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Tag Archives | Dubai

Dubai II

Dubai Mall was a bust as far as the boys were concerned. They liked the aquarium, liked the Burj, but the rest of it? “Stupid and overpriced,” as Liam announced.  What use did they have for Montblanc pens or Gucci shoes or gold-plated memorabilia?

When we finally escaped from the mall, we had to get  to the bus station for our bus back to Abu Dhabi.  We took a slight detour through the Spice Souk, where the boys found what Caleb called real treasures: golden jewel-encrusted elephants, only 15dhr (about 4 bucks); a replica of the Burj, sprinkled with diamonds, for only TWELVE! A golden box with a genuine enamel lid engraved with an image of the Burj…only TEN!

Treasure packed in our bags, we took a dhow—a flat-bottomed wooden boat—across Dubai Creek to the bus station.

And that’s when we found ourselves in an entirely different Dubai—not the bling-bling world of the mall, or the tourist trap of the Souk. Nope, we pretty much found ourselves in the Port Authority of Dubai, with two tired kids in tow, each just on the verge of complete meltdown.

There was nothing picturesque about this bus station; there was no danger of anyone breaking into a sort of Bollywood-esque chorus. There were just lines. Long, long lines of people waiting for busses and bossy men in over-fancy uniforms telling people where to stand, speaking in a fast combination of Arabic and English.

First fancy-uniform guy ushered us to the front of the line because families get priority boarding (nice, eh?). Then second fancy-pants guy said, nope, get to the back of the line. The boys shifted from quiet grumbling to low-level whining, failing to see any humor in the situation whatsoever.

We watched as one bus drove in, filled up, drove away; then watched as all the men traveling alone were herded into a separate line, while we stayed in the “families and ladies” line to wait for the next bus. And when might that next bus arrive? No one seemed able to tell us.

Boys now in full-throttle whine.

I realize we are (eventually) going to take a two-hour bus ride back to Abu Dhabi on a bus with no toilet, so I seize the moment and decide to take the boys in search of the bathroom.   I saw a sign that said “ladies” and walked toward it, only to realize that the sign was pointing me to a ladies-only bus stand, not the loo. I asked yet another fancy-pants official, who gestured us across the parking lot, so off we went, threading our way through the crowds, boys now whining loudly, close to outright rebellion.

We get across the station and—no bathroom, just a greasy-spoon restaurant surrounded by men smoking cigarettes.

Try again: ask another official, who waved in a different direction, so off we go, me trying to make jokes about how confused everyone is. The boys are having none of it, and this time we end up at a ticket kiosk/prayer corner. Men are buying tickets at one window, and several others are saying their prayers, crowded on a green rug.  Interrupting them to ask where the ladies room is seems like a bad idea.

“Forget it,” I say to the boys.  “We don’t want to miss the bus. We’ll just deal somehow.”

“I have to PEE!” Liam buries his face in his hands.  “WHY CAN’T ANY OF THESE PEOPLE SPEAK ENGLISH!” he shrieks. “And why don’t ANY of them know where the bathroom is!”

I decide now is not the time for a discussion of ethnocentrism and cultural arrogance.  (Plus that, almost everyone does speak English. Which is to say, a hell of a lot better than any of us speak Arabic.)

At that precise moment, Caleb saves the day: he points to the sign on the wall that indicates the way to the ladies toilet.

Liam slams open the door to the stall, only to stop short: the “toilets” are holes in the ground, with porcelain ridges on either side—you know, to help prevent slipping while squatting.

The boys aren’t quite sure what they’re supposed to do and when I explain to them, they’re both horrified—and completely unmoved by the fact this whole situation is going to be harder for me than for them.

The toilet holes accomplish one thing—well, okay, we all pee, so really two things—but they’re so awful that we have no choice but to laugh.  It’s not often that you get to say a toilet hole wards off a temper tantrum, right?

And that, friends, was our night in glamorous Dubai.

Continue Reading · on November 28, 2010 in street notes, Travel, Uncategorized

Dubai I

People think of Dubai as the bling emirate, famous for flashy buildings, flashy cars, and flashy malls.  We went to the Dubai Mall on Black Friday, it seeming like the nationally appropriate thing to do, but unlike the malls of the United States, none of these stores had “SALE” signs in the windows: full-price central, that’s where we were.  And also unlike malls in the States, in this one, at 5:30, the call to prayer resounds through the entire place, the imam’s chants an odd counterpart to the expensive window displays.

We weren’t in the market for Pucci or Gucci…although I may have had a small moment inside the Laduree shop, just me and some salted caramel macaroons.  But there were no witnesses and besides, those macaroons ain’t talking.

Mostly we were in the mall until it was time to go to up to the viewing platform of the Burj Khalifa (buying a timed ticket in advance means you avoid the long ticket line)–some of us in the family have a real thing for tall buildings.

So we wandered around—went to a great book shop and to the aquarium, and listened to the boys fume about how much things cost. They’d each been given 50 dirhams (about 15 bucks) to spend during their time in Abu Dhabi and the mall gave them a hard lesson in international economics: toys that at K-Mart cost ten dollars were thirty at the mall; the souvenirs at the top of the Burj were gold-plated replicas of the tower—for 600dhr. Liam was furious. “This is a stupid over-priced mall,” he announced loudly as we searched for the exit.

We needed to find a taxi stand, which we figured wouldn’t be hard to do…and in fact taxis were easy to find. Once we escaped from the mall.

One exit led only to the VIP Taxi stand.  Not for us.  We marched back through the mall (a ten-minute walk) only to find ourselves in the underground parking lot. Back into the mall. Up the escalator, across to the other side of the mall, down the escalator. No exit.  Back into the mall, across in the other direction, down the escalator, up the escalator, into a hotel lobby, intending to exit through the hotel. Nope. Back into the mall, down the escalator to an elevator, outside—and finally, taxis! But not so easy – taxis aren’t allowed to stop at this end of the mall. Walk down the sidewalk, around the corner, back through a different part of the parking garage, across the driveway, join the crowd on the curb waiting for a cab.

It took us a half-hour to escape the mall.  Husband and I sang the chorus to “Hotel California” during the entire twenty-minute cab ride to the Spice Souk:  “Welcome to the Hotel California…you can check in any time you want, but you can never leave…”

Who even knew the Eagles had been to Dubai?

Continue Reading · on November 28, 2010 in shopping, Travel

So there really IS a prize for everything

Yesterday was Black Friday in the States and, just coincidentally, we planned to spend the day at the Dubai Mall. Mall culture is huge here – and I guess that makes sense, given that for about half the year, it’s so hot that going outside is almost unbearable.

We didn’t plan to shop–the real attraction in Dubai was Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Some of us in the family really like going to the top of tall things. Others of us would be content sitting on the plaza below the tall things and gazing upwards, perhaps sipping a cool refreshing beverage…but hey, compromise is the name of the game in family travel, right?

So off we went.

The Dubai Mall includes an ice rink, a movie theater, and an aquarium that offers glass-bottom boat rides. It is thus possible to buy new underwear, skin cream, a zillion-dollar diamond necklace, and feed the giant grouper, all under one roof.

Kind of amazing.

Now, I’ve been told that the countries of the UAE are really into having the “most” of something–tallest building, fastest car, biggest mall, whatever. And you might think that the Dubai Mall might want to rest on its laurels, what with having a 10 million gallon fish tank inside a mall that itself rests in the base of the tallest building in the world.

But hah! Being BEST means always finding new ways to win, obviously.

So alongside the clear wall that allows shoppers to see the fish swimming around is a plaque announcing that the Dubai Mall Aquarium has won the Guinness Book of World Records for the biggest single panel of acrylic.

I know, I know. You’re realizing you totally forgot about that competition, because if you’d only known, well, that particular plaque would be hanging in your living room, dammit.

But take heart. I think that soon they will be announcing the competition for the biggest double piece of acrylic. You should totally enter.

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Continue Reading · on November 27, 2010 in Travel

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