I've just returned from a restorative two-week break in Dubai. The emirate is a kind of 'maximum city' that thrives on tourism and commerce (oil revenues are negligible). Development is quick and experimental and growth is fuelled by a heady spirit of conspicuous consumption, and equal parts Western ex-pat brainpower and Asian subcontinent elbow grease. These are the ingredients required to make a modern Dubai in line with the the astutae Sheikh's grand development plan, which has a cook time of over a decade.
A few notes from the holiday (a brief diary from my last visit in 2008 can be found here):
- Each day seemed about 30% longer than a regular day in the UK, due to the novelty factor experienced on most holidays in foreign lands.
- Over the fortnight we experienced 36 degree heat, hail, rain, and even a couple of days of sand storms.
- Tourists don't use dedicated cameras anywhere near as much as they did several few years ago, and instead rely on their smartphones to capture their experiences. Tripods have been replaced with 'selfie-sticks'
- The more things change, the more they stay the same: the pace of development is unchanged and the emirate feels very much like a place that is still under construction. The main road that runs through Dubai is now fully seven lanes on either side. Drivers are less reckless than before but still take way more risks than in the UK, and traffic is hell and probably will always be hell.
- The price of street tea has doubled in English money terms and now costs around 45-50p. It's way better than the coffee and tea sold by the chains, which costs 10x as much.
- The taxi drivers all drive Toyota Camry's - the Camry was the best selling car in the US for 12 years straight but the Toyota stopped selling the car in the UK back in 2004 as interest dwindled. A shame, as I would have marked it as a potential next car.
- There are far fewer stray cats about the city. We did come across a completely famished ginger cat in one of the parks, who eagerly lapped up two thirds of a spare almost croissant!
- Sites visited included: several parks, various malls, souks and beaches, the tallest building in the world (Burj Khalifa), Sharjah, Abu Dhabi (Grand Mosque), Ajman, lots of restaurants, a fish market, the Dubai Fountain (lit by 6.600 lights and fires water over 150m high, all choreographed to music), the terribly gaudy Miracle Gardens, the Dubai Creek, and the Bastakiya artistic area which houses a wonderful coffee museum.
- Even though we enjoyed two to three outings a day, I found lots of time to read through a pile of books, both virtual and paper-based.
- On returning to the UK, the weather was some 15-20 degrees lower than Dubai. However, I didn't feel a shock of cold and am happily wearing the same clothes I wore when I left Dubai. The chill in the air is quite invigorating, although I am keenly await the coming of Spring.
Photos from the trip will trickle in over the coming week or so.