November – Thanksgiving break seemed the perfect time for a getaway! This time we set our sights on Dubai, United Arab Emirates. We started out of Washington Dulles Airport, in Virginia. Since we wanted to maximize our time, the kids and I were packed and waiting at the gate for my husband. He had just landed from his trip, changed clothes and within 1 hour we were boarding the flight to Dubai. It was kinda like a Clark Kent moment. After the 15 hour flight, we arrived 9 time zones later at night in Dubai. We received a beautiful stamp in our passports and were on our way. With UAE Dirham (local currency) in hand, we hit the duty-free shop on the way out of the airport. Alcoholic beverages are not easily found in the UAE, so we picked up a few things to have with us. Just a side note, if a restaurant is “licensed”, that meant it served alcohol. It was a quick ride to the Crowne Plaza, Festival Centre. After checking in (you must present your passport again) we took a stroll along the promenade in front of the hotel. We marveled at the impressive mega yachts in the marina right on the Dubai Creek.
In the morning we could see views across the water to the Burj Khalifa. It’s the worlds tallest building.
Dubai was truly different from anywhere else I had ever been. Everything was pretty much new, very modern and clean. All the huge malls surprised me. I’m not really a shopper, but I just had to check it out. The malls were full of every store imaginable. You almost felt like you were in the states with all the western chain stores and even fast food dining. But then, they had the extreme. Like the indoor snow skiing with chair lifts at Mall of the Emirates. Cleverly named SKI DUBAI. You could rent everything you needed right there for a day of fun in the snow. The Dubai Mall had the massive Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. My kids were especially drawn to the huge candy store across from the aquarium. Nothing was lacking; shopping, skiing, ice skating. You name it – they had it and it was air-conditioned.
We went from mega shopping malls to the Old Souqs, which were the historic outdoor market places. There was the Gold Souq, Old Souq, Textile Souq, etc… Everything was on beautiful display. This was more what I had expected to find in Dubai.
The Spice Souq had a colorful array of spices. It really put our prepackaged McCormick to shame back home.
From the Old Souq we took the water taxi that sailed along the Dubai Creek. We watched all the dhows (large wooded cargo boats) docked loading and unloading cargo. It was strange to see these old boats with the ultra modern high rises in the backdrop.
Then, it was back to the extravagant. There were beaches with imported sand like in front of the Burj al-Arab, which was built on a manmade island.
Of course, on another manmade island there was Atlantis; the huge Palm Hotel and water park. It’s hard to believe Dubai used to be a little fishing village.
From early morning till night, you could heard the call to prayer from all the mosque minarets. Minarets are the tall slender tower of a mosque with balconies and speakers from which the summons to prayer were cried by the muezzin.
By far – the highlight of our trip was when we took a desert safari in 4×4 SUVs into the endless sand dunes. The hotels have all the information and it could be set up a day in advance. The tour company picked us up from the hotel and we drove out of the city to where the Arabian Desert starts. We had gone from skyscrapers to no-mans land. Before entering the dunes, the driver waited for other SUVs to arrive, so we could caravan together. We got out and walked around the touristy pit stop. I had to use the restroom, but once I saw it was a hole in the ground, opted to wait till later and hoped for the best! There was a man who had a falcon you could hold on your arm. It is one heavy bird. The falcon has a big part in their history. It helped the bedouin (nomads) hunt for food; interesting. Once all the SUVs had arrived, the drivers lowered the tire pressure before entering the The Dubai Conservation Reserve. Then we raced like mad up and down the dunes, one after another. To tell you the truth, I was scared for my life! But we survived! It was right before sunset and the color of the dunes were a blazing orange that changed with the shadows of the sunset. We “sand boarded” (like snowboarding) down the dunes before arriving at the tent where we would have dinner.
There, we rode camels, ATVs, and got Henna tattoos. The tattoo lady was incredible. Effortlessly, she painted a beautiful design on my daughter’s arm. By now, it was total darkness outside the tent except for the starry sky. We settled down on pillows and low tables to enjoy the local food, music and dancers. It was a magical night. A Thanksgiving to be remembered.
That is one of the coolest parts about traveling, you never know what you will experience! There is always something new and interesting to see.