Monday, November 22, 2010

I can understand why one of Dubai’s nicknames is “Vegas on the Gulf.”

With all the resorts, luxury hotels, tall buildings and commercialism, the city does remind me a little of Las Vegas in the states.

You won’t find casino gambling here. Instead, you can lose your hard-earned money to the merchants that sell ornate gold jewelry, gemstones, watches, Arabian carpets, clothing, designer shoes or perfumes. You also can spend your money at many of the city’s fine dining restaurants.

Last week, we spent five days in Dubai – the richest of the city-states that make up the United Arab Emirates. We stayed with our friends at their hotel in the area known as the Dubai Marina, which my husband likened to Canary Wharf in London.

Here is the story about our trip:

On Sunday, Nov. 14, after a four and a half hour flight from Istanbul, we landed at 6:30 a.m. I was tired and very sleepy eyed. I always have a difficult time sleeping on planes. Our friend and Jason’s former colleague, Riz, picked us up. Riz and his wife moved to Dubai for his job about the same time we moved to Istanbul.

After chatting and then taking a four hour nap, we decided to hit the nearby beach behind Le Meridien Hotel. We tried to rent a beach chair at the hotel, but the guy wouldn’t let since we were not hotel guests. So instead we found a patch of sand on the public beach for our towels.

The beach was full of other tourists. I could catch snippets of British and Australian accents amongst the people. The sun was hot, with temperatures reaching the upper 80s F, but the salty water was perfect for cooling down.
You could even take a camel ride along the beach.
Back at the hotel, we shared a steak wrap sandwich for a late lunch. Later, our friends decided to take us to The Palm Atlantis resort for dinner. This impressive resort looks like a giant modern-day castle and is located at the end of the Palm Jumeirah.

Riz and Jason outside of The Palm Atlantis.

Jason and me in the lobby of the resort.
The giant aquarium located in the passageways of “The Lost Chambers” apparently features 65,000 sea creatures from around the world including sharks, giant catfish, giant stingrays and more. I did enjoy watching the fish and stingrays swim by what seemed like inches from my face.

For dinner, our friends took us to Kaleidoscope which features an extensive buffet full of Mediterranean cuisine, complemented by influences of Greece, Northern Africa, Morocco and Asia. The hotel is extremely family oriented and even at 10 p.m. the dining room was still full of families and young children. The food was decent and I ate several steamed chicken dumplings, sushi rolls, kebabs, curried chicken, rice and more. Afterwards, the guys enjoyed smoking sheesha outside at one of the resort’s bars.

The view from the resort.

Night-time view of The Palm. You can see the curved edge of the Palm on the left.

Daytime view of The Palm. You can see the large resort in the background.

Day 2: Monday, Nov. 15

For breakfast, Riz’s wife, Ilona, made us a stack of yummy Czech pancakes, which tasted similar to French crepes, and served them with a variety of jams.

Later on, Riz drove us to the Deira Creek area so we could do some shopping. First stop for me was the outdoor Dubai Fish Souq. Riz and Jason didn’t really want anything to do with this section because of the smell. But I must see the markets wherever we travel, and I wasn’t disappointed!
Piles of dried fish at the market.
The Fish Souq is a crazy mess of fish heads, giant crabs, shellfish, large fish, dried fish and shrimp and things I’ve never even seen before. The salesmen kept trying to get me to buy stuff and said there was a cafeteria across the street where I could take my purchases and my meal would be cooked on the spot. Interesting!

Jason and me with one of the giant crabs

Then, we wandered through the produce section next door. Inside, the market is full of all sorts of imported delights such as mandarins, melons, dates, lychees, mangoes, kiwi, radishes, baby eggplant, herbs and more.

I never knew there were so many kinds of dates.

Fresh dates from Jordan.

You can pay one of the guys to haul your groceries to the car in a wheelbarrow.

Once the SUV was full, we drove across the street to wander through the Deira Gold Souq to admire the jewelry. A local man started talking to Riz and the next thing I know we’re going down a small street to what I’d call a black market. This is where you find the deals on knock-off designer watches, phones, purses, laptop bags, etc. It was a fun and interesting experience too.

Then, we made a quick stop at the Deira Spice Souq where I purchased 100 grams of Madagascar vanilla beans, 150 grams of Indian cardamom and some fiery hot cashews. I didn’t spend too much time here because Istanbul has such an amazing spice market.

Piles of dried teas and garlic chips.

Rows and rows of spices.

In the evening, we watched the dazzling fountains outside of the Dubai Mall. They put on a similar display to what you see in front of the Bellagio Casino is Las Vegas. Apparently, the same California-based company, WET, designed both of the fountains.

The Dubai Fountain covers 275 meters (900 ft),  more than two football fields, and is visible from more than 20 miles away up in the air. The fountains, shooting water up to a height of 150 meters (500 ft), appear to dance to the music. If you want to watch the show, my advice is to arrive early or book a reservation at one of the many restaurants surrounding the Dubai Lake in front of the Burj Khalifa. This area was packed full of people!

A view of the Burj Khalifa at night.
We did not have a dinner reservation, but we finally scored an outside table at The Rivington Grill, which serves a regularly-changing British and seasonal menu. (The restaurant also has two locations in London.) To start, we had a salad with sliced pears, walnuts and blue cheese.

The guys ordered the grilled beef filet with hand cut chips served with béarnaise sauce. I kept stealing Jason’s fries and dipped them in the sauce. Delicious!

Ilona ordered the daily fish special with a citrus sauce and I ordered the daily “Rivington Pie.” The steak and ale “pie” was like a large pot pie filled with a steamy, gravy mixture of chunks of beef and a few vegetables, topped with baked puff pastry.

Stay tuned for the next blog about our Dubai trip.

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