Is there any such thing as too much money? It’s doubtful that I’ll ever know. If it is possible, then the physical incarnation of that status is Dubai, U.A.E.. Dubai is a principality of the United Arab Emirates, a collection of territories ruled by dynastic families. They do “richer” bigger, better and flashier than any other country. Their grand wealth originates with oil, likely not a surprise to anyone. Upon my return from Kenya, Africa I had reserved a “layover tour”. It was designed to allow onward bound passengers a quick overview of Dubai between connecting flights to other destinations. In the article previous to this I wrote about the first part of my tour which started in the desert and had the unexpected bonus of meeting a caravan of camels. The second part of my tour introduced me to the city of Dubai. It would be a private day tour: It was affordable, it would be tailored to meet my time constraints and I would be able to focus on what I wanted to see. A driver and tour guide were my city escorts. I hopped into the back of a black Mercedes Benz to start the 5 hour whirl around Dubai. Rising from the desert much like you would imagine the city of Oz, it is the wealthiest city and also the cleanest city I have visited. The city is so new it still sparkles.
While money may not be able to buy you love, it can buy the biggest and the finest of almost anything on the planet. My tour started with the Zabeel Palace, home of the Royal family. I assumed no one was home as I didn’t see anyone who resembled a King or a Prince, so we just did a drive through. It was for the best though, as we had a tight schedule to keep. Our next “stop” was in front of Emirates Towers, the financial center – a further reminder of how rich they are and how “rich” I’m not. The Burj Khalifa is indeed impressive, a modern skyscraping building 163 floors tall and currently the tallest building in the world. When offered the opportunity to visit the observation deck on level 125, I declined. Not for fear of heights but as a time-saving option and a preference to see things on the ground in real perspective. We continued to the legendary shopping malls for a peek into how the rich and famous live and shop. Burjuman Mall is a 3 story mall with all the finest retailers represented. You could pop in to Chopards and pick up a $36,000 watch on a whim or visit Bvlgaris next door for a jeweled necklace at $52,000. How do you choose? On a much larger scale, since it clearly doesn’t snow in the desert, the people of Dubai have brought the snow inside the Mall of the Emirates. A 242,000 square foot snowscape is complete with indoor ski lifts, 5 slopes and wait for it – a black diamond run providing an artificial day in the Alps! During this incredible “couldn’t afford anything” shopping experience the need arose to use the restroom. Modern in every way, it was also immaculately clean. That’s thanks to the employee whose only job is to keep the facility sanitized which includes a full “brush swishing” each time a stall is used. I was impressed. The third window shopping extravaganza brought us to the Dubai Mall. This is the mall for the less wealthy. What it lacks in diamonds in makes up for with the multi-story aquarium that houses a variety of aquatic creatures including sharks. The animal rights person in me doesn’t approve but I do have to admit that it gets your attention. This was a far less authentic retail experience than visiting traditional outdoor markets. Our next stop was to visit the spice and gold markets, which are known locally as “souks”. The souks were located in the Deira District across the Dubai Creek. My touring team and I boarded an Abra, a traditional wooden boat, to cross the main waterway. Doubting the stability of the vessel I put my faith in my guides (who surely wouldn’t get a tip if I drowned) and the other locals, who also were headed to the markets. We entered the marketplace and without even seeing the merchandise, knew immediately that we were in the Spice Souk. The heady aromas created an exotic experience mixed with tasting options. Stalls packed with both locals and tourists crowding the aisles were made more challenging each time bags of new merchandise were ferried to its intended seller. The merchants called out to passersby, each vendor trying to encourage potential customers to enter his or her shop. Fresh herbs were plentiful and depending upon how much you wished to purchase, your selections were hand measured and scooped into small brown bags. The gold market had almost as many options but was less frenzied. Perhaps, like me, the other shoppers were dazzled by this incredible display of wealth. The window shops glittered with the sparkle of thousands of pieces of gold jewelry. This was not jewelry as we know it – bracelets, necklaces or rings. Nestled on the velvet pillows in the display windows you could find gold cuffs, gold head pieces, and elaborately detailed full bodice draped necklaces that sparkled from a woman’s neck down to her waist, often used as a bridal accessory. If you aren’t a fan of gold, no worries, there were plenty of diamonds, gem stones and platinum from which to choose as well. I do like a market that has something for everyone, yet I still came away empty handed! As always l tried to squeeze in more things than time allowed. There’s always one more thing to see or do and we found ourselves running a bit behind. I urged my driver to go a bit faster and was informed that it was not wise to exceed the speed limit. I remarked on the performance level of the car they were driving and questioned their restraint at not exceeding the speed limit. Politely but with a hint of humor they explained that most locals do not speed. The Police would not only catch up to us but would likely spin circles around our vehicle, pass us and wait for us to catch up to them. Police squad cars are a mix of confiscated Aston Martins, Bugatis, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and McLarens, some of the fastest cars on the road. I’m happy to report that we didn’t get pulled over and I arrived at the airport on time.