Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gas Food Lodging

Dubai. Gotta love it.

The kids have a month off from school and K had a week off during Eid Al Adha, therefore we decided to leave Doha for a while. But with the global economy continuously spiraling downwards, we did not want to venture too far or too expensive. Dubai quickly became the logical choice. The United Arab Emirates is an extremely popular destination for many residents of the Arabian Gulf countries, for both locals and expats alike. It is more developed, modern and socially permissive.

We decided to drive since it is approximately 440 miles/709 km (one way), roughly a 7 hour drive. But one must travel through Saudi Arabia in order to enter the UAE. For this we needed to obtain a visa – called a transit visa – in order to pass through the Kingdom. This was not a problem; there are many travel agencies which provide this service for a nominal fee. The visa is processed within a week, no worries, hassles or headaches. We also found out we can stay in Saudi Arabia for 3 days, but we did not avail to this. Not for lack of want though. We did not have enough time, but will certainly take advantage of this on our next border crossing. The visa to enter the UAE is obtained at the border for ‘certain privileged nationalities’. Our’s probably tops the list.

Gas StationIt took us almost 8 hours to reach Dubai. Crossing the boarders took a bit of time. Leave Qatar; go through 3 check points – car registration check, passport check, customs. Enter Saudi Arabia; go through 3 check points – car registration check, passport check, purchase insurance for car (very cheap). Leave Saudi Arabia; go through 3 check points – car registration check, passport check, customs. Enter UAE; go through 3 check points – car registration check, passport check, and purchase insurance for car (very cheap). Reverse this for the drive back – with the exception of purchasing insurance at Qatari boarder.

At the UAE border one also needs to go through a retina scan. So out we poured, dragging our heels. We filled some forms and waited in a separate room for someone to take pictures of our eyes. After 15-20 minutes no one showed up so K went to another counter. An Emirati man asked Eye check? K tried to give him a long winded answer in English, that we waited for a while, no one was there, yada, yada, yada... The man looked at all 5 of us, stopped K in midsentence and stamped our forms. Khalaas, eye check! I guess we don’t look like terrorists. On the way back we had to get an exit permit. The same man was at the counter. Ahlan habibi! Stamp x5 Ma’asalaama!

FoodWe also stopped at a few places to refuel – the car as well as ourselves – along the way. Both K and I, much to the ire of the older kids, have always loved truck stops. Even here we prefer to patronize these roadside restaurants over western or westernized eastern fast food joints. These establishments are clean and efficient, service is extremely courteous, and they are always a culinary adventure. Here we often order freshly baked khubz (Arabic for bread) with the curry of the day (almost always chicken) or freshly grilled kabobs. Sometimes we get a rice dish which is always called beryani, but no 2 have ever tasted remotely similar. Cutlery is optional, just a good hand wash will suffice. We do however avoid the salads. The finale is always the cloyingly sweet milky tea served in a glass. Sorry kids, we’re not in Kansas any more!

LodgingThis time in Dubai we wanted to see the places we were not able to visit on our previous trip and even found some places we did not even know about. I particularly enjoyed the day trip to Hatta, a small village near the boarder of Oman. It is a little over an hours drive and is a historically preserved town with a heritage site. The terrain chances dramatically as well, with craggy lithic mountains replacing the usually desert vistas. The kids were pacified by a round of miniature golf – this is the UAE of course!

We enjoyed strolling though the Ibn Battuta Mall, named after the famous and cherished Moroccan explorer. The mall is divided into themed sections - Andalusia, Tunisia, Egypt, Persia, India and China – a few of the major destinations taken by Mr. Battuta. Each section represents the best of each region and outdoes the other in splendor. Details of Ibn Battuta’s journeys and the contributions of other great Arab scholars and scientists are also inscribed throughout the mall. Therefore it is also a history lesson as well, one which is often overlooked in most text books and classrooms. It is certainly a must see for Dubai bound travelers, history buffs or otherwise.

We also roamed through a few souks, which are located in the older, less developed neighborhoods (compared to the newer contrived construction projects). This is the old Dubai, and in my opinion, the real deal. Tour guides abounded everywhere followed by camera wielding tourists of every nationality – ourselves no exception. The only difference was we were not wearing shorts or carrying fanny packs.

I will leave you with these pictures, which for the weary and often desperate traveler is certainly worth a couple of a thousand words.

Hammam men

Hammam women

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