Day in Jumeirah

On Sunday morning, January 19th, we went to Jumeirah Mosque, which is the only mosque in Dubai that allows non-Muslims to enter through a program called Open Doors, Open Minds with the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU). We had read online beforehand to dress modestly, meaning to wear clothing that covers our knees and shoulders. We had also brought our own hijabs, which we used to cover ourselves before the start of the tour. Those who were not wearing appropriate clothing were given clothing and/or scarves to wear.

The session leader’s name was Latifa. She is a volunteer with the SMCCU and, judging from her accent, I would guess an ex-pat from England. First she took us to an outdoor washing area where she told us how Muslims perform the ablution, a cleansing ritual to prepare oneself for worship. Next we took our shoes off and went inside. Latifa explained the 5 pillars of Islam to us. One of the most interesting parts was when she asked another volunteer to show us an example of a daily prayer. Latifa explained the different parts of the prayer and some of the common movements that go with it. At the end, there was some time for questions, and all questions were encouraged and tolerated, no matter how blunt. Another interesting section was during the Q&A regarding the different types of dress Muslims wear. Latifa explained the different types and what is cultural versus what is religious.

After the end of the session, we took some more photos and then had lunch at a nearby cafe called Lime Tree that is known for its carrot cake. We were reminded how small of a world it is when we saw a guy wearing a number 12 Seahawks jersey at the cafe, presumably gearing up for the conference championship against the 49ers later that day. Go Seahawks! After lunch, we walked around Jumeirah Beach for a bit and then got a taxi back to the hotel to prepare for our “Dune Desert Safari.”

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Day Trip to Abu Dhabi

We left for Abu Dhabi in the morning on January 18th. First we went to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque which we were not expecting to do and therefore were not wearing appropriate clothes. Luckily the tour guides brought along abayas and hijabs for us to wear. The dress code here was probably the strictest out of all the places we went. I saw a couple of people get turned back because they were not properly covered.

According to our tour guide, the mosque in Abu Dhabi is the 7th largest one in the world and can hold 40,000 people. It is absolutely enormous, making it difficult to imagine how it isn’t the largest mosque in the world! We took photos outside, and then took our shoes off and went inside. It was just as beautiful inside as outside. There was gold and Swarovski crystals everywhere, not to mention the world’s largest carpet. Apparently it cost over half a billion dollars to construct.

Next we went to Emirates Palace, a fancy hotel where the king often holds official meetings, and looked around inside. We drove by the palace where there is a tank at the gate with a machine gun ready to shoot. Next we went to the heritage village which had examples of the old style houses and even a sandy area with camel rides. We took pictures of the Arabian Gulf nearby, then had lunch and went back to Dubai in the late afternoon.

We booked a dinner cruise along the Dubai Creek. The boat was very elegant and had live piano music. We enjoyed a 4 course dinner. This was the first nice meal I had since arriving in Dubai. It was nice to be able to see the city all lit up at night from the water. The only downside was that the creek is relatively short, so we saw the same buildings quite a few times being that it was a 3 hour cruise. At one point, we were able to see fireworks from the boat, which happen every night as part of the Dubai Shopping Festival.

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Penguin Encounter

After our drop off at Dubai Mall, we ran through the basement of the mall to the taxi stand, Amazing Race style. We had to hurry to the Mall of the Emirates to make our reservation for the Penguin Encounter. We ended up with the craziest taxi driver I have ever experienced. This guy makes Italian drivers look cautious! He almost ran over a pedestrian, sped away from a security officer who saw him almost run over the pedestrian, burned rubber slamming on his brakes to avoid rear-ending another taxi, and then made his tires squeal driving around that taxi while cutting off another!

One of the big, over-the-top tourist attractions in Dubai is the indoor ski slope at the Mall of the Emirates. We wanted to experience this, but I don’t know how to ski and certainly didn’t want to break a leg trying! Luckily Ski Dubai offers something even more exciting – the Penguin Encounter, where you can meet and hug a real, live penguin!

After checking into the Penguin Encounter, we waited in an extremely slow moving line to pick up our rental boots/clothes, and then changed into them. First we watched a couple of short videos about the rules regarding the Penguin Encounter and information about the program. We walked through a snow cave to an aquarium where penguins were swimming around. We saw some of them hop up a walkway into the aquarium. They were absolutely adorable! We were led to a seating area and met one of the penguin trainers. He brought out a couple of Gentoo penguins (small penguins like the kind that were in the movie Mr. Popper’s Penguins with Jim Carey). One of the penguins is named Lucifer. I can’t remember the name of the other Gentoo penguin we met though. He told us about their species and how they are trained. He showed us how they can do different things on command. Then each group sat on a bench and he had the penguins sit by us and we had our pictures taken. Next we went to a different area where the trainer brought out a king penguin named Jumeirah, which means beautiful in Arabic and is also the name of a neighborhood in Dubai. He told us about their species and how they are trained. Then we were all able to get up close with the penguin and have our pictures taken. We got to pet, hug, and kiss the penguin! I went to lean in for one of the pictures, and at that exact moment, Jumeirah whipped his head around and hit me in the mouth with his beak! It was pretty funny. Now I can say I’ve been beak-slapped by a penguin.

After changing back into our regular clothes, we had dinner at Cafe St Moritz near Ski Dubai then looked around the mall. The mall is normally open until midnight on Friday, but due to the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF), it was open until 2 AM when we were there. We didn’t stay that late though and ended up getting a taxi back to the hotel around midnight. Some of the special things relating to DSF are extended shopping hours, lots of sales, prizes such as cash and luxury automobiles like Bentleys and Lamborghinis, and fireworks.

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Dubai City Tour

January 17th was our first real day in Dubai. We had free time in the morning and decided to get our feet wet with a couple of the “smaller” shopping malls. First, we went to the Bur Juman Centre, which is known for its high-end stores like Chanel and Chopard, which are a couple of my personal favorites. Those of you who know me know that I have a bit of an obsession with watches. I was amazed at the selection of haute horology on display in most of the shopping malls. It was the first time I had seen a Breguet in person! Sadly, a fine timepiece was not among my purchases on this trip, but a girl can dream! The only things I bought at the Bur Juman Centre were a couple of bottles of facial cleanser that are not sold in the US and some small boxes of dates for gifts from Bateel, which is like the Rolls Royce of dates.

After the Bur Juman Centre, we took a taxi to Wafi Mall which is known for its distinctive Egyptian themed decor. We looked around very briefly and made what was probably our most important important purchase of the day – water! We had been warned not to drink the water by our travel doctors. We were told to used bottled water, even for brushing our teeth. Let me tell you, it sure is difficult to remember to use bottled water when brushing your teeth! Never before has something as simple as brushing my teeth required so much concentration!

We took a taxi back to the hotel to get ready for the city tour, which was one of the few organized group activities with the travel company. We met the other people on the trip who were all from the US. Most of them were substantially older, as in retirement age, but there was a group of four friends from Chicago that were closer to our age. Our city tour included Dubai Creek, Dubai Museum, a water taxi ride, the Gold Souq, the Spice Souq, a drive by Jumeirah Beach (where we stopped to take photos of the Burj Al Arab) and Jumeirah Mosque, Palm Island, the Atlantis Hotel where we watched the sunset, a random stop at a store along the highway, and finally a drop off at Dubai Mall. Many of the stores in the souqs were closed because it was Friday, which is the holy day in Islam, but we were able to get the gist of the souq experience. I was actually a bit relieved that we were there when things were slower, because I think it would have been a bit overwhelming otherwise! It sounds like we did a lot this day, but our day was far from over. . .

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Retrospective UAE and Oman Blog Posts

These posts are a couple of months overdue, but better late than never! I was limited to WiFi data on this trip as my service provider doesn’t have good rates in the Arabian Peninsula. The rates are literally a hundred times more expensive than in Europe! The hotel WiFi was too unstable and slow to be able to upload any content. Anyway, enough with the excuses! Cue the flashback music and journey all the way to in time with me to January 15th, 2014. . .

I took the past couple of days off from work to prepare for this trip, yet somehow I only finished packing about an hour before leaving for the airport! I had been preparing for this trip for a while (reading travel and culture books, getting vaccines and travel medicine, researching what to wear, making reservations for activities, etc.), yet somehow there were still enough tasks left to occupy two days. One of the books that I read was The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Travel, which was a gift from my sister. I think it was meant to be a joke in part, but when I saw that the very first section was how to control a runaway camel, I wasn’t so sure! My friend and travel partner, Laura, and I have a camel ride planned, and hopefully this isn’t an omen of things to come!

Boarding the plane was a bit stressful. Even though we arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare, nearly half an hour, we barely made the final call for boarding! We would learn on subsequent flights later in the trip that this extremely early boarding process is the norm with this particular airline. Walking down the jetway to the plane, we were intercepted by two boarder patrol agents who chastised us for being the last people to board the plane and questioned us about the amount of currency we were carrying. I felt such a sense of relief once we finally boarded the plane and got settled into our seats.

We had a direct flight to Dubai, which was 14.5 hours. It was the longest flight I had ever been on. That number was kind of meaningless to me until I had watched three movies, and half of the flight was still remaining! Despite being in flight for that long, I was grateful to get it all over with in one shot and not have to deal with any connections. Regarding air travel, I think that there are diminishing marginal returns to discomfort after 8 hours anyway.

We arrived in Dubai the next evening, on January 16th. The only sign of us being in an exotic locale upon arrival at the airport were the airport workers wearing Emirati national dress. A travel representative picked us up in a van and drove us to our hotel in the Deira section of Dubai. It was dark outside by this time and kind of difficult to get an idea of what the city was like. At this point, we were still wondering what kinds of clothes were really appropriate to wear and were trying to get an idea by observing people from the van. We had heard and read conflicting things regarding what is considered appropriate attire. We decided to err on the side of caution by bringing conservative clothes – nothing low-cut or shoulder-baring or bottoms that hit above the knee. We would later find that we were more conservatively dressed than we needed to be, but I think it was for the best as many places had modest dress codes.

After unpacking, we decided to explore the hotel a bit and went to a cafe in the lobby. We called it a night after that, as we were both tired from the long trip and not having slept much on the plane. We also weren’t sure what was within walking distance of our hotel. We hadn’t passed anything recognizable on the way there, and the places we did pass appeared to be closed. We would later learn that the big shopping malls are open quite late. Apparently they are typically open until midnight on the weekends, but some were open as late (or early?) as 2 AM for the Dubai Shopping Festival that happened to coincide with our trip.

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