A running joke between myself and my boyfriend is that he’s an oil baron and I’m only with him for the money. This, ladies and gentlemen, is because he’s from Dubai. As time went on and our relationship become serious, he asked me if I’d like to go and visit his home. Of course, I said yes, but inside I was bricking it. I had that mind-set that the media enjoys to tell us; that Dubai is a glamourous glass city untouchable to the working class, that it is lifeless and fake. I was nervous of the rules, I was nervous of the food, I was nervous of the money; the prospect of going excited me and made me a jittery mess. That all changed when I actually experienced Dubai. I’ve been there twice now, and hope to visit again and again. I can honestly say, it is one of my favourite places to be. How did this place that used to make me so nervous suddenly sweep me off my feet? Let me tell you.
Firstly, there is so much to do. In populous cities across the world, of course you are going to find activities that break the bank. Contrary to popular belief, not all activities in Dubai are like this (shock, horror). Obviously, there are beautiful golf courses, large water parks, excessive shopping centres, and glistening spas. However, not everything has to cost hundreds of pounds. Each time I have been to Dubai, I haven’t been very financially comfortable; I was either a full-time university student, or a full-time worker whose pay check instantly evaporates on rent. But I could still afford some fantastic experiences. For example, the Dubai Museum and Al Fahidi Fort costs 3AED to enter; that’s approximately 60 pence! We spent hours in the museum, looking at the artefacts and learning about historical Dubai, something I would have normally paid £20 for or so in Britain. When I first visited Dubai in 2016, we spent a day on a Desert Safari. This included pick up, sand duning, exploring, desert camp, entertainment, full buffet, drinks and drop off, all for 90AED. All that, for £18. I was lucky enough to be staying with my partner’s wonderful family who gave us lifts and helped out when they could, but even then, I travelled via taxi, metro, and tram, and still had Dirhams in my pocket at the end of the day. You don’t need money to have a good time in Dubai.
Secondly, I fell in love with Dubai as a place. Born and bred in small town South Wales, I have found that staying in large cities makes me feel swamped and uncomfortable. I love London to visit, but any more than a day or two and I find myself filled with a desire to head somewhere less suffocating. The city of Dubai felt completely different. The buildings are so tall, you struggle to see the tops from the ground. The skyline is full of white buildings and blue glass, reflecting the sun and seeming like they belong amongst the blue sky and occasional cloud. All within one day, I found myself in the centre of a glass city, then sat on a beach surrounded by sand and sea, then lead on a grassy verge walled in by plush green trees, then in a suburban compound with the city in the background, and then walking in the desert, with nothing around me but sand. Wherever you are in the Emirate, perhaps apart from the desert, you can see the dusty coloured minarets of the mosques reaching up, making themselves known, partnered with the clockwork call to prayer. You cannot say that Dubai is just hotels and skyscrapers.
I am a woman who loves her food, particularly carbohydrates, and Dubai is incredible on this front. The food available in the malls and food courts tends to be rather Americanised. Fast food chains like McDonalds and KFC are very common, but their portion sizing is HUGE. When I ordered a large meal, I expected a normal large meal. Instead, I got a drink the size of my head and food the size of the tray it came on. Admittedly, the fast food was good but the restaurants were much better. As Dubai is promoted as a tourist destination, it does all kinds of food very well, especially Western and European (here’s looking at you gigantic calzone). However, it was the traditional Arabic food that stole my heart and filled my stomach. I need to talk to you about cheesebread. Now I have developed lactose intolerance, this delicacy is off limits, but it still remains firmly remembered in my heart. Cheesebread involves Arabic bread (which I am also smitten with) being filled with melted cheese and being folded like a pancake. It’s oh so simple, but oh so gorgeous. I do not know if it’s the use of Arabic bread (which is like pita bread) or the type of cheese or what else, but it tastes so different and so much better than any cheese toasty I have ever had. Then, there is shawarma. As someone with a deadly peanut allergy, I am always scared of trying new foods in case there is a trace of nut; especially when I am in a foreign country with no NHS to fall back out. I soon found out that I could eat shawarma, it became a go to allergen friendly meal for myself. Shawarma is well seasoned meats in a pita style wrap, with some sauce and green bits if you fancy. Just like with cheesebread, I don’t know what makes it taste so good. It is something so simple, just meat in a wrap, but tastes so incredible. If you manage to go to the UAE, I recommend that you try these foods (if you can eat them), and see for yourself.
Something that really grinds my gears, if when people discuss the supposed lack of history in Dubai because it is a relatively new Emirate. Actually, one of the reasons I love Dubai is its rich history (and that’s not a pun relating to oil). As I already mentioned, the Dubai Museum is a wonderful place to visit. It opened my eyes to the history of the area. Yes, Dubai as an Emirate and a city is rather new, but the land did not suddenly spring up around the city; it was there before. Dubai’s history is full of art, colonies, and fortresses. There are historical dig sites all around the Emirate. Before it was known as being a tourist destination, Dubai was popular with pearl divers, that’s how people made their money. Dubai is far deeper than glass buildings, water slides, and a 20 year old façade.
Finally, the weather. When I first arrived in Dubai, it was in May 2016; the start of the summer months. To give you an idea of how hot it was, there is a rule that certain professions cannot work between 12pm-3pm because it could be dangerous. Temperatures would soar up to 40 degrees Celsius. At the time, I had never experienced anything like it. I thought it was glorious. On my first day in Dubai, I sat outside and read, sweltering in the midday sun. My partner thought I had gone a bit mad. The novelty of the 40 degree heat soon wore off and I quickly learnt to stay indoors in the early afternoon. The second time I went to Dubai was in the New Year leading into 2018. Temperatures averaged at 24 degrees with a warm breeze. Perfect beach weather. I was hooked.
Undeniably, there are issues within the United Arab Emirates. Some of the stories are real and tourists and locals get in trouble for things the West would never count as wrong. All I have to say on that matter is respect the rules and you will be fine. You can wear itsy bitsy teeny weenie bikinis on the beach, by the pool, at waterparks and so on, just not out in the rest of the public. I’m not sure a lot of people would walk around a shopping centre in a bikini anyway. No public displays of affection, bar hand holding. Again, a lot of people don’t enjoy PDA in Britain. No inappropriate or offensive clothing. Yes, this means no booty shorts in the city or tube tops in the museums, but I can tell you, you would get burnt to heck if you wore that. To enjoy your time in Dubai, all you have to do is be respectful. Being respectful and investing in a maxi skirt is well worth it to enjoy this beautiful place.