On January 12 we left a cold Budapest for Dubai for a two-week dose of warmth, sun and light – this time of year Dubai has almost two extra hours of daylight than Hungary. There is a direct Emirates Airlines flight from here, so it was very convenient. Five and a half hours later, and approximately 2,500 air miles, we landed at 11:20 pm local time at Dubai International Airport, the third busiest in the world, number one in passenger traffic. It is an immense place, with flights non-stop throughout the day and night.
Expedited through immigration and luggage, we were soon in the car heading south, about half an hour, to the Royal Mirage One & Only Hotel, a sprawling complex of three properties extending about a kilometer along the Jumeirah Beach. Ours was the Residences and Spa, a more intimate, private spot with only 50 rooms and suites, nestled in gardens of palm trees, fountains and bougainvillea; with a private 30-meter pool and private beach. We were in suite 31. In a word: luxurious.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a relatively new collection of seven emirates (the lands of emirs, or rulers) formed in 1971 after the British protectorate began to dissolve. Dubai, controlled by the Al Maktoum family since 1833, is the most populous, with 2.6 million residents. Its roots are in the 18th century; it was a small fishing village, with pearl exports a major trade. In 1966, limited finds of oil and gas boosted revenues and major infrastructure projects were started. But early on, there was an emphasis away from petroleum and towards commerce, retail and tourism. As of 2017, only five percent of Dubai’s economy derives from oil.
We were here to relax and we were quite successful at it. Most days we were up to a nice al fresco breakfast at the Residence’s Dining Room, then poolside for a day of swimming and reading in a soft winter sunshine. From the hotel, the grounds are gently terraced, complete with gurgling fountains, leading to the pool and the beach. The whole area is a tranquil oasis with generous amounts of space for each guest. We landed in a cabana, #16; it provided very flexible areas of shade and sun. The pool attendants were very focused; topping up water glasses, delivering some refreshing fruit in the mornings and sorbet in the afternoons. The sunbeds were comfortable. And I got to the gym each day, housed in the very stylish spa facility.
|The Pool at Residences|
|The Residences & Spa|
|Palm Trees at Night|
Some days we had lunch, others we took part in the hotel’s complimentary high tea – both very elegant and delicious. Many evenings we also dined outside at the Dining Room, then retired to their Library for a nightcap.
We did do some sightseeing. There was a day trip south to Abu Dhabi, 140 kilometers and one and a half hours drive south along the Arabian Gulf.
The new Louvre of Abu Dhabi had just opened November 11, 2017. The building, designed by Jean Nouvel, is a floating dome of light and shade, weightlessly placed into the waters of the gulf. Its planning dates back to 2007, when France and the UAE came together to form a new kind of institution dedicated to the universality of man.
The magnificent curation spans human history from 10,000 BCE to today in twelve galleries, each themed to a time and connected to the artifacts of its era. The first gallery, “First Villages” shows the earliest communities coming together, along with their belief systems; and ends in gallery twelve, “A Global Stage,” with the scale of 21st century communication transforming the planet itself into a global village. Every work in every room brought home meaning. Walking through over 12,000 years of our collective connections, I was both uplifted and humbled. An amazing experience.
The building itself is also a marvel, like the Guggenheim Bilbao. Here is a link to the web site: https://www.louvreabudhabi.ae/
|Floating in the Gulf|
After the Louvre we also visited the immense Sheikh Zayed Mosque, completed in 2007. It combines Mamluk, Ottoman and Fatimid styles, the design of the minarets attempt to champion the diverse Islamic world into one grand summation of art and beauty. Its scale is breathtaking, but it does not yet possess the historical patina and authenticity of other ancient mosques we have visited – Istanbul comes to mind. Still, it was a stunning display of craftsmanship.
|Sheikh Zayed Mosque|
|The Mosque's Interior|
Lunch was at the gigantic Emirates Palace Hotel; we ate on the beach at the “Restaurant BBQ Qasr” and would have been happy to have missed it. It was a long day; we arrived back to the hotel by five.
Another outing had us touring the sights of Dubai. The city is a civil engineer’s fantasy come true; massive projects going up all over. Malls are huge and are everywhere – a shopper’s paradise but not really our thing. We did visit the Palm Jumeirah, the first of the artificial archipelagos built into the Persian Gulf, in the shape of a palm tree – it is a man-made marvel. We returned to the hotel by three.
The Royal Mirage One & Only has eight or nine restaurants scattered about; we had two good dinners at “Celebrities,” and a so-so meal at “Beach Bar & Grille.” We also had a few sunset aperitifs at the “Jetty Bar,” looking out to the Dubai Marina - very chic.
|Sunset at Jetty Bar|
There was also a dinner at “At.mosphere” on the 122nd floor of the iconic Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, soaring 2,722 feet above the ground. The restaurant was, pardon the pun, “over the top” and a bit too much; but my black cod «en papillote» with artichoke and fennel in a miso beurre blanc sauce was definitely in my top ten main courses of all time. After dinner, we had our nightcap on the terrace at the Burj Khalifa’s Armani Hotel and watched the Dubai Water Fountain performance (of course, the world’s largest).
Another evening we had drinks and nibbles at Burj Al Arab’s “Al Muntaha” on the 27th floor of this iconic sail shaped tower. It was a silly pretentious place, but one had to try it. Some of the other guests were so bizarre I found myself staring at them rather than concentrating on the spectacular view of the coast and cityscape stretched out below us.
|Burj Al Arab|
|View from Sky Bar|
In all, we got what we asked for; warmth, sun and more daylight to shake off the winter blues of London, Budapest and New Hampshire. Dubai is an odd place, a bit like Las Vegas; but very, very clean. Not much is real, the environment has literally been bulldozed into submission and “taste,” inevitably, always had a “theme.”