Postcards from Dubai

Part One

First Impressions : Welcome to Anywhere

I have to say that my initial feeling on arriving in Dubai was one of disappointment. My first time in not just a new country but a new continent, and it all looked very familiar. As the hotel minibus took me in bright sunshine from the airport towards the city centre along a wide highway lined with palm trees, office blocks and rows of familiar shops (McDonalds, HSBC, IKEA etc. etc.), I was reminded of Phoenix, Arizona, or for that matter anywhere in America. Where was the "Arabia" I had come to see? Where were the camels and the Sheiks and ... well, you know what I mean. Only the funny squiggles on the road signs showed I was somewhere different.

Another Day At The Office

Marconi Middle East have an office on the 37th floor of the impressive Emirates Towers, and I visit here most days, checking email and talking to colleagues. The office is in the taller of the two towers, the shorter one is a hotel, I think.

The view from the office is pretty good:

This large arch is going to be a new financial centre, I'm told.

Dubai Marina

This place is not just about boats. It is a very large residential/hotel/shopping development on the coast about fifteen miles from central Dubai. As you can see, there is a lot of building work going on (as there is all over Dubai). I spend most of my working day here, although not in one of the towers, at the exchange which provides these apartments, hotels and businesses with their telephone service.

Dubai Creek

The city of Dubai is built on both sides of the creek, which extends about 10 miles inland from the Arabian Gulf. It is an extremely busy waterway with small and large craft buzzing up and down.

The dhows are loaded and unloaded in chaotic docks where I saw all sorts of products, from matresses to shampoo to baby incubators all piled on the quayside. It is an indication of the lack of crime here that all these goods are left totally accessible. I could easily have helped myself to a TV or a case of shampoo!

The abras (water taxis) that shuttle along and across the creek must be one of the best tourist bargains in the area - A ride costs half a Dirham, which is about eight pence. You leap on from the dockside, perhaps having to climb over another boat to get to yours, and sit down and when the abra is full it departs. After dodging the incoming boats and turning round, the driver puts on full steam ahead and then leaves the wheel to walk up and down collecting fares. At the other end it's more dodging other craft - we hit one which hadn't backed out of the berth quickly enough - and then the nose of the abra hits the steps and everyone leaps off. Not a mode of transport for the faint hearted, but great fun, and probably safer than driving on Dubai's roads.


This small part of the city has been declared a conservation area, and the traditional houses built one hundred years ago for wealthy merchants are being restored. The square "wind towers" are for cooling.

Dubai is certainly a city of contrasts - The two pictures below were taken from the same place. One shows a view along one of the narrow alleys in Bastakia:

Into The Desert

A colleague took me for a ride out into the desert in his landrover. I was surprised by the number of bushes and even trees growing in the dry conditions as we climbed and slid up and down the dunes.

We paused atop a small rise to admire the sunset, but the peace and quiet was disrupted by an enormous number of air conditioned 4x4s bringing the tourists - There were so many of them that at one point there was a traffic jam!

My thanks to Simon for kindly taking me on this trip.

Burj Al Arab

The Burj Al Arab claims to be the world's only seven star hotel. It is built on an artificial island just off the coast and its famous shape has become a symbol of modern Dubai, so much so that car licence plates feature a picture of it. That round thing sticking out is the heli-pad, I'm told, and the flat bit on the other side is a bar. Apparently it costs about 1,000 pounds a night to stay in one of the 200 suites, each of which has its own butler. I'll report further as soon as my lottery win comes through.


Dubai is famous for its shopping, and while you won't catch me purchasing any of the designer "bargains", the Mercato mall is worth a visit just for the architecture.

Of course, there's another type of shopping for which Dubai is famous: Here's the Bur Dubai Souq, one of the markets where you are sure to pick up lots of bargains, and some of them might even be genuine.

Dubai Grand Prix

Not racing cars, but powerboats. The last race of the "UIM Class 1 World Powerboat Championship" was held at Dubai International Marine Club, and I went down to join the surprisingly small crowd and watch an exciting spectacle. The weather was unusually dull for Dubai, but at least the rain just about held off.

This army helicopter spent most of the race chasing the boats around the course. I'm not sure whether he was part of the race, or just enjoying himself.

The race, and the championship, were won by Spirit of Norway. The throttle man was British.

Deira Heritage

Deira is the part of Dubai on the 'other' side of the Creek from where I am staying. In amongst its miles of bustling streets jammed with traffic I found the Heritage House. Originally built around 1890, it has been extensively restored and is now an interesting museum showing how the occupants would have lived.

Near the Heritage House is the Al-Ahmadiya School, which was the first formal school in Dubai. It too is a museum with interesting exhibits showing the development of schools in the city.

This restored fort is now a police station.

Continued in Part Two Postcards index Back to my home page ©2005 Phil Wieland