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Embedded Photos: 1.Burj Al-Arab2.Jumeria Beach Hotel, the Wave3The Burj Up Close4.Burj Lobby5.Frankincense6.The Burj at Night
Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



October 15 - October 17. DUBAI (continued) "The Dazzling Burj Al Arab" From the beach area the Burj Al Arab (Arabian Tower) looked smaller than I had imagined but still stunning in its silhouette against the darkening sky.  The hotel was completed in 1999 and was designed to rival all other modern architectural landmarks, giving Dubai a signature building that would be known the world over.  And the 321 meter high sail-shaped building is just that, a completely unBurj Al Arab, Dubaiique architectural masterpiece.  While cities around the world will continue to strive for the highest building status, the Burj Al Arab is an example of something more timeless and persevering.  Set on an artificial island about 300m from shore it competes with nothing but the Arab Gulf for the total expanse of the horizon.  So symbolic of Dubai's economic accomplishments there is even an image of the hotel on Dubai license plates.

We walked down the waterfront but as we reached the edge of the Jumeira Beach Hotel we realized there was no way to keep going until we went back to the main road and entered through the hotel.  With the sun rapidly descending we rushed around to the front of the Jumeira Hotel, winding along its waved exterior until we came to the main entrance.  We didn't exactly look grubby but we weren't very polished looking either so we tried to keep up appearances as we entered the lobby.  There was no clear way to reach the beach from the lobby so we asked a hotel staff person how to get onto the beach.  She directed us downstairs to the pool area entrance.  For some reason the elevators didn't go down so we took the stairs and ended up at a pathway that led outside.  There was a person manning a desk as we walked out but they just smiled and we kept going.  The patio area had a large pool where mostly western tourists were lounging and swimming.  The Jumeria Beach Hotel was a big step down in cost from the BuJumeria Beach Hotel, Dubairj but still not a cheap holiday.  The rooms started at around $250/night, and that was during Ramadan. That included access to the Wild Wadi Amusement park next door. The Burj, on the other hand, start at about $2000/night for their two floor suites with a butler included, and the park too I imagine.  We walked out a narrow spit that stretched out in front of the Jumeira beach area.  A restaurant stood out on the tip but we just walked out far enough to get a closer look at the Burj, which stood in parallel to the spit.  Still curious we walked back through the pool area to look for a way to reach the Burj itself and found signs pointing the way.

As we reached the far side of the Jumeira pool area we began to hear screams from people at the amusement park over the fence.  A row of condos rounded the edge of Wild Wadi, looking directly out towards the Burj.  We encountered a gate between the Jumeira and the pathway that continued towards the Burj but we just got smiles from the guards so we kept going.  The path led around the front of the condos and up to the bridge that connected the Burj to land. We observed guards at the gate checking cars but the pathway dropped us just inside the gate so we kept walking towards the hotel.  At this point we were beginning to wonder if we were supposed to be this far if we weren't guests at either hotel but we decided to just take things as far as we could go.  Approaching the Burj from the bridge the hotel began to tower above us, its little round helipad standing on top like a small futuristic cap and a long narrow spire finishing taking the hotel to its highest point.  When we reached the lobby entrance the rotatingBurj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai doors were spiraling a decadent smell of frankincense out of the hotel.  The aroma engulfed us as we entered and the doors delivered us into a spectacular lobby with a strong gold and red accents.  A large and colorfully lit waterfall cascaded down from the mezzanine level with escalators run up and down the sides.  Ceiling height aquariums stood on either side of the waterfall and created a blue world full of colorful fish.  The gold accents were real gold and were further enriched with golden tapestries on the floor and golden lighting that created a warm and rich ambience.  It was daring design work and rather surprising.  We weren't sure what to expect but found this modern style exquisitely tasteful and enthralling.  Something tells me that time won't detract from it either.  Next to the door sat a table where the frankincense smoke was wafting into the air from a censer alongside a place of dates and a pile of fresh moist towelets. 

A hostess at the door greeted us as we entered.  We felt rather sheepish in our casual attire but noticed a fair number of other tourists that were dressed rather casually as well. We proceeded up the escalator to the mezzanine where a modern fountain drew our attention to the center of the hotel.  Looking up the ceiling stretched up many stories.  At the front of the mezzanine there was a cafe that looked out over the hotel entrance. On either side of the fountain were a handful of high end boutiques, closed for the evening.  We continued walking towards the back of the hotel until we reached the elevators.  There was restaurant and bar on the top floor so we took an express elevator directly to the top, zipping past floors as we looked out the glass window at the back of the elevator.  We weren't planning to eat there but a drink seemed like a worthwhile splurge.  The elevator let us out into a lobby area and as we were standing wondering which way to go a man came over to greet us, a Brit I think.  He confirmed what I was already reading on a placard attached to the wall, that people weren't allowed into either the restaurant or bar without proper attire, which included trainers.  Still he was very polite about it and offered to let us take a peek at the bar anyway.  The people inside were hardly dressed in extravagant clothing but there weren't any trainers.  The carpet was a mélange of color against a blue background, definitely giving the place a planetary funky feel but not without elegance. The views were sensational. 

Returning to the lobby we took some photos and talked to the hostess.  For such a posh hotel the staff were entirely unpretentious.  Rob asked about getting a reservation at the hotel restaurant downstairs that was supposed to be wall to wall aquariums.  If we were staying at the Jumeira she said it would be no problem but if we were staying outside the hotel it was more difficult. Anyway, at about $200/head weBurj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai wouldn't be go there this time around.  By the time we left the hotel it was dark outside and the gently lit exterior of the Burj was coming to life.  A comment in the guidebook said that critics likened the hotel to an upended cockroach but I almost regretted having read it.  I could vaguely see the resemblance but it never occurred to me on my own.  It definitely reminded more of its intended inspiration, a enormous catamaran sail.  While the elegant sail of a dhow boat is more representative of traditional Arab navigation the more contemporary style of sail seemed symbolic of Dubai's place in the modern world.  The architects of the Burj, WS Watkins & Partners, were a UK-based firm but the building still reflected a style that felt distinctly Middle Eastern.  Traditional Arab-style homes are less descript on the outside with all of the detail saved for the private interior.  While the windowed exterior of the Burj seemed exposed to the outside world the remote position on its own island retained that exclusive and private quality.  And, the interior was certainly where the came vividly to life.

We walked our way back the way we had come and as we were rounding the pathway in front of the condos a golf cart shuttle stopped to offer us a ride.  We accepted but when the driver asked where we were staying and we said that we had just come for dinner he had to let us off.  Apparently only guests were allowed in this area and he warned that we may have a problem getting back through the gate that separated the pathway from the Jumeira.  At that point it didn't seem to matter that much.  We had already seen the hotel so the worst they could do was direct us out of the pool area and to theBurj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai lobby.  But when we reached the guard gate we just walked right in again.  I guess we passed well enough for a guest that they didn't bother to scrutinize.  It really had all be too easy and we stumbled across this "back entrance" rather innocently.  If anyone had asked us if we were guests we weren't prepared to lie but it just never happened.  It was really very fortunate because we only ventured in through the Jumeira Hotel in order to catch the sunset.  If we had gone directly to the gate of the Burj we would have most likely been turned away and would never had had the opportunity to see the remarkable interior of the Burj Al Arab. 

Since it was getting late we decided not to stop for a drink and instead just walked back through the front of the hotel and down the driveway.  A line of people were queued up for cabs or valet service but since we were feeling suddenly conspicuous after being exposed as trespassers we didn't stop there.  The doorman gave us a glance as we walked down the pathway but we just kept going.  The pathway ended in front of the convention hall so we had to dash down the end of the Burj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai driveway to reach the sidewalk.  Apparently people didn't usually come and go on foot.  Around the corner we found a line of cabs waiting to be beckoned to the hotel door but one was easily persuaded to take us instead.  We had him drop us off at the shwarma restaurant, Al Daya.  It was a world away from the glitz and glamour of the Burj but was much more suited to our current style of travel.  We talked about what it would be like to come back and stay at such an opulent hotel, or at least at the Jumeira Beach Hotel.  Perhaps someday....

*  *  *  *

On our last day in Dubai we stayed in our hostel during the day before making a final visit the Deira City Center.  We had to find a road map to take with us on our tour of the Emirates.  We tried to get over to the old souk area, which was normally open into the evening, but it turned out to close early during Ramadan.  We caught a few shops still open in the perfume and incense area but many of the shops were already closed.  Fortunately the gold souk was open and offered some fun window shopping.  We were rather seasoned in Arab souk exploring at this point but the extravagant gold jewelry was always worth a look.  Many of the shops reminded us of the gold souk in Amman or Cairo but the selection in Dubai seemed even more extensive.  One shop in particular caught our eyes with a window full of mannequins covered in gold down the entire chest.  WeBurj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai stepped inside and looked around.  Even though we explained that we were just looking the clerk was very hospitable and offered to show us some of the pieces he had on the wall behind him. Since women wear their dowries in gold these necklaces actually did get purchased by more than just the richest people.  The clerk explained some the differences in taste between their common customers which were mostly from Arab countries or India.  The somewhat smaller pieces, still enormous by our standards, in a slightly less ornate style were preferred by the Indian customers while the more detailed pieces were popular with people in the Arab world.  The clerk even let us take some photos of the display window.  While this jewelry might be to the taste of most people back home it was impossible not to appreciate the workmanship that went into making the pieces. They were really pieces of artwork.  It is shame that they get hidden underneath clothing for only a woman's family or close friends to see.  But displaying such costly and noticeable jewelry could obviously have other repercussions.  Such crime was not common in Muslim countries, the world of men and women being so separate, and consequences would be severe in any case but it would be unwise to tempt people.  Whether hidden in the privacy of their homes or obscured by the conservative dress the beauty of women in the Arab world was reserved only for husbands, family, and trusted friends. 

Leaving the gold souk we walked around the adjacent streets, many of them still open and most selling clothes or fabric.  After some ample wandering and purchasing some new notebooks at a stationary store we finally caught a cab back to our hostel.   

DUBAI I: Oct 15-17 II: Oct 15-17 I: Oct 18-19 II: Oct 18-19

AL AIN Oct 20 Buraimi (Oman) Oct 21


ABU DHABI Oct 23-24