Well, my dear friends, I no longer am a Dubai virgin.
Whenever I would mention in a conversation that I had never been to Dubai, the reaction was always the same: Whaaaat??? You have not been to Dubai??
So now I have. So many times so many friends would tell me how great it was. How it was so much cooler than Doha, so much more relaxed, so much more fun…I kept thinking it was just an exaggeration. I kept thinking but why would I go? What is there besides shopping malls? As a girl growing up in Baku, I had a certain preconception about Dubai. You see, Dubai was an easy to reach destination for us, with an easy visa to get. Therefore, it was a desired location for so called spekulyanti. Not sure what the correct translation into English would be, I guess wheeler-dealers. People who would visit the country to buy a lot of clothes and stuff, you know, to then come back and re-sell at a much higher price in their home country. In their defence, there were times when it was necessary, when we did not have many nice shops around. Dubai was also full of Russian hookers, as I was always told.
So I always assumed that you would only visit Dubai in
1) If you were a dodgy wheeler-dealer and wanted to buy clothes or gold to re-sell.
2) If you were a prostitute.
3) A bit of both?
So, since I was really none of the above, I never got tempted to go.
However, since I moved to Doha, I started hearing some other stories. Girlfriends going to Dubai for weekends, just to party, to shop, to enjoy sightseeing…children going to see The Atlantis…Normal people, not prostitutes or wheeler-dealers. OK, I thought. Maybe it is time for me to check it out, too.
I also felt that I had not really spent quality time with my mother since I had the kids. It was her birthday coming up soon and, (strategically important) coincidentally, it was just after my husband, who had spent perhaps last three to four years lusting after a Ford Raptor, finally got himself one. I figured that, considering all of the above, it was a good time to escape for a long weekend.
And so there I was. In Dubai, finally. Nothing prepared me for what I found.
I am going to break it down for you, in case you are also a Dubai virgin, like I used to be.
1. Oy, mama. It is enormous. Like to any virgin, the size came as a bit of a shock. I am used to big cities, of course, I have been to Moscow and New York... and I lived in and around London…But, for some reason, I found Dubai overwhelming. When I was planning where to stay, Husband told me not to worry too much about it, as 'nowhere will be that far, really'. Oh, yes. Everywhere is far. Really, really far. My mother discovered that a hard way. She fancied the idea of trying Dubai Metro. She also fancied visiting The Atlantis to "look at the fishes". It took her a very long time to appreciate the difference between their Metro and their Tram. Is this a metro then? No, mama. This is a tram. But…No, it is a tram. But what about this? No, still a tram. Eventually, we took a tram to a metro station and we then took monorail to The Atlantis. It took us forever. On the way back, we took the same route to Dubai Mall, which I was told was the nearest station to our hotel. We got on the moving escalator, which was signposted Dubai Mall and walked for what seemed like years. My mother had a paddy in the middle of the journey. 'I refuse to walk anymore!!!' We eventually made it into the mall only to then spend another 30 minutes or so trying to get the hell out of it. It was a challenge. I honestly thought for a moment that the whole metro-tram-monorail combo was going to finish my poor mother. I was, however, determined to make it, alive or not, to a restaurant in Souq Bahar where I was told I could have an alcoholic beverage. And food. And a cigarette.
2. Everybody is Russian. And if they are not Russian, they are Ukrainian. That fact for some reason did not annoy me, which was unexpected. I thought the crazy numbers of Russians all over would send me over the edge, but everyone I met and spoke to was so nice and so genuinely pleased that I was speaking Russian too, that it was a surprisingly comforting feeling. But seriously, where are all the other nationalities?
3. There are other nationalities. And this is what was fascinating for someone living in Qatar. Other nationalities are from all over the world. Not like 50/50 Indian and Fillipinos everywhere you look. But actually other people! That was amazing. We went to an Italian restaurant on JBR and the waitress, despite looking very Russian, was actually Italian. I was very impressed.
4. Where do their locals hide? I could not find any. In Qatar, we see a lot of Qataris. We learn to get out of their way on the D-ring road, we respectfully step aside to let them pass in shops. But in Dubai? I could not understand. Where are they all? A friend of mine who lived in Dubai for years explained. Most of them don't wear national dress unless attending an important meeting. So you can't recognise them in crowds.
5. Everyone and everything is extremely organised and professional. And that came as a shock. It was like being in a western country only in addition to actually knowing what they were supposed to know in their jobs, the people were also happy, relaxed and friendly. In fact, Dubai is simply possibly the happiest place I have ever visited. It is, according to my mother, a celebration of life. I liked that description. That's exactly how Dubai felt. It was one endless party, everywhere, and even people who were working around us seemed very pleased to be there. If you are on antidepressants, chuck them in the toilet and buy a ticket to Dubai for a weekend.
6. It is like being in Paris, with many little cafes and squares. Only the weather was probably better than in France right now, and drinks were about 10 times more expensive. But otherwise…it was beautiful.
7. There were a lot of very fit people. As we sat in a cafe at the JBR beach, I saw many women walking past me with amazing arms. You see, I have this huge arm envy. I want some arms! Surely, after 5 mornings a week in the gym I should have some?! But nope. Still no arms. Anyway.
I am just happy there aren't as many very fit women in Qatar. Only about 10 in total, and they are all our instructors in Aspire.
This posting is already too long, so I will stop here. The bottom line is..Dubai is indeed, lovely. I would highly recommend it, but I am still not sure I would want to live there permanently. It would just be strange to live in such a constantly happy place, you know? Just unnatural.