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Dubai 3

On Saturday I had the hotel breakfast "we do a Full English, sir". That would be the Full English with beef and turkey bacon, and chicken cumberland sausages. Dubai might be liberated, but it still doesen't do pork. The scrambled egg was quite nice, but there was no sign of kippers (is that a Scottish breakfast? - discuss).

Back out to the mean streets of Dubai, and I just missed the hotel shuttle bus to the metro station. As it was les than 10 minutes walk away, I went on foot. Big mistake. Dubai might be a similar temperature to Riyadh (42 dec C today), but it is very humid. As a result I was perspiring profusely after the short walk. As the metro is air-conditioned, I cooled down quickly, surreptitiously applying some more deodorant. The destination for today was the Dubai Mall, self-proclaimed as the largest in the world. I recalled going to the West Edmonton Mall in Canada in 1990, when it claimed then to be the world's largest. But it was a series of shops, that started repeating after 100 metres or so. The Dubai Mall however didn't suffer from that, there were shops of every  luxury brand name imaginable, and it was 3 storeys high. Its footprint was certainly huge. Outside there are display fountains which, I am told, are very impressive - however not operating at the time I was there.[Back in Riyadh typing this I had a look at its website (yes, a fountain with its own website) and of course it is another BiTW installation. Sprays shoot up to 500 feet, it has 6,000 nozzles, it "dances" in time to Arabian and western music etc, etc, and viewing is free. I'll catch it when I go back.]

The attractions I had pre-booked were both at the Dubai Mall. First up was the Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. Once a slight ticket muddle was sorted out (they expected me to do the Burj first then the Aquarium second, but that wasn't my schedule and it certainly didn't say that on the booking site or ticket voucher - I won) I did the first part which was the Aquarium. This is on the ground floor and there is a huge illuminated pool with a long perspex tunnel through it from which you can see the sea-life swimming alongside and above you. Loads of sharks and other big fish. Lots of small and tiny fish too. It was impressive. One thing struck me, they all seemed to be swimming peacefully and not eating each other. Can anyone explain why?

Next was the Underwater Zoo. (BiTW). Here you go on a path around a series of glass tanks that house fish, amphibians, water mammals, water birds and reptiles. I may have missed some categories out, but it was truly impressive. If I was churlish, I'd say some of the interpretation provided was less that adequate for people like me who like to read and learn as well as look and marvel.  But the displays were superb. They had a mating pair of King Crocodiles from Australia in a big pool which had a basking beach. Mr Croc was 16 feet long, and spent much of the time underwater with just the eyes visible above the surface. Waiting. By looking through the side of the display tank, I could see him in profile, and 99.9% of him was there underwater ready to pounce. Presumably he had a poor memory or couldn't read the sign which explained he would be fed at 4.00pm. They had a penguin pool, this was definitely not the BiTW, easily beaten by Edinburgh Zoo, and the amazing Penguinarium at the Loro Park on Tenerife (worth a visit for the penguins alone). What really impressed me though was the otter tank. Here half a dozen small cute furry mammals scampered on land and popped in and out of the water and swam down to dig into the shingle to find food morsels. With the glass side to the tank again showing above and below the water line, I could have spent hours watching them. 

I tore myself away and went over to the ice rink. Hockey size and painted up for such, it was used exclusively for skater hire by the hour. No curling obviously, but I did ask the staff if they had ever had any stones there. No. Something to work on though, I have the contact details for the manager who has Btitish sounding name. (Reminder to self - contact the Qatar curling folk).

My slot at the Burj Khalifa was 2.30pm, so I presented myself there at the appointed time. The Burj (arabic for tower) is adjacent to the Dubai Mall. This certainly is BiTW. I'm not going to give a listing of how tall etc it is and how many special features there are, that is all available on the website. It is impressive though. From the viewing platform one can apparently see the coastline of Iran. But on your average middle eastern day when there is a heat haze, visibility is uaually a few miles, and so it was that day. As you go up in the lifts, cruising speed 10m/sec, they are encased within the building so there is no view to give an impression of speed. There is a commentary which shows outlines of other buildings you are passing - Eiffel Tower, CN Tower etc. so that gives some indication of height. For the Burj, its something done and not to be repeated in a hurry. One thing the figures dont seem to reveal is how deep the foundations are. Like everythng else in Dubai, it is built on desert. "The wise man built his house upon the rock".

Earlier I mentioned that there is rivalty between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. A footnote for the Burj is that the Emir of Dubai ran out of money before the tower was completed, and had to borrow a few billion from Abu Dhabi to finish it off. One of the conditions attached to the loan was that it wasn't to be called the Burj Dubai as planned, but the Khalifa after the ruler of the UAE.  

Whilst UAE is an Arabic gulf state, there is a clear western influence. Ladies don't have to wear black letter boxes, and there are some real fashionable types to be seen. But again there is class divide between the have and have-nots. Dubai in its focus in attracting the tourist dollar has managed to segregate the have-nots away from the coast and tourist areas. But heartening to see, non-muslim religions are tolerated, and there is a Christian church there. I discovered too late that there was a service on the Friday morning.

So, did I enjoy Dubai? Yes, I'll be back. A lot more to see and do. Meanwhile, back to Riyadh.


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