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It is always difficult to find the best present for your friends and family. Especially when you are coming from a vacation abroad and want to bring them something thoughtful/practical/beautiful that carries the spirit of the place you visited.  

In addition to the traditional handicrafts, key chains, fridge magnets, postcards, or duty free items, I rediscovered an often-underestimated type of souvenir.  

The Pomegranate, Rambutan and Mangostan from Duabi turned out to be a delicious souvenir for our Bulgarian friends

 

As unusual and exotic presents from Dubai, we brought several kinds of fruit that are unfamiliar on the Bulgarian market. The most well-liked was the mangostan, a sweet fruit with a hard violet peel and a soft white heart from Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The persimmon originating from Japan, also known as “paradise apple,” and the rambutan from Thailand, or “hairy litchi,” were the other fruit that captured our taste buds and hearts.  The nuts-filled dates and the pomegranate, although well-known to us Bulgarians, were also among our favorites.  

The best part of giving such an organic gift is sitting around the table and sharing the interesting fruit as well as sharing your adventures with your guests.  Enjoying the fruit makes them co-experience your voyage.


An Arab woman wearing abaya is buying spices from a traditional souk

 

The futuristic Dubai offers something even for the admirers of the old and the traditional. The Spice Souk, the Golden Souk, the Fabrics Souk, and the Fish Souk carry the lively atmosphere of the Arabic bazaars from Scheherazade’s Thousand and One Tales.  

Massive golden jewels and precious stones weight down the shelves behind the shops’ windows. Linen bags of herbs and spices stacked along the narrow streets fill the air with heavy aroma. Merchants peep out the doors and call upon you “Hello! Buon giorno! Zdrastvyi!,” inviting you inside in many different languages. There is nothing fake about the merchant’s manners, and his words are not memorized lines. When he asks you where you are from, he asks because he loves talking to people. He knows Bulgaria’s best football players Hristo Stoichkov and Dimitar Berbatov. He gives you a few compliments, fox example that you look Italian, takes a picture with you in front of the colorful shop, and offers you his best price for the local cardamom or the candlenut from Indonesia.  

Despite of their archaic look, the souks are not a tourist attraction. They are real and functioning marketplaces with aggressive salesmen, wide variety of marked-up goods, and sometimes significant profit.  

Persuasiveness is the greatest skill of the souk merchants. They become your friends, sell you a ton of useless things for a very high price, and make you walk home feeling glad and happy!

 

Among the spices: rose petals for tea, incense for burning, laurel for cooking, chili, blue paint for coloring fabrics

 

Souks offer not only goods but also an experience. They are a perfect place for one to practice one’s bargaining skills and, inevitably, to get cheated.  Although they seem ages apart from a modern supermarket, souks and bazaars like these are suppliers to “the grocery store down the street”. It mesmerizes me how tradition and modernity work together in a small souk in Dubai.


Henna painting after the Desert Safari in Dubai

Henna Painting, Henna Tattoos or Mehndi is a popular form of body art in Dubai and the Middle East. It originated from South Asia. It was traditionally used during special ceremonies such as weddings, but today henna painting is popular in the everyday life.
Henna paintings are done of the hands, palms, and feet. They are fast, easy, and lasts only a few days.
The dye is made from a plant, so it is not harmful or permanent.
The Arab girl who drew our hands took less than 2 minutes for each paining.
Aren’t they beautiful? The painter is wearing the traditional black abaya .
Read more about my journey to Dubai.

The Arab girl who painted our hands is wearing a traditional Abaya


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

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