Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Impressions

If I had to sum up my week in the Emirates to a few paragraphs, this is what I would tell you. Yes, the Emirates, Dubai and Abu Dhabi specifically, are a clash of modern with the old. The newly constructed buildings are toeing the line of reality. Things don't seem real there. Everything at first glance is shiny and new. The buildings, malls, metros.
Burj Al Khalifa World's Tallest Building 
Burj Al Arab World's Only 7 Star Hotel 
Emirates Palace cost US$3Billion to construct this hotel

But then, you also see the old, sometimes crumbling, buildings. The shops that have been around for years that are outdated serving local cuisine or trading local products that have been beaten down by the sand and sun.
Old Dubai

The people. Nicholas and I were surprised at how generous, warm and kind the people are there. The men are extremely chivalrous. Never would a seat on the metro or bus not be offered to a woman if a man was seated. Doors were held open. People smiled and were happy. We had many occasions of having a meal in a local restaurant and when realizing the waitstaff spoke no English, we communicated with  pointing, smiles and hand motions like you would anywhere in the world. However, I always felt like we were really communicating and understanding each other. Our last meal in Dubai, the waiter/owner treated us to a local dessert just because.

The start of the sandstorm

The weather. It was HOT. Super hot. After a couple of days, we would say things like, Wow, it is only 96 today? It feels great out! The sun was constantly beating down and the only escape from the heat was to slip into a shop with air conditioning or to find a palm tree to stand under. No joke, the shade felt so refreshing. Although they don't get rain or snow storms, they do experience sandstorms and we happened to be traveling from Abu Dhabi to Dubai when one hit. It was crazy. People reacted just as if it were a torrential downpour or a blizzard. Because it is, just with sand. Visibility disappears and everyone on the road puts their flashing lights on. 

Spice Shop

The food. I was in my own personal heaven. Upon sitting, there were olives placed in front of us at most places. We drank fresh pomegranate and watermelon juices. Giant barrels filled with pistachios, spices and other nuts lined the store fronts. Hummus, baba ganouj, shawarma, pita, naan, etc, was served everywhere. We stayed near the fish market in Dubai and I fell in love. The stench almost caused an immediate gag-reflex but once you adjusted, the mountains and varieties of fish blew my mind. I fantasized what it would be like to live there and come to the market and buy the local fish for dinner. For someone who loves to have a cocktail or glass of wine with dinner, I did not miss alcohol once while I was there. Sure, we could have had a drink if we went to a hotel bar, etc, but why would you and miss the local scene?

Fish Market

Directions. In the UAE there are no street addresses. At first, I thought each place we were staying was trying to be discreet, but I soon realized that no buildings are numbered and addresses are given in the way I would give them to friends. "Yep, we are just down the small side road off of the plaza. Tall white building next to turnaround. Above the makeup shop." This is how we were told directions. When we stayed in Abu Dhabi the last night, we were told it was one of two rose-colored buildings, the one closest to another landmark with a light fixture store at the bottom and with a doorman whose name is Abbas, if during the day, or Abubkar at night. Trust me, it is not always the easiest way to maneuver new cities, but it sure made it interesting.

Mosque at sunset

The customs. Although it was strange not hold hands with Nicholas or steal kisses from time to time, and to have to wear much more clothing than I would during a Swiss summer, let alone walking the streets of a desert, you adjust. I could not believe the women wore their traditional black dress and head scarves in the intense heat. And, I didn't find it fair that the men got to wear white... I even had to dress fully covered to enter the Mosque, while Nicholas got to keep his street clothes on. Trust me, it is just as hot as it looks.

That was a camera smile, underneath I was dying of heat
Notice who is showing some arms here...

But that is the joy of traveling and trying new things. If you are lucky, you get a tiny glimpse into what life for others is like. When you suddenly understand something that you never grasped before. At the end of the day, we found that we shared much more similarities than differences. In fact, I couldn't help but compare it to the US. We felt right at home in the middle of the desert.

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