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Dubai - world in a bubble

October 20, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

To continue the UAE experience, I bring you Dubai- the city that lives in a bubble and is like a movie set. If anyone has seen the movie "Inception" (one of my favourites), driving around Dubai and seeing if from the Burj Khalifa reminds me of the scene near the end of the movie where they walk through the imaginary city. The decadence of the buildings and incredible feats of engineering required to build some of them really need to be seen to be believed. It really is an incredible city. It's no wonder people call it Gotham, the most opulent city of modern civilisation according to the League of Shadows. Whether the city will fall - only time will tell but it certainly has teetered a few times over the last 5 years. As Dubai has no oil, it depended on Abu Dhabi to bail it out on a number of occasions. 

DubaiDubaiThe city that is Gotham

My trip to Dubai was a surprise 21st birthday present for me from my brother and his partner. We took a cab there early morning because they had booked tickets for a tour of the Burj Khalifa - the world's tallest building. The cabbie was probably Nepalese or Indian and, it turns out, had only arrived in Abu Dhabi a few months previously. We had left in plenty of time (it's a 90 minute drive) but every time he approached the speed limit on the 4-lane motorway, the sat-nav/radio would beep with a Siri-type voice warning him that the car was approaching said speed limit. He kept breaking and time was getting tight now. Cars were passing us out left and right. Anyone who knows me will know that I am a generally calm, relaxed car passenger with little or no temper (*cough*, *cough*, ahem). However, I was starting to lose it in the front seat and offered to drive for the poor unfortunate cabbie so that we would get there on time. He said that it was the taxi base Siri warning him of the speed limit. I explained to him, in the calmest voice I could muster, that that was a load of rubbish (or some such word). We could see the building in the distance and the sense of "near yet so far" started to creep in.

I think the spirit of Paul O'Connell came out  of me because I must have put the fear of god/allah/yahweh/shiva/buddha/khuda/santa claus/me (take your pick) in him. Had we missed our time slot, that was it...we wouldn't be going up the Burj Khalifa. With much beeping and the Siri-esque-like warnings blaring out of the sat-nav as we pulled into the basement of the Burj with a few minutes to spare, we ejected ourselves from the moving taxi and ran like we were appearing in a Tom Cruise movie and made it on time...but only just.  Speaking of Tom Cruise, this is a clapper board from one of the MI movies signed by the man himself which greets one as one begins the tour of the Burj (what a segue, eh). 

And so, the tour began. At over 828 metres (2,716.5 feet) and more than 160 stories, Burj Khalifa holds the following records: tallest building in the world, tallest free-standing structure in the world, highest number of stories in the world, highest occupied floor in the world, highest outdoor observation deck in the world, elevator with the longest travel distance in the world and tallest service elevator in the world. The ticket allows you to gain access to the observation platform, which is 124 floors up! It takes less than 1 minute to travel up to floor 124 in the elevator, with ear popping and the stomach lurching - here is a video of us coming down from the 124th floor. 

The elevator ride in the highest elevator ride in the world to the highest open observation platform in the world in the world's tallest building.

The building itself is incredible and seems outrageous to be honest. Is there really a need for something like this? To state the obvious about dominating the skyline seems redundant but...it just dominates the skyline. It's mind boggling really. I've seen very tall buildings elsewhere but this was like looking at the cover of a Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov or William Gibson book cover. It is a fantastic feat of engineering and the tour is superb in illustrating what had to be done to design it, redesign it, redesign it again and finally build it. 

The views from the observation platform are superb. The air was a bit dusty (unsurprisingly) so clear views at that height over a long distance were not brilliant but it didn't take away from the "wow" factor. It is just phenomenal. The wind forces at the top of this building are immense and how anything could find shelter up here seems impossible. However, right outside the observation platform glass was this massive Oleander Hawkmoth. The first time I had ever seen one so I was delighted. Such a cool and beautiful moth with a 4 inch(!) wingspan. 

Apart from the moth, the views of the surrounding buildings and desert were fantastic and well worth seeing. The tour lasts about an hour but one can spend as much time as one wants on the observation platform. I would highly recommend going to see the building and if possible, take the tour. I know that my brother booked the tickets quite a bit in advance so I would recommend doing this to avoid disappointment :)

DubaiDubaiThe city that is Gotham

DubaiDubaiThe city that is Gotham

After the trip to the top of the Burj, we headed to the Dubai Mall...unsurprisingly the world's largest shopping and entertainment area (5.9 million square feet, 150 escalators etc.). Here is a view of the Mall from the observation platform of the Burj...the building is just enormous. 

If one is into shopping, then this is obviously orgasmic but if one is not into shopping, then the Aquarium and Zoo is worth a visit. The Aquarium tank is one of the largest in the world (51m x 20m x 11m) and packed full of sharks, rays, fish and other aquatic beasties. Upstairs from the tank are further ecosystems such as rainforest, desert, coral reefs and island life. Myself and my brother went off in there while T went on a walkabout. There was also a Cheesecake Factory eatery which I was very excited about. For any BBT fans out there, Penny wasn't working...unfortunately. I was hoping to get her number!

As well as having the aquarium, shops, eateries etc., there is also an ice rink (with some clever advertising on the ice shaver), fantastic sculptures, water features and, of course, the indoor ski-slopes and chairlifts. Bizarre looking at people walking in in full ski gear when it is 40degC outside. Within the ski slope arena it is -4degC so it is quite cold but I imagine a nice dry cold. It's like looking into Santa's grotto. The money required to provide this must be ridiculous. Just another hint at the extravagance of the city/country. 

Apart from the Burj and the Mall, there is also the Palm Jumeira, the Burj Al Arab (4th tallest hotel in the world) and some nice eateries with some nice pints along the way. It was a brilliant day out, hitting the tallest building in the world, tail gating Lamborghinis, getting a boat trip around the hotel near the Burj Al Arab and getting cabs everywhere. There is a fantastic bazaar in the grounds of hotel near Burj Al Arab where we walked around, had some nice coffee and fed the Common Mynah's hanging around the tables. Tom Cruise stayed in one of the villas amongst the buildings there, which is only accessible by boat! It's a crazy town, totally disjointed with lots of wallet-waving and a "mine is bigger than yours" mentality. Buildings just appear out of the ground with nothing else around so the city itself is like a collection of islands linked by cab rides and traffic jams. 

The building below is one of my favourites

Dubai is well worth going to visit but only to visit, just to take it all in. I wouldn't fancy living there - just not my cup of tea. There are decent birdwatching areas there so if I spent some time looking there, I might like the city a bit more ;) All in all, it was a superb day out and we had such a laugh. We ended the day supping on pints and eating some nice food while looking out on a marina and the setting sun before heading back to Abu Dhabi by taxi again that night. A wonderful and unexpected birthday present. 

With thanks to my legend of a brother and his amazing partner T for their unfailing hospitality and for making my holiday during my 21st b'day year a memorable one. For anyone who doesn't know what my brother looks like, here is a photo I took of him while we were in the zoo section of the aquarium in the Dubai Mall :) 

All photographs were taken with the Canon PowerShot G12. 


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