Monday, January 09, 2006

Psst. Secret.

Now, and for all of January and February, Dubai is perfect. Temperature is 25 by day and 15 by night. A hundred kilometers of beach, with 100% sun, no clouds, no rain.

The people who have to sell holidays will tell you this in July. 'Sitting indoors, wasting your vacation because of the cold and rain? Come to Dubai, where we guarantee cloudless skies and sun.' The tourists arrive and wilt like a leaf of lettuce in a steamer. There's plenty of sun, as promised. More sun than the tourists imagined possible.

Temperature 47. In the shade. Of which there isn't any.

From their €300 a night hotel room window, facing the ocean, the tourists can see a newer hotel under construction blocking their view, and can awaken to the sounds of construction. The once pristine ocean is murky from the construction, and the murk looks decidedly unhealthy. Dubai is building four major (as in, visible from the moon) land reclamations. Three are to look like palm trees, creating beachfront property for thousands of villas. The fourth is to look like a map of the world. (Official Slogan: 'The Palm puts Dubai on the map; the World puts the map on Dubai.')

Depending on whom you believe, the increased coastline will provide (eventually) much more estuary, and many more colourful tropical fish to see once the sediment settles and the oceans return to their pre-construction crystal clear state; or, the construction will kill off all the fish, and the dead fish will wash up for the tourists to nose out. We'll see.

Irate tourists, returning to Europe in July, have gotten Dubai listed on various 'Holidays in Hell' lists. But that's in July.

Now, the weather is perfect. Dubai has many parks (a new one of just opened on 27 December 2005, and many more are planned), and (for now) all are lovely to walk about in. Flowers abound, and the aroma is delightful. The gardeners have been quite artistic in their floral arrangements, and the flowers are all removed and replaced frequently, always in new patterns and designs, each one more original and aromatic than the last.

Birds have gathered here for the winter from all over the northern Eurasian continent, and Dubai has several bird sanctuaries, and blinds with scopes for bird-watching types.

Meanwhile, Dubai is also about shopping. A business here must have a special license to offer products on sale. And most seem to have that license, because everything is 75% (or more) off. It's your lucky day, today is the biggest one day sale of the year. And that's no matter which day you are in Dubai. There is no VAT in Dubai, so most things are much cheaper (25%-40%) than Europe. And Dubai is malls.

There is ibn Battuta Mall. 'ibn Battuta' means 'Son of Battuta.' We don't know who Battuta was, or what his son's name was, but we know that his son wanted to make the Hajj, and then he wanted to see where all the highways leading to Mecca came from, so he wandered from Morocco to Egypt, then to Mecca (skipped because it's too sacred to mention), then Persia, India, China, and Andalusia (the name for Muslim Spain before the reconquista of 1492, and, again, for Muslim Spain after the re-re-conquista planned for sometime in the near future.) His mall goes on for more than a kilometer, and each section is strictly authentic, with traditional Egyptian stores like the Gap in the Egyptian section, and traditional Persian stores like Starbucks in the Persian section, etc.

There is the new (opened Fall, 2005) Mall of the Emirates, largest mall in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and with a recreation area that boasts the world's third largest indoor ski area (mis-represented in the Guardian as the world's largest indoor ski area). Weather prediction: for the rest of the Gulf, sun. For Mall of the Emirates, snow.

And there are all the older Malls, at least a dozen of them, all having 75% off sales, today only (no matter when 'today' is).

For hotels, there is the 7-star Burj al Arab, the world's tallest hotel, where rooms can cost more than €10,000 a night. Or €50 just to go in and see the place. The height is 1/2 spire, rather than actual hotel, and there are building with more hotel floors than the Burj, but these taller buildings are disqualified by having floors devoted to non-hotel activities, so the Burj is officially the world's tallest hotel. And, officially and otherwise, one of the world's most expensive hotels.

If it's nothing but unlimited shopping you want, Dubai is great even in Summer: go from your air conditioned Hotel room to the air conditioned hotel bus to mall after mall after mall. And there are raffles, with the lucky winners getting a car, or kilos of gold, or hundreds of thousands of Euros.

But if you're not a shopper but a beach person, now is the only time to be in Dubai.

I've seen a few tourists so desperate for the beach that they bake themselves in July, returning home looking like the lobsters for sale in most Dubai restaurants, but mostly in July the beaches are almost deserted (certainly, they're deserted by me).

But for now, the beaches are lovely and cheap. For beaches with lifeguards, there is a fee of about €1. Beaches without life guards are free.

Hotels are available for less than €30 a night, for the budget minded, with busses to the beach. And the night life is, if not filled with famous performers, at least filled with competent musicians and DJs (except during Ramadan).

But the traffic is terrible, and the people already here don't want any more people hearing about Dubai and coming here. So this post is a secret.

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