Dubai, a city craving for modernity – World Meanderings (n°55)
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
The famous Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” that means “Faster, Higher, Stronger” could well be Dubai’s motto. Indeed over the last decades Dubai rose and still is rising on an empty desert area on the shore of the Persian Gulf. Bursting with energy this city never sleeps, new projects are born every minute, set up and achieved as if in a snap of a finger. In Dubai nothing seems impossible and foreign tourists somehow get flabbergasted by this unbridled appetite for innovation.
Obviously Dubai and the Emirates are already preparing for the post-oil era and considering the inescapable decrease of the oil revenues they are developing important futuristic ecologic programs. It was about time since still today they use huge amounts of highly polluting fuel to provide air conditioning for all their skyscrapers, to make desalinated water from seawater in amazing quantities and after burying precious coral reefs to create artificial islands. But things are changing and today Dubai recycle waste and water and a big solar power station is under construction. It will be able to provide air conditioning for many buildings and artificial snow for an underground five-slope ski complex! Solar energy is an unlimited resource in the Emirates and other stations should soon follow.
The first thing that strikes visitors in Dubai is its amazing architecture. Architects from the whole world have been invited to give free rein to their imagination and the result is astonishing. Dubai has the highest number of buildings over 300 metres high, more than New York, Hong Kong or Chicago. It also has the tallest building, the largest shopping mall and the tallest hotel. It well deserves its name of “City of Superlatives”. Priority has always been given to an innovating design and discovering Dubai’s skyline is absolutely fascinating. Whether driving on the 16-lane highways or cruising in the marina and the seashore you won’t stop admiring all kind of buildings: round, twisted, spiral, leaning, pyramidal, concave, convex, arched, pointed… They create a cubist-like décor playing with the sunlight during the day while at night a colourful lightning seems to bring them to life. The Burj Al Arab undoubtedly is Dubai’s first iconic building since 1999 even if it’s not the highest one anymore. Built on an artificial island its sail-shaped silhouette is an unmistakable landmark on the seashore.
Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall at Souk Al Bahar
Since 2009 Burj Khalifa is the highest building and manmade structure in the world. But this is not its only record. It also contains the world’s highest mosque, the world’s highest swimming pool and the world’s highest viewing platform! If you don’t suffer from vertigo take one of the high-speed elevators that will take you to the 125th floor observatory or even to the 148th floor observatory from where you’ll get an amazing unobstructed 360° view over Dubai City, the desert and the Arabian Gulf. And if you truly don’t suffer from vertigo you can go to the open-air terrace! Admission costs from 90 AED (17£) to 500 AED (97£).
A lively district, the “Souk Al Bahar”, has been developed at its foot, it surrounds an artificial lake where a beautiful dancing fountain show takes place several times each day. There are also many bars, restaurants, hotels and shops as well as the largest shopping mall of the city, the “Dubai Mall”. You will find there a huge selection of shops and restaurants, over 1,000 altogether, as well as some of Dubai’s top tourist attractions. Its Dubai Ice Rink is the largest ice-skating rink in town and is turned into a huge disco at night. Dubai Aquarium is set in the middle of the mall and shoppers can admire over 30,000 aquatic animals through a 2 levels high window and they can also scuba dive and swim with hundreds of fish.
There is also a 22-screen multiplex cinema of which four offer reclining chairs, a side table and butler service throughout the movie! Last but not least the “Emirates A380 Experience” is a simulator experience that gives visitors the opportunity to learn to fly an Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger airliner. After creating your own flight plan and selecting airports and weather conditions you can be the pilot in command for 30 min.
In Dubai Marina, the largest man-made marina in the world you will be able to see other extraordinary buildings. Whether cruising on one of the many boats that take tourists along the artificial canal and the waterfront or walking on the 7 km long walkway you will easily spot the “Cayan Tower”, the world’s tallest building with a 90° twist, the “Princess Tower” strangely topped with a dome and many other futuristic buildings.
A new double zip-line especially made for adrenaline junkies was recently open and will allow you to fly over the Marina at an average speed of 80km/h! It’s a double zip-line allowing you to share the experience with a friend and shout in unison… All the while Go-Pros fixed on your helmet will film this unique experience and testify you really did it!
The Raffles Dubai
Of all Dubai’s hotels, the “Raffles Dubai” certainly has one of the most original architecture. Built by a lover of ancient Egypt it has the shape of a pyramid and its decoration is an interesting mix of Egyptian aesthetic and Asian style. Ideally located just 10 min from Dubai International Airport and just a short drive from downtown Dubai and Burj Khalifa it is an oasis of calm and luxury in the middle of the bustling city. Once again the Raffles’ staff unique knowhow makes wonders. No question about it, you are at Raffles!
The lobby is just gigantic but at the same time succeeds to be welcoming and elegant with its tall columns, reminiscent of the hypostyle hall of Karnak Temple in Luxor, its comfortable sofas and its big vases of flowers. From the lobby there is a direct access to WAFI Shopping Mall that was built next to the Raffles in the same Egyptian way: marble mosaic floors, sphinx or pharaoh statues, columns with hieroglyphs and colourful stained-glass roofs. WAFI Mall is said to offer “affordable” luxury…with Emirati standards.
At Raffles the “smallest” rooms are 70 sq metres with spacious balconies and are exquisitely decorated. They actually are the largest “standard” rooms in all Dubai but beyond their size they offer that extra something that makes you feel special and privileged. Don’t hesitate to book a Raffles Club Room that will give you access to the Club Lounge where breakfast, afternoon tea, cocktails, wines and snacks are included. It’s very convenient when you don’t feel hungry enough for a whole meal.
The hotel is surrounded by lush gardens with an outside swimming pool from where you’ll get a great view over Dubai’s skyline. Even the swimming pool changing rooms are worth a visit with their stylish wooden lockers and indoor Jacuzzi bath. They also give access to the sauna, steam rooms and fitness centre as well as to the Asia inspired Spa.
There are eight restaurants and bars in the hotel, each one with its own atmosphere and cuisine but in all of them you will get the same attentive service that makes Raffles hotels so special in the whole world. On top of the pyramid-hotel Tomo is an authentic Japanese restaurant ruled by chef Takahashi. Over the years it has earned a very good reputation and attracts both the hotel guests and people living in Dubai especially Japanese expats, with freshly made sushi and sashimi and an impressive sake menu.
Solo is the hotel’s Italian restaurant where the big wood-fire oven creates a warm and convivial atmosphere. Apart from the tasty pizzas and delicious pasta you can enjoy genuine Italian dishes such as beef carpaccio with insalata, a plate of different raw hams from different Italian regions prettily presented on a flat piece of raw cork and a delightful and rich tiramisu, a real treat. The hearty breakfast buffet is served in the “all day dining” restaurant Azur that also proposes a delicious brunch on Fridays. You will have a good time filling your plate with tempting food from many parts of the world and enjoy your meal in the gardens of the hotel.
The Oberoi Hotel
The Oberoi Hotel in Dubai is located in the business district but being just minutes from Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa it also is perfect for tourists. Its glass facades hide contemporary spacious rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows from where you’ll have a great view over Dubai. You can also enjoy the same stunning view while taking a bath in the big marble bathroom!
The hotel proposes a free shuttle service to and from Dubai Mall and after spending hours shopping in this huge mall the swimming pool will be a haven of piece in the middle of the city. The swimming pool staff is happy to help so don’t hesitate to ask for the complimentary chilled water and sun lotion.
If you enjoy Indian food you are in the right place at the Oberoi. At Ananta restaurant, chef Akash Chauhan and his team make delicious traditional Indian dishes with the right amount of spices. Prawn king tandoori, tika chicken, lamb curry are cooked to perfection and Indian breads are baked on the spot in a traditional clay oven. The all-day-dining restaurant Nine 7 One offers a mix of tasty Indian, Arabian and western cuisine and you can enjoy your meal on the outside terrace when weather is not too hot!
The innovation race is far from being over in Dubai and new technologies are still coming in. More and more drones are flying through the air, a new Dubai City is under construction next to the “old” one that is only fifty years old and in the near future a Hyperloop will take its passengers from Abu Dhabi to Dubai in only twelve minutes! Dubai’s march toward the future has just begun…
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes