Saturday, December 1, 2012

United Arab Emirates Part III - Architecture, Dubai

The UAE is, by far, the strangest country I've ever been to.

Now, I realize this is a value-laden statement, because "strange" is clearly from my own Western standpoint. At the risk of being disrespectful, perhaps a different word would be more appropriate here. Like...."crazy." Or...."surreal." No. Damn.

But seriously, the architecture. THE ARCHITECTURE. It's like... Wizard of Oz meets Stanley Kubrick meets Tim Gunn meets the backdrop of futuristic video games. Let's take a look at Dubai's skyline.


Crazy, no? It's just incredible. Like a designer's dream job, the buildings seem to have been thrown up in the spirit of: "Let's build a building that's more creative than the building across the street," with each one just upping the ante. And that's just the regular business buildings. That's not even including iconic architecture that is almost universally-recognizable as being "Dubai". Such as the Burj al Arab:

Burj al Arab hotel. AKA "The Sail." There were about fifty tourists standing on this street corner taking pictures, so I had to make do with a quick run-by in the car.

And the also-iconic Atlantis, The Palm Hotel and Resort, a five-star entity modeled after the one in Nassau and sporting the gorgeous central keyhole:

It's a little like Vegas, no?

We were only in Dubai for two days, and we were perfectly content to spend nearly one whole day just driving around the city. Actually, I should say that I was perfectly content because the Gentleman was driving me around and I had plenty of snacks.

Twin Chrysler buildings?

Burj Khalifa peeking up to the right.

IMPORTANT NOTE: See this bridge that says "Toll Gate?"

Yeah, that one. That means there's a sensor in that bridge that automatically charges you a toll. My understanding is that most cars in the UAE have sensors (I think on the windshield, kind of like an EasyPass) and the toll is automatically charged to an account that gets paid. Maybe monthly or something. I'm not sure. But either way, if you have a rental car, MAKE SURE you ask about the toll pass. There's an astronomical fee associated with not having a sensor to pay the toll, and they will take a picture of your license plate, and they will find you, and you will pay it.

Along these lines, I should also point out that they take speeding incredibly seriously. Automobiles are outfitted with a beeper that goes off if you get above 140 kph (about 86 mph). That beeping will not stop until you slow the car down to below 140. And while this speed does seem excessive, keep in mind that you're driving on fairly new, smooth roads THROUGH THE DESERT, where everything is FLAT AS SHIT, so it's pretty easy to suddenly realize that you're cruising at 90mph. Especially when everyone else is too. But the beeper thing will go off, and it's annoying as hell, and the only way to make it stop is to obey the law or turn your music up really, really loud.

The latter was our method of choice for dealing with this annoyingness, but the UAE has figured out this little trick and that's why nearly every road has these brown, bird house-looking thingies that guessed it...speed cameras. They're  paced out every few miles, and they snap a nice little picture of you breaking the law. On your average road trip between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, there's the potential to pick up five or ten speeding tickets from these boxes alone. 

So yeah, don't speed. It's expensive.
Our old friend, the Burj Khalifa.

View from the base of the Burj. There's a fantastic fountain show with lights and fun.

Upon seeing this photo, my buddy Jenn (The Cheap Luxury) said, "DID YOU TAKE A VACATION TO THE FUTURE?!" This thing to the right is actually one of the Dubai metro stops. I shit you not. They're all along the highway.
AKA - The Future.

No Middle Eastern city can be pictured without the requisite feral cats. Skinny and sassy little creatures, but the locals regard them as rats. I regard them as adorable. And gross.

Quiet street in the Deira neighborhood, which is one of Dubai's oldest areas. Wikipedia says "Deira is like the old Dubai in the 1990's." This means that I am older than this historic area. Hooray.

Deira neighborhood

Deira neighborhood

Our last day in Dubai, on a suggestion from a friend, we went on a Dubai creek tour. The Dubai creek is a salty river that twists into and through the city from the Gulf, bisecting it into two main sections: Deira on the east and Bur Dubai to the west. The Creek tours are dirt cheap (I can't recall the exact price, but I want to say it was about $10 per person) and last about an hour or so with a English-language recording of a tour pointing out various spots along the Creek. The creek tours are called "Dhow Cruises" and range from your basic snacks-for-sale to full-scale dining cruises. The cheaper ones run pretty much every couple of  hours, and you don't need to book in advance. At least, we didn't. Hotels usually have pamphlets or can give you information regarding this boat trips. The boats are all docked down by the British Embassy. That's about the most detail I can give in terms of directions. Thank God for Google maps and GPS is all I can say. 

Another note: navigating Middle Eastern countries is confusing as hell because the roads all have about seven different names, or they're named after royalty and thus you might have Sheik Zayed I which is different from Sheik Zayed II but sometimes cab drivers won't understand the difference or someone giving you directions will just tell you to take Sheik Zayed and you're all like, Whaaaaatttt, so basically my advice to you is: get something; a phone, an ipad, a compass, what have you; that has GPS on it and make sure you have someone in the car navigating. You'd think a country that's 40 (almost 41!) years old would have perfected infrastructure Not even close. DC is better laid out.

I digress.

Ah yes, the dhow:

This is a taxi boat. Futuristic, no?

View from dhow cruise of buildings in Dubai. I forget what these are, but LOOK HOW PRETTY!

This is not a dhow cruise.

There's that damn Burj Khalifa again!

Another thing about the Middle East, which was also prevalent in Jordan which is why I feel I can accurately paint the entire region with the same brush (stupid Americana) is that they have pictures of their royalty EVERYWHERE. It's an homage to those who build and lead the country, but, quite honestly, sometimes it feels a bit Big Brotherish. 

I think this is a bank...I mean, HOW FREAKING AWESOME IS THIS BUILDING?!

So many things are shipped in via boat, such as produce, textiles, and knock-off Marc Jacobs bags.

Heading back to Abu Dhabi. Bye, Dubai. Shukran.
It was incredibly strange to be in an entire city where there isn't a single brick. Not a one. 

Dubai is constantly in a state of construction, and it seems as though one out of every three buildings is only halfway complete. You look up at monstrous skyscrapers only to see that the glass windows end and it's steel frame from there on up. It's still, for all intents and purposes, a brand new city (and country, for that matter) and yet still suffers from the same issues of urban sprawl, infrastructure, and dealing with an extreme climate (desert, shifting sand, incredible winds) that so many other Middle Eastern cities face. 

Despite this, Dubai is breathtaking. The architecture is unique and compelling, the skyline infinitely interesting. This is a city built to impress, and it does. 

1 comment:

The Lebanese/Canadian said...

Don't know if you noticed, but the hotel next to Burj Al Arab, the Jumeriah Beach Hotel, is shaped like a wave. The idea is that when you're at sea looking at the hotels, you have a boat sailing on a wave...

Crazy Dubaioans (?)