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Dubai Travel Blog

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Bastakia Quarter --- note wind towers and narrow passageways!

Everyone slept in due to the late night resulting from the Sea View Hotel incident…even Samia was up late with an upset stomach.  By the time we ate breakfast, showered and read the paper it was about 1PM before we pushed off.  I gained consensus to visit Dubai Museum, although Mark was lobbying for a return to Jumeirah.  The resort area is pretty incredible, but I have gained some idea of just how big Dubai is:  its twenty minutes to the airport;  thirty minutes to Deira, and;  fifty minutes (at least, I’m pretty sure) to span the distance to Jumeirah.  Felt we had our fill of road trips and wanted to soak up some of the genuine culture before leaving.

Bastakia Quarter of Dubai - in days gone by, they would have hung the laundry in the wind tower to help cool things off.


Mark & Samia wanted to take me to a restaurant in the historic section of Bur Dubai (the Bastakia Quarter) that is being restored.  They had been leveling ancient abodes for parking lots and cheap housing to accommodate imported labor forces.  The interesting follow-up to the historic section is that its revival is due to Prince Charles.  He apparently visited Dubai several years ago and crossed the dilapidated section while touring with the sheik…and pointed out to the sheik how crazy it was to let their heritage erode!


Unfortunately the diner was closed (Friday being like our Sunday).

Dubai Museum
  A friend of Mark & Samia’s had art on display at the venue, so it was disappointing.  Wasn’t too hard to find other options and we selected an authentic Mid-Eastern diner almost next door.  A fun choice.  Samia had chicken soup, Mark the mahawab chicken (sweet), and chili chicken for myself.  It was supposed to be spicy, but oh well…still quite tasty.  Seating here was al fresco and I caught some serious sun during the lunch hour.


After eating we wandered about the historic section, snapping pictures and enjoying the feel of and old civilization.  I learned from Samia that they built two-story structures with narrow passageways in between to manufacture shade: an important commodity for villages in this climate!  I had already read plenty about the wind towers <”wind towers” were Dubai’s ancient art of air conditioning, where the tower was constructed facing all four directions to capture the wind irrespective of where it was coming from…you could hang wet laundry in the tower so that the evaporation further cooled the air being channeled into your house!>, but what a treat to see so many!


We departed the delightfully quiet historic village (submerged in bustling downtown Dubai) and drove a short ways to the Dubai Museum.

Vance caught snapping wind tower pictures at Sheikh Saeed's palace. Notice the shadowy spur left center on the horizon, which is the Burj Al Arab.
  Mark actually thought he had never been to this museum, but eventually recognized some stuff that rejected that surprising claim.  It was a well laid out museum and provided a wealth of information about the area, the people and the history.  There were even quality displays on wildlife that my kids would have enjoyed.  At the end was a grand collection of artifacts, some dated as far back as 2,000 B.C. --- shields fashioned from shark skin, arrowheads remarkably like leaves, etc.


Oh, excuse me…at the true end was a gift shop, where we discovered a stuffed camel that brays & snores, its entire body undulating, when you twist its left ear.  Time to start accumulating presents and I scored this for my daughter (but Samia wanted one too!).  Also picked up the requisite ‘tacky magnet’ <Kim & I like to buy those ridiculous refrigerator magnets as a memory of our travels…actually a very fun keepsake that goes on our fridge and keeps memories alive!> with a camel and veiled woman in a desert setting.

The picture I was taking!


From here we continued down Dubai Creek (towards the Gulf) and stopped at Sheikh Saeed’s palace (believe this was the grandfather of sheikh Maktoum, present sheik of Dubai and #2 official in UAE).  Another masterpiece, with the photo collection being the true gem.  Lots of pictures from the 1950’s & 60’s, revealing locust swarms (Mark has never experienced, or heard reference to, a locust swarm (I would be interested to learn if these occur any longer???) and day-to-day life.  The palace itself was quite grand.  Both Mark & Samia commented to me separately that the layout was “complex” and I wish I knew enough about architecture to appreciate their identical remarks!


Then we started walking along the creek, a superb area and a true feeling of relaxation crept in.

Wind tower at Sheik Saeed's palace
  Plenty of outdoor cafes beside the creek & people were sitting around everywhere enjoying drinks (coffee or tea) and sheesha <flavored tobacco smoked from a hookah..this was ubiquitous in Dubai and unfortunately I never got around to sampling it!>.  The water is an exquisite sparkling blue, populated by numerous dhows and abrah’s (water taxi’s) gently plying the water and lending an easy-going sense of activity to the scene.


We wandered into the free Heritage/Cultural Museum (albeit admissions are ridiculously cheap…only $2 or $3 apiece to get into the Dubai Museum & the sheikh’s palace) on the waterfront and stumbled upon a splendid tribal dance being performed.

Room inside Sheikh Saeed's palace
  Struck me as more African than bedouin, but phenomenal nonetheless.   Mark & Samia scored some traditional food being whipped up by veiled women squatting besides small fires they had built…Samia later clued me in that these were genuine bedouins.


Finally, we sat along the creek with all the sippers & smokers for a drink (milkshake, cappuccino and Turkish coffee) while reveling in the din of a busy cultural area with ideal weather.  I savored my final view of the Dubai skyline and regretted that I would soon leave the setting behind, particularly the sprinkling of mosques throughout.  I commented how visible all the minarets were and asked whether there was a ban on multi-story buildings adjacent to these holy structures.  Mark replied that there weren’t any, but suggested it probably wasn’t too smart to build right beside a tower that blares a call to prayer five times every day!


Then, once again, we struggled with the traffic to reach downtown Sharjah.

Heritage Center
  I had really only been in the ‘University City’ section of Sharjah…five linked college campuses…and was unprepared for the hustle & bustle.  I learned this city provides low-rent housing for the low wage ex-pat laborers since it’s right beside Dubai.


Got a little lost, although on a very scenic road, and decided to make an illegal u-turn at an upcoming traffic light to get corrected.  Weren’t we surprised when 11 of the 12 cars in front of us did the exact same thing!  In the heart of downtown, dominated by towering apartment skyscrapers that recall the Bronx, we made the Blue Souk, which was brimming with activity at 7:30PM --- another lesson was that Friday was typically the only day off for the ex-pat laborers, so they do all of their shopping then.

There was a camel sculpture contest going on in downtown Dubai, which was very sweet.
  First stop was to get a pashmina for my mom…another frequented venue of Samia’s.  Once again she was heartily welcomed, and this time chairs were pulled out so they could sit and catch up before the bargaining donnybrook.


After scoring the big-ticket item (I will not soon forget how ridiculously cheap everything is in the UAE…probably helps that the Dhiram is fixed against the dollar --- so no big exchange losses like virtually every other foreign currency), it was a fun time of seeking out knick-knacks for Eric & Spencer.  I also grabbed a t-shirt…for the whopping sum of $3!  Mark thought it was pretty cool, so I played last of the big-time spenders and got him one as well.  Cool point is that we were both wearing our “Red Dirt Shirts” from Kauai (purely by coincidence) --- we pledged to Samia that we would only wear our Dubai t-shirts simultaneously when we meet again on Kauai, a day I look forward to!


For our final meal, we drove to a nearby traditional Lebanese restaurant that Mark & Samia frequent about once a month, Al Shiraa Fiskey.

mark & Samia on their back porch
  Unfortunately I was given no prior introduction, and was surprised when we entered a room with large ice chests and tons of fish laid out…you just make your selection and instruct them to “fry” or “grill”.  Mark chose fuch (pronounced something like ‘fresh’, but neither had tried it before or even heard of it…they were confident because the dude behind the counter recommended it) and some squid, asking for both to be grilled.  We walked to the ‘family’ seating area <all the restaurants in UAE have two sections…one for families and one for men, they are usually much more separate than smoking & non-smoking sections in our dining places…quite often completely separate rooms!> and selected a table, where Mark shared that the guys at this place were horror-struck when he asked for Sultan Ibraham to be grilled once!


A waiter soon appeared and feted us with the now familiar salad fixings, and I savored my mint w/hummous one last time.  Interesting footnote is that the waiter also deposited a box of tissues on our table…and fortunately Mark was there to inform me this was their version of napkins!


Our calamari showed up quite promptly…so fresh…and the fuch was not long behind.  The fish was laid out on a huge platter and our waiter expertly carved out numerous filets and served an initial portion.  It was delicious.  An Iraqi Mark works with stopped by to say hello as he escorted his family in for supper.  Apparently this place is a hit with the college staff and they usually encounter an acquaintance here.


Then we headed home for the last time.  I re-packed my bags and was ecstatic at the abundance of room (the goods I brought in to Dubai included five pounds of Kona coffee.  Mark & Samia lived for several years in Hawaii and are hooked -- two pounds of soy protein, nine CD’s, two DVD’s, a baby blanket and two other baby gifts…took up over half of my luggage!).  The dollar value of my ‘return’ gifts far exceeded what came in, but it was a bargain in terms of cubic displacement.  Mark focused on trying to burn a CD with his wealth of photos from our adventures, but had too much material.  Samia finally turned in at 11PM (and after all, it would soon be their ‘Monday’ morning!).


On the way to Dubai Airport (believe or not, my flight home left Dubai at 2:30AM!) I shared one last engaging discussion with Mark --- how I’ve missed this --- on his perceived safety and the good work he is doing by serving as an ambassador-at-large for the United States.  Got out of the car, grabbed my bags, shook hands and hugged Mark and descended into the bowels of Dubai Airport for the return marathon.
TYoungTX says:
Great blog. Good description of the wind tower!
Posted on: May 25, 2008
Aopaq says:
Sounds like you had an absolutely fascinating time in and around Dubai. The Middle East is my favorite region to visit! I hope your wife is able to accompany you on your upcoming visit to Jordan.
Posted on: Sep 29, 2007
Deb says:
Dubai is fascinating...I've been hearing lots about it and I've enjoyed reading your blog...I'm looking forward to coming back & finishing it up (after a good night's sleep! ;-).
Posted on: Aug 05, 2007
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Bastakia Quarter --- note wind tow…
Bastakia Quarter --- note wind to…
Bastakia Quarter of Dubai - in day…
Bastakia Quarter of Dubai - in da…
Dubai Museum
Dubai Museum
Vance caught snapping wind tower p…
Vance caught snapping wind tower …
The picture I was taking!
The picture I was taking!
Wind tower at Sheik Saeeds palace
Wind tower at Sheik Saeed's palace
Room inside Sheikh Saeeds palace
Room inside Sheikh Saeed's palace
Heritage Center
Heritage Center
There was a camel sculpture contes…
There was a camel sculpture conte…
mark & Samia on their back porch
mark & Samia on their back porch
photo by: vances