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Dubai 1

I'm not telling you anything new here, but Dubai is a major tourist destination. We have friends who stop off there en route to visiting family "down under" and friends who go there for golfing holidays. They rave about it. It also looms large on the world sporting calendar with major horse racing, Formula 1, tennis, golf and rugby sevens competitions all held there. So, when faced with the legal need to leave and re-enter Saudi to renew my business visa, a monthly hardship I have to endure until my Iqama (residency permit) comes through, it didn't take long to decide it was the place to go for the weekend.

My good friend Clive, who was there in the seventies with the Royal Artillery recalled it being a fishing village around the mouth of a creek. It's on the west coast of the UAE but strategically handy for the Straits of Hormuz, the narrow dogleg of water at the point where the Arabian Gulf meets the Gulf of Oman, an inshoot of the Indian Ocean. [Oh dear, time for a geography lesson for some of you. If you know all this, please skip to the next paragraph, or even better, email me with corrections or improvements.] The Arabian Peninsula is the large lump of land that extends south west from the countries at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. It is bounded by the Arabian Gulf to the north east and is across the water from Iran, by the Indian Ocean to the south-east, and the Red Sea to the south-west, facing Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia across the water. The bulk of the peninsula belongs to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, maybe 75% or so. To put its size in context, it's similar to all of Western Europe. Along its north east coast are the independent countries / Emirates / Sultanates of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman, with Yemen around the corner at the south end. All have land borders with KSA. Still with me?

Dubai is the largest city in the UAE with about 2.5 m residents and is larger than the capital city which is Abu Dhabi. UAE is a union of seven Emirates, all territories ruled by their Emirs. The two main emirates are Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and there is great competitive rivalry between the two. So much so that they are pushing each other to see who can spend their oil money most ostentatiously. Dubai seems to be the winner with world famous buildings such as the Burj Khalifa (world's tallest occupied building), the Burj Arab hotel (the one that looks like a sail), the world's "largest" shopping mall etc etc. Unlike normal cities in the UK where there is a clear city centre and all well known buildings are central, and usually within walking distance of each other, Dubai stretches out 20 odd miles along the coast between its two international airports. Landmark sites are scattered about hither and thither.

The UAE is a modern day Texas, oil rich and the best of everything. Loud and proud. But scratch the surface and it is still a Muslim country, just not so conservative as it's neighbour KSA. There has been a huge influx of immigrants there, probably 85% to 90% are non-natives. The economy in Dubai is moving away from oil (which is still important), but the last few years have seen its role in the economy fall below 20%. The big industries are tourism, travel (its one of the biggest air hubs in the world) and finance. It is now the trading powerhouse of the middle east.

The UAE is unusual in having two flag-carrier airlines, Emirates and Etihad. The former is Dubai based, the latter Abu Dhabi. They are in competition with each other, and shadow each other's trading moves like Aldi and Lidl shops do in Europe. Emirates started a route to Glasgow, so Etihad went to Edinburgh. They have invested in the best of equipment, and like their neighbour Qatar Airways which flies from nearby Doha, are synonymous with world class service. I ignored all that and chose to fly from Riyadh to Dubai DXB with FlyDubai, and back with Flynas. These are regional economy airlines, and for the 90 minute flight I wasn't looking for anything other than a seat and space for hand baggage (still scarred by my Aegean experience).

On Thursday night when I checked in at Riyadh Terminal 1, it looked like the black hole of Calcutta. It seemed as if the entire population fo Riyadh was leaving town simultaneously. Maybe it was less-than efficient departure security screening and visa exit protocols, I don't know. But with 90 minutes before my flight was due to depart I was getting seriously worried that I wouldn't make it. Suddenly I had some inspiration. As part of my baggage retreival process last month I had managed to geaina good orientation of the airport. Terminal 2 is 10 minutes walk from T1, so there would be little lost in checking it out. As it happened, T2 was all but deserted, and two minutes after arriving there I was through security and Emigration. And 10 minutes later having walked the transfer corridor, I was back in T1 airside and ready to board.

I was really looking forward to a cold beer, and when I got to the hotel in Dubai, thats exactly what I had. The 8 GBP cost was harder to swallow than the beer itself!

This edition is getting quite long, so I'll continue about Dubai in a later post.




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