A full day of touring in Dubai, from old to ultra-new

Our 14-hour flight from Atlanta to Dubai last night went smoothly and we both managed to get some decent sleep. When we arrived just before 8 p.m., it was nice to have just a 10-minute taxi ride (35 dirham, about $10) to the Park Hyatt Hotel.

I discovered the Park Hyatt online and am very glad that I did. It is an exquisite property: a low-rise hotel in the middle of a bustling metropolis. It is flanked on one side by the Dubai Creek Golf Club and other the other by the Dubai Yacht Club. All are situated on “the Creek,” which in this case is the quiet meandering Dubai Creek (it would be called a river anywhere else) which winds through the north part of the city.

The Park Hyatt overlooks the Dubai Yacht Club

This was to be our home for two nights and we appreciated the spacious room and the grandiose bathroom (almost larger than the room). We walked around the hotel (which is softly lit by candles all over the grounds), enjoyed a glass of wine on the Terrace overlooking the marina and then went immediately to bed. Long days of travel do take their toll.

We woke fairly refreshed this morning and it was wonderful to luxuriate on the balcony with hot steaming coffee provided complimentary from the hotel…

We had a bit of time to explore the golf club and marina before our guide Jahan picked us up for a thorough day of touring. This is our first trip to Dubai and we were fortunate to have the Dubai Tourism Authority arrange a comprehensive schedule for us.

We soon discovered that there are really only two primary areas of interest for first-time visitors: The Creek and The Beach. Archaeologists have discovered that people have occupied the banks of the Creek since approximately 4,000 B.C. However, throughout history mostly small settlements were here, primarily used for trading. Most of the residents were Bedouins who lived a nomadic lifestyle, using camels for transportation.

Part of the reason that the Creek was not used more heavily for commerce is that the mouth of the creek was shallow and full of silt. It was not until the 1970’s that the Creek was dredged to allow small ships to sail further up the river. Then in the 1960’s oil was discovered and Dubai was destined to be changed forever.

The souks reflect the markets of yesteryear

It is well worth exploring the Creek area before you plunge into the “new” Dubai. Today we first visited the Gold Souk. This bazaar with world-famous with approximately 350 shops. You may or may not want to buy anything but it is interesting to see the intricate designs, many specifically for wedding ornamentation. If you do decide to purchase, know that the price of gold per gram is fixed, however, you are expected to negotiate the price of the “labor” to design the item.

From here we walked through the spice souk and then a general bazaar where everything from T-shirts to shoes are sold. Here the shops of very small and along small alleys.

Many local laborers come here to shop as prices are far below those found in shopping malls. This can be a good place to pick up small souvenirs such as embroidered gauze tops (good as beach cover-ups) and ornamental purses, but realize that most of these products are produced in either India or Pakistan. Unfortunately, you are likely to be pestered by street vendors who are trying to sell you everything from coffee to purses (they are illegal, but omnipresent).

The Gold Souk is full of small shops

From here we take a water taxi across the creek. It will cost you only 1 dirham (about 25 cents) to hop on a small communal boat called an Abra or you can hire your own for not much more. While on the boat, we are able to see that the Creek is lined with larger wooden boats called dhous (pronounced “dow”) all along its banks. These bring products from Iran, India and Pakistan and take back goods to those countries. The crews on these boats must live on board they as they do not have residency permits for Dubai. There are at least a hundred of these in the river and most are pretty basic. They stay from two days to a week. It is somewhat amazing to see these rather crude vessels just a half mile from the grand yachts at the marina.

Also, when you are looking where to stay in Dubai be careful of hotels that advertise that they are “on the Creek.” In actuality, most are across the highway from the Creek and you really cannot access the water, even for a stroll, because the wharfs are full of dhous. By contrast, the Park Hyatt Hotel is directly on the water.

The Dubai Museum is a must-see

From the Abra station, we walk another five minutes to the Dubai Museum. Located in a fort dating back to Bedouin times, it is a must-see for the first-time visitor who wants to understand the growth of this city. The displays are not elaborate, but are well-documented. The information, all which is in Arabic and English, is straightforward and easy to understand. It will take you only about an hour to go through the museum but you will come away with a much clearer understanding of the history of Dubai.

The upper level has displays and artifacts, while the lower level has a series of dioramas showing life in earlier times.

The present ruler of Dubai is His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. He is also the vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.

For more information on travel to Dubai, visit www.definitelydubai.com.

Tomorrow: Everything is Dubai is “over the top”

United Arab Emirates:

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven sheikhdoms located in the southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Bordered by the Sultanate of Oman and the Gulf of Oman to the east, Saudi Arabia to the south and west, and by the Arabian Gulf to the north, the total land area, including 20 islands, is 83,000 sq km (32,278 sq mi).

The seven emirates are Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Qaiwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. The capital and the largest city of the federation, Abu Dhabi, is located in the emirate of the same name.

The estimated population of the UAE was 5.6 million in 2007. Arabic is the official language and Islam is the state religion. The currency is the Arab Emirates Dirham ($1 US is equivalent to around 3.6 dirhams). The UAE has one of the world’s highest standards of living and the average life expectancy is 72 years.

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