Sheikh al Zayed Boulevard, on the way to the hotel

 

Dubai is one of the seven members of the United Arab Emirates. It is located on the Arabian Peninsula, south of the Persian Gulf (or the Arabian Gulf, as the locals call it). It is the fastest developing city in the world and a miracle of modern architecture. 

Before the discovery of oil in the Gulf in the 1960s transformed Dubai’s economy, the region had been a pearling and trades center for almost a thousand years. Today, Dubai has become the financial center of the Middle East and a magnet for millions of tourists every year. 

Only 1 out of 5 people is local Emirati. The rest are immigrants mainly from India, Pakistan, and East Asia, but also from Europe and the States. 

I traveled to Dubai in January when the temperature is at its lowest, about 20˚C (as opposed to up to 45˚C in July and August). 

What fascinated me most about this city is that it literally emerged from the desert. I discovered with astonishment how the oil business drastically changed the life and culture of the region in just a few decades. From a desert settlement, Dubai became one of the richest cities in the world. 

 Thus, Dubai is a city of discrepancies. Bastakiya , the old Arab neighborhood with the typical wind towers for ventilation  look directly at the modern-state-of-art skyscrapers from across the Dubai Creek.  The traditional Souks, bazaars for gold, spices, fabrics, or fish, are as busy as the huge malls, among which Dubai Mall, the biggest mall of the Middle East, and Mall of the Emirates, which hosts an indoor ski resort.  Time-honored sports and arts like falconry, camel riding or belly dancing, co-exist with golf, yachting, and sand-skiing. Arab women successfully match the floor length black abaya and traditional face mask burqa with Gucci bags and Prada stilettos. Men still wear floor length white kandooras with head scarves and the black cord agal around the head (once used to tie the camels legs), and they also drive Maserati and own  five-star hotels. 

 Today, the Bedouin culture has merged with a cult for the luxurious. What other explanation is there for having a vast desert to grow a city into, but instead choosing to build artificial islands shaped like Palms and a Map of the World in the Gulf and building on them? Dubai is also home to the only seven-star hotel in the world, Burj al Arab, build in the shape of a sail on its own artificial island. The tallest building in the world, Burj Dubai, is also here.  Everything in Dubai, from the flashy shops and the grandiose malls to the glitzy cars and the flamboyant nightlife speaks of the new face of Dubai, what some travel guides call “the 8th wonder of the world.” 

Traditional Arab home in the Bastakiya neighborhood