DAY 2 DUBAI

Start the day with breakfast at the Farriers Restaurant with views of horses during morning track work on the Meydan Racecourse. After breakfast, take a tour of the Meydan Stables.

Drive to the giant Jebel Ali port, about 20 miles south of Dubai city, for a seaplane tour. The aerial perspective really helps to take in the extraordinary evolution of Dubai. You’ll fly over the whole city, but birds-eye views of the man-made Palm Jumeirah and World Islands, the Burj Khalifa and the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab Hotel are especially astonishing.

Seaplane-water-takeoff

Come down to earth with a tour through the art spaces on Alserkal Avenue in the industrial Al Quoz district. Since 2007, Alserkal Avenue has developed “organically,” as they like to say, into a hopping arts scene, with the city’s largest concentration of galleries and arts venues. It’s a good place to ground and balance out the hyper-commercialism that built Dubai and keeps it ticking.

Alserkal Avenue gallery, Dubai, UAE, photo from timeoutdubai.com

Alserkal Avenue gallery, Dubai, UAE, photo from timeoutdubai.com

Click to see Dubai tours on our website.

For the Birds: the honored falcons of Abu Dhabi & Dubai

falcon waiting room

waiting room at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital

Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is the world’s largest falcon hospital and a world leader in falcon medicine. Since opening in 1999, it has treated over 55,000 falcons. The hospital also treats other kinds of birds, has expanded to include a clinic for pet cats and dogs and a shelter for strays and operates a trap-neuter-release program for feral cats and dogs. Continue reading

NAME THAT COUNTRY

In the industrial Al Quoz quarter of our mystery country’s largest city, the thriving Alserkal Avenue arts district showcases, nurtures and supports contemporary regional, multi-discipline arts and artists. Twenty renovated warehouses and other buildings house galleries, artists’ studios, food, drink, artist residencies, workshops, theater, cinema, public spaces, and programs. A full and diverse calendar of talks and festivals bring together artists, city residents and visitors in appreciation of the vital place of the arts in society.

 

Can you name that country? 
See below for answers.

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NAME THAT COUNTRY

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque pictured above is named for the founder and first president of our mystery country. The country, composed of seven united principalities boarding the Arabian Gulf, is known for its oil wealth and shiny modern cities. Sheikh Zayed, who died in 2004, is locally revered and widely respected for wise stewardship of the considerable natural resources within his borders.

Can you name that country? 
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Abu Dhabi: from Sandy Village to Manhattan-Skyline in 40 Years

Only forty years ago, the gleaming metropolis of Abu Dhabi that we know today was a hungry, mud-brick speck on the edge of the desert. Most people lived as their ancestors had done, scrapping a meager living from the sea and inland oases.

In 1761, a hunting party of Bedouins followed a gazelle out of the desert to a pool of fresh water near the coast, a miraculous find in that place. (Abu Dhabi means “a place with lots of gazelles.”) They built a well and a watch tower out of coral, sea stone and crushed sea shells to protect and control the water, at that time the greatest form of wealth they knew. The ruling sheikh moved into the fort and Qasr al-Hosn (which means “palace fort”)  remained the residence of the local rulers for 200 years there after. Today, Qasr al-Hosn still stands, the cornerstone of Abu Dhabi, now in the shadow of glass and steel skyscrapers, watch towers of another kind built by liquid wealth of another kind.

A settlement grew up around the fort and pearling, fishing and trading industries developed. Piracy also developed and the coast around Abu Dhabi became known as the Pirate Coast by the British, who were passing by regularly on their way to and from India. In the 19th century, the pirate problem led to a series of treaties or truces between the British and area sheikhs. Hence the next British name for the area – Trucial Coast. British influence lasted until 1971. Some contend that the British used piracy as a pretext to get a foothold in the Arabian Gulf ahead of other European powers.

The pearl harvest and trade made Abu Dhabi economically vital through the 19th century and into the 20th. The development of cultured pearls in the 1920s and the global depression of the 1930s all but ended the natural pearl industry, leaving Abu Dhabi pretty much destitute. They fished, grew dates and herded camels and got by, barely. Then came oil.

Oil was discovered in Abu Dhabi in 1958 and exports began in 1962. In 1966, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan sent his older brother Shakhbut into exile and took control. Shakhbut was stuck in the past and making no real effort to put his new wealth to good use. It was a bloodless coup. Sheikh Zayed began right away to invest the new oil wealth in Abu Dhabi and to share it with his neighbors. He built roads, an airport, schools, hospitals, all the infrastructure that a society needs to prosper and progress.

In December 1971, Abu Dhabi joined with five other emirates – Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Sharjah, Umm al-Quwain – to form the United Arab Emirates. The seventh emirate, Ras al-Khaimah, joined in February of 1972. Abu Dhabi became the capital of the UAE and Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan its first president.

Since independence, and oil, Abu Dhabi has become an economic powerhouse, with a per capita GDP in line with countries like Germany, France and the UK. Besides crude oil, natural gas contributes significantly to Abu Dhabi’s wealth and the emirate is actively working to diversify its economy, with steady growth in real estate, banking, tourism and manufacturing. The UAE as a whole is listed in the Very High category of the Human Development Index, which tracks life expectancy, literacy, education, standards of living and quality of life.

Click to see tours of Abu Dhabi on our web site.

NAME THAT COUNTRY Episode 124

Just outside the world’s biggest mall and near the foot of the world’s tallest building, the world’s largest dancing water fountain dips and sways and shoots 500 feet into the air (every half hour from 6-11pm). That is one happy fountain! The fountain’s mystery home city is known for breaking records in architecture, engineering and development.

Can you name that city? 
See below for answers.

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