Archive for February, 2013

Getting Around in Dubai

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Dubai's sleek modern Metro station

Dubai’s sleek modern Metro station

Getting around in Dubai is interesting. The Metro system is inexpensive, clean and reliable but there are only two lines. I use the Metro as much as possible. Often it is best to take the Metro part of the way to your destination and catch a taxi to go he rest of the way. Bus lines traverse the city but route information is scarce so you really have to know where you are going. Taxis are also safe, clean and inexpensive. They are operated by the Transit Authority that operates busses and the Metro. It is easy to flag down a taxi just about anywhere. drivers are well acquainted with the city.

There are some challenges, however. The city is spread out over a very large area and getting from one area to another often takes a while. The main challenge is that no one seems to use street addresses. You navigate by landmarks – tell the taxi the nearest hotel, mall, roundabout or other landmark. If you know the nearest main street, that is also helpful. Recently, trying to find a local pizza restaurant, I looked up the address on their website. No street address, it just said across the street from a certain hotel. So, I looked up the hotel website and it just said located in Downtown Dubai. I was walking and I wandered around the section of Dubai known as Downtown Dubai for about 20 minutes – I finally found it. Next time I will know to use a taxi because I am sure he will be able to take me right to the hotel.

You might ask how they get mail if they don’t use street address. Well, everyone, businesses and private residences alike, uses P.O. boxes

Dubai’s Bastakiya District

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Courtyard with art installationBastakiya Street

Bastakiya Art Gallery

Bastakiya Mosque

Cooling towerPalm frond houseBeginning in the early 1800s, wealthy merchants and pearl traders built their homes near the Dubai Creek in the Bastakiya area. Wealthy inhabitants built houses out of blocks of coral that were covered with plaster. Less wealthy inhabitants used palm fronds as a building material. Narrow streets provided shade for pedestrians. Tall towers catching the wind and large interior courtyards provided an early form of air conditioning.

Over the years, this area had deteriorated so, in an effort to promote an understanding of the Emirati culture, the Dubai government has purchased all the houses in this area and restored them to their original glory. Rather than allow the buildings to sit unused the area is now home to several small museums, eclectic art galleries, restaurants and a variety shops selling handcrafted items.

True to Emirati hospitality, if a door is open in this area, it is an invitation for guests to enter. You can wander through the lanes and check out the buildings by yourself but, to get a good understanding of the history and culture, I joined a tour offered by the Sheik Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding. The tour was excellent and the guides were great.
This little bit of traditional culture nestled in the center of a modern sprawling metropolis is a great counterpoint to the glitz and glamor of the huge shopping malls.

Dubai Creek

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DhowsDhows, traditional trading boats, load goods to be delivered throughout the Middle East and western Africa.

Burj Khalifa

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Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

The Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building towers above the Dubai skyline.

Dubai: City of Contrasts

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I arrived in Dubai a week ago not really knowing what to expect. I knew the glamorous reputation. The tallest building in the world, the biggest shopping center, and artificial islands shaped like palm trees might indicate over-the-top extravagance. What I have found, however, is a city successfully leaping into the twenty first century while remaining grounded in a strong cultural heritage.

Visitors to the city who take in the malls and resorts often miss the rich cultural experience that exists in Dubai’s neighborhoods. The Bastakiya area proudly displays its traditional houses made with coral or with palm wood and the bustling Deira neighborhood is home to thousands of expatriate workers from the Indian subcontinent. The Dubai creek harbor area is teeming with abras, traditional water taxis, and dhows, wooden cargo ships loading wares to deliver throughout the region.

In Dubai, it does not seem that the modern world is clashing with the traditional society as it is in many areas of the world. Here there is a harmonious merging of the two.