Dubai and Abu Dhabi — Old Meets Ultra Modern

When you think of the Middle East, what comes to mind? Oil fields, war torn countries, and similar themes?  Well Dubai and Abu Dhabi are going to surprise you.

I love architecture. Drop me in New York, Paris, London, or even Chicago, and I go wild seeing all of the great architectural wonders. Dubai is eye candy for architecture lovers. It’s as if the greatest architects of the world were told there was a contest to build the most impressive building in the world. Dubai has grown from a sleepy desert fishing village by the side of Dubai Creek into this futuristic city where every building design tries to outdo their neighbor. This city is home to the tallest building in the world (at least for now) called the Burj Kalifa. You can rent either of the conference rooms comprising the two top floors, floor 162 and 163, for a mere $10,000 per hour. That is not a misprint. While I did not visit those rooms, I understand that companies often will rent a conference room for an hour for a product demonstration or handing out rewards to employees.

This is certainly a city of excess. You will see plenty of Rolls Royces and Bentleys and similar cars. You can stay at the Burj Al Arab, the sail like hotel for $2000 per night and upwards. You will have a two story accommodation with your own butler. And you can eat in the restaurant where, if you have the money, you can eat a desert that has real gold in it. This city has the largest man made land, the tallest building, the tallest hotel, and the one of the largest malls, to name a few. And the shops. You will nearly everything sold here, especially if it is a luxury good.

Dubai is one of seven Emirates that comprise the United Arab Emirates. While the UAE has a lot of oil reserves, the Emirate of Dubai has only 4 percent of the total oil reserves of the UAE. The government knew they had to do something to make Dubai prosperous over the long term, and not just with oil. So they set out to build a stable business and tourist center for the Middle East. They have accomplished that and visitors will be surprised at what they find here. Unlike most areas of the Middle East, alcohol is available here. You cannot go to an independent restaurant for booze, but the restaurants at the hotels serve it. Women can easily walk the main streets of Dubai safely. Western clothing is acceptable in most places, although there are strict clothing requirements when visiting a Mosque. Western beachwear is acceptable at the western hotels beaches. Children and persons with disabilities will find accommodating facilites at the major hotels. Many western businesses have made Dubai the center of their Middle East business due to its western friendly atmosphere.

Dubai Airport, one of the largest in the world, is one of the busiest as well. In terms of the number of passengers boarded, it was 3rd in the world in 2016, and passenger traffic is growing faster than it’s chief rivals, so who knows, it might be number one soon.

The Metro train is a good way to get around the city of Dubai. Its very clean and efficient and ultra modern. It runs alongside most of the major tourist destinations and hotels, and more stations are planned. The cost of a one day ticket  is AED 14, or a little less than US$4 at the time of this writing in 2018.

The Dubai Mall is the 5th largest in the world with 1200 shops and the Burj Khalifa, the largest skyscraper adjacent to it, with “Las Vegas Bellagio like” water fountains in the water next to the mall in an artificial “lake.” You can purchase a ticket to visit the observation level on the 128th floor. But unless you want to pay more, plan to purchase your ticket at least 2 days in advance at a discount. There is a 2 million gallon aquarium and an indoor skating rink at the Dubai Mall. A few miles away, at the Emirates Mall, there is an indoor ski hill complete with a quad chair lift! The indoor area has man made snow and the entire area is kept below freezing.

There are the traditional markets as well as the mall locations. The Arabic word for market is “souk.” The gold souk, where you buy based on the price of gold plus a maker charge, is worth a visit. Most of the gold is 22 ct. in weight. The gold souk is more commercialized than its cousins spice, carpet and perfume.  The spice souk is an open air market where you can buy spices like cardamon, cinnamon, saffron and others in bulk, and other cooking items. The carpet souk sells not only carpets but other textiles. And then there is the perfume souk, with scents you will not find in the US. Its all part of the historic old Dubai. The shops are small and the passageways are narrow but it is worth a trip if the weather is not too hot when you visit.

Fahidi Fort in the center of Bur Dubai houses the Dubai museum. In it, you will get a sense of what old Dubai was like as well as the steps taken to modernize it. In addition to ancient artifacts, there are video displays of the modern activities in Dubai. There are 3D displays of common life. The fort itself is worth a look, and you can also see an example of a common Bedouin dwelling and the Dhow (pictured above), wooden boats used for transportation. It is the main museum in Dubai, the cost is reasonable and it is a good counterpoint to all the modern buildings that have made Dubai their home in the last 20 years.

Dubai caters to tourism and wants the western tourist dollar. They share only about 4% of the oil revenues of the UAE and they had to come up with a plan to be a tourism destination. While a strict Muslim country, they allow alcohol to be served in restaurants that are connected to hotels for tourists. You can find pork products in their grocery stores. Western dress is appropriate for the tourists, even to the point of women wearing a bikini in the pools and beaches of Dubai. Women will feel respected and safe in the Emirate of Dubai.

A visit to Abu Dhabi is recommended if you have the time. Abu Dhabi is about two hours from Dubai and is a different Emirate. Abu Dhabi has not yet developed to the extent that Dubai has, but every indication is that they will develop similarly. Here, you can visit the Shekh Zayed Grand Mosque. This is the 8th largest Mosque in the world, and the largest in the Emirates, all decked out in white marble and gold. At the other end of the spectrum is Ferrari World, the worlds largest indoor theme park. Here, you can immerse yourself in all things Ferrari. If you like museums, there are five, with more coming. They include an art museum and an auto museum.

Getting there: There are no non-stops at present time from MSP to Dubai, and given the distance, there is not much of a chance that there will be in the near future. One stop connecting flights from MSP to Dubai are offered by Delta, KLM, Air France, American, Cathay Pacific, Ethiad Airways, Qatar Airways, United, Virgin Atlantic, Korean Air, Lufthansa and Emirates. Most of these are code share flights meaning that the flights may be operated by a different airline than the name on your ticket. US citizens will need a visa to visit and these are supplied at no charge when you process through immigration at the airport.