Dubai - Bigger. Better. Faster.
February 16th, 2011

It has certainly been a while since I wrote my last article on delicious:days, usually you only get to see my views on the world – and the places Nicky and I travel to – through my travel photography. This is Oliver, Nicky’s better other half, the guy with the stained T, keeping the engine of the blog humming.

With Nicky’s packed schedule the next days, I took the extraordinary opportunity and quickly hijacked all editor panes, crafting a little travel report of our recent trip to Dubai. A short, yet delightful adventure in the Arabic world, with all its idiosyncrasies and things that got lost in translation.

More photo impressions here »

Dubai. Bigger. Better. Faster. A city full of superlatives, but also contrasts. Despite it’s financial situation a few years back, the city seems to be getting back on track, including new investments on various levels. Literally so. Just this month, At.Mosphere the highest-altitude restaurant, opened its doors on the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa. Directly vis-à-vis the Dubai Mall with its ridiculous amount of 1200 stores spread across 4 levels – huge damage potential guaranteed. Watch out!

Getting around in Dubai is sort of easy, finding your destination a bit more challenging. The transportation of choice clearly is the taxi, provided you know exactly where you’re going, preferably including your destination’s vicinity. And don’t be mislead to believe that Google maps will give you that information just like that, many of the POI’s we had pin point down were off the mark or even showed up in wrong parts of the city. Be sure to double, better yet, triple check directions and addresses, in particular for smaller, less touristy spots. And apply some common sense, where we didn’t.

Once you’re in a cab a couple of things can happen. The overly talkative, your-brother-from-another-mother type driver who assures you that he is YOUR man – an hour notice is all it takes and he’ll be there for you. He’s rambling non stop, the meter is off and by now we’ve made the second completely pointless U-turn and it’s not exactly a scenic route either. Oh well, it was our first ride, he got us, we paid 3 times the actual price, but arrived at last. The next day, believe it or not, we accidentally (odds??) got in the same cab yet again, needless to say we had a little chat with “our man”. Other cab experiences included a flat tire while going 70 inner city. I’m positive that the driver has experienced worse, he was in a Zen like mode when it happened. Inshallah.

The Basta Art Café is a wonderful place to start your day. Located in-midst the Bastakia on Al Fahidi St., near Dubai Museum, it offers a cozy garden courtyard and good mix of local and European breakfast/brunch dishes. A scent of incense reminds you where you are, should the environment capture your senses. Opposed to information found elsewhere, they do accept credit cards. Check out the artwork, too!

Connnecting Bur Dubai and Deira, the Abra station (Old Souk) is merely a stone throw away, a nice stroll alongside the Creek. The 5 minute Abra ride to the Deira side (Spice Souk station) is fun but way too short, I could have easily gone back and forth several times if we weren’t slightly pressed for time. Start in the morning, skip the spice souk for now and instead head straight to the fish souk (near Shindagha Tunnel/bus station) for the catch of the day (~15 min walk).

You’ll love the souks. Nicky and I could care less about the gold souk, but the fish, fruit & vegetable as well as spice souk are absolutely worth a visit. The abundance of fresh fish is amazing, the market dynamics fun to watch. The vendors are very friendly, yet much less intrusive than the ones at the spice market and will -once they spot your camera- launch an instant party. To the side of the fish area you’ll find a closed meat section with all kinds of interesting cuts and bigger, more intact pieces – if you know what I mean. Things you usually don’t get to see at your butcher next door. Not for the faint of heart, but quite impressive nevertheless.

The vegetable market itself is unspectacular and can’t hold the candle to its fishy neighbor, but its date section is an absolute must. The variety of dates and tempting offers to sample here and there were only slightly overshadowed by the lingering thought of: how many more can I possibly try before…anyway, we returned with more than 3 kg of delicious dates that day. Do visit, don’t miss out!

The spice souk is a sensory delight. If you just want to quickly scan the wealth of products offered by the various vendors, beware of the “where you from?” pitch. As much as your well behaved and polite inner self demands you to at least verbally respond (with anything), simply don’t. That way you’ll at least make it to one more stall that morning or afternoon. Showing slightly too much interest in an item may be equally risky, unless you’re ready to engage in lively haggling. Recipes Sales advice for successfully haggling your way through a transaction can easily be googled, I highly recommend getting acquainted with some of the basic moves.

To wind down, after a long day, a great place for a sun-downer is the 360@JBH next to the Burj al Arab, a big enough land mark for cabs to find the spot hassle-free. But: getting there is not the issue, getting in may be. Here is the quick guide (and a shortcut) on how to get in when they -quite unexpectedly- pull the guest list card in front of you.

The concierge told us that because of the day and time and moon phase we’d have to be on the said list, otherwise we would be out of luck. Of course now we know that Friday eve between 6 and 7 pm there is always a guest list. Here is the transcript of the following conversation:

we: Could you please add us to the guest list then?
them: No sir, you would have to sign up online.
we: Online?
them: Yes, Platinum List handles that. Just go to: p-l-a-t-i-n-u-m-l-i-s-t-.-a-e.

Meanwhile the iPhone is hooked up to the hotel’s wireless network, we’re on the website and realize we need to setup an account first. Luckily that worked painlessly, the confirmation email arrived seconds later and our new account confirmed. Logged in, however, we can’t for the life of it find a way to “sign up” for anything [sun is starting to set]:

we: Now that we have an account with Platinum List, how do we actually sign up for today’s guest list?
them: Uh, I’m not sure. [Puts on thinking cap & out of the blue:] You’re good, you can proceed to the gate!
we:: Really ?!? [Wait, what did we miss?]

Outside the hotel, past the parking lot, we get stopped at the access gate to the 360 bar. Only the Hummer on the lot is bigger than the bouncer:

them: Welcome to the 360. Are you on the guest list?
we: Yep. [Ok, we could have said “since 5 minutes ago”]
them: Sorry we can’t find you on our list here, did you sign up today? [Sharp as a knife]
we: Yes. [Smile]
them: Ooookay [Makes some important moves]. No problem, enjoy your stay.

Hilarious. Anyway, cutting a long story short, if you want to get in and forgot about the guest list or couldn’t find a way to sign in, I would simply proceed to the 360 access gate (it’s where the fancy cars are parked – Bob, you would have loved it!) and tell them in a Yedi [insert hand gesture] kinda way “we just signed up 5 minutes ago”. I’ll take any bet, you won’t be sent away.

Going there after 6:00 pm guarantees you a wonderful sunset, catchy tunes from the resident DJ and tasty cocktails. Highly recommended.

With an accelerated learning curve behind us, I think we’ll be back. Thank you Patricia for the great tips!

[Oliver]

Finally, a few more pointers/suggestions:

Ravi - Satwa Rd, great, original Pakistany curries, very down to earth – $
Rupee Room – Dubai Marina, superb Indian restaurant – $$
Neos - The Address, bar with great view (Sunset!) – $$$
Hotel Al Manzil – downtown/next to Burj Khalifa, our hotel – $$
Souk Madinat – Jumeirah, vibrant arabian market, with a lively trading culture – $$
Ladurée – Dubai Mall, French macarons – $$
Eric Kayser – Dubai Mall, French bakery – $
Dean & Deluca – Dubai Mall, deli/supermarket – $$
Pinkberry – Mall of the Emirates, frozen yogurt – $

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