In the way marketing is supposed to work, my mother watches a certain adventure reality tv show and before you know it, she wants to go to the middle east. Nicely done, UAE tourism board, nicely done.
Like any good daughter does, I found a great ticket price and barreled through the door on Christmas day, not with presents, but a laptop. Before I even said hello, I was sitting at the kitchen table trying to find dates that worked for us both.
And so, we are booked to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Merry Christmas, indeed.
The plan was to fly into Abu Dhabi and drive to Dubai. No excursion is complete unless I have rented a car and driven untold number of miles. On the agenda: a desert safari with some camel riding, high tea at the Burj Khalifa, some pool time for me, and shopping like I have an OPEC pocketbook even though I am closer to a canola wallet.
When going to one of the richest countries in the world, it’s great fun to drive a 25 year old Ford that looks like it’s been breaded and lightly fried in the dust and sand kicked up by the neighboring desert, has manual window crank things, and an air conditioning struggling for it’s last breath. It is hard to feel good about yourself, especially when you roll into a parking garage and cruise pass a Bentley parked perpendicular to the spots and is in own inflated tent. Literally, a zip up tent with a blower inflating it like a children’s birthday party is about to break out. In any case, one’s sense of self takes a very humbling turn.
Dubai is the city of the future today. It’s really Orbit City and it’s not done yet. It is ultra modern, with buildings of all shapes and size and no relative theme. The size, the scale, the scope – all virtually impossible to imagine until you see them for yourself. Some parts of the city are testaments to money, excess, improbable stacking of glass and steel. Other parts are up and coming, a tangle of cranes and cement and hardhats. In fact, Dubai is the current home of 25% percent of the world’s cranes. That is insane, utterly insane to think that it’s just one city compared to the rest of the globe – what about the cities undergoing massive growth like those in Asia or India? To contain a quarter of the materials available globally is just wow. Just. Wow. Anyway.
Dubai is an exceptional place, impossibly huge and riddled with juxtapositions. I started this little road trip down a giant highway in my chicken cutlet car, passing the future. Literally, the future Dubailand, future amusement parks, miles and miles of car warehouses, desert, more desert, cars, and cranes.
About an hour and a half later, I pull up to the Grant Hyatt Dubai. Not too bad, thank you very much. It is also 120 degrees and feels like I am visiting the surface of the sun. I love it, my travel partner, not so much. For those who are sensitive to heat and sun and living at the edge of the ozone, perhaps one should pack a shammy for maximum absorbency.
My poor, poor mother. She hates the heat. Why she thought it would be a good idea to visit arguably the hottest place on the planet, I will never know. I revel in it, SPF in my pockets, tank tops, flip flops. My mother, by comparison, is so hot, that she looks like she is truly suffering with each step. I drop her off at the front door of the hotel and I go park the car. I let the car run until the air is cold and pick her up at the door. I try to limit any walking to the evening hours and even then, she is clearly the most uncomfortable and unfortunate looking person in all the land. I feel terrible, but there is little I can do short of hiring cheap labor to travel with us and keep an umbrella over her head and carry a small fan.
The first full day consisted of leisure, breakfast, pool time, general relaxation before the fun starts. Once I had packed my mother in ice and assured her we would be in a place fully air conditioned with the guarantee of no sunlight. So we went to the mall. The Mall of the Emirates. Well.
The parking deck was both the most organized (electronic signs telling you how many spaces are left on each floor) and convoluted (can’t find those spots, however) and clean (several car washers were busy at work cleaning and dusting Bentleys). After driving for what felt like 73 floors, I got a spot. And we entered what can only be described as the most grandiose, outrageous, monument to consumerism, I have ever witnessed.
For the record, one of the ‘warnings’ about the mall is that it is recommended visitors remain chaste and respectful of the country’s morals and so on. But whatever. Ladies, bring your booty shorts and braless tank tops and challenge those mall cops at every turn. Unmarried couples, make out in the corner of the candy store like the window glass is not actually clear. Honestly, I was kind of curious and wanted to see if there were any repercussions. As though I expected the religious morality police to burst through the panels in the ceiling and swing down like ninjas to arrest all offending Gap shoppers, it never happened.
But anyway. The mall legitimately has a giant ski slope and penguins, and appropriately, a Kempinski Hotel that empties into the mall and is also adjacent to the skiing. There is nothing like being covered in a fine grit sand from head to toe one minute, and freezing walking through the locker rooms in a ski lodge the next. This place is really, really amazing from the scale and sheer size to the people watching. Oh goodness, the people. What a remix.
My favorite part of the mall was the giant supermarket larger than most Midwest towns. This was one of my favorite places, a true amalgamation of global tastes and flavors. Of course, the Mideast was represented, fresh fruit in a variety of vibrant colors, and some things I could not quite identify and required assistance from the Google. We walked up and down the aisles for more than an hour. Maybe two. My mother lingered in frozen foods, refreezing her ice packs that had melted some in the schlepping. She needed to power up for the walk from the car door to the front of the hotel. It’s a good 7 or 8 feet, and at 105 degrees in the dark, it takes a toll.
I didn’t buy anything at the mall lest I mortgage my house, but did pick up a few things at the supermarket and my mother did not burst into flames. Success.