When I was younger, I always wanted a time machine. You would think that as I approach a quarter century, I’d come to terms with the inauspicious fate of my childhood fantasy. I stepped off Emirates flight EK204 and anxiously waited as my Uber driver zigzagged his way through thickets of squeaky clean luxury sedans. The only other time I’ve seen so many luxury cars within a quarter mile radius was during the Cannes film festival in the French Riviera. This was just the airport. There is really no way to prepare for the first sight of Downtown Dubai, especially during nighttime. As I took it all in for the third time, the only reasonable explanation I came up with was that it took me a mere 25 years of life to realize that time machines do, in fact, exist.
Dubai is the model that every photographer dreams to shoot; it is young, vibrant, sophisticated and sexy. The city of Dubai has existed since the mid 1800’s and in 1968 there were just 13 cars on the roads. Fast forward 40 years, not only are there double decker highways, but also the worlds tallest building, largest mall, tallest hotel, second largest man-made marina, and the world’s largest aquarium. It’s hard to fathom that Dubai is technically still in its infancy.
I spent the entire thirty minute ride from the airport with my nose pressed against the car window and the fragrance of fresh new car leather tickled my nostrils. Dubai never gets old. We pulled into the entryway of Jumeirah Al Qasr. It is lined with massive statues of gold horses and perfectly choreographed fountains. The property is surely built for a king, or should I say “a Sheikh”. The title is given to a royal male (Sheikha for female) at birth. In the United Arab Emirates there are seven Emirates, and six royal houses. It came as no surprise to know that the royal family of Dubai has a favorite villa at the Jumeirah hotel where I am staying (sadly not mine, but close enough for me to see it out of my window).
The resort is an authentic recreation of ancient Arabia with ultra luxurious finishing touches, like the five ton Swarovski chandelier in the lobby. Two story houses stack the streets that look like a scene out of my favorite fairytale. On every corner there is a man made waterway where you can take an Abra (a traditional wooden boat) to one of the 50 restaurants, 5 tennis courts, pools, beach, spa, souk (local market), or waterpark that this Arabian Resort of Dubai has to offer. At three meals a day, it would take me over two weeks to experience all the dining options on this property, I thought to myself as a wiped the fresh raspberry jam from my lip at breakfast.
My room featured virtually every detail of design that I assume Arabian royalty lives in. Bold colorful decorative patterns, beautiful arches, and traditional arabesque architecture is accessorized with a private outdoor yard that overlooks the turquoise waterways and the Burj Al Arab. The Burj Al Arab, which is also part of the Jumeirah hotel family, is known as the most luxurious hotel in the world. The latter is achingly hard to accept as I look around my very own Arabian fantasy-turned-reality.
With a lot of ground to cover, I begin my morning early and head straight to breakfast. I spent a lot more time than expected pondering on what to eat – I contemplated eating traditional Ukrainian food from my motherland, or perhaps I should try some Japanese? Indian? The choices were endless. I settled for the basics: eggs, sausage, toast and a side of red beans (for some reason my selection of red beans is always greeted with astonishment by my Western friends). A crow lands on the opposite side of the breakfast table and attempts to nibble on my toast – before I could move a finger, a hotel staff member runs up with a Falcon. Falcons are hunting birds that play a crucial part in Emirati culture as Bedouins used them to hunt for centuries. A falcon bird was once sold for a mere $250,000 while the ordinary ones are just $5,000 – $25,000. Falcons see ten times better than humans so they can see and target a prey very quickly. Young falcons especially, like the one below, wear hoods to keep them calm and alert when necessary. Back to breakfast. It turns out that crows are scared of falcons as soon as they sense one in their vicinity. Jumeirah owns over 20 falcons and has a special designated team of trainers and “owners” for each one! One of the uses for a Falcon is that it keeps my breakfast toast whole as I finish my coffee. This is about as Dubai as Dubai can get!
After breakfast, I walk down to the Abra Station. The turquoise Venetian-like waterways are the veins that connect the Jumeirah hotels in this area. Abra’s are traditional wooden boats used in the United Arab Emirates as a method of transportation across the Dubai Creek. The abra was once the primary means of transportation between the two sides of the creek and you can still take one today with the locals for only 1 Dirham (approximately 30 American cents). It can sit up to 20 people. “This ones all yours!” the captain of abra 37 yells out through his ear to ear smile.