Let’s begin with some basic info about the flight, we flew out of Dulles International Airport located in Washington D.C., and when I say “we” I am referring to my younger brother Henry, my aunt Carolyn, my uncle Brian and myself. The flight going to Dubai was 12hrs long, meanwhile the flight back was 16hrs, due to the plane route being rerouted because of the war in Syria. We flew out through United Airlines and sat business class, which in my opinion is worth spending more money on for long international flights. The business class seating had extended leg room, each chair extended back into a fully reclined bed, and located on the divider between each row was a personal 18inch television to help pass the time. I binged on Parks & Recreation while other passengers watched movies like The Martian, and The Man From Uncle. The food was decent, we had our choices of pasta, charcuterie, or chicken curry, I opted for the curry of course. But most importantly, the unlimited free beers and spirits helped me pass time the most.
We left D.C. in the early morning and landed in Dubai in the late evening. We were greeted by expansive roads and monstrous buildings. All the billboards, street signs and newspapers were written in a cursive completely unfamiliar to me. The men dressed in long, clean white robes, while the women dressed in black silks that fluttered in the wind. I was surrounded by a sea of conversations and ideas, but they made no sense to me. It had become abundantly clear that I was in a far away land.
We hitched a cab from the airport and traveled down Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Blvd, the main strip of Dubai and headed to our hotel. We stayed at the J.W. Marriott, not only the world’s tallest hotel, but also home to the world famous GQ Lounge and VIP Room nightclubs. The lobby of the hotel was massive, with 40 foot high ceilings and housing a full bar on the first floor.
After checking in and dropping our luggage off in our room, Henry and I headed over to the GQ Lounge for some drinks and hookah, or as the Emirates call it “Sheesha.” A popular misconception about Dubai is that because of its location in the Arab world, that they do not serve alcohol and/or that women who go to visit must wear full robes, let me set the record straight and tell you that neither of that is the case. Although a majority of the population of the people who live in Dubai are Muslims, Dubai is a secular city. Meaning that at certain locations (namely inside hotels and restaurants) people were allowed to drink alcohol and women walked around casually dressed in jeans, blouses and dresses. It is the married women that choose to wear the full black robes depending on their marriage arrangement, which I found to be really cool. At the end of the day Dubai is a tourist attraction and they want visitors to feel comfortable.
This sheesha was much stronger than the hookah back home. We tried a grape mint flavor, which was sweet and smooth, but ultimately gave me a headache, which lead to our exodus back to our room.
We got up early the next morning and decided to start the day off by the pool. The JW Marriott has a beautiful olympic sized pool, that somehow is able to play music that is only heard while you are swimming under water. I can’t even explain it, you just have to experience it to believe me. The pool was located on the roof of the sixth floor providing a great view of downtown Dubai. From standing at the pool you are able to see some of Dubai’s impressive skyline, with nothing more impressive than seeing the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, all the way in the distance, looming over all the other colossal sized buildings. What I appreciated most about the pool area was resting in the shade of the palm trees, also their poolside bar made a killer Pina Colada, judge me if you want to, but that drink was slammin.
We followed up our time in the pool with breakfast down in the lobby. We stopped in a French cafe and bakery called La Farine for a delicious breakfast of eggs, toast, chicken sausage, fresh squeezed orange juice, and a cappuccino, in the words of the great DJ Khaled “bless up!”
We then took a self-guided bus tour around Dubai. Thats my aunt Carolyn using her guide map as a blanket once she got cold, haha. We rode through town and stopped in Jumeriah to walk along the beach. Jumeriah when translated to english mean “Scorched Ember.” Jumeriah was named by the local fisherman decades ago to reflect the burning heat of the sand during Dubai’s long, sweltering summers, when somedays the temperature can reach over 120 degrees. At the end of Jumeriah’s beach sits the Burj Al Arab, the world’s only 7 star hotel. It has its own built in aquarium, over 10 different 5 star restaurants and its own helipad, which when they first opened was used by Tiger Woods to hit golf balls off of.
We then hopped back on the bus and headed down to the manmade islands known as the Palms. The Palms is interesting, it is a beautiful city with detailed landscaping, and multiple hotels and large buildings, however if you were to walk along the main road of the Palms, you would notice a wall that stretches all the way across the island, and right beyond that wall is a cliff that drops straight into the middle of the ocean. The Emirates literally built a city in the middle of the ocean, this freakin’ exists!
On the Palms the main attraction is the Atlantis Hotel. The main lobby was stylistically designed to have a nautical theme, using old wooden doors and colorful seaweed as decorations throughout.
This of course is Michael Jackson, the proclaimed ruler of Atlantis, haha, let’s hope not, theres kids around. Just kidding. We spent the rest of the day walking around the island and shopping before heading back and calling it a day.
The next morning we woke up and visited the French cafe again for breakfast as we decided where to venture off next. We decided to visit the Dubai Mall and then the Burj Khalifa. The Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world and the Burj Khalifa is currently the largest building in the world, resting at 125 flights. I say currently because I learned that at this moment, people in Saudi Arabia are working on their own version of the Burj Khalifa, with the intentions of creating the new tallest building in the world. I’m starting to notice a trend here, what are they over compensating for? Again, just kidding.
When you enter the Dubai mall you are greeted with a magnificent marble fountain surrounded by seahorses, and entranced in the sweet aroma of delicious foods and designer perfume. The mall was extravagant, with name brand fashion designers like Gucci, Tom Ford, Cartier, and others alike. In the middle of the mall is a giant aquarium filled with beautiful and exotic fish.
Following the Aquarium, we continued to explore the mall until we found the Burj Khalifa exhibit. Lines of people snaked around the entrance, waiting to enter an elevator to take them to the top of the tower. As you approach the elevator you pass a 6 foot talk model replica of the Khalifa, lit up in a futuristic neon blue.
The elevator then takes 60 seconds to shoot up 125 flights to the top of the Khalifa. Once atop you can see all the way across Dubai. You don’t realize how high up you are until you start looking down on skyscrapers, and buildings that look massive when looking up from the ground.
I was particularly interested in looking at The Address Hotel, which is the building that caught on fire during Dubai’s New Year’s firework celebration.
Another attraction that draws people from far and wide to the Dubai mall is their waterfall. At the far end of the mall, past the Burj Khalifa and the oh-so-yummy food court is a three-story waterfall. What makes this waterfall so unique is that placed throughout it are gold and bronze statues of men diving into it. The men look fearless as they plunge into the depths of its crevices, they almost look as if they are flying.
That concluded our trip to the Dubai mall, it was time to explore the downtown area.
We took a cab downtown, where we were immediately ambushed by prospective tour guides. We decided to employ this very likable fellow by the name of Abdul Nassar.
I liked Abdul a lot, he was funny, charismatic, knew his way around the city, knew of the best shops and helped us navigate the souqs safely. What I linked most about Abdul Nassar is that he immigrated from the same part of India where my girlfriend Smitha is from, Kerala, aka “God’s Country”. He moved to Dubai to make enough money to move back home and marry his finance. I’m a sucker for romance. Anyway, Abdul lead us to the Gold Souq where we were able to buy quality jewelry. We sat in the jeweler’s shop, tried on different pieces of gold bracelets and necklaces while we sipped on delicious Indian tea.
To navigate from one Souq to another we had to travel by boats across the canals. The design of the boats reminded me of pirate boats. They were styled and painted after the rich colors of the caribbean.
We concluded our shopping at the Souqs, with one final purchase of traditional Arabic abayas. It doesn’t get anymore authentic than this (someone call homeland security, haha). I even bought black sandals to complete the look, they were ridiculously uncomfortable, never should have bought those stupid things, waste of money.
That evening we decided to take a tour of the dessert. Again, we used the help of a guide to drive us through miles of endless sand to reach our next destination.
We drove over sand dunes and sped through the unmanned dessert. My brother Henry caught a severe case of motion sickness, I however thoroughly enjoyed our adventure in the dessert.
We then pulled up to a camp located deep within the dessert. The camp had beautiful Arabian carpets and pillows decorated around the encampment. In one corner, pillows formed a giant circle where people gathered to smoke sheesha. In another corner were giant charcoal grills, where they prepared fresh chicken and lamb kabobs. In the center of the encampment was a stage for performances, which was surrounded by tables for dining.
Beyond the encampment were a bunch of domesticated camels. They were tall and furry and made these weird shrieking sounds similar to that of a goat. At first I was nervous about riding them, not knowing what to expect, but once I gained the courage, it became an enjoyable ride.
The following day, and our last day in Dubai we decided to visit the Marina, a part of Downtown Dubai close to the water, but known for housing many of Dubai’s social elite due to its close proximity to the beach and high end retailers.
We walked and we walked underneath the hot Arabian sun when we heard the roar of car engines driving down the main strip. We looked up to see a fleet of some of the most luxurious cars available on the market.
That night we dined at an Italian restaurant called Posatino located within the J.W. Marriott Hotel. Positino is named after a small town in Italy and they are known for delicious fresh seafood and unmatched wines. It was a good meal, I went with the personal pizza. I’ll say this, “its no Di Fara’s, but it was damn good!”
That night we headed back to the airport and got ready for our 14 and a half hour flight home. It was a great trip and I feel very fortunate that I was able to go. I would encourage everyone to travel the world and to experience other cultures first hand. It will broaden your horizons and help put the true values of life into perspective.