Wandering in foreign countries seems such a luxurious waste that it would shame P, as a working member of the idle poor. Yet here we are, en route to Rome, stopping for a night in Dubai, described by some as Hell with air-conditioning. Arriving at 5.30am, we are conducted through an enormous white entry and processing hall, apparently designed by the committee responsible for the repulsive Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. Officials in full Bedu garb loiter as we slowly file past and stare into the passport-face-recognition machines that struggle with asiatic eyes.
Our modest hotel in an older part of town had a ‘Fox and Hounds’ ye olde pub where we met J and S, who live and work here in Islamic Las Vegas. In the older parts, there is a Cairo-feel to the dwellings, with their handy rooftops where the men gather at sundown while the women cook or embroider downstairs. We were awoken at about 4.30am by the call to prayer but, as infidels, felt it inappropriate to use the mat handily supplied in our room.
On the way back to the antipodes, we stayed in a very different place – Atlantis-the Palm, the cheesiness of which was beyond belief; beautiful in a horrible way. We soon gazed out from a 12th floor suite over sprawling gardens and a waterworld on the hotel acreage, leading down to the Persian Gulf. It being 7.30am and already over 30C, a swim in the Arabian Sea seemed the thing to do, after which it was over the waterworld to ‘jump the shark’ (to slide on a tyre tube down a plastic cylinder which went through a large aquarium of sharks – classy).
Other features of this disneyfied resort: huge coloured glass object d’art and fountains; a breakfast buffet hall the size of a stadium where people gorged on masses of food, including ‘bacon’ made from beef; stretches of shopping malls, including a subterranean cavern of lights, grottoes and dubious fauna posing as the remnants of Atlantis, a genuine and splendid aquarium, apparently cleaned perpetually, like the Sydney Harbour Bridge and a cavalcade of restaurants, some fine, some trashy*, plus a gold charm vending machine.
We spurned these charms and went about the liquid heat of the (disappointingly unromantic) gold souk in the old part of town, on the Dubai Creek, haggled unsuccessfully and returned in a freezing taxi along massive highways from a bad dream, past such monoliths as the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab on its tiny island or the sky-scraping Burj Khalifa, 829.8 m high.
Yes, worth a visit but (respectfully, J and S) not to live or work there.
*[e.g. a lot of buffet restaurants offered the full flower of Mexican, Thai, Indian, whatever, cuisine, which was heaped upon single, outsized plates (and in the case of one Russian tourist, eaten by hand from the bains-marie.) On the other hand, we once dined at Rostang, run by the Michelin star holder Michel Rostang, on onion soup, gazpacho, chicken fricassee, lobster bisque, banana brûlée and 2 bottles of Roussane-Marsanne, the chilled air encouraging us to gluttony and ignoring the inferno outside.]