The Burj Dubai, World's only 7-star hotel


As so often happens when I travel, disaster struck my intended destination just as I was on my way. This time it wasn’t a hurricane or a tsunami that decided to join me on my trip; it was a terrorist attack, originating in Yemen, which routed through Dubai hours before my flight departed Atlanta.

This heightened security in Atlanta, and sent my colleague Paul Newman into a near-panic. He announced (repeatedly) that had I not been on this trip he likely would’ve made some excuse and cancelled altogether.

Soo and I decided to have a drink with Paul before boarding our flight to help calm his frayed nerves. We also each took an “Airborne” health tablet, which is an immune-system boosting mixture of vitamins and nutrients.

w/ Soo in front of the Burj Khalifa, world's tallest building

The tablet is very much like Alca Seltzer in that it is to be swallowed after first being dissolved in liquid. Paul apparently didn’t believe us when we told him to drop it in his beer, and instead popped it in his mouth and started chewing it.

The result was much akin to what you’d see on a dog with rabies. He gagged, sputtered and choked as thick white foam bubbled from his mouth. He angrily ordered another beer, glaring at us in the process, as if our advice to put it in his beer was some sort of a trick.

As he gulped down the last of his beer he furiously explained “I need another beer because I’m foaming,” whilst still glaring at us and shaking his head in disgust.

I knew then this was going to be a fun trip.

The subsequent 15 hours, however, weren’t.

the beach at the Sheraton, half of which has washed away

Soo, who may never let me make reservations for her again, wound up in a middle seat, next to a woman with a shockingly grating voice, which she highlighted by talking non-stop.

I’m not a big fan of making plane-friends, and nothing she had to say would be interesting even to a retarded orphan who lived in a cage, but this didn’t slow the deluge of inane drivel tumbling out of her mouth. Soo and I subtly let her know we weren’t interested in conversation with subtle hints like putting on our headphones, pretending we didn’t speak English, and faking sleep.

Chatterbox was seated by the window, meaning she had to clamber over Soo and me to use the bathroom, something she enjoyed so much she did it a dozen times during the flight (twice before we even took off.) She was portly, and awkward, so each bathroom trip was quite a production. The bathroom visit an hour before landing was, we were promised, to be her last. Alas, not 30 minutes later, her bowels betrayed her and she was stumbling over us again. Upon returning to the seats, she placed a hand on my arm, nodded knowingly, and squeaked “I really needed that!”

I wonder if they fall off the beach ledge?

Perhaps euthanasia for humans is something we need to consider.

Arriving anywhere after 15-hour flight is wonderful. When it’s Dubai, it’s sublime. Add to it our escape from the bathroom-loving nut job, and I was ready to leap for joy.

20 years ago Dubai was little more than a dust-bowl. Fast-forward 2 decades and Dubai stands today as one of the world’s most modern and magnificent cities.

Its meteoric rise was only slightly less spectacular than its collapse at the height of the global recession. Dubai, lacking the oil reserves of its sister Emirates, had borrowed heavily to fund its rapid development as a world business and financial center. Dubai became famous around the globe for launching of many of the world’s most innovative projects, including man-made islands like the Palm Jumeriah, the Burj Al Arab Hotel (the only 7-star hotel in existence) and the world’s tallest building, The Burj Khalifa. In 2007 Dubai was a symbol of prosperity and forward-thinking urban planning.

the Burj Al Arab Hotel at night

Then the recession hit, and everything ground to a halt.


The “Build it and They Will Come” theory on which these under-funded projects were developed suddenly looked less rosy. Had Dubai’s wealthy sister Emirate, Abu Dhabi, not bailed out the city-state there’s no telling what would have happened.

Since I’d not been to Dubai since 2007 I was eager to see where things stood.

Some projects, like the Burj Khalifa, were completed, with much fanfare and jubilation, but many have been shelved or abandoned outright. Construction cranes still dot the landscape, but many sit idle, eerily silent. It was, for me, very strange.

For Soo, Paul and Eileen, having never before been to Dubai, it was awe-inspiring. Their eyes landed not on motionless cranes, but on majestic skyscrapers, man-made marinas and million-dollar yachts. They oohed and ahhed at the spectacle that is Dubai, and reminded me very much of myself on my first visit.

They were even unfazed by the fact that the man-made beach on which our hotel sits had mostly washed out to sea, leaving only a steep sandy ledge near the water. (I found this hysterical. I wonder if the camels they have on the beach ever fall off the ledge?)

w/ the gang outside The Tangine Restaurant

Having been so reminded of my first visit I recommended to our group that we go to a fantastic Moroccan restaurant I’d visited years ago called The Tangine for dinner.

Everyone was willing, but Paul, a little unsure about Moroccan food, got right to the point, asking , “Do they have, like, just chunks of meat there?”

Yes, this is going to be a fun trip.

4 Responses on “Destination Dubai

  1. Does Paul Newman know that it isn’t very Paul Newman like to be so nervous about a terrorist plot?

  2. Very interesting blog. I am getting ready for my Dubai trip this year. I’ve read a lot of blogs about great destinations. Indeed your article add something for me to do. Thanks. By the way, I am a natural food enthusiast and would like to taste something new every time I travel. I also heard from my Lebanese friends that Filful Beirut is opening in Dubai. Iwant to squeeze this in my schedule. Do you have any good recommendation for a 3-day travel?

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