When we flew into Dubai it was possible to see the Palm from the air and very impressive it is too, but nothing compares to seeing it close up.Trying to get my head round the idea that this is actually land reclaimed from the sea and where I’m now standing was once 4 miles off shore is too overwhelming for my tiny mind to understand. Gleaming at the end of the palm is the salmon pink palace that is the Atlantis hotel.Like everything else in this city that has no limits the Atlantis is a monument to an overwhelming sense of money, imagination and confidence. At some point Sheik Mohammed called his inner circle to a meeting and said something like this. ” Right chaps, I have a plan. We’re Going to build a high end resort, shape it like a palm tree and on each leaf of that palm tree will be hundreds of houses. In order to do this we are going to have to reclaim the sea in an area of approximately 30 sq miles. Oh, and at the end of it we will build one of the most iconic hotels, the biggest waterpark in the world and an aquarium to rival any others, anywhere. Any questions?”
Now if this conversation had of been anywhere in the UK the health and safety execs would have gone mental, the head of the bank of England would have shot himself and the unions would have all gone on strike but out in the UAE things are different. They collectively said ” that’s a crackingly good idea boss, less do it” And they did. The Atlantis is like everywhere else in Dubai, especially if you’re trying to do it on a budget because you’re allowed to go up to it,look at it and indeed take a picture of it but unless you bleed cash looking at it is as close as you’re ever going to get to it. Like the aforementioned Burj Khalifa you can go inside it but the bits you can go inside and see are fairly underwhelming really. I wanted to see the opulence of its interior, I wanted to gaze in awe at this palace and rub shoulders with its residents but in order to do so a reservation is required. As if to emphasise the richness of this place,just after you walk in through one of the publicly accessible entrances there is a gold atm. I don’t just mean gold in colour but a machine that after you have put in your card and pin number will dispense a gold ingot instead of cash! It’s a shame that the rest of the hotel isn’t accessible but In hindsight it was to be expected as I suppose if I pitched up at the reception at the savoy and started taking pictures I’d expect to be escorted of the premises but this place is meant to be different, it’s advertised as a landmark spot on the tourist trail so maybe it should be a little more accessible? Having said that it’s still way more accessible than our next stop, the even more exclusive Burj al Arab.
Dubai taxis are unlike taxis anywhere else in the world in so far as they are not driven by men with suicidal tendencies or wannabe stunt men. They are all ( seemingly) very nice, understand exactly what you say to them and are incredibly good value. I once got a black cab from one part of Croydon to another and had to undergo open wallet surgery at the end of it but these guys will drive you around in a Mercedes Benz for as long as you like for about 40p a mile.They are also controlled by and metered by the government so your very unlikely to find yourself in any spot of bother. When you tell one of these guys that you want to go to the Burj al Arab you find they are even more obliging than normal as they now consider you to be either royalty, a celebrity or just super rich. Our driver was visibly disappointed to discover that we just wanted dropping off outside rather than taken in to the grounds. The road that leads to the Burj al Arab is gated with some fairly beefy security around it and unless you have a reservation or you’re resident the gate is as close as you get. Apparently you can take afternoon tea for a minimum spend of £300 but we decided that the budget we had would mean we would have to chose between a cup of hopefully very nice tea or a flight home. This place is so exclusive that not only is getting inside it virtually impossible, taking a photo of it was going to prove difficult too. Occasionally the gates would open to allow more money to drive through and at that point a photo could be taken but I wanted a sideways on picture like the ones you see on the postcards. All the beaches to the left of it were privately owned by the hotels as was the one to the right, the also iconically shaped Jumeriah beach hotel. Next to that though was a public beach so I convinced my now very fed up lady to walk the mile or so with me.When we got there I was most pissed off to discover that a fence had been put up that was 6ft high and stretched into the sea which would prevent us from getting a close up. A walk back to the gate to find out how to access anywhere to take a picture resulted in lots of bad language and sarcasm, not only between me and Cally but also at the locals who admittedly did their best but were generally useless. As my patience and remaining water had now long evaporated a taxi driver who spoke a little English came over to help but just as I opened my mouth to speak to him a fly flew straight in to it and lodged itself at the back of my throat. As he was trying to talk to me I was trying to get rid of the fly and was making all manner of odd facial expressions with he translated into ” this guys mental,I’m out of here” so he left us. We abandoned our Quest to see the Burj but instead got another cab to the nearby mall of the Emirates.
Prior to the Dubai mall opening, the mall of the emirates was THE place to go to and houses all the big name stores you’d expect to find in any upmarket high street. I’m probably one of a small breed of people that has now been to the Louis Vuitton stores in Paris, Budapest and Dubai and not been into any of them as there were two other far more important places to go and the first was a massive priority. The thing with McDonald’s restaurants is that they are allegedly the same the world over but I can tell you that this is not true. Whilst they all look the same the foreign ones seem to have a much better choice so while we were both eating our large McArabia meals with a gallon of fanta each ( all for under £10) we, well I, plotted the next move. Still determined to find a view of the Burj I decided I needed to go back so I connected up to the free wifi in the mall and trawled through google to get some help and as it turned out the very same public beach we had been at an hour or so previously was exactly the right place, we just needed to have walked halfway along the beech and we would have been in the perfect place. After calming down,Cally agreed that we could indeed go back. What a woman. That was probably not the best time then to announce that I wanted to go to the ski slope. One of the other things I wanted to see was the indoor ski slope that the Arabs had built inside this shopping centre and it was only a few hundred metres away. In order for everyone to get a look at it, massive windows are in place but as is the way with everything in this country if your rich enough to take part in it you’ll have a most amazing experience but nobody has given any thought as to how tourists like me can view and take decent pictures and therefore we get the thin end of the wedge. These windows that allow you to view the ski slope have the ski lift mechanism right in front of them but the ones that give you a perfect unimpeded view… Are from the restaurant at ground level. Despite this frustration I waited by the window to get a good photo but as I stood there an American stood right in front of me and took his own. I gave up.
Another cab ride took us back to the beach again and he dropped us off in just the right place. There in front of us was the Burj al Arab and virtually silhouetted against a soon to be setting sun. Like millions of other people I have stood in front of the pyramids of Giza and climbed the final few steps up the Empire state building and I have felt privileged to do so and this was another one of those moments. All the time and effort it’s taken to get here has been more than worthwhile and best of all this time it’s totally free. Despite time running out to get the bus back to the hotel we sat and watched the sun set next to this most iconic and beautiful of buildings and my little strop and tantrum earlier had meant that we could see this sunset and had actually had a better experience as a result and it was a time that I’ll never forget. After getting yet another cab back to the coach we made it by just 10 minutes but we could sit back contented at our days achievements surrounded by people who were sharing the pictures they’d taken during the day which all seemed to be of the shopping mall. I definitely feel that we had had the best day of anyone one else around us. The following day, our last, was to be another ‘rest and burn’ at the hotel with the occasional beer thrown in before the early start for the journey home.
So my overall thoughts on Dubai.Dubai is a city ruled and governed by people with an unlimited imagination and virtually unlimited money combined with determination and a dream to turn a small fishing village into a growing 21st century city with yet more to come. It strikes me that it’s a rich mans playground with the have’s being able to enjoy the most opulent of lives while the have nots are able to join the party but only in an observing capacity; a kind of look but don’t touch attitude prevails. Yes you can take the worlds fastest elevator to the top of the worlds tallest building but even then the nicer views come at a cost and most of the other attractions are not accessible if your not rich. I’d like to have walked along the pavements alongside the skyscrapers but the city’s transport system doesn’t make it easy or in some cases even possible. There were no public parks to enjoy although of course there are plans to build one UAE style which will of course be the biggest park in the world, and the metro system might be driver less but if it takes two hours to get from one part of the city to another what’s the point? This city is a cross between the computer game ‘Sim City’ and the film ‘Blade runner’ in both appearance and design, this is demonstrated regularly such as when the sheiks want an airport they press a button and get one and when they want the worlds biggest/tallest/most amazing anything they get one. I just hope they don’t leave their people behind in this quest. But anyway what do I care, after all I’m only here for a week and I’m here to take advantage of all that it has to offer but on the negative side I have found it to be rich on the surface but lacking any substance,class or even a heartbeat underneath.The gold clad surface certainly shimmers and makes all the headlines but gold on its own is passionless unless its turned into something meaningful or decorative but then again maybe all cities are like that at birth,which this city certainly is. Like the super rich and powerful Pharos in ancient Egypt who left centuries old legacies maybe the Sheiks are following that pattern and maybe in the year 5012 the people of the future will look back in awe and amazement at how all of this could happen given the ‘primitive’ people’s of the past. On the positive side this city SHOULD be the blueprint for the future, we shouldn’t be ashamed of change or progress and we shouldn’t be shackled by the chains of restraint and uncertainty. We should be bold and upbeat and harness our imaginations to create worlds like this, worlds where we forget how NOT to do things but collectively grow a pair of balls and go for it.