Thursday, April 12, 2007

There and back again (My trip to Dubai)

Planes: four airports and three flights in 28 hours. As Katie succinctly put it, “Some people are nice, some people aren’t.” Enjoyed three hours at Heathrow, especially the shortbread.

First impressions: Hot. Dry. And yet surprisingly green. Traditional Arab dhows along the waterfront port. Construction cranes. Good air-conditioning in both cars and buildings.

Gold & Diamond Souk: Wow. I am not a bling-bling person, but this souk is darned impressive. Jewels in every color and size, many that look just like the ring-pops I buy my kids. Only real. Katie bought her husband a wedding ring. I bought a pair of rosy garnet earrings (pink with little diamonds on top.) My favorite shops were the ones that sold traditional Indian jewelry, the kind brides wear at their weddings. The most stunning gold work, all twisted and coiled and filigreed and no doubt weighing dozens of pounds.

Jumeirah Mosque: The only mosque in Dubai open to non-Muslims. They lead tours several mornings a week. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. We had a wonderful guide, an engineering student from Dubai Men’s College, who first showed us the washing ritual done outside the mosque before prayers. Inside the mosque, women were asked to cover their hair and then we had a discussion that ranged from the Five Pillars of Islam to Mecca to the purpose of the women covering themselves when outside their home to Ramadan. The mosque is beautiful (“Old, very old” as he put it—28 years, which is very old in Dubai!) and we were encouraged to take pictures. I tried not to flinch when an American asked about Islam and violence, but the young man handled it very well.

Malls: Dubai is famous for its malls, each one bigger and more elaborate than the last. We started out at the Mall of the Emirates, which is famous for Ski Dubai at one end, an indoor ski slope and tubing hill. Nothing like watching women in abayas (the black outer robe) on skies. There’s a grocery story in this mall (including an olive bar, with dozens of kinds of olives, and an elaborate spice area with both ground and whole spices) and our favorite part of this mall was the escalator for shopping carts right in the middle. No steps, just a long slope so you could get your shopping cart up to the next floor. We also spent a little time at Ibn Batutta Mall, which is built around seven different courtyards (Indian, Persian, Egyptian, to name a few) and at the Madinet Souk which, as its name implies, is constructed to look like a very upmarket Arabian souk. And all of this leads inevitably to . . .

Shopping: I did remarkably little shopping in the malls. Okay, I did come out of Ibn Batutta with a pink camel for my daughter. Come on, what 8-year-old girl wouldn’t love a pink camel! But the bulk of my shopping was done in two places, only one of which I’ll mention right here. The Fakih Antiques Museum. (I think. I don’t have any of their bags around any more to check that spelling.) It’s located in construction zone (what part of Dubai isn’t?) and in a group of warehouses that look like, well, warehouses on the outside. The only hint of something special are the enormous wooden doors that are truly antiques and that you can buy if you so desire. You enter the outer doors into a very modern reception area, then you go up two steps, duck to get through a short wooden carved door and voila! You’re in Aladdin’s cave. Or something near to it. Aisles about three feet wide, floor to ceiling shelves, a perfect jumble of boxes and lamps and tourist stuff and silver and shoes and pashminas and tablecloths and framed scorpions and bottled snakes . . . I’ve never had so much fun shopping in my life. We actually went twice. The last day we’d thought of several more things that we had to take home as gifts and so we returned. What are some of the amazing things I found, for myself or others?

Gifts: Embroidered tunics for 6 dollars. Hand-beaded shoes for 20 dollars. Pashminas for anywhere from 10 to, hmmm, I didn’t buy the most expensive ones that went up to 500 dollars. I decided on quantity—5 pashminas as gifts and 4 for myself. Traditional Omani daggers (tourist quality, not sharp) for my boys. An alarm clock that sounds the call to prayer. A little gold genie lamp for my youngest. Jewelry for my daughter. Silk table runner for my mother-in-law. A silk and velvet bedspread for me—only 100 dollars! Truly, it’s a miracle we got everything in our suitcases. And that’s without touching the other great shopping experience . . .

Oman: We spent three days at the Al-Sawadi beach resort in neighboring Oman. What could be better than a beach, a pool, the best massage of my life, a henna tattoo, and all-inclusive food. (Don’t get me started on the dessert bar—I’m hooked on Arabic honey pastries for life!) One night, Katie and I took the free shuttle bus to Muscat, the capital, about an hour away. We were dropped off outside the Mutrah souk, which can trace its history back hundreds of years. Muscat is a beautiful city, situated around a port that the Portugese controlled for some time. There are a series of old forts perched on the mountaintops around the city and we heard the call to prayer from a lovely mosque as we arrived. The souk is amazing—all winding pathways and inlaid ceilings and carved walls. It was here that I most felt foreign. Dubai is crawling with foreigners, but we could go fifteen or twenty minutes in the Mutrah souk as the only white women and the only ones not wearing the abaya and head scarf. We provoked some giggles and stares from passing girls. It was in the souk that I bought perhaps my favorite gift—a singing camel for my 5-year-old. But the bulk of our shopping was done on the promenade, particularly an Indian fabric store. They’ll be talking about us for months—the American ladies who know how to sew and bought meters and meters of Indian raw silk and other gorgeous fabric. It’s sitting in my sewing room right now, just waiting to be turned into gorgeous dresses.

Food: Yummy, both the expensive and the cheap. Cheeseburgers at the Food and Juice Centre in Muscat, chicken with bones at Eat and Drink Restaurant in Dubai, Thai buffet across the water from the famous Burg Hotel, outstanding desserts at the Lime Tree Café, even beef bacon at the beach resort.

Coming home: Long. Exhausting. Topped off by my friend’s missing bag at the end. Glad to report the bag has made its way home and is now in her hands. I would go again. I want to go again, to see how Dubai changes and to visit more of Muscat.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow--your entry makes me really want to go to Dubai. Oh, wait a second. I AM in Dubai! Hey, I am sooo glad you and Katie came for a visit. You may be surprised to know that C misses you. He's asked me several times when you are coming back. Out of the blue last night, he said, "It's so lonely here without Katie and Laura." I hope that guilts you into wanting to come back soon.