Alarm at 5:50 going off in the bathroom (only 110v outlet in the room) forces me out of bed. Caleb brought an adapter with one plug ensuring his phone was charged so we had GPS available. I laid down on the other bed (as not to disturb Caleb) and was about to fall asleep, so I got up to wash my face and the other alarm went off.
Caleb got up and handed me a second Swiss chocolate roll, the first one came last night with the coffee – wife treats to keep her happy, as if that’s an issue when traveling – even when things might look rough to others – that’s where my stories are – the ones that intrigue some and scare most others.
It’s 6:30 now and the light from the sun has arrived. Good to know that I missed watching it from the pool (that is still closed) but that when we get to the Burj Khalifa tomorrow morning at 6:00 am we will be on time. Bring on the day!
The breakfast buffet doesn’t open till 7:30, so we wander down the street for some date milk and a Boom Boom (Arabic version of Red Bull from Jamaica). On our way past the mosque, with design and details we both love, what surprises me is the large post box – something I have yet to see in the Middle East as they all upgraded to online when camels became more of a tourist attraction than a main staple in business and leisure.
Some things are familiar – dusty cars with dirty messages, cats rummaging through rubbish, people scurrying to prayer, workers running across the street, and magazines with awesome images in a language we don’t understand. Others still have the ability to surprise me – like the makeshift outdoor elevator instead of the shoddy scaffolding found outside of most construction sites with their mandatory crane.
Breakfast at 7:30 is not impressive in the bakery department, but the tomatoes, pineapple, and oatmeal with my cup o’ tea will do the job of staving off hunger for a couple of hours. The Jumeirah Mosque tour doesn’t start till 9:45, so we have time to go back to the room and look at the event books for the area, whatever we didn’t look at the night before.
I thought Abu Dhabi had greenery, especially on the drive from the airport to the corniche, which would otherwise be just natural desert, but Dubai puts lots of effort (and water) into maintaining a lush appearance throughout the city. The morning drive out of Sharjah, and at night going into, can be a bit much for a beginner, but I’ve driven in Miami, Phoenix, New Jersey, and DC, so I have a bit of practice at the magical lane dance or merging and reappearing constantly.
Once we are more downtown the cars will thin out as people find their way to the office or coffee shop or mosque. There seems to be just as much construction here as in Bahrain, but it seems neater and more organised. It would be nice if developers would finish investing in the buildings that went broke instead of using the half-hazard bricks as temporary shade for the new workers.
We find a mosque and I park our tiny car across the street from it in a shopping plaza among delivery trucks. While we wait for it to open in an hour, we go to the Dubai Museum (fort) which opened ten minutes ago, and pay our three dirham each to get inside. There are dhows in the courtyard surrounded by walls of a style I have yet to see. It’s like in cartoons: brick, slather mud, brick, but they did slanted rocks, slop some mud, and put more slanted rocks on the wall. It has a holy appearance, but has withstood the test of desert living.
I feel like we might’ve missed out on part of the fort as we followed the arrows inside directing our eyeballs towards instruments and guns (another surprising find in the Middle East). I see the AK-47s (or similar) on the guards in Bahrain and expect it now, but my impression of the Arab region makes seeing guns in Bedouin hands as foreign as it must have been for Crazy Horse to see his first rifle.
We spend the hour looking at birds, pottery, dhow construction, and the shift from pearling to oil to tourism in Dubai and the effects these changes had on population and wealth through the Great Depression and World Wars. A surprising fact: the first school for girls didn’t open until 1959. It’s comforting to know that we were repressed worldwide, but sad to think about how many women still don’t have equal rights as others globally, not even concerning the issues with men (though that might be all of them).
Anyways, in the gift shop you can browse for poetic literature; golden cups, plates, hookahs, and camels; and I Heart Dubai mugs and ashtrays (as people here love to smoke and drink dirt aka Turkish coffee – just my opinion). We look at another branch of the museum, dedicated to pottery, before making our way to the car. I put on my abaya and hijab and as we make our way around the building I feel we are closer to an Indian temple than a public entrance to this mosque.
Back to the car, and the map, and we notice we are at the wrong mosque. There are plenty to choose from (so Caleb chose one) and this one doesn’t stand out like the one in Abu Dhabi, so a mistake could easily be made. We arrive 15 minutes late (thank you relaxed Arab time system) to free parking for the National Day holiday weekend (thank you Sheikh Maktoum) and I see others only wearing a hijab (thank you modest clothes) as I try to cover my hair and cleavage as we step inside what we think is the holy sanctum.
The tour is cheap at ten dirham each, but the coffee with camel milk is not at 22 each. We need it anyway. The tour starts at 10:05 with our tour guide showing us the process of ablution – wash to elbows three times, feet three times, face three times, etc. to make sure they are clean enough to pray to Allah. The hundred people in the crowd watch the three men and one woman who volunteered to show us this process. Washing the desert off in a separate room ensures a cleaner carpet for all, so that prayers can continue without the interruption of a vacuüm.
We are led inside ten minutes later, while the immodest men and women are offered pants and abayas, before being let in the door. My first impression is “this isn’t as grand as the one in Abu Dhabi,” but that’s a terrible mindset as each mosque has something to offer and this one is still beautifully built for what the local budget could afford – as is the building guidelines for each mosque. There are comfy chairs for the elderly, so that they may still lower their bodies (just not kneel on the floor) and show that their heart is in the right place as they place themselves below Allah.
I was nervous that the speech would be the same one we got in Bahrain about the history of Islam, as Abu Dhabi’s mosque is all about the building, but the company Centre for Cultural Understanding is more about bridging the gap of misunderstanding between religions and backgrounds and what makes the news. Our guide is funny and informative. She talks about the traditional dress: the batoola is not a metal plate as it would burn the ladies faces, but a shiny protective visor against the sun’s harsh rays.
She tells us about the five pillars of Islam and people focus their questions on Hajj – who, when, where, why – they want to know. She answers that it’s a dangerous enough event, with deaths recorded in recent years, having over two million people now all doing the same thing – wearing two pieces of Ihram white cloths (with no hems to discern between people) and praying towards the Kaaba (an empty box). And to have a tourist there trying to take pictures would be hazardous and an uneducated move – just as the ladies question next to us was.
Wouldn’t it be more rewarding for Muslims to watch non-fasters chow down on food in front of them? (I’m paraphrasing).
The guide answered this with kindness and added that even if in America if you were to see someone fasting it would be kind to at least turn away from them, and not rub it in their face that they’re abstaining and that there’s a conflict of morals, as 16 hours can be a long time between meals when still having to perform daily tasks. She noted that a faster’s schedule shouldn’t change, and perhaps historically it didn’t, but luckily there are more non-muslim workers available now to cater restaurants to expats by hanging black curtains and/or offering take away.
Then she brought out her humorous side, “If all Muslims believed in the suicide reward, then there wouldn’t be 1.6 billion of them (23% of the world’s population) worshiping today.” I agree. She finished by telling us that this mosque might not look as fancy as others, but it’s not for looks, it’s for being closer to your creator and your fellow ‘brothers’ which includes all people. And fit in another, “Mohammed, peace be upon him” before releasing us into the sunshine at 11:20.
Time to drive around and pull over when we see a sign that says beach, but also one for World’s Longest Graffiti Scroll at 2.18km, and in the shape of the UAE. We spend thirty minutes taking pictures of contrasting images and colors, made by over one hundred artists, that display the history and future of the Emirates. There’s a platform set up that allows us to see the upper half of the cities skyscrapers looking inland, and part of the sand on a sliver of beach looking northwest.
I wonder where all the tan particles of rock and sediment are that reflect the sun light making the beach appear more white, and easier to walk on barefoot. It’s covered in a layer of black felt which may not be the best color choice for summer, but it helps the art to stand out and brings warmth on this chilly 27 degree (80 Fahrenheit) winter day in the desert. It also makes it feel more like the outdoor museum it is, Rehlatna Open Museum, and it’s fun to play with, like the world’s largest towel at the beach, as I take my shoes off to feel it with my toes.
Before heading to Atlantis, The Palm, we pass by the entrance for Burj Al Arab. I’d been to a seven-star hotel in Abu Dhabi and some warned that I might have to make a reservation for a tea service (these can be pricier than they sound) and I was ok with that. I thought this would be similar, but at the Welcome Centre aka security gate/turn away shack I was asked if I had a room, or plans to get one, for a measly $2,039 per night. As I turned around, I stopped before reaching the street to get out of the car and take a picture along with the crowd on the sidewalk doing the same.
This isn’t the first time that I’ve been denied something, but usually things come with options and always a cost (whether physically or ethically, etc.), and I wasn’t offered that. Though I wonder if I had money like that if I would want poor people paying $500 to have tea in the same hotel as me. They might offend me with their rental cars that aren’t handmade and clothes that cost less than a dinner that will include at least one of the following: wagyu beef, mattake mushrooms, almas caviar, white alba truffle; and a bottle of Chateau Petrus to wet the palate.
The drive to Atlantis, once off the mainland, is on a road surrounded by off-white buildings and shadowed balconies that all look the same. On the palm, we drive with the Palm Jumeirah Monorail above us and varying flora and architecture beside us until we get to the tunnel that will take us under the ocean and deliver us to the crescent on the other side. We planned to get out here, but near the asymmetrical building were lots of cars and pedestrians and we decided to pass them and go to the west wing where we would have more unobstructed viewing opportunities, even if it they come without an archway.
We get hungry at 1:00 pm and drive to Dubai Marina Mall for lunch. Walking past the grocery store and bakery – I wouldn’t mind having a pineapple with a croissant – I take a toilet break, and I wouldn’t bring it up, but there is a room full of complimentary hand lotion and plenty of mirrors – like a moisturizer trial room. And of course I did what any wise child would do – I took a sample from each to soften my hands, my un-burqa’d face, and any other skin those angled reflections would let me see.
We reach a corner, somewhat of a deadend, and have two restaurant choices – Little mOre Cafe with a neat bookshelf around the kitchen or Yo! Sushi with a conveyor belt delivering awesome! We chose the more technologically advanced food distributor and took two seats at the bar. I picked four bowls off the belt while Caleb bothered looking at the menu. He wanted a bowl of hot to go with his three bowls of sushi containing three pieces each. I wanted a kettle of hot green tea to go with my two bowls of sushi, bowl of salad (seaweed, edamame, carrots), and bowl of chocolate dorayaki with raspberry sauce.
The bowls are priced by color and there’s a large red button at each table – the press for emergency, or your waiter, button. We push down, and like a ninja, a man with a calculator appears to add up our appetite. A card transaction later, and we pass a book store with a collection of the 501 Series of cars, cocktails, and cities. We think about buying some until we pick one up. This is not something we want to be carrying around, and we are able to find them for a fifth of the price on Amazon.
This saves us the money needed to get me another manicure set at Mall of the Emirates that sounds expensive and large, and even has a Mall View Restaurant with a grocery store next door, located across the street. And though it’s only half the size of the Bahrain City Centre, it has an indoor ski slope. Luckily the NISA sets are cheaper here than in San Diego, and they were having a special, so we got three.
Around 4:00 pm, we went to Jumeirah Beach and found a parking spot in front of the park (that was closed), so we asked the guard how much further till it opened. He told us 3 km, but it didn’t feel that far before we were at the art installation again heading to the free beach between a couple tanning and another one watching their son play in the surf. We sat there for thirty minutes while Caleb did my nails and then we went to look for more coffee for half an hour while walking around the marina. In my search, Siri told me, “Sorry, Jessica, I can’t look for restaurants in the United Arab Emirates.”
We wanted to try fugu – the Japanese word for puffer fish (or collect Caleb’s life insurance after he ate) so we went to Oberoi Hotel, with free valet, only to find out that it’s not in season yet – two more weeks. We went across the lobby to the Indian restaurant and didn’t feel like paying $30 for curry so we headed to a café for kopi luwak (coffee berries that have been pooped out by an Asian palm civet), but it was closed, so we went to Chill Out, inside Times Square, for a 160 degree beverage in a 21 degree room. We were determined to find an experience that I could cross off my bucket list – even before it was added.
We are given a coat, socks and boots, gloves and a hat, and a bin to put all our stuff in. It’s the world’s largest walk-in freezer with a castle, a racecar, and benches inside covered in traditional pillows. The chairs have blankets that look like the hides of polar bears draped over them. There are sculptures, statues, and things frozen in ice. There are chocolate bars and boxes of juice for sale. I order tea with milk. Our favorite part is the room full of saws hanging from the ceiling with blocks of ice on the floor waiting to be carved.
It’s great fun in there and we left with someone’s forgotten monopod (after our waitress showed us how to take a selfie) when my fingers started to get numb after 15 minutes. We recycled our winter socks to be washed and reused and hung up our coats. We went through Adventure HQ, but Caleb didn’t feel like toting a standup paddle board home, and I didn’t feel like waiting in line at the chance to walk on tires and poles in the air because you have a time limit and three kids were taking their time in front of us.
When Caleb thought he had missed one opportunity, he got another. The man from the falcon exhibit (for the holiday) was sitting outside and Caleb got to take a selfie with and pet the bird. We still hadn’t eaten dinner and getting lost wasn’t helping. I had to use the toilet and we stopped in a shopping plaza where after asking inside a grocery store and barber shop for a proper place I took matters into an unused corner beside some stairs and behind a water bottle storage rack.
When I stood up, I noticed two kittens cuddling in another corner, witnesses to my weak but full bladder, and I laughed. I had tears coming down my cheeks when I saw Caleb’s face as he tilted his head in a questioning manner as to what just happened. I got in the car to drive away, but had to get myself together first and attempt to share the moment with Caleb as I stomped on the gas before anyone else got curious.
We found the Danish Nadeem Restaurant for Indian and Pakistani food after driving backroads towards the room/mall. Caleb read the reviews that warn, “you’ll have to argue with the waiter and get what he serves you,” and they are right. We tried ordering two kinds of bread and he wasn’t having it. He wouldn’t give us spicy food either, but we were pleased with the dal (split lentils) and spinach with potatoes. He brought out another piece of roti so we could finish our meal. It was delicious – and 9:30.
This would give us the energy needed to go across the street after dropping bags off in the room and buy me a Hello Kitty jacket and some new pajamas – for when we couch-surf in Doha. We were out till 10:40 when the mall started to turn its lights off. I was excited about sleep, but was still up an hour more before plugging my phone in to charge.