What planet is this, anyway? - Dubai Trip Report, Part 2
Once safely in the arrivals hall, my first order of business is to get some Dirhams, the local currency. Those ATMs seem a bit wonky at first, but I finally find one that works fine. The second task is to get out of the airport and to my hotel. I had chosen a hotel that is close to a metro station, so getting a ticket for the metro is my second task. I end up picking a Nol card, as the local public transit smart cards are known, and purchase a 7 day unlimited ticket. More than I need, but better safe than sorry. With those technicalities out of the way, I head down to the airport metro station. Luckily, the airport and my hotel are both served by the same metro line, the red line, So all I have to do is to take a train heading to UAE Exchange, which isn’t exactly hard, as those trains run every five minutes even at this off-peak time.
|Not Card is the key to the metro, tram, bus, and waters systems in Dubai. Really practical. Too bad they haven't integrated the local bike-share system yet.|
The trains themselves are very impressive indeed. The entire network is driverless, all trains are operated automatically. One end of the train has a section especially for women, while the other end is reserved for Gold class passengers. The areas where these carriages are are marked on the station platforms, and you should pay attention to them. Both the trains and the stations are fully air conditioned, and the platform is separated from the actual tracks by sliding doors that only open once the train has stopped. A good way to keep the heat out, and also an effective way of preventing idiots from crossing the tracks, like you see time and again in Europe. The trains themselves have only limited seats available, which is understandable. However, once past Union and Burjuman stations, the they fill up quite rapidly, and by the time I reach my station, Financial Centre, I have to battle my way out of the train.
|Just like almost everything else in Dubai, the metro trains are sleek and modern.|
|Typical interior of a Dubai Metro train.|
By Robert Schediwy (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
My hotel, the Rose Rayhaan by Rotana, is little more than fifty meters away from the metro station. This is the first time I actually leave an air-conditioned area and step out into the heat, which turns out to be much more bearable than I thought. At least so long as you stay in the shade. The hotel Itself is a sight to behold. With a total height of 333.2 meters, it is the second largest hotel in the world, holding the title as the largest hotel between its opening in 2009 and 2012 when it was surpassed by another hotel just a few metro stops down the road at Business Bay. It is a four star hotel with all the amenities one would associate with such an establishment. It was also one of the cheaper hotels available on Expedia when I booked, which was the main reason why I took it.
|That blueish tower in the middle is my hotel, the Rose Rayhaan by Rotana. 65 floors of comfort and luxury!|
|Even the corridors look nice in this hotel.|
The four star classification is evident from the moment you step into the lobby. From the greeting, which includes an offering of dates (the fruit of course, get your mind out of the gutter, guys!), to the fact that my luggage was taken up to the room while I was still completing my check-in formalities, this is a place that exudes service and class. There is only one caveat. I had arrived at the hotel at 10 AM, however check-in for my room category only starts at 2 PM. The receptionist has a room that was available immediately, but that would entail an upgrade to a higher room category, which would mean a surcharge on top of the regular room price. I was initially sceptical, but eventually decide to go for it. Boy, was that a right decision. My new room, 6502, was on the 65th floor. What’s more, it is a Club Rotana room, or more precisely a mini suite with kitchen, and walk-in wardrobe. Being a Club Rotana room, it also means access to the Club Rotana lounge on the 6th floor, as well as complimentary high speed internet, breakfast, afternoon tea, and a light dinner, and discounts on spa and room service. What made the whole thing worth it for me is the view. Room 6502 faces south, towards the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa, the highest building in the world. The view from the full height windows is simply spectacular, and it takes a while to realise that you are looking down at the tops of other skyscrapers! My suitcase is waiting in my room when I arrive, and after the concierge has finished pointing out all the features, the lack of sleep during the flight catches up with me. Even the most spectacular view cannot keep me from catching an hour of sleep before switching into something more appropriate for the temperatures and heading back out.
|While I really like the small kitchenette in my room, it wasn't really stocked with useful kitchenware. Still, having it separate from the main room is quite convenient.|
|The main room. The TV and the full-size panoramic windows are behind and to the right of the image.|
|Now that's what I call a room with a view!|
|Looking DOWN on the roofs of 20-50 floor high-rises. You just don't get that in Ireland!|
|Yep, that's Sheikh Zayed Road down there. All 12 lanes!|
The first order of business ist to get a feel for the size of the place and what is where. As I am still a bit under the weather, I decide against any great adventures and start scouting out the malls. I start with the Dubai Mall, at the foot of the Burj Khalifa. Despite having a dedicated metro station, the actual mall is about a 10 minute walk away from said station. Thankfully, an air conditioned link as been built between the station and the mall. And that’s not the only thing being built. All around the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa, new hotels, and apartment complexes are being built, all clad in glass an steel. It looks out of this world, and out of time. Quite frankly, a Starfleet shuttlecraft taking off and zipping past the Burj Khalifa wouldn’t look out of place at all! As for the Mall itself, Sheesh, that thing is huge! By the time I leave to head further south, I’ve gotten lost three times and haven’t even left the second floor yet! Still, I find a place for a quick lunch, although I do have to question how the hell a Nordsee restaurant ended up down here in the Emirates.
My destination is a mall pretty much at the other end of the city, one recommended by my parents from their trip there. The Ibn Battuta Mall looks pretty much like your typical suburban mall when you walk up to it. Actually, scratch that. It looks more like your run of the mill “stuck-in-the-middle-of-a-desert” kind of mall. There is some residential development behind it, but that’s blocked out by the mall when exit the metro. A link bridge between the mall and the metro station is currently under construction, but at the moment, you still need to cross about 50 meters of open terrain to get to that link bridge.
Now what’s so special about that mall? Well, it’s a theme mall, with different sections covering the travels of Muhammad Ibn Battuta, a medieval traveller from Tangiers, Morocco, who is said to have travelled all parts of the known muslim world in the 1300s, from Al Andalus all the way to China. So, you’ll find a Persia Court, a China Court, an India Court, and so on. Each of these courts is decorated in the art and architecture present at the time of Ibn Battutas visit. And while the store selection may seem generic to some (Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Victoria’s Secret), and some of the store placement seems to be deliberately contradictory, like the Starbucks in the centre of the Persian Court, the Mall definitely manages to pull off the combination of commerce and history quite well. I wish malls in Europe would start taking a similar approach. Of course, there’s still the small matter of how accurate Ibn Battutas description in the Rihla or Journey, the account of his travels, really is, but that is a different matter altogether.
|You may have experienced this yourself, everybody trying to avoid the elephant in the room....|
|The Persia court tries, quite successfully, to channel the architectural style of the land of the shahs. It is quite ironic however, to find a Starbucks of all things right in the middle of that court, given the current political landscape.|
|That's really a change from the cookie cutter malls here in the west.|
|Once again, it's back to the resident pachyderm. He is part of the India Court, which kinda makes sens.|
|Information boards, like this one in the Persia Court, give insight into the travels of Muhammad Ibn Battuta, and often contain artefacts or exhibits from the time of his journeys.|
|Now that's some big Junk in here. Apparently, Ibn Battuta travelled in one of these traditional junks all the way to China. And no, you don't get any brownie points for guessing which court this replica is in.|
|Well, we've all been there. You take your eye of the helm for just one second, and presto, you've got a major leak...|
With the Ibn Battuta mall done and dusted, it’s back to the hotel as I’m beginning to feel the effects of a long time without sleep. I do still have time for a quick stopover at another labyrinthine mall, the Mall of the Emirates. Once again, this thing is huge, although, like the Ibn Battuta Mall, it sits a bit forlorn in an area that hasn’t yet seen a lot of development. Of course, that makes the huge sloped structure of Ski Dubai stand out all the more, but that’s the only time I’m going to mention that monstrosity here. If you want to go skiing, go to the Alps or at least to Lebanon. My main target is the Apple Store, just to see whether there’s any pricing advantage compared to Europe. Quick answer to that: No! The store is one of the first ones designed according to Angela Ahrends and Jonny Ives new principles. I’m not sure what to think of trees in the middle of an Apple Store, but maybe they’ll grow on me over time.
Following that technological disappointment, I’m off to stock some drinks before heading off to the hotel again. I have no plan of utilising the mini bar, the prices being as high as the room. The supermarket in the Mall of the Emirates is like the mall itself: HUGE. It is also dry, meaning you won’t find a bottle of alcohol in there, not that I mind. after getting lost a few times, I find the drinks I was looking for, and make my way back to the metro. I’m pretty much dead by now. Still, on the way back I notice something interesting. Apparently, they’re working on extending the Dubai Creek all around the downtown area of Dubai. The metro and Sheikh Zayed Road cross the Creek extension between the Noor Bank and Business Bay metro stations, and from the looks of it, they’re getting ready to flood the last sections of the artificial creek bed. I guess it’s a very Dubai approach to an old issue: Massive demand for waterfront properties? Just build a new waterfront!
By the time I reach my hotel at around 7PM, it is already dark in Dubai, due to the city being much closer to the Equator than Ireland. Unfortunately, humidity in Dubai skyrockets at night, and the walk from the metro station to the hotel feels like a hike through a sauna. Back up in my room, however, I discover another, altogether more breathtaking side of nighttime Dubai. I thought the view had been breathtaking during the day. Well, it’s nothing compared to Dubai at night. it is a sea of lights, and really makes you question what planet you’re on, or what century it is. Associations like Star Wars, Star Trek, or Blade Runner come to mind, or indeed James Blish’s old classic “Cities in Flight”. Even now, two weeks after my return, I’m still at a loss for words to describe the sheer scale and spectacle of that view. I'll let the images speak for themselves.
Unfortunately, my trusty Fujifilm HS20-EXR isn’t quite as adept at capturing this spectacular view as the human eye is, so I have to fiddle around with aperture and exposure settings quite a bit. Good thing I packed my new remote shutter and a miniature tripod! After capturing a few night shots, and screwing up quite a few more, I head down 59 floors to the Club Rotana lounge. Those light dinner bites are just what I need, as are the soft drinks. Just the perfect thing to unwind. After relaxing in the lounge for a bit, I head back up to the room and quickly decide to turn in. I’ve got a busy schedule tomorrow, with the Dubai Marina and the Palm Jumeirah.
Click here to see how it all started in Part 1. To continue with Part 2, just follow this link!
Click here to see how it all started in Part 1. To continue with Part 2, just follow this link!