Welcome to the new first world, it struck me as we drove through busy rush-hour traffic on the way to our hotel. Dubai City is more than a city, it's almost the entire country - just one point three million people live here (that number is rising all the time), seventy-five percent of the world's construction cranes are in operation here, and the majority of the population are immigrants from every corner of the world. To say business is going well here is an embarrassing understatement. From the outside at least; Dubai is a modern boom-town like no other on the planet.
Our driver is clad in a finely tailored ivory suit embellished with golden embroidery, He hands me an elaborate, tall, dark blue box filled with fresh orchids as we get into a sleek BMW sedan. Chilled scented towels and bottled water are waiting for us inside, "Welcome to Dubai," He announces, "I hope you enjoy your stay with us." Gliding through traffic along an eight lane free-way through an endless forest of magnificent modern buildings, a person can't help but be impressed. Nearly every building is either brand new or under construction. The most striking profile comes from the twenty four hundred foot tall Burj Khalifa, when it's completed, it will take the crown as the world's tallest building.
Coming in on approach to the airport, we could barely make out the city sky line from five miles away
The air is thick with dust and blowing sand- our driver apologizes for the poor visibility as if he were somehow responsible. The atmosphere is a pale golden yellow, looking into the distance, the labyrinth of skyscrapers quickly fades into shadows. Coming in on approach to the airport, we could barely make out the city sky line from five miles away. The winter months are the best time to visit when the skies are mostly sparkling clear. Our driver points towards the waterfront, "Do you see over there?" He asks, 'There it is, the Burj Al Arab'. The distinctive bow shaped building comes into view- we have arrived.
Built on its own tiny man-made island, with its own graceful causeway across the waters of the Arabian Sea, the Burj Al Arab is the tallest hotel in the world. Meant to resemble a ship at sail, a reflection of Dubai's heritage as a fishing village. It's billed as the only true five star hotel- the most luxurious. How did we come to such a place? I feel a little conspicuous stepping from our car wearing a sweaty, corporate flight crew uniform. Art is dressed likewise- the stares are not missed; the strange looks. I can just guess what people are thinking- "If the flight crew is staying here, where on earth could the owners possibly be?" Where on earth indeed! The uniform helps us move more smoothly through customs and aircraft service- it's also good camouflage.
The lobby, and adjoining atrium is a fantasy of color and light. This is truly an outrageous, completely over the top hotel. Art and I have had the privilege of staying in some very fine hotels around the world- none of them were necessarily worth writing about. Every aspect, every detail, every function of this building is abundantly, lavishly, designed. There are only two hundred and ten suites in the Burj Al Arab- it was not designed for volume, it is meant to be a personal experience for each individual guest. The word "Burj" simply means "tower"- Burj Al Arab translates to; "The Tower of Arabia". The word "service", is taken very seriously here. An abundance of staff, a personal butler, and twenty-four hour operations desk, are located on every floor. Art and I are shown to our suite, we're given a quick lesson in how to open and close the door, answer it via video conferencing when someone is outside, as well as the digital messaging system built in to it. And that was just the front door! This place is a technophile's dream come true.
The food at Burj Al Arab wonderful also, with five separate restaurants on the premises
The room- the private apartment, is unbelievable, a marble staircase leads to the second floor bedroom while the downstairs has a second bath, bar, and huge living room with panoramic views of the ocean along two sides. Too bad the view is lost in the haze, but who cares! Lets move in! When Art and I are generally traveling about back home, we usually check into the local Hampton Inn- neither one of us expected anything remotely like this. The food at Burj Al Arab wonderful also, with five separate restaurants on the premises. There is even a really fancy one at the very top of the hotel near the helicopter landing pad. No amenity was left wanting; spa, hair salon, boutique shops, private aquarium, private beach, a water park, library, snooker room, indoor and outdoor pools and a bunch of other stuff I'm sure we missed. There is one more thing that makes this place very special- the people. The staff of the Burj Al Arab represent ninety eight different nationalities; they all use English as their common language. With over three hundred individual nationalities arriving as guests, this hotel, located in the heart of the Middle East, is more international than the U.N.
For the most part, Art and I just hung out at the Burj- why would you leave? We did take an interesting jeep ride out into the dunes where we met up with a camel herdsman and his eighty or so dairy camels. Actually, they were the King's dairy camels- they still have a king there in Dubai. Camel's milk is a popular drink here- it is said by the locals to be the richest milk of any domestic animal. The camels were just returning from grazing and the herdsman was taking them in for the evening. Art stopped to chat and asked for a picture- the herdsman was very nice and posed with one of his camels. The neat thing was, when he stopped to visit with Art, all of the other camels kept moving on until they all seemed to realize at once that their human leader had stopped. I kept watching the herd- slowly, one by one, all eighty or so camels stopped and all turned to see where the herdsman was, and then they waited.
The Arabic language is read from right to left as it is written on a page, the English language is read from left to right. The city of Dubai is an example of many people, of many cultures and languages, living and working together successfully- given this fact, surely two cultures can find a way to meet in the middle.
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