In spite of the inclement weather and my stomach malady, I had a wonderful stay in Shanghai, China. I mainly attribute that to the wonderful staff at The Intercontinental Hotel Shanghai Pudong who made me feel so welcome and assisted me in so many ways. Wishing I had more time in this enchanting city, I was actually sad to leave. My flight to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) departed in the early afternoon. Thus, I was able to get a good night’s sleep. Since my stomach was feeling better, I attempted a reasonably normal breakfast without going overboard. I was able to have one more visit with my new friend Jason Burnett, the soon to be Manager of this fabulous hotel. The day was off to a good start.
I had arranged with Frank, the concierge, for the hotel car to take me to the airport. The Lincoln Town car easily accommodated my luggage. As I had mentioned in earlier chapters of this travelogue, I prefer the hotel car because it is a better and safer ride; the driver takes me to the exact location that I need; then, he will help me with my luggage into the terminal. The cost isn’t that much more than a taxi and I can charge the cost to my room and earn loyalty club points. For me, it is a good deal.
Since I had arrived in Shanghai during the wee hours of the morning. I was unable to view the cityscape as I transited from the airport to the hotel. Now, I was able to see different parts of Shanghai that I hadn’t seen on any of my previous tours. Once again, I was amazed by the vast number of high-rise apartments that all appeared to look the same. It seemed like the Chinese government had paid one architect for one design of a high-rise apartment and used the same design over and over again, in Shanghai, Xi’an, Chengdu, and God only knows how many other cities in China. The only distinguishable difference was a slight change in colors of the building. As one friend remarked, pity the poor person returning home from a party after too many adult beverages and having to find his living quarters in such a bland maze.
My driver made excellent time getting me to the airport and gladly helped me with my luggage as far as he could. Once again, I had to traverse the security gauntlet where they x-rayed everything before I even entered the airport. I made my way to the Air China counter to get my tickets for my flight to Dubai, UAE. To get there, I first had to go to Chongqing, China and change planes. Once again, I was grateful that I had arrived at the airport several hours early. I was informed by the ticket agent that my flight to Chongqing was delayed 3 hours. I asked him what he was going to do about that? His negative response indicated that he did not grasp the seriousness of the situation. I explained to him that this delay would cause me to miss my flight to Dubai! Still he did not understand the problem, let alone offer a solution. I asked for a supervisor. He complied with my second request for a supervisor. Twenty minutes later, the supervisor casually approached and, after my thorough explanation of the problem and potential consequences, began to resolve my predicament. He informed me that there was an earlier flight but I would have to fly coach. I told him that, at this point, I would be happy to ride in the baggage compartment with Fido, but I needed to arrive in Chongqing in time to make the flight to Dubai. I was grateful for the supervisor’s support and the fact that I was able to check my baggage straight through to Dubai! The flight to Chongqing only took about 80 minutes and I had time to spare before my flight to Dubai.
I would have liked to have had more time to spend in Chongqing, formerly known as Chung king. This was the provisional capital of the Republic of China during WWII. It was the headquarters of General Joe Stillwell and General Claire Chennault. There, General Stillwell’s headquarters was now a museum. Attached to the museum was another museum dedicated to the famous Flying Tigers. Unfortunately, my schedule did not permit a visit to either museum even if my Air China flight to Dubai was late, as it was. I was grateful that this was going to be my last flight on Air China. Their poor dependability was becoming tiresome.
My flight to Dubai was late departing and took almost 8 hours. During the flight, I was able to get about 5 hours of sleep. I noticed that we skirted the coast of Iran and proceeded up the Gulf of Oman to Dubai. Much of the coast, at night, looked like the coastline between Los Angeles and San Diego. It was almost midnight when my flight landed in Dubai. I was grateful that the Intercontinental Hotel Festival City wasn’t far from the airport. I was also happy that they had a room for me that was at the club level. Upon checking in, I was made aware that the Muslim world was experiencing Ramadan and that the hotel honored the restrictive traditions of Ramadan to some degree.
Ramadan is derived from the Arabic word ramida that means scorching heat or dryness. It occurs in the 9th month of the Arabic calendar and normally occurs between the months of May and June. However, the exact dates of Ramadan are not constant every year. Muslims around the world observe the month-long practice of fasting during Ramadan. Observing Ramadan is one of the 5 Pillars of Islam. The practice of Ramadan includes complete fasting from dawn until sunset. This means Muslims cannot eat food nor drink any liquids during the period of observance. Additionally, people are to refrain from smoking and having sexual relations. Furthermore, Muslims must not engage in sinful behavior such as lying, cursing, and issuing insults. In some Muslim countries, failing to observe Ramadan is considered a criminal offense which carries severe penalties including imprisonment and heavy fines. In other countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), failing to observe Ramadan is considered a lesser offense whose punishment is 150 hours of community service. Needless to say, many people feel the strain of these restrictions and their personal interactions can reflect this. It is not a happy time. I will discuss more about Ramadan later in this travelogue.
Dubai is a huge city and an Emirate in the UAE. The city has just over 3 million people living in an area of 1,588 sq. miles. Its government is an absolute monarchy and the capital of the UAE is Abu Dhabi. While
Arabic is the official language of the UAE, English is generally spoken throughout the country, stemming from the British influence in the region during the 19th and early 20th century.
After a good night’s sleep, I discovered that breakfast was being served outside of public view in a section of the restaurant that was blocked by screens and curtains. This seemed to satisfy the rules of Ramadan while allowing the “Infidels” to have their breakfast. In these secluded confines was a delightful buffet that served almost everything I wanted except bacon. Remember, I was in a Muslim country and any type of pork was prohibited.
After breakfast, I had scheduled a tour on the Hop-on Hop-off (Ho Ho) bus. I had to take a cab to the Dubai Mall in order to begin the tour. An ultramodern city, which strives to be a financial center in the Arab world, Dubai is far from being the richest city in the world. In fact, it doesn’t make the list of the top 15. London tops the list with New York in second place. Google the richest cities in the world and you may find some surprises. Before I caught the Ho Ho bus, I did a quick tour of the mall. The stores in the Dubai Mall reflected the opulence of Dubai to the point one could easily wonder just how rich Dubai really was. Among the stores in the Mall were Rolex, Tiffany, Cartier, and Armani. Even the famous diamond merchant, De Beers, had a store in the mall. I noticed something else unique about the mall. There were numerous restaurants and cafes throughout the mall. However, they were all empty because of the observance of Ramadan. I couldn’t even buy a bottle of water.
Leaving the mall, I boarded the Ho Ho bus and began my tour of Dubai. The bus had a tour tape being played in English with provided ear sets. As some of you who have been reading my past travelogues may remember, I had been to Dubai about a year earlier during my cruise on Seabourn Encore from Singapore to Athens, Greece. During that cruise we stopped for about 8 hours to visit Dubai. I spent the majority of that time trying to buy two camel saddles. These made excellent foot rests instead of ottomans. After finding and
buying the camel saddles, I got stuck in a traffic jam for over an hour near the Atlantis Resort. By the time I got back to the ship with the camel saddles, there wasn’t enough time remaining to tour Dubai. I missed the opportunity to visit the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and an item on my bucket list. Thus, I was compelled to re-visit Dubai on this adventure and to spend more time here. The Ho Ho bus gave me an excellent overview of Dubai as we passed many of the iconic sites seen in travel brochures. We could see the Burj Khalifa from various parts of the city. Yet, we never made a stop where I could get an excellent, unobstructed photograph of the towering building. While Dubai had many high-end stores, it also had their share of American fast food enterprises. I saw Pizza Hut, Dominos, Subway, McDonald’s, Krispy Kreme, Tony Roma’s, Cold Stone Creamery, Fuddruckers, Rainforest Cafe, and, of course, many Starbucks. Even the most finicky wouldn’t go hungry in Dubai, except possibly during Ramadan.
It was late in the afternoon when the Ho Ho bus returned me to the Dubai Mall. I did one more complete tour of the mall. At that time, I discovered a store from the American past. The mall had a Borders Book Store! Everything was the same, as it was in the stores in America before they went out of business, including the sign. I missed our Borders Book Stores because they gave Barnes and Noble some great competition. The mall had another unique attraction…an Olympic size ice skating rink. Yes, even though it was 100 (f) outside, patrons could go ice skating in the mall. Although, I never saw it, I was told there was even an indoor ski slope in Dubai. Judging by the opulence that I had already seen, I believed the rumor. Speaking of opulence, I saw Ferraris, Maserati, Lamborghinis, Bentleys, and Roll Royces as common place as Porsches and Mercedes were in Las Vegas.
By the time I had completely canvassed the mall, I was really hungry and realized the only place I could get nourishment was back in my hotel room where I still had a stash of Quest bars. As I made my way out of the mall, I passed a Rainforest Cafe just like the one they have in Las Vegas. What caught my attention was a couple at the hostess stand. Soon, they disappeared inside the restaurant. I immediately changed course and headed toward the restaurant. By the time I reached the stand, the hostess had returned. Looking to both sides to see if anyone was watching, I whispered to the hostess, “Are you serving meals here, now?” She smiled and said in a normal voice, “Yes!” It took me 1 nano second to say, “Table for 1, please!” The deal was this. Restaurants could serve food only if it was done in a private area out of public view. Even though one wall of the restaurant was a glass view of a gigantic aquarium where, beside the sharks and stingrays, could be seen the patrons of the mall and vice versa; a set of screens had been erected to block the view from the mall into the restaurant. Thus, us infidels could eat to our hearts’ content without flaunting such behavior in front of our Muslim brothers and sisters. I couldn’t remember when a charbroiled steak sandwich and fries tasted so good!
Having had a good meal, I walked the mall some more, but decided to return to the hotel and enjoy the benefits of the club level lounge where they, too, had snacks and refreshments. The sun had already set. It had been a long day. I decided to make it an early evening. I had a city tour in the morning that would take me to the top five attractions in Dubai, including the Burj Khalifa and a dinner after sunset.
The following day, the tour didn’t pick me up until noon. Thus, I was able to sleep late and have a full leisurely, breakfast behind the curtain at the hotel’s buffet. While waiting for my tour to begin, I was talking with a front desk staff member named Katy. To make a long story short, she mentioned that she was a graduate of the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) and that she may have gone there about the same time as my son. We talked about Las Vegas and her job in Dubai. I expressed admiration for this young lady to take such an assignment in quite a far-off land. She really seemed to enjoy her job and the city of Dubai, even with the oppressive heat. However, attending UNLV helped to prepare Katy for those high temperatures. It is always nice to have a friendly face at the front desk. She even agreed to sign on to these travelogues. Hi, Katy!
A van picked me up at the appointed time. We drove toward the main center of Dubai. Soon we were waiting for another couple at the base of the Burj Khalifa. Unfortunately, the couple was not at the scheduled meeting point. The driver parked the van inside a shaded garage and went looking for the wayward tourists. The problem was resolved about an hour later when it was discovered that there was confusion about the pick-up point on the part of the tour company. Even though it was not their fault, the couple was very apologetic. He was a young U. S. Army Officer stationed in Iraq. His wife was originally from Chicago and met her husband for a brief, romantic vacation in Dubai. When they discovered my background, we had an instant friendship for the rest of the tour. Our van took us to the Atlantis Resort where we joined our tour bus and the other members of the tour group that had already started the tour without us because of our delay.
We drove along the coastline and went past the Burj Al Arab Jumeriah Hotel, which is recognized around the world for its design in the shape of gigantic sail. Jumeriah is a coastal residential area in Dubai. From the Burj Al Arab Hotel, we proceeded to the downtown marina area to take a scenic Arabian dhow cruise along the skyscraper-ringed Dubai Marina. A dhow is a generic name for an Arabic sailing vessel. We boarded our boat at a dock in the middle of the Deira community of downtown Dubai. For the next 2 hours, we took a scenic cruise
up and down Dubai Creek from the Persian Gulf to the end of the business district. Sipping free refreshments, we had a great view of the spectacular, modern architecture of Dubai, which could compete with any city in the world. Once again, Dubai gave the impression of being a very wealthy city. We had plenty of opportunity to go on deck to take photos. However, we had to leave the refreshments and snacks inside due to Ramadan. The air conditioned inside cabin and the cool breeze created by the dhow’s movement helped to counter the oppressive afternoon heat.
The cruise complete, we boarded our tour bus for a return trip to the Jumeriah community on the coast and a visit to the Souk Madinat Jumeriah. Souk is an Arabic word that means market place or bizarre. Upon our arrival at this souk, I immediately recognized it as the place where I had purchased my camel saddles the previous year! After
receiving a brief tour of the souk from our guide, I sought out the shop that I had visited earlier. To my surprise, the owner remembered me. I guess there aren’t too many people that buy 2 camel saddles. Of course, he eagerly offered to sell me 2 more saddles…an offer that I graciously declined. However, I did ask to get a picture of him in front of his shop, a detail that I missed during my last visit. I’ve included that picture and a picture of the camel saddles in this article.
The sun was beginning to set when we proceeded again toward the center of town. We made a brief stop at a shop that sold handicrafts, such as rugs and tapestries. The owner gave us a briefing on the types and qualities of the rugs. However, the members of our group didn’t show much interest and we didn’t remain there long.
Our next destination was the Armani Banquet Room in the Armani Hotel. This was one of Dubai’s most sought-after dining destinations. Entering the huge ballroom, we found our table. However, because of Ramadan, we had to wait for the exact moment the sun set before we could order our beverages or visit the buffet. The completed sunset was announced on a huge, big screen TV. Shown on the screen was a Howitzer
cannon and gun crew located at the Palace in Abu Dhabi. All patrons in the ballroom quietly stood with their eyes focused on the big screen TV. With the sun officially set, the cannon was fired with a thunderous, “BOOM!” Everyone cheered and rushed to the buffet lines. Remember, these people hadn’t eaten nor drank anything since sunrise over, 12 hours ago! Jovial laughter filled the air. Happy people were enjoying their first drink of water and their first bite of Hors d’oeuvres. Whole families and their friends gathered for this wonderful feast! It truly was a social event. The food selection was totally amazing from salads, to main courses of salmon, lobster, lamb, chicken, and beef. The dessert table was decadent! It was, without a doubt, the best meal I had eaten on this whole adventure.
Having enjoyed a fantastic meal, I made my way outside onto the hotel’s patio to observe their famous fountain show. Entering the patio, I heard the familiar voice of Dame Sarah Brightman singing “Time to Say Good-bye.” The fountains were dancing to the rhythm of this beautiful ballad. For a brief moment, I was transported halfway around the world to Las Vegas Blvd. in front of the Bellagio Hotel and their iconic fountain display. The warm evening air of Dubai helped to create the effect. I was amazed at how similar the fountains at the Armani Hotel were to the Bellagio’s. The amazement turned to a humorous understanding when I was told that both fountains were designed by the same person. Oh well, imitation is one of the best forms of compliment. One thing for sure, the spectators in Dubai enjoyed these fountain shows just as much as those watching the fountain shows on the Strip in Las Vegas.
The final stop on our tour, before the vans returned us to our separate hotels, was a visit to the Burj Khalifa. Burj, in Arabic, means a standing structure or tower. Khalifa is the tower’s surname. Thus, in English, it is the Khalifa Tower. She stands over 2,723 ft tall and has been the tallest building in the world since 2008. There are 3 observation decks at the Burj Khalifa. The majority of the visitors go to the decks on the 124thand 125th floors. However, for a considerable additional fee, a person can receive a VIP tour that begins
with refreshments in a separate lounge away from the large tour groups. There, you board a private elevator that whisks you to the 148th floor. This floor is only accessible if you have registered for this tour. Upon arriving, you are greeted by wait staff who offer you beverages and delicious pastries in an area filled with leather lounge chairs and sofas. This personalized attention and tranquil ambiance create a truly first-class experience. When you are ready, you can tour the windowed walkways for a premium spectacular view of Dubai in all directions. At one corner of this floor, you can access the outside observation deck. The outside observation deck is located directly above the Armani Hotel’s fountains. It was a mesmerizing experience looking directly down on those dramatic displays from 148 stories.
Having access to the 148th floor also afforded me the opportunity to visit the 124th and 125th floors. Taking the elevator to the 125th floor, I realized how crowded, almost chaotic, the scene was. I briefly visited both floors and discovered that, with my ticket, I could return to the peace and quiet of the VIP Lounge and the lovely view of the fountains.
Although it was nighttime, I believe I got a few good photos of Dubai. My time on the 148th floor was limited only by my requirement to meet the tour guide, who would return me to my hotel. The wait staff kept
encouraging me to stay longer by offering me more beverages and pastries. After reading this, I hope you understand that I highly recommend paying the additional amount for the VIP experience. The view, alone, and the tranquility of the 148th floor is well worth it!
I returned to the main level in the VIP elevator and made my way to the rendezvous point with the driver, who would take me back to my hotel. I had requested late checkout in the afternoon because my flight to Casablanca, Morocco via Istanbul, Turkey didn’t depart until 02:00 in the morning of the following day. Thus, I scheduled a car to take me to the airport at 22:00 the next evening. This gave me all day to pack. It also gave me, essentially, a free day in Dubai and I intended to use it well.
While in Dubai, I had made several unsuccessful attempts to get a decent shot of the Burj Khalifa. There was always something in the way, either a building, or a clump of trees, or a freeway that prevented a clear shot of that tremendous tower. I talked with the concierge and asked him to find a cab driver who would be willing to drive this crazy American around to find the best location to get a photograph the Burj Khalifa. Of course, the meter would be running the whole time. The concierge found Abdul and explained the plan. He had several ideas. However, the first couple just didn’t work. I could tell that Abdul was getting into the challenge and began driving around, racking his memory for a place to create the best shot. Each stop was a bit better, but not perfect. Then, Abdul got a big grin on his face and told me to get into the car. We drove about 10 minutes to another area where he pointed and said, “There!” He was absolutely right! It was an open-field park area. The further in I walked, the better the view got. I took many pictures with different settings and hoped that I got it right and that the ozone haze would not affect the picture too much. Shooting done, I turned to find Abdul, but I couldn’t see him. Had he left me? I thought not, because I had run up a sizable fare on the meter. I looked through the bushes at the side street and there was Abdul with the car. He had followed me down the long path. Instead of walking back a half mile in the noonday heat, I just cut through the bushes and was at the car in a few yards. I’ve included several shots of the Burj Khalifa in this travelogue. I hope you enjoy them.
Returning to the hotel, I sang Abdul’s praises to the concierge and tipped Abdul handsomely. I believe Abdul was as proud of accomplishing this mission as I was. I really think he enjoyed the experience and I know he had a good story to tell this fellow cab drivers about this crazy American. It was a fun way to spend my last day in Dubai.
I checked out of my room around 16:00 and put my luggage into storage. I kept my computer and was permitted to use the club lounge until it was time to take the hotel car to the airport. During that time, I was able to check my emails, drink their beverages, and eat their snacks. It was wonderful to sit and watch the sun set over Dubai and see the city turn on its lovely lights. Reflecting over the past few days, I realized that I had enjoyed a delightful stay in Dubai. The Intercontinental Hotel Festival City was a wonderful place to stay. The accommodations, staff, and food were totally outstanding. I was glad that my last memories of Dubai will be of my visit to the Burj Khalifa, instead of being stuck in a traffic jam for four hours as in my previous visit. I would be happy to return to Dubai and highly recommend that you visit Dubai, too. However, I would suggest that you avoid visiting during Ramadan! You already know where to stay.
In my next travelogue, I will discuss my flights from Dubai to Casablanca, my visit there, and my trip to Marrakesh. I hope you enjoyed my travelogue on Dubai. Please let me know if you have any comments or questions.