We went to Dubai a few years ago, taking several days as a stopover to break up the lengthy flight between Australia and the UK. While there, we opted to stay in the older part of the city, our hotel looking out at the creek, a mosque and the oldest building in Dubai, a towered mud brick fort (which is now a museum).
My husband had a school friend who lived on Palm Island and he was kind enough to take us for a drive on our first day there – however, lack of sleep and a long flight meant we were drooping in the desert heat, and all I remember of the Atlantis Hotel is a glimpse through half closed eyelids, my daughter asleep against me.
On subsequent days we wandered through the textile market and along the banks of the creek in forty degree heat, my heart in my mouth as I saw the flat topped boats ferrying passengers across the water, thinking of the impossibility of holding my then two-year-old steady if we went on board. (We decided not to, in the end). We did go to Jumeirah beach, the famous Burj Al Arab Hotel like a white sail against the blue waters of the Gulf, then sped along the motorway past gleaming towers, the unfinished Burj Khalifa towering over everything.
On our second last day there we once again walked along the creek, to where it curved like the letter ‘U’. At the apex of the curve stood what was once a Royal Palace, now restored and opened to the public as The Museum of Traditional Architecture. Intrigued, we decided to pay a visit. The thick walls and long verandahs provided welcome respite from the heat, and its position at the curve of the river meant it caught the breeze as well. Inside, the rooms all opened onto a central courtyard, so you had to exit into the courtyard to enter each room on the ground floor. The white-painted walls were almost a foot thick, and one had been left unfinished so we could see the mix of sand and seashells and stones that went into their construction. The decor was neither glittery nor opulent, as you might have expected – instead it was simple and beautiful, with varnished wood, painted walls and carved stone panels, cool stone floors that echoed as we walked through.
The other thing about the Palace was that we were essentially the only people in there, other than a security guard. We did see one other tourist, but he left not long after we arrived. So the security guard took it upon himself to give us an unofficial tour. I remember him taking us into a room where there were two scale models, one of Dubai in the 1950’s and one in the present day – he was obviously immensely proud of what had been accomplished to create this glittering city in the desert. I also remember thinking, as he unlocked one massive wooden door after another, leading us through the palace, that he could just as easily lock the door behind us and no one would know where we were. An uncharitable thought, I’m sure – he was a very nice man and nothing in his manner indicated he would do such a thing. I think it was more that we were the only people in the place – something I found a bit unnerving.
Finally we had seen both levels, sat in the shaded terrace overlooking the river, wandered up and down the open staircases and across the dusty courtyard. As we went to leave, another man appeared. A cleaner, still holding his broom. He came up to our group and held out his hand. ‘Baksheesh,’ he said with a smile. The security guard looked at us and nodded, also smiling. So we hunted around for dirham coins, not wanting to give too much or too little, conscious of wanting to do the right thing. We counted our coins into the cleaner’s still outstretched hand and the security guard inspected our gift, poking it with his finger. Then he smiled and nodded once more. ‘Thank you,’ he said. It seemed we had managed to give the correct amount. Then we exited through the double doors and back onto the riverbank, the noise and bustle of boats and markets surprising after the cool solitude of the Palace.
I found Dubai a fascinating place. Of course it is known for luxury shopping and modern resorts, a gleaming jewel on the shores of the Gulf creating land from water and building ever taller towers. Yet beneath all the glamour the spirit of the original place remains, the people we encountered friendly, welcoming, and immensely proud of their city. I realise that there can be a dark side, as there is to most places, yet in our time there it was not apparent, though we took care to dress and behave appropriately in public, as did the majority of foreign visitors we saw.
So this is my Wednesday Wander for this week – thank you for coming along with me.
Your daughters feet look hot! I love the wander, but boy I don’t envy the 40 degrees!
Yes, it was really hot, especially as we were dressed in clothing that covered us a little more than we would normally be in that weather. And then we had to take turns carrying our daughter as she was hot and tired and two years old, never a good combination 😀
Very brave. We have friends who’ve been in Bahrain for 15 years and visiting them except in winter can be s particular challenge.
The heat is something, isn’t it? Even coming from Australia we found it hot, and we were there in May.
I don’t know how they stand it!
Thanks for taking us through Dubai. Sounds like a fascinating place.
It was certainly interesting – a real mix of east and west.
What a contrast to the gleaming towers and opulence we associate with it now. I lived in a house like that with a central courtyard as a child, when we lived in Kuwait. It was called the Bibbahani. I have no idea what that means. All the rooms opened onto the courtyard. I dont think any of them were connected internally. In the centre of the courtyard was a little green oasis of garden with palm trees. It was equally as hot but always felt cool in the house. I remember waking up and going out into the courtyard and looking up at the square of deep blue sky while my dad blasted out Deep Purple, Moody Blues, Peter Frampton and Pink Floyd. Thanks for bringing back the memories today. 😊
That sounds beautiful, Ali, it’s like a scene from a book – you’ve had such an interesting life! I loved the architecture of the palace and would love to live in a house like that one day – not sure it would suit the British climate though 🙂
Haha! No, probably not! After that we moved to Cyprus before it became a popular tourist spot. We lived in a converted goat barn. The mangers was turned into a sofa and in our bedroom window there was no glass, just an old wooden shutter, but it never got cold enough to matter, even in winter! My childhood was a bit crazy but my adulthood has been much more conventional. 😊
It sounds fascinating! Almost as though there’s a book in it… 😉
Maybe one day… But I find writing about imaginary characters far more interesting and fun!
Me too, though bits of reality seep in every so often 🙂
Ali, that’s fascinating reading about your other life. It’s a long way from Ireland to Kuwait on so many levels! Pink Floyd sounds great under the deep blue sky as well!
Thank you! It’s a very different life for sure. I had quite adventurous parents. My dad still lives in the Middle East, my mum is pretty much settled on a Greek island. I’m not blessed with a great memory, but that particular one in Kuwait of the music and square of deep blue sky is quite clear to me. 😊 Hope all is good with you!
All is good with me, thank you – hope the same for you and that you’re having a good weekend 🙂
This sounds delightful and you’ve made Dubai sound interesting. I’ve always thought of it as a place of extremes and excesses, so it’s lovely to read this and see some of its old culture. What a great tour and guide! I think I would have wanted to run for it, too, but these are the wonderful things that happen when you take a risk—not that we’d want our children to do the same! In 1990, a friend and I backpacked throughout Europe, and while in a café in Zurich, some strangers started talking to us, a sister and a brother. They invited us to spend the weekend with them. My friend and I deliberated, and at the weekend caught the train to their farm near Lichtenstein. We decided that we’d run for it at the first sign of madness, which looking back, wasn’t really a failsafe plan. However, they were the loveliest family, so kind and generous, and it was the highlight of our trip. x
Wow, you did take a chance but how wonderful that it worked out! Sometimes you do have to trust your gut and just do something a little out of the ordinary.
We deliberately chose to stay in the older part of Dubai because we wanted to experience the history and culture when we were there – I was particularly keen to visit the textile market, which was only a couple of blocks from our hotel. I don’t know whether I’d go back, but I’m glad I went there when I did.
Thanks, Helen, You wrote a wonderful account of Dubai and like other people have said, made it sound much more authentic and interesting than just an lavish, oversized shopping mall.
Thank you 🙂 It was an interesting place, and there was definitely more to it than just beaches and shopping. Glad you enjoyed my Wander!
Awesome. I’d like to visit but not sure how sensible it would be for my particular family. Shame really there are a few places I’ll never get to visit. But I guess that’s the way the world is
Yes, it’s a shame, isn’t it? My sister-in-law is very heavily tattooed and, when in Rome recently, had issues going into Vatican City because of it. It’s a sadness that such prejudices still exist, especially if it stops you experiencing something that you want to do.
Its ridiculous and shameful. I can’t believe society hasn’t sorted its life out yet.