After months of sacrificing sleep for work and exams, I decided that it was time to stop covering my black circles with litres of eye-brightener, and actually get some rest. Somewhere hot and sunny where I could lay back with a friend and forget about alarm clocks and deadlines. And so, I decided to give the United Arab Emirates a go!
Everybody who had been to the Middle East warned me of how hot it would be, especially as I was visiting in June. It was a boiling 40°C every day, and felt even hotter on the day that we ventured into the desert. With no skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi to provide shade from the sun’s rays, we were completely exposed to the pure heat of the Middle East. Caps were essential, especially to keep the sand from our faces.
Quad-biking in the sand dunes was an exciting way to take in the views of never ending desert. We were careful to not go too far, as with no landmarks in the desert it was very easy to forget which sand dune the driver was picking us up from.
I was delighted to tick off ‘Meet a Camel’ from my holiday to do list, however judging by the camel’s expression, the feeling wasn’t mutual.
The UAE is paradoxical in that it remains socially unprogressive, yet it strives for a position at the cutting edge of modern technology and engineering. The most advanced buildings designed to date are built in the middle of the desert known as Dubai, with a city steadily developing itself around them. The tallest skyscraper in the world, the Burj Khalifa towers over this desert at 830 metres, and is commonly referred to as ‘the icicle’ due its very thin, bluey-silver tip. Visitors to the Burj Khalifa can soar to the tip in an elevator travelling at 10 metres per second, taking under a minute and a half to arrive at the summit.
The view from the peak of ‘the icicle’ is far from what I expected. If you gaze out from the top of the Eiffel Tower or the Gherkin, ahead of you is a never-ending cityscape which continues far beyond the horizon. However, the panoramic view from the tip of the Burj Khalifa is that of sand as far as the eye can see, with a city emerging building by building. It is clear from the view how young a city Dubai truly is, with much more development still to go. The truly amazing part is how quickly these, the most modern buildings in the world, have shot up when the builders are working with a foundation of sand. Not to mention the man made islands – I cannot even begin to try to understand the science behind them!
One recurring feature in the UAE is the shopping malls, the most famous of which is Dubai Mall, appropriately designed in the shape of a letter ‘D’. Cities in themselves, the malls require you to have quite a few dirhams in your purse to enjoy them to their full extent.
As it was Ramadan when I visited, we had to eat behind covers in the food court in order not to insult those who were fasting. With every cuisine imaginable, a ski slope with real penguins to accompany you, vending machines selling gold bars, an aquarium and the world’s most expensive designers all under one roof, whole days can be spent in the malls without stepping out into the blistering heat even once.
With so much to buy, I am impressed by how well I restrained myself. Aside from the mountain of humus and baklava, my only purchases were a couple of skirts and a Longchamp bag.
The best part of going to the UAE was seeing my long lost best friend, Jey. Since 2013, we’ve been living in different countries and have only spent a handful of weekends with each other in the past 4 years. So, to spend over a week together laughing and reminiscing was truly special, and a chance that won’t come around again for a few years as she studies in Australia and I work in the UK.
Those classic movie scenes of saying goodbye at the airport, one of you waving as you disappear through the security gates, the other standing helplessly in Departures watching as they leave – well, Jey and I never seem to have quite such a civilised goodbye. Mascara streaming down my face, sobbing and laughing simultaneously, waving goodbye with such sorrow, anybody would have thought I was on my way to prison, not home! The goodbyes never get any easier, especially when we don’t know when we’ll next see each other. Thank goodness for Skype and WhatsApp!
The UAE is a fascinating place to visit. I was especially pleased that I had the opportunity to split my time between commercial Dubai and traditional Abu Dhabi, both of which I found completely astounding. I certainly cannot wait to return in the near future and see what other unimaginable man-made wonders are built to impress the world ahead of Dubai’s Expo 2020 !