Author: Suzy Davis
Our Dubai and Cairo journey was a perfect juxtaposition of ultramodern with the ancient
We came to planet Dubai to be astonished and this 21st century wonder did deliver. Since my visit last year, it has exploded with even more growth. Dubai seeks to become the world’s premier tourist destination. With favorable tax rates, it is now home to worldwide mega corporations. Credit is due to the ruling sheik with his entrepreneurial vision and super tolerance. He’s the opposite of xenophobic.
The 7 emirates are sandwiched between Iran, Qatar, Oman and Saudi. Each tiny kingdom is ruled by an emir or sheik. Once upon a time, Dubai was a sleepy village for pearl diving and camel trading. Today it expands at an astounding rate with 800 miles of new shoreline added from the man made islands. The hundreds of new islands in The Palm and The World are visible from space. This land of sun, sand, sea, snow and sex is a pocket of freedom in Arabia with such titles as; “Las Vegas of the Middle East”, “St. Tropez of the Gulf” and “Monaco of the Desert.”
The dichotomy is found in its Islamic culture within an environment of western affluence forming a total fusion of East meets West. It was hard to comprehend that there’s a war going on next door in this clean and crime free city state.
We were welcomed with an Arabian dinner cruise onboard a wooden dhow. Our city tour revealed that camels have been replaced by cranes. We saw the new, nearly completed Burj Tower, tallest building in the world along with countless other architectural marvels. (“Burj” means tower in Arabic, thus “Burj Tower” ironically means “Tower Tower”.) Visited the Spice Souks and glittering Gold Market. We toured neighboring Abu Dhabi, capital of the emirates that is actually an island.
Then drove along the rich Corniche lined with lush gardens set against the turquoise Persian Gulf. We tasted chocolate dates, visited a fish market and entered the world’s largest mosque. It holds 40,000 worshippers. There the women in our group had to cover head to toe in borrowed black abayahs (sort of a burka.)
One evening was our Desert Safari. Our caravan of 8 jeeps headed deep into the desert for some “dune bashing”. Our driver Ahend careened like a drunken sailor at sea over the steepest dunes. As I screamed, he chatted on his cell phone.
We arrived to a tented camp oasis for dining and dancing under the stars, like the Arabian tale of 1001 Nights. My favorite time was spent on our leisure day with its endless options. The majority of our group went skiing in the morning and swam the crystal clear Gulf beaches in the afternoon. The water was so bath warm, they could have brought soap.
Terry and I began our day at Mall of the Emirates, world’s largest mall with 1563 stores and Ski Dubai. Envision a 25 story mountain of 6 acres under one roof with 5 ski runs and chairlifts. Machines hidden in the ceiling drop 3 inches of snow daily. Winter gear is included in the nominal entrance fee. It was 32 degrees inside and 102 outside.
Later I fulfilled my travel dream of dining at the famed Burj Hotel, the iconic 7 star masterpiece shaped like a sail and set on its own artificial island. It had been closed to tourists for months to give its billionaire guests privacy. We were fortunate now to get a reservation for lunch, albeit at an unheard of 3 figure price. Entering the lobby was like standing inside a kaleidoscope. The restaurants gourmet spread of delectable goodies exceeded my expectation and will never be forgotten. It was Terry’s birthday and at the end of our meal, a work of art cake was discreetly presented to him. The chocolate mousse explosion with figs and berries was layered with thick sheets of Godiva.
We then flew to Egypt on award winning Emirates Airlines. We felt like the Jetson’s traveling back in time to this land of Cleopatra. I’ve always enjoyed the chaos of Cairo, world’s largest capital city of 17 million. All was eased when we checked into the deluxe 5 star Sofitel Hotel.
I’m guessing this was my 9th visit to Cairo and this one provided the most outstanding guide ever. Hany has obtained tourism awards and is the current president of Egypt’s Tour Guide Union. He intended to educate us in a crash course of Egyptology 101 but did so with such an entertaining style that brought things to life before our eyes.
A full day was spent at Giza viewing the only remaining wonder of the 7 World Wonders. It is written, “The world fears time, but time fears the pyramids.” We were allowed to enter one of the pyramids built around 2500bc to see the burial chamber. Another day we toured the Egyptian Museum, inarguably one of the world’s greatest, crammed with over 100,000 antiquities. Hany enthusiastically performed a skit with members of our group to ensure we understood exactly the story to King Tut and what we were viewing. The crowning jewel was the Royal Mummy Rooms which exhibits 11 bodies of kings and queens.
In our free time, we intentionally got lost in Khan Khalili Bazaar. “The khan” is a crazy maze of souks where one can haggle over anything from hookah pipes to bras. We all said our goodbyes during a farewell sailing by felucca on the Nile.
There was much more included on this one trip to two different “worlds.” In Dubai, we experienced magical affects in a new land with a vision that knows no end.
In Cairo, we gained knowledge, virtual knowledge of civilizations past. Each place indulged our five senses. We were aspiring “citizens of the world” who felt most welcomed in those Islamic lands. As we boarded our departing flight, Belinda said to me, “I feel like its Christmas. My carry on is filled with gold, frankincense and mir.” Another journey well done.