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  • Writer's pictureErin Paulsen

First Trip to the Middle East

When my best friend in Italy, Lorenza, told me she was planning a trip to Abu Dhabi, and asked if I wanted to join her, my response was immediately YES!

I had never put the United Arab Emirates on my bucket list, as I always viewed the country as sort of… resembling an amusement park. I knew the country wasn’t rich with history or architectural wonders, so I sort of just wrote it off. But when the opportunity arrived, I took it. Why not?

We spent a good amount of time researching all there was to see and do in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as well as what attire was appropriate for the conservative Muslim country.

We flew with Oman Air, and managed to get a really good price for our tickets. We paid about 300 Euro round trip, and flew on my personal favorite aircraft, the new Dreamliners.

When we touched down in Abu Dhabi, we walked out into the heat that would soak into our skin for the next week. Honestly, I was expecting it to be much hotter than it was, so I was pleasantly relieved.

There isn’t really much to do or see in Abu Dhabi. There is of course the Grand Mosque (Sheikh Zayed Mosque), and the Emirates Palace and… not much else. We spent a day at Saadiyat Beach, which was also a very great surprise for me, as I was expecting the beaches to be sort of brown and dirty and colorless.

The beaches in the UAE are anything but colorless. The seas are all different shades of blue. From the crystal clear water that laps at the shore, to the turquoise waters that take you deeper into the sea, and the deep dark blue that blends into the horizon.

Our second day we took a drive over to Dubai, which is only about an hour and half away if you can avoid any major traffic jams or accidents.

Arriving in Dubai is a very odd experience. The main highway that leads you into the city is line with a show-room like exhibition of the newest styles in architectural infrastructure. Any type of skyscraper you could think of stands on that boulevard of freshly constructed real estate. Once you come to the end of this long, straight highway, however, you better be on your most alert, as the network of roads in Dubai turns into the messiest, most unorganized, chaotically “planned” transportation system you’ve ever seen. To get from point A to point B, you would assume there would be a more or less direct course. This is far from reality. To get to point B from point A, you first must enter the freeway, take the first exit, take a right and a U-turn, then a left, then enter the free way again in the opposite direction, pass point Q, R, and S, and somehow manage to arrive less than a kilometer from where you started at point A. It’s a madhouse, I can not imagine how people manage to navigate those roads on a daily basis.

Dubai Creek

Anyways, we arrived in Bur Dubai, which is known as the old quarter, and is also the neighborhood that sits on either side of the Dubai creek. To cross the water and arrive at the old winding network of souks, we decided to take an extremely cheap and quick little Abra ride across the creek.

We were in Dubai on a Friday, and a good portion of the market was closed for afternoon prayers. Regardless, the markets were full of Middle Eastern goods. Incense wafting in the breeze, colorful displays of every spice imaginable, and silks and scarves and abaya dancing in the wind. I ended up buying a small bag of aromatic tea, and nothing else. The shop owners are always so aggressive and it really turns me off. I can’t stand that overbearing pushing and pulling and finally navigated my way into a small shop where the owner was minding his own business chatting away on his phone.

After the market we had a quick lunch of fresh salads, hummus, falafel, and for the friend of Lorenza, Sylvia, and her husband, camel burgers. Yes, they eat camel here in the UAE.

We then made our way to the Dubai Mall and wandered around before our appointment to head up to the top of the Burj Khalifa! The view from the top was pretty impressive, and despite the height it wasn’t terrifying in the least. It’s a strange thing to view a completely fabricated desert city from above, and I think that viewpoint sort of shaped my opinion of the city.

If you are in the area, Dubai is definitely worth a visit. Not so much for any stunning visual wonders, not for any great cultural immersion, not even for culinary curiosity, but for the mere fact that it is important to know what this city actually is. The whole world views Dubai through a certain lens of wonder, and not saying it isn’t wonderful, but you should definitely go to see the truth for yourself.

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