Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Sunset over the desert
Our stop in Dubai was planned as a 48-hour layover, en route to Prague. Wanting to maximize our experience in the city, we booked two tours to help accomplish this.  Once again entry to the country through the airport was easily handled due to all signage being in both Arabic and English.  Having prearranged a driver, we were driven to our hotel at the opposite side of the city near the Dubai Marina.   

Having a “Sunset Safari Tour” booked our first afternoon, we headed with a group of 5 others and a driver/guide out into the desert.  After a half-hour drive (at around 100+ mph) out of Dubai, we arrived at massive sand dunes.  Over the next 20 minutes, we experienced the thrill of our driver manuevering his vehicle at high speeds up, over and around the dunes.  

Next, we headed on to experience a camel ride and a sunset BBQ out in the middle of the desert.  Dozens of make shift open-air restaurants, hidden in the dunes, service hundreds of tourists brought by tour companies.  Entertainment, which is normally a part of the evening, was not available due to our visit’s timing, during Ramadan.  Henna tattoos and hakah smoking was also offered, but we didn’t take advantage of those.  The camel ride was interesting though not what you would call comfortable, and it’s hard to imagine traveling any distance on one of these gangly animals. 

The following morning we headed out for a private tour of the city.  Our Pakistani driver/guide provided a wealth of
Water taxis on the River
information about the history and government.  Population of the city, now around 2.78 million, was 90,000 in 1960.  We were told by both of our guides that less than 20% of those living in UAE are citizens eligible for free housing, education and health care, along with other perks.  The remaining populace comes from 147 other countries, with the majority from India and Pakistan.  We were driven out onto a major land reclamation project, Jumeirah Palm which was started in 2001.  It is an island (in the shape of the top of a palm tree) created in the sea, essentially from dumping tons of desert sand into the ocean and then building upward.  Of course, that is a major oversimplification of the engineering feat involved in this project.  The Palm consists of dozens of hotels, hundreds of businesses and thousands of residences.  Two additional Palms are currently under construction.  The two beaches we visited were mostly deserted, but our driver told us that in the evening, once the temperature begins to drop, that the beaches become a popular area for socializing.   

Shopping is a big deal here, and in fact many visitors come here especially for that purpose.  We are not shoppers, but the opportunity to visit two of their opulent malls gave us a peak at the goods offered and the high price tags that went with the items.  Visits to the gold and spice market were also included.  We saw a myriad of spices but since our driver had stayed with the car and we had no knowledge of what they were, we left that area empty handed. Gold displayed in the windows of the shops showed a level of ostentatiousness that is difficult to comprehend.

At the spice market
Hoping on a short ferry, from the Deira Old Souq Water Taxi Station next to the spice market, we traveled across the river, to the other side.  Cost per person, for a one-way trip, was 1 dirham (about 25 cents).  Water taxis lined the riverfront, along with dozens of cargo ships, heavily laden with goods.  

Temperatures for the day peaked at 101 F but a strong breeze kept us fairly comfortable when not inside the air-conditioned vehicle.  We were visiting during the spring off-season, when hotel costs were reasonable .  During high-season of December- February the rates can double or more.  Not only did we miss the “expensive” season, we missed the scorching heat which is experienced in the months from July to September when temperatures soar to 120 F or greater, with no breeze offering a relief.

It was perfect timing for our visit, but now we are traveling on to the Czech Republic.

Waterfront area deserted during the midday sun
Hundreds of beautiful mosques can be found scattered throughout the city
Gold jewelry on display 
Cargo boats along the waterfront
Entryway to the King's Palace
Cityscape through the dusty haze
Fountain show at one of the malls rivals the show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas
Our camel ride
Cityscape from the marina near our hotel
Guinness Book of World Records largest ring--weighs 140.77 pounds
We saw this at a jewelry store at the gold market

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