Prior to my trip for New Year's Eve, I'd been to Dubai four times before, however I'd never actually stepped foot outside the airport. While a number hungry traveller would happily count this as a country visited, I do not. So I was glad to finally get the chance to leave the confines of a terminal building to explore and experience a place I'd heard so much about. But - and this is an important but - I'd be lying if I said that Dubai was top of my list of places I want to visit.
In fact, after nearly 48 hours in the city I was still making my mind up. Here's what I wrote after two days in the United Arab Emirate of Dubai...
Of course, some things are blatant and obvious about Dubai.
This is a tall city. In the taxi from the airport to hotel I could barely see the tips of the buildings that lined the six-lane carriageway (and that was just in one direction). I craned my head and pressed my nose up to the window to see the Burj Khalifa, and what'd you know...? I found it a little underwhelming.
"Oh. Is that it?" I thought to myself as it's needle like point came into view from afar. Afar. That word is probably crucial here. It seemed a couple of kilometres away when in reality Google Maps later informed me that it was actually over seven miles from the road we drove down. And there's no denying it dwarfed the hundreds of other skyscrapers I saw.
Hundreds. There must be hundreds of concrete and glass towers in this city, possibly even over a thousand. Is that even possible? I was lucky on the morning of my arrival at 7 o'clock in the morning the sun had just popped up above the horizon, still red and angry at being awoken and as it did it's big, bright pinks bounced off the windows of many the skyscrapers we drove past, making it look like they were on fire. It was truly spectacular.
And the weather now in December is blissfully calm and cool. It reminds me of the weeks we spent in Morocco in late winter this year. The sun shines confidently all day but the temperature varies considerably depending on how much of a breeze there is lifting gently off the sea. As soon as dusk arrives it feels a little cool, but never too cold. This is my kind of climate, though I keep the right to change my mind should I ever return in August.
I suppose I should come clean about why I never felt compelled to visit Dubai before. You see, I've always feared Dubai in the way that old people fear new things. For me, a Londoner, a city should grow slowly and naturally - over centuries - and then get wiped out by a plague or a fire or two only to then rebuild itself adding strength and refinement to its appealing qualities. That's how I think settlements earn their roots, their reputation and their history. Dubai is, of course, the complete opposite. It has been pushed up (and up and up) in lightning speed (see the first two of these fascinating photos) with very few apologies. Indeed it has become famous for its concrete peaks and for being a playground for those who crave a heady lifestyle only a relative few can afford.
I'm going to save the discussion about the other (darker) side of this lifestyle for another day and another platform. Instead, I want to say what I like about my first impressions of life in Dubai.
This place is as international as it gets. Apparently 70% of Dubai's residents are ex-pats and my experience goes a long way to validate this. Within my first 24 hours in Dubai I'd met an American, a Kenyan, a Bangladeshi, a Filipino, a Thai man, a woman from China, my British friend and her Irish boyfriend and later their Kiwi friend. I love places that offer so much diversity.
Service here is exceptional (testament to Media One Hotel where I'm staying and to Atlantis, The Palm who are hosting my visit). Everybody greets me with a smile before asking me "How are you?", and it's never in that passive British way that quite clearly demands no answer ( "Alright," we sniff or shrug as we pass one another in the street, never leaving enough time for the answer we don't want). But here, I answer them and before I know it I'm having yet another lengthy conversation. It's happened with almost everyone, from the staff in my hotel, the car drivers who pick me up and the super professional PR team who are showing me around. Everyone wants to talk.
And do you know what they talk about? Right now they want to talk about the fireworks and how Dubai is going for the world record for the largest fireworks display ever. Funnily enough this is the very reason I am here. Of course, some of these people already knew that I'm a blogger and that I'm here to write about the world record attempt, but the enthusiasm that oozes into my ears is too much and too bouncy to be forced by every single person. They want their city, their Emirate, their Dubai, to get that record, to have their name in the Guinness Book of World Records. Each person I speak to wants to be part of it, part of something special.
Part of something special... Hmm. That's the last thing I thought people who came to Dubai to work their socks off in jobs (10 hour working days are standard here) would feel about this place. But I think they really do feel it and even more surprisingly, it's a little bit infectious. I want to part of it too.
So I'm glad I'm here. Really glad. Because Dubai has done what only a handful of places do at first sight; it's really challenged my assumptions. I'm therefore fascinated and eager to find out more. No matter what happens next I will like Dubai at least a little, because while I may fear new cities, I love being challenged by a new place.
Congratulations Dubai, you made me like you.
Frances M. Thompson
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+