Funky balconies

I left off my previous post about my “world’s longest day” in Dubai at the Dubai Mall metro station…

I think they got their metros from Japan or something. They’re the same ones that they have in Hong Kong, if I’m not mistaken. They’re all automatically driven and perfectly line up with the glass doors on the platform every time. They are almost impeccably on schedule and can get VERY crowded (that has nothing to do with where the metros were made, it just seems to be a theme everywhere). Like I said in my Dubai intro post, the public transit has optional designated seating for women that I wasn’t going to use until I realized that I was the only woman on the platform NOT in front of the women’s car. When it came and we all packed in, I was happy with my decision.

I took the metro to one of the stops near Dubai Marina. Then, a bunch of people were running to catch a tram that was coming, and I remembered from the transit map that one of the stops was Marina Mall which is exactly where I needed to go. What I didn’t realize was that the tram does a loop from the stop I was at, and the mall is the last stop on that loop, not the first. Oops.

Dubai Marina
Awkward marina selfie as I sweated it out in my winter-appropriate attire.

I planned to take a ferry from the marina to the “old” part of Dubai. Due to my unexpected detour, I got to the ferry terminal at about 11:02, and the ferry left at 11. It was pulling out just as I walked up. I’m blessed with very good luck disguised as bad luck, though, because every time I think something has gone wrong, I end up being better off than if it had gone “right”. Okay, so I missed the first ferry, but the next one was in just two hours.

There’s a promenade that runs right next to the water, so I strolled along that for a bit and took in the sights. I spent a little more time sitting on a bench, soaking in the sun and warm air, watching people walk, run, and bike by, and wondering what brought each of them to Dubai.

Yachts. Everywhere.
I’ve definitely seen pictures of that little twin building in the front before… But there are so many highrises and funky architectural statements that things get lost.

My extra hours at the marina flew by. Before I knew it, it was time to go and buy my ferry ticket! Based on the information I found online, the ferry was supposed to take 60-90 minutes. Ha. The route was a little different than anticipated, and it ended up taking TWO hours! I was excited because we went around one of the palm islands which is something I wasn’t expecting to get to see. Maybe other people would have chosen to spend their day differently, but I thought it was great! It only cost 50 dirhams (about $14), and I got to be on a boat in Dubai which kind of just felt right since boats are such a big part of the identity of the city.

I wish we were a little closer to shore, but you can see the Burj Al Arab (the taller one), Jumeirah Beach Hotel (the short one to the left of the tall one), and in the foreground, there’s a sailboat which is kind of funny because the Burj Al Arab is supposed to look like a sail.
Check out how ridiculous the Burj Khalifa looks, popping up above all of the other buildings

When we finally landed, I was right in the middle of the things I wanted to see next. I was worried that I wasn’t going to have enough time to see everything based on my time estimates, but you know what? It worked out perfectly. I made it to everything on my list, and I didn’t feel the least bit rushed. I actually don’t know what I would have done if I’d had all the time I planned. It would have been way too much!

First, I strolled around Heritage Village. I didn’t realize at the time that it’s currently closed for renovations, so nothing much was going on. It’s a rebuilt neighborhood that is supposed to show “the traditional lifestyle” with demonstrations of the customs, traditions, professions, and craftsmanship of old Dubai. It has a mix of different building types to show building traditions across the different parts of the emirate. That probably would have been cool to see, but instead, I just wandered a bit and looked at the buildings.

Look at those pristine streets

My next destination was Al Fahidi neighborhood. This and Heritage Village are right along Dubai Creek, where the oldest settlements in the area were located. Apparently, they wanted to tear the neighborhood down and develop it, but people fought to preserve the history there. The result was that they didn’t build big buildings… but it’s still been developed. It feels like something straight out of Disney. A brand new historic village. It was still interesting, but I was a little disappointed, to be honest.

After I’d had enough of that, I went to the Dubai Museum. I was ready to be slightly disappointed again since the last two things I planned to see were such bummers. If the museum was a similar failure, I was going to be left with all sorts of extra time.

Thankfully, it was much better. It’s in an old fort, Al Fahidi Fort, and that building actually looks like it was preserved instead of rebuilt. The walls aren’t perfectly finished and fresh looking. I mean, I’m sure they did plenty of work on it, but it was at least less obvious and fake looking.

The “historical” neighborhood of Al Fahidi
Cool trees in the hood
Dubai Museum/Al Fahidi Fort
They’re kind of hard to see, but these little wire guys trying to climb the wall made me smile.

The museum itself was fairly well-done. In a few parts, there was so much information that it was actually exhausting (and I have a high tolerance for museums), but otherwise, it was good. There were also parts where the text was so small that I literally couldn’t read it from the distance I was required to stand at. By about the halfway point, no one besides me was even attempting to read anything anymore. Everyone else was just trying to get through it as fast as they could manage.

I thought it was really interesting because it talked about the history of Dubai and of the UAE in general. I haven’t been to many countries in that part of the world, so the history wasn’t the same old story that I’m used to, and the culture is completely different from many of the things I’ve seen before.

Not awkward
HOW COOL ARE THOSE SPIRAL LIGHTS? But also… what would you do with them?

From there, I headed to the river. I walked through the textile souks and admired all of the pretty fabrics and scarves. The unfortunate thing about the souks, at least when I was there, is that you can’t just walk around anonymously. People are constantly trying to get your attention, talk to you, and get you to look inside their shops. I wish I could wear a sign telling them not to waste their time with me because I cannot be persuaded to buy something when I have literally no interest in buying anything. I had no interest in buying anything. No, I don’t want a pashmina scarf. I don’t want any spices. I don’t want a fake designer purse. What am I supposed to do with these things? Where am I supposed to put them? I’m currently living out of a backpack, and the rest of my life is in boxes/my childhood room at my parents’ house. If there’s one thing I definitely don’t need, it’s more stuff (I’m sure my parents would agree).

When I got to the river, I watched the abras, old boat “buses”, pull in and out of the dock. It was mesmerizing! It looked like they were doing a dance, and I was amazed that they weren’t constantly bumping into each other. The passengers sit on this raised middle part of the boat, and it’s only 1 dirham (30ish cents US) to get across. After I watched long enough to understand what was going on, I hopped onto a boat to cross the river. I think this was my favorite part of the whole day because it was the only thing that felt authentic. The boats were old and a bit sketchy, they were constantly packed, and the ride was cheap It was fun to be out on the water like that.

Abra docks
Organized chaos
Just living that solo travel selfie struggle
Coming into the dock
Clearly amped about getting to ride on the abra… things got better after this.

On the other side, I walked in the direction of the gold and spice souks. I spent a lot of time pretending that I was oblivious, pretending that I didn’t speak English (which is kind of hilarious because I pretended that I could only speak Armenian), and telling people that I didn’t want anything. People also kept trying to guess my ethnicity (this is a common occurrence in my life) with guesses ranging from Iranian to Arab to some mix of those with other things.

When it was about time to leave, I decided to take a boat back across the river just because I wanted to. If I had the time, I could have been happy riding back and forth all night. From the dock, I walked to the metro and spent the rest of my money on plane snacks. I had 12 dirhams left, and I strategically planned what snacks I could get, trying to get as close as possible to 12 without going over. Guess what I ended up with? 11.90. It doesn’t get much better than that! I left with a very healthy haul of three cookie varieties.

I’m kind of obsessed with these lamps
Classic spice market picture
Blurry night abra picture

Getting back into the airport was a breeze because I didn’t have to check my bag. I was at the gate in less than 20 minutes. Turns out my speed was completely unnecessary because about an hour before take-off, we were informed that our flight was cancelled because of weather conditions in Yerevan. In classic Armenian fashion, everyone started calling their relatives in Yerevan, confirming that the weather was fine and that planes were landing, and arguing with the airline staff. None of this resulted in our flight getting un-cancelled, but they did agree to give out food vouchers which was enough to satisfy me.

I ended up sleeping on the floor because the chairs in the terminal all have armrests on them (how rude). It wasn’t the most restful night of my life, but of course I managed to sleep. I always do. I went to sleep around midnight, woke up about every two hours to change position, and got up for good at 8AM before our flight finally left at 2PM. Not exactly the ideal end to Dubai Day, but I survived and got free KFC out of it, so it could have been worse.

There were some awesome views on the way back to Armenia! I usually fly at night, so I never get to see anything
Mount Ararat on the way into Yerevan airport

Dubai Day started bright and early… and after an INCREDIBLY restful four hours of plane sleep on my flight from Beirut. My flight landed at 4:45AM, I zoomed through immigration, and I tried to somewhat pull myself together in an airport bathroom before venturing out into the world.

My first stop was the Burj Khalifa, aka the tallest building in the world. You can schedule a time to go up to one of the viewing decks (I opted for the lower one because I’m not rich), and I signed up for a sunrise time slot. I made the mistake of going to Dubai on a Friday. That was stupid because Friday is the Muslim Sabbath day, and in the UAE, it’s a “non-work day”. It didn’t mess me up TOO much, but most things opened later in the day which wasn’t ideal since I got in so early in the morning. The metro wasn’t open yet, so I took a cab from the airport and got dropped off next to the building.

Welcome to Dubai! That body of water is the Persian Gulf.

The thing about being “next to the building” is that when the building is 828 meters tall (2,716 feet), the base of the building is not small. I had NO idea where to find the correct entrance to go to the viewing decks, so I just walked in a direction that I thought made sense until a guard told me I was going the wrong way and redirected me. No doubt that’s a normal occurrence in his job.

The walk to the right entrance was about 15 minutes, and I didn’t mind one bit because the world was quiet, and the city was still asleep. That’s one of my favorite times in a city (though I hate being awake so early).

Nighttime city view

One of the best parts of going to viewing platforms in tall buildings is getting to learn about the building. They always have information about the design and how it was built. Learning about the process makes the experience so much more interesting!

Excavations for the Burj Khalifa started in January of 2004, and it was officially opened in January of 2010. Even though it boasts a height of 828 meters (2,716 ft), the top floor is located at 584 meters (1,915 ft). The rest is just a ridiculous spire to make it taller.

The piles that make up the foundation system are 50 meters deep (165 ft). They also had the challenge of making sure that the in-ground structure could withstand the harsh minerals found in the soil. After a year of construction to prepare the foundation, work started on the floors. They created a process that allowed them to pour the concrete for one floor every three days! They also pumped concrete from the ground up to 601 meters (1,972 ft) which is about 3/4 the height of the building. That set another world record (there really is a world record for everything).

The quantity of building materials that went into the structure is insane. The foundation alone used 45,000 m3 of concrete (58,900 yd3), which is like if you filled 18 Olympic swimming pools, and the superstructure used another 330,000 m3 (431,600 yd3) or 150 more swimming pools. If you lined up the steel rebar end-to-end, it would go a quarter of the way around the world.

See the area of brown out in the water in the upper right? That’s where they’re building the world islands. There’s an island for each country… It’s like Epcot on steroids.

During the summers, temperatures easily reach over 44 degrees C (about 110 degrees F). In order to keep work going through the summer months, concrete was poured at night when the sun was gone and temperatures were lower. Also, as the tower’s height increased, workers were subjected to stronger winds, making their work more challenging and dangerous. Another crazy statistic for you: 22 MILLION man-hours went into the construction.

The building’s shape was determined by its structural requirements. A Y-shaped floor plan was selected to add stability, and the weird shape and setbacks were designed to reduce the impact of wind on the building. The occupied levels were built with poured concrete floors, but the structure of the spire is entirely steel. It has 54,000 windows. Can you imagine being in charge of window cleaning??? I wonder if they ever do clean the windows because it seems like that would be terribly unsafe. Haha I just looked it up… it takes 36 workers 3-4 months to clean all of the windows. The top 27 levels are cleaned by unmanned machines. (Also, the window-cleaning system cost US$6.3 million which I personally think is insane.)

Looking up… and this is just the part of the building that’s above the viewing deck.

It holds the titles of: tallest building in the world, tallest free-standing structure, tallest man-made structure, building with the most stories, highest occupied floor, highest outdoor observation deck, and a few more. It houses a hotel, apartments, a restaurant, and offices. At its base is the Dubai Mall, filled with expensive stores and ridiculous attractions such as an ice rink and an aquarium.

After my brain was filled with knowledge, I took an elevator to the 124th floor. I think it only took a minute, and the elevator was so smooth that you could barely even tell it was moving. For reference, I live on the 7th floor of my building in Armenia, and I’m fairly certain that the elevator there takes longer to go 6 floors than this one takes to go 124. Not sure if that’s a compliment to the Burj Khalifa elevator, an insult to the one in my building, or a little of both. Apparently, the building is so tall and the elevators are so fast that you can watch the sunset twice from the building, once from the base and once from the observation deck.

At the top, I wandered around a bit before the sun started to rise. It was still completely dark outside, so I got to see the city lights all the way around the building. About half an hour before sunrise, I claimed a spot next to the windows with a good eastern view and waited.

It was awesome getting to see the world light up and the city wake up. The streetlights gradually turned off, along with the building lights. The world got brighter and brighter and the sky more and more orange. Then, finally, the sun broke over the horizon, and everyone cheered.

Based on the group’s reaction, you’d think no one had ever seen a sunrise before, but it felt extra special that day. You know how things like the sunrise or stargazing can make you feel like your problems or day-to-day worries are so small? Like there’s a whole big universe out there, and you’re just a tiny part of it? In that moment, as we watched the sunrise together, It didn’t matter where we were from, what language we spoke, or what our beliefs were. Everyone, young and old, had the same look of excitement and awe on their face. The sun rises every day, it rises in every country, and that morning, it shined its light on our shared humanity. At our core, we’re all the same. And we all love sunrises.

Yes, I’m wearing a scarf in the desert. It was a chilly morning! (But it came off VERY soon after this.)
The sun is cominggggg. I love that the roads are little lines of light. That’s some serious street lighting!
The sky is brightening…
The city lights turn off. The sun peeks out! The crowd goes wild!
Good morning, sun!

After the sun rose, I walked around again and took another look at the city. It’s cool how light transforms things. The city has a completely different personality during the day. It was like I got double the value for my ticket because I got to see two different Dubais, or maybe even three. Night Dubai, waking up Dubai, and daytime Dubai.

It’s such an interesting skyline… most cities have some tall buildings in the middle, and then they gradually get shorter as you move out. In Dubai, it’s like skyscrapers were dropped from the sky without any rhyme or reason.
There’s just so much empty space between the buildings, and immediately next to a 100-story building is a 1-story house. It feels so unnatural.

I stayed there longer than anticipated. By the time I got downstairs, it was about 8AM. Part of the sunrise deal was a drink and breakfast sandwich, so I still had to eat before moving on to my next activity. The only drinks included were different types of coffee (the ongoing struggle of eating and drinking like a child), so I just asked for a cup of hot water. The guy working there thought it was weird (who drinks a cup of hot water in the desert?), but I conveniently had a hot chocolate packet in my backpack. Score!

I was originally planning to take a bus to my next stop at 8:30, but at that point, I figured I might as well take my time and wait for the metro to start running at 10. After breakfast, I headed into the mall to poke around a bit. The stores were mostly still closed, but I wasn’t interested in those. I got to see the aquarium from the outside (you can pay to go in, but even without entering, there’s a huge tank visible from the mall), the ice rink, the “human waterfall”, and the general ambiance of the mall.

Divers in Dubai Mall
The aquarium!
And a dinosaur because why not?

Between the mall and the metro, there’s a crazy long “metro link”, aka a series of above-ground tunnels connecting the two. I didn’t mind the walk because the tunnels are lined with floor-to-ceiling windows, and it was cool to see the city from a VERY different perspective than the top of Burj Khalifa.

To spare you from spending one day reading this post about one day, to be continued…

Check out the continuation here.

Related Posts

Dubai First Impressions – get a feel for the city with a list of my first impressions

Dubai Mini-History Lesson – follow Dubai’s development from a small fishing village into the international, skyscraper-filled city it is today

Dubai Marina and “Old” Dubai – join me as I zig-zag my way across the city after leaving the Burj Khalifa, exploring Dubai Marina and attempting to go back to Dubai’s roots in not-so-old “old” Dubai

Galata Tower (Istanbul, Turkey) – enjoy a panoramic view of Istanbul from the top of Galata Tower… it’s significantly shorter than the Burj Khalifa, but the view is no less impressive

Sky Garden (London, England) – look out over London from the Sky Garden, plus take a stroll through Hyde Park and past Buckingham Palace and St. Paul’s Cathedral

It’s time for everyone’s favorite thing… history! I promise that this isn’t going to be nearly as in-depth or complicated as Lebanon’s history. I also realize that promising something is “less complicated than Lebanon’s history” is stupid because I could give a thorough walk-through of brain surgery, and it would still be less complicated than that.

Part of the reason this is guaranteed to be easier is because much of Dubai’s history is relatively unknown. There is evidence of settlements there as early as 3000BC, and then there’s close to nothing until the 1500s AD. So that saves us the review of a solid 4500 years of history.

Enjoy this selection of pictures from the Dubai History Museum that may or may not directly relate to what I’m talking about.

The first settlers in the area were probably nomadic cattle herders who started to explore agriculture and eventually managed to become successful date palm farmers. They settled next to Dubai Creek, right where the river meets the Persian Gulf. Fast forward 3500 years to the 500s AD and the settlement became a stop along a trade route linking modern-day Oman and Iraq.

Classic house with the big tower thing used to keep the house cool.

In the 1500s, there are writings from an Italian merchant talking about the pearling industry. Dubai had grown from an agricultural community to one built on fishing, pearl diving, shipbuilding, and support for the trade route that ran through the area.

Traditional ship outside of the history museum
These axes made me laugh. They’re definitely not for chopping wood! Though I can see how they might be useful in battle. Eek!

There was a time of conflict in the late 1700s/early 1800s. A new tribe settled in nearby Abu Dhabi, leading to frequent fighting between tribes. During this time, Dubai was a walled city. The economy took a hit because the fighting discouraged traders from coming through the area. In 1820, the British negotiated a maritime truce that allowed trade routes to reopen.

The Al Maktoum dynasty took control of Dubai in the 1830s. Under their leadership, the city began to grow. Expats were given tax exemption, and this led to a big increase in the number of foreign workers. The city and economy continued to grow around fishing, pearling, and trading. After the creation of fake pearls in the 1950s, the economy took a temporary dip until a new discovery: oil.

After this development, everything changed. The sheikh at the time, Sheikh Rashid, used the oil money to give Dubai what it needed to become a trade hub again. Dubai Creek was dredged and widened, and other necessary infrastructure projects were completed. Sheikh Rashid was wise and didn’t want Dubai to become completely reliant on oil.

Cruising along the widened and dredged Dubai Creek. On the bank, you can see some rebuilt “historic” structures in Dubai’s Heritage Village.
Wall fragment from when Dubai was a walled city during the tribal conflict years. This is one of the only actual old things that exists in Dubai.
Those little round things are shields… made of shark skin!
The museum talked about the different trades in historic Dubai, and these were illustrated with life-size models.
Some traditional musical instruments. The body of the one in the middle is made from a single piece of wood!

The United Arab Emirates was formed in 1971 and consists of seven emirates. Dubai is the second biggest by land area and the most populous emirate. Dubai and Abu Dhabi have the most political power in the country. The UAE currency, dirhams, was developed and it was tied to the US dollar in 1997. That means that the exchange rate between the two currencies stays the same, and as the US dollar gets stronger and weaker, the dirham does as well.

The first highrise was built in 1979, and that was just a small preview of what was to come. Since the 1990s, Dubai has been working to become a business hub and tourist destination. It has the world’s only 7-star hotel (how do you even get 7-stars if there are only 5 in existence? It seems like the rating system is kind of worthless once you can score better than perfect), the world’s tallest building (only for the moment though… the next one is already under construction in Saudi Arabia and will claim the title by 2020), the world’s largest shopping mall, crazy man-made islands, and a ton of other attractions and features that scream “luxury”.

All of those skyscrapers… brand new. This is at the Dubai Marina which says, “If you’re rich, this is the place for you!” (It doesn’t literally say that, but it might as well.)

The current sheikh, Sheikh Mohammed, has been in power since 2006, and much of the development toward and focus on increased tourism is due to his vision and the work started by his father, Sheikh Rashid. Things such as allowing foreigners to own property and work tax-free have been big draws to bring people in from around the world and make Dubai into a truly international city. Around 90% of its residents are foreigners!

The growth in Dubai over the last 40 years is pretty incredible. Think about the fact that ALL of those skyscrapers that dominate the skyline were built since 1979. Like whatttt? I remember that when I was in Shanghai, we watched a video comparing the development of New York City and Shanghai. For years and years and years, New York slowly grew vertically. It was a very gradual change. Meanwhile, during those same years and years and years, Shanghai was completely flat and flat and flat… until it started to boom. Then, in a snap, buildings shot up and quickly filled out the skyline… while New York stayed basically the same. Dubai’s growth has been at least that dramatic. It’s like everything just dropped out of the sky… the land is empty, you blink, and there’s an entire city in front of you.

Welcome to Dubai! Leaving Lebanon was sad, but that was buffered a bit by the fact that I still had an adventure ahead. I intentionally scheduled a long layover in Dubai so that I could leave the airport and check out the city. I was trying to get a normal length layover until I realized that the long one was cheaper, AND it gave me a chance to see something new. Score!

Before I get into what I did while I was there, let me tell you about some of my first impressions…

  1. Vertical city – Dubai claims to be a “vertical city”, and I guess to a certain extent, that’s true. There are a lot of VERY tall buildings. At the same time though, it’s also very horizontal. There will be a little patch of super tall buildings over here, then there’s an area of completely flat land, and then there’s another patch of tall buildings. It’s like if you took the center city areas of a bunch of cities and then put them near each other. Instead of seeming like one city, it’s more like a few weird, disconnected but nearby cities.

    Cluster of tall buildings. Flatness. Cluster of tall buildings.
  2. Not a city made for people – That sounds stupid, I know, but I mean that it’s really not pedestrian friendly. I always consider one of the great things about cities to be the fact that you don’t need a car. If you’re in the downtown area, you should be able to walk to all of the major things. In Dubai, there are places where it’s so hard to find a place to cross the street that you feel like you can’t even navigate the city on foot. It is also completely NOT bike friendly which is enough to make me immediately turn up my nose (I’m a bike snob, I know).

    This night shot is cool because you can so clearly see the roads. All of the orange light lines are street lights… doesn’t it seem wrong that so many of them are floating in a sea of darkness with no buildings near them?
  3. Public transit – As bad as the pedestrian situation is, the public transit really is good. I rode the metro, bus, and trolley while I was there, and all of them were impressive. They were clean and prompt and everything had a separate section for women only. The first time I went on the metro, I was going to just ride in the normal part… until I looked around the platform and realized that NO other women were standing near me. I moved to the women’s car, and I’m happy that I did because it was PACKED, and at least that way I didn’t have to be smushed up next to a bunch of smelly guys.
    The price of the public transit also wasn’t bad… a little over a dollar for a ride. I think that if you have a more permanent card, it’s even cheaper too.
    There are A LOT of rules on the metro. The number of things that you can get fined for is actually kind of impressive. There are penalties for eating, drinking, chewing gum, falsely pressing the emergency button, being a man in the women’s cabin… probably more that I’m forgetting. I don’t know how seriously they enforce the rules, but they exist.

    They make it very clear where the women’s car on the metro is.
  4. Shiny and new – Everything just seems… shiny. And surreal. And inauthentic. It’s like the whole city is trying too hard. For example, there’s this one part of the city that’s supposedly “historically preserved”. In Dubai that apparently means “rebuilt but in the old style”. The buildings are too tall. Everything is too new. It’s just too fill in the blank.

    This is supposed to be “old” Dubai… It is very clearly “new old” Dubai. How could I tell? Well, besides the fact that everything looked pristine, there were fire alarms and lights installed with no wiring exposed. Unless the pearl divers of old Dubai were way ahead of the rest of us in harnessing electricity, I don’t think those are original.
  5. Foreigners – There are foreigners everywhere. Tons of tourists, tons of foreigners who live there. If you were trying to guess where in the world you were just based on the people, I don’t know that the United Arab Emirates would even be top 15 on your list of guesses.
  6. English – On that note, you can speak English everywhere. When I was getting ready for my day in Dubai, I stumbled on some forums where people were asking if you needed to speak Arabic to be able to navigate Dubai easily. The answer was a resounding no. After being there, my answer is an even more resounding no. You can easily speak zero Arabic and have zero issues.
  7. When everything is impressive, nothing is – If you’re a genius and you work at a company filled with geniuses, is anyone a genius? Or are you all just average? Next question: If you’re an impressive skyscraper surrounded by a bunch of other impressive skyscrapers, are any of you impressive? Or are you all just normal? Dubai is filled with statement buildings. They are weird and funky, and in any other city, they would help to define the skyline. Instead, they’re surrounded by other weird and funky buildings that make them look normal. It’s almost a shame that anyone even bothers putting effort into their designs because it’s only a matter of time until there are more tall buildings on all sides, and you can’t even see the first building anymore. If you want to build a statement building and have anyone care, don’t build it in Dubai.

    Hidden away in this picture are two skyscrapers that I knew about before I went to Dubai, Princess Tower and Infinity Tower (since renamed, but I’m going to pretend not). If I hadn’t KNOWN that they were there, I wouldn’t have even looked twice. Infinity Tower is the twisty one to the left of the big block building on the right side of the picture, and Princess Tower is behind it with the round spaceship-like top. It’s the second tallest building in Dubai after the Burj Khalifa, but you’d never know because it looks dwarfed from this angle by all of the surrounding buildings.
  8. Construction – Remember when I said that there’s a lot of construction in Beirut? HAHAHA. That’s like child’s play compared to the construction happening in Dubai. Everywhere, there’s some sort of construction happening. It seems like it’s endless, and I seriously just don’t understand it. Which leads me to my next point…
  9. Confusing – This is a long one. Dubai confuses me in many ways.
    There are a few developers who are doing most of the construction in the city. They seem to just keep building more and more and more, and I don’t understand how it’s sustainable. Are they seriously making enough money that it’s worth it to keep building? Maybe this has changed, but I always think of Dubai as a ghost city where there’s a ton of empty property. The numbers have probably improved since back when Dubai was just starting to emerge, but I can’t imagine that everything could be full.
    This is going to sound like a direct contradiction of #7, but that’s part of the reason why this is going under the category of “confusing”. Dubai is filled with icon buildings and icon things in general (for example, the palm islands or the world map islands)… and then those iconic things might be right next to the most boring, uniform pop-up of skyscrapers ever. There were some skyscraper clusters where it looked like the architect got bored or fired after designing the first building, and every building after that was just slightly modified from the first. Maybe this one has 10 fewer floors. Maybe that one has one column of windows shifted slightly. Why build an army of buildings that all look the same and that are all seemingly empty?

    Have you ever seen a more boring group of skyscrapers? Just wait until you see them from the back…

    Okay, NOW have you ever seen a more boring group of skyscrapers? Seriously, how lazy can you be? B.O.R.I.N.G.
  10. Over-the-top – Everything. Nothing can be done halfway. If something is done, it will be the _______est. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. The world map islands are the most ridiculous collection of man-made islands (that’s a title that I just made up now, but I am extremely confident that it would hold up in front of a judge). The I-can’t-remember-the-name flower garden is the most absurd flower garden in the world. It’s like everything is super-sized whether that be in actual size or just in concept.

There are a few of my first impressions of the city, but if I’m being totally honest, none of those were surprises to me. I think it was about what I expected. That doesn’t make it any less weird, though, when you’re surrounded by tall buildings and there’s not a person in sight. There were moments when I felt like I was in a post-apocalyptic movie or something, and I was the last human on earth. The city is built for SO many more people than live there. I wonder if it will ever grow into itself. Better question, if it DOES grow into itself, will there be enough capacity in the public transportation and roadways to accommodate those people?

Next, I’ll tell you a little bit about the history of Dubai and how it turned into the craziness that it is today. Maybe the history lesson will clear up some of your confusion regarding the mysterious existence of this wacky city… or maybe not.