Never has the term “clash of cultures” been more appropriate than in describing Dubai. This desert oasis of a city rises out of the sand with epic proportions. Home to the world’s largest shopping malls, tallest buildings and most exclusive hotels this playground for the oil rich and career driven has to be see to be believed. The sprawling modern metropolis is a 21st century trade route destination where the biggest and brightest aspects of American, European and Arabian pop culture collide.
James and I visited Dubai for a quick 5 day trip to shoot a wedding and enjoy a few days much needed R&R. Our initial introduction to the city: a terrifying 140km/hour taxi trip across town weaving through heavy traffic consisting of large white 4 wheel drives, luxury sports cars and mini-busses carrying the cities vast migrant workforce on mass. After a slow start to our first day, fuelled by strong coffee, we headed out for a recce at the Desert Palm Hotel, the setting for the beautiful wedding the following day. The hotel: close to the desert on the outskirts of the city was a hive of activity with the staff in full swig setting up for the weekend’s Cartier Polo event.
By this stage it was well and truly meal time and we desired to take in a traditional Emirati breakfast at the near by Al Fanar restaurant. Of course dates were the first order of business followed by fragment Arabic coffee, zesty ginger tea and two sorts of pancakes served with a side of honey and soft cheese. Although the breakfast was enjoyable the decor and experience of dining in this unique establishment was what I will remember.
Just one section of the epic Dubai Mall
Organic Supermarket and Cafe, Jumeirah Beach
No where more in the city does western and eastern culture meet head on than in The Mall of Dubai. I can’t think of a possible clothing chain store missing from this shopping Mecca. Available here are all the best and most popular brands you would find in any American or European shopping centre. Our fellow shoppers from every race imaginable from western tourists, local expats from the entire globe, Asian migrant workers and those from across the Gulf States all emerging in one glitzy air conditioned consumer paradise to shop, to be entertained and to be seen. The Mall spills our onto the Las Vegas reminiscent Dubai Fountain and the iconic Dubai High-rise vista including the World’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.
Visitors spill out of the Dubai Mall to watch the evening fountain show in front of the Burj Khalifa.
After dinner in a great Mall restaurant (yes you heard me right) called Social House it was time to hit the hay and rest our jet lagged bodies.
In the morning James heading off to shoot the wedding and I prepared myself for a day of exploration and pampering. Heading down to the Jumeirah Emirates Tower Hotel in the late morning I arrived just in time to catch the last of the Friday morning Farmers Market on the Terrace. This compact row of about 12 stalls in the immaculately tendered grounds of the hotel is where you can unwind away from the city’s crazy high rise scene and enjoy a freshly cut young coconut, artisan style breads and pasties and pick up fruit and vegetable supplies for the week ahead from local farmers. How they grow this lush produce, in the harsh dessert is beyond me.
From the market I took the short trip back to the Dubai Mall for a couple of hours of good quality girlie shopping time… Getting my fix of the brands I have grown to love during my years living in Europe and during holidays to the US. I took advantage of another of the dozens of fine quality restaurants in the complex this time enjoying a Lebanese dinning experience (one of my all time favourite ways to dine) at Zaytoni.
Most importantly though… this was my day for a 5 star Dubai spa experience and what better place to head than The Address Spa, Down Town, with it’s epic menu of luxury treatments and million dollar panoramic views of the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Fountain. After 4 hours in pure heaven, being scrubbed massaged and moisturised, a sunset over the iconic Dubai vista and a truly celebrity style treatment the day was over!
The chill out zone in the Spa at the Address Hotel Down Town and the view from the Spa’s balcony.
The day after the wedding was James and my opportunity to go local in search of everyday Arabian life. We jumped in a taxi across town to visit the famous Souks (markets). Although this is an extremely touristy district it still provides a great opportunity to take in the exotic sights and smells of food (and gold) market life. The narrow lanes, lined with bags of herbs a spices, a reminder of the historical spice route which is such a big part of this region of the world’s history.
For lunch we took a local food tour operator’s (Frying Pan Adventures) advice and headed to a neighbourhood Palestinian Falafel place called Sultan Dubai Al Falafel. The first bite, a food revelation of sorts… “So this is what falafel is meant to taste like”! Not the indigestible, dry, reheated versions masquerading as the real thing we buy in Australia. A banquette of falafel, hummus, foul medammes, bread and pickled veggies were laid out in front of us at this modest yet welcoming cafe. We eat outside in the warm winter dessert sun before moving two doors down to their sister establishment for a second course of Arabic delights in the form of desserts and more Arabic coffee.
In the late afternoon it was time to meet up with the bride and groom again this time James and I both working to capture some timeless location portraits back at the Desert Palm and outside the city as the sun set quickly over the red sand dunes.
The evening was spent in the fantasy land which is the terrace of the Dubai Marina Yacht Club where we sipped European wine overlooking the floating pleasure crafts of the Dubai rich and famous.
On our last day we were left with a challenge… Of all remaining experiences left to be had… where should be spend our morning? After some deliberation and debate we decided, in the spirit of this unique city, we had to see Ski Dubai. The best view of the indoor ski slopes is from the last booth in the genuinely American Cheese Cake Factory Restaurant. I would recommend doings exactly what we did and waiting to be first through the doors in the morning to nab the best seat in the house. We even got to witness the tail end of the All American Pep Talk given to the army of wait staff ready to take your order with a script learned by heart from the Cheese Cake Factory franchise handbook. Classic Dubai!
For the evening’s entertainment I booked us in for a desert safari tour. This squeaky clean theme park version of Bedouin desert camp life was a beautiful was to end our trip. Weaving ours way through the sand dunes in vintage open top Land Rovers and watching the stars from the darkness of the desert far away from the lights of the city was truly a memorable final Dubai experience.