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Article from BTNews 4 FEBRUARY 2013

On Tour: Dubai Part of the UAE

As reported in two recent editions of Business Travel News (MEBA 14 January - Royal Brunei 28 January) our intrepid reporter Jane Stanbury has been in Dubai.  This is her report on the city state.

Glitz, glamour and a little Shisha…

"It's a fishing village" says my partner's 90-year old father on learning we are visiting Dubai.  It probably was when as a merchant seaman he docked in the fifties.

Things have changed.

Dubai has become a symbol of rapid and glitzy growth expanding almost to the point of implosion.  This tiny Arab Emirate is now host to some of the world’s icons including the Burj Al Arab “sail” hotel, the Palm residential area seemingly floating in the warm waters of The Persian Gulf and the latest dramatic addition to its skyline, the record breaking Burj Khalifa tower.

The imposing Burj Khalifa represents Dubai at the top of its game, literally.  At over 828m it currently holds seven world records including tallest free standing structure, highest number of storeys (160) and my personal favourite the world’s highest restaurant, the aptly named At.Mosphere.  Part cocktail bar, part eatery it certainly boasts the finest views in Dubai.  The highest kitchen serves the highest bar an array of Mexican, Asian and European dishes including soft shell crabs, mussels, and satays.  The cocktails are an inspired heady collection with mixologists stirring up the traditional alongside magical mixes such as a Blondie Mary, an intoxicatingly hot Bloody Mary made with yellow tomato juice.  Even for the most cynical tourist this is a must visit destination as one of Dubai's most elegant locations.

The tale of Dubai's unprecedented development is well known.

Founded in 1833 it was not until the 1950s that it began to become a key trading port under the protection of the British joining the United Arab Emirates in 1972. 

Today driving down the inordinately long Sheik Zayed 12 lane highway visitors can be forgiven for thinking they have been transported into a landscape created by science fiction writer Philip K Dick.  Glistening, gravity defying buildings, multiple layers of speeding traffic and dense residential areas contrive to absorb the visitor into the consummate 21st century metropolis where the impossible is possible and ostentation is the norm.  Where else in the desert is it possible to sit and eat fondue watching skiers master their edges; Or whilst you're out shopping at Dubai Mall take a swim with the sharks in a huge aquarium.  This is most certainly a city of consumption, where shopping is a national hobby, there is even a shopping festival, love it or hate it modern day Dubai captures the imagination.

However scratch the surface and it is still possible to discover remnants of bygone days and find a little humility amongst the opulence.  A good starting point is the Dubai National Museum situated close to the main creek.  Housed in Al Fahadi Fort, Dubai’s oldest building, for the princely sum of 3 Dhiram (about 50 pence) the museum takes visitors on a journey back in time demonstrating there is cultural heritage beneath the modernity.  The courtyard displays an eclectic mix of boats, weaponry and an al areesh, a replica desert home.  Once inside the museum a multi-media interpretation speeds viewers through the development process and it becomes apparent that the building of The Jebel Ali industrial port was a key turning point enabling building materials, equipment and consumables easy access to the city.
A quaint life size wax work diorama display complete with sounds and smell showcases how life once was in Dubai. Box size shops selling sacks of spices, incense and dried fruits, jewellery craftsman, farriers and animal traders convey a concise but comprehensive  view of old Dubai.  A small archaeology display features many artefacts and movingly an archaeological dig from Al Qusais reveals graves from 3000 BC permanently sealed for posterity confirming an ancient, now seemingly lost heritage.

Leading away from the museum visitors can catch an abra, a small water taxi, to the Shindagha water front said to be the original site of Dubai village.  The restored house of the former ruling Maktoum family can be seen here along with the heritage and diving villages providing a peek into Dubai’s traditional culture and lifestyle.

The Creek was once the heart of Dubai as the source of international trading and today traditional Dhow boats, used for centuries, still ply their trade from here destined for months long sea journeys laden with modern conveniences such as white goods, computer screens, and furniture. 

Whether goods are coming or going is hard to figure but this is an ancient transport system linking the rest of the Middle East and as far afield as India.  Dhows delivered to the Souqs that form much of the Deira side of the creek and are a welcome relief from the chintzy main shopping malls.  Souqs tend to specialise in a specific sector and the sparkling Gold souq is a must for the magpie shopper, whilst the pungent Spice Souq offers up incense, herbs, a multitude of spices and teas,  whilst the small but potent Perfume Souq harks back to a bygone era when humanity’s stink was suppressed by the sweetest of smells.  An evening stroll through the Souqs is one of Dubai’s most atmospheric experiences and catching an abra at sunset one of the most romantic.

For visitors, choosing the right hotel is essential for enjoying your stay, whilst the Jumeirah Burj Al Arab may be given a seven star status the elaborate décor leaves some cold, the Jumeirah Emirates Towers are excellent for business travellers, and for women the ladies floor offers a special touch.

One of the most striking properties is Raffles which is a destination in itself which somehow manages to merge its Egypitan informed pyramid shape with an Asian aesthetic.  Situated just ten minutes from the airport its close to all of Dubai’s key attractions yet sits peacefully within the Wafi City complex.  The rooms and suites are the largest in the city with the Signature rooms (the smallest) covering more than 70sqm not including the large skyline view balcony.  Beds are sumptuous and the bathrooms exude elegance with marble furnishings featuring separate shower, bath and WC areas.  Guests may choose to explore the third floor botanical garden, the only one of its sort in Dubai, take afternoon tea with all its pastries and decadent accompaniments, enjoy a treatment at the Raffles spa, or just choose to relax in the luxuriously comfortable rooms. 24 hour room service offers a healthy heart menu, Middle Eastern cuisine and uniquely a Shisha Cocktail menu.  Think hubbly-bubbly pipe mixed with your favourite cocktail, these are brilliant combinations of alcohol-infused tobacco, marinated for a week and combined with the perfect blend of shisha flavours.  A signature theme for Raffles it just about sums up what Dubai is all about.

www.raffles.com/dubai  www.dubaitourism.ae

Photos courtesy of Anthony Quayle   jane@emeraldmedia.co.uk

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