This year I have gone from the luxury of university holidays, which span endlessly across summer and punctuate the year offering weeks of much-needed rest, recovery and procrastination, to the shock of working life where a somewhat generous sounding 25 days can vanish entirely once a ski break, summer holiday and scattering of weddings are added into the mix. In this scenario, bank holidays are treasured and the prospect of having a 10 day holiday at the cost of just 4 days off work is an opportunity too good to be true and one that must be seized. Such was the case with the Easter bank holiday weekend this year. My bank balance was still slowly recovering from the Christmas battering and the fact that I would be travelling on my own had to be factored into the decision making process. The final destination of choice?…Dubai.
Ordinarily, Dubai would never have been at the top of my travel bucket-list, but with a cousin living there (free accommodation…kerrching!), thermometer readings of 30 plus, and an almost zero crime-rate it seemed like the obvious place to explore on my own for very little money. And besides, I always crave sun and the prospect of turning the colour of a glossy conker!
My first impressions of Dubai were of complete bewilderment. Of course, I was expecting a high-rise and sprawling metropolis, but its sheer scale and similarity to The Sims still had the capacity to surprise me. Colossal blocks of concrete with very little design or architectural merit soared skywards into cloudless expanse of blue. Having been greeted at the airport by posters and campaigns promising a green and eco-friendly city, this quickly became exposed as being nothing but transparent propaganda. Roads funnelled a constant stream of super-cars, Land Rovers and taxis, every inch of spare land bore the foundations of another sky-scraper, workers clad in purple and fluorescent boiler suits swarming over these building sites like little colourful ants, cranes swung whilst trucks of rubble choked and spluttered smoggy fumes. There were occasional lines of trees or small patches of grass, with which bring a glimmer of hope that the city isn’t entirely sterile, but then follows swiftly the sad twang of reality that these too are entirely man-made and artificial.
The Marina (also sadly man-made) is where I was to be staying, coincidentally, in the Torch Tower which was recently and somewhat ironically on the news for having gone up in flames. The Marina felt a little more welcoming than the parts of Dubai we had driven through to get there. Perhaps it was the fact that there was water to break up the expanses of concrete, or maybe the fact there was a wide walkway around the marina (one of the only places in the city where walking is actually encouraged).
I spent most of my time in the Marina, not just out of convenience, but because it soon became my favourite part of the city. The Walk is a stretch of restaurants and shops parallel to the beach which took my fancy. In spite of the queues of super cars, which still found the need to purposefully create traffic jams with a view to showing off , it was a reasonably nice street to browse. Unlike other districts where lots of the cafes are in malls in vast vats of air-conditioning, the cafes on The Walk have outside seating which feels slightly more normal for a Brit like me who is used to the cafe culture of London and further afield in Europe. The shop Boutique1 is also worth a visit if you are a clothes-lover. Far less intimidating than the malls, it is smaller and quieter and boasts a selection of designers most akin to the choice at Selfridges. Clothes are still more expensive than they are in the UK, but it’s nice to browse, especially if you get bored, which isn’t a complete impossibility in Dubai.
Having given up on trying to fill every single day of my holiday with ticking off the top-picks in the guide book, I spent a few days of my holiday just plonked horizontal on the beach- something all good holidays generally include anyway! I went to the nearest beach to the Marina, but there are other nice beaches further up the coast, such as Jumeirah public beach and various hotel beaches where you will need to pay. There is no getting round the fact that my beach was not the most picturesque of beaches. The view out to sea wasn’t of endless turquoise, but rather of cranes and industrial projects, in this case I believe they are planning to build a 24/7 Ibiza island. But this didn’t seem a problem as I spent most of my time on the beach either dozing or with my nose firmly buried in The Goldfinch, a fantastic and very thick book by Donna Tart. Whilst I have been conditioned since being a child that holidays do not consist solely of beaching, but should include a bit of culture and exploration (something which I wasn’t always terribly fond of as a child, but greatly appreciate now in hindsight!), I did shamelessly enjoy my few days of doing absolutely nothing and found joy in watching myself slowly turn more mahogany. I firmly believe that once in a while after a stressful time at work or in your personal life, seeking a bit of solace and indulging in some well-earned ‘me’ time is more valuable than agonising over being productive or finding solutions.
Anyway, back to the Marina. Whilst the Marina proved to be the part of Dubai where I most felt at home (largely due to the fact that I am fairly scruffy person with little time for over-zealous ostentation or wearing heels in thirty degree heat), it really shone and came into its own at nightfall, quite literally. Due in part to my laziness about learning how to use my camera at nighttime, my pictures don’t really do it justice, but the Marina transformed into what looked like a sparking circuit-board of light, or a galaxy consisting of hundreds of constellations of blue and amber tinted stars.
First impressions of Dubai were, I have to admit, somewhat dubious. It strikes me as a place with more money than taste (and sense, for that matter), and as someone who enjoys nature, culture and charm when I go on holiday, it wasn’t quite on par. But having said that, no one goes to Dubai in search of these things or with the expectation of it being that kind of holiday. As a place to enjoy the sun, see family and experience somewhere completely unlike anywhere I had seen or been before then it was of course ticking all the boxes. What did impress me perhaps more than anything was how safe I felt. Travelling solo is something which so many people do, but having skipped a gap year and being a bit of a worrier, it was the aspect of the holiday I was most anxious about. In reality, I felt more comfortable than I did in Istanbul or in Stone Town in Zanzibar. The only intimidation was in the shape of ex-pat body envy and perfectly pert bottoms bronzing on the beach!
Stay tuned for more things to do in Dubai, the best bars and restaurants and a trip into the desert. All at http://www.astylishreview.com.