10th December 2007:
For our second day in Dubai we were joined by Alex who was also from Sydney. The city is famous for having Gold markets with vast collections of very high caret (24 carrot) gold jewelry so the plan of attack for the day was to hit those markets later in the afternoon after spending the day down by the beach area of the city.
None of us in the group were hard-core beach people: personally, I could survive for a couple of hours at most before getting bored, so a day at the beach was not high on any of our agendas. However, there was something else at the beach area which WAS high on our agendas: the Burj Al Arab, the world's most luxurious hotel. Sporting an incredible 7-stars, the hotel is famous for such extravagances as gold-lined walls and a restaurant inside an aquarium. Sadly rooms start at over 1000 AUD a night and you can't even get in the front door without paying a fee.
So, we all jumped in a taxi and 20 minutes later were dropped off at the hotel. Security was tighter than we had expected. The front gate was locked and had a small team of security guards checking the names of people who were driving in. There was another small group of tourists ahead of us and I could see one of them trying to negotiate his way past the gate, but the guard was having none of it. Somewhat disappointed we wandered down the road hoping for a photo opportunity somewhere nearby.
The walk was surprisingly pleasant despite the searing desert heat. We did get one or two taxi's slowing up next to us wondering if we needed a lift: clearly the locals thought we were mad to be walking around ? About ten minutes down the road, past some other private hotels, we came to what turned out to be possibly the most impressive shopping center I have ever seen. Borrowing from the fort architecture from the past, this place was lavishly fitted out: it even had canals with gondolas. It also had what we were looking for: a view of the 7-star hotel. My suggestion if you come to Dubai, though, is to forget the DIY approach on this one: you can pay about 100AUD for tea and a guided tour of the hotel: this would be a much easier and more successful option if you can afford it.
After the hotel we next visited a nearby mosque at Jumeriah. Most mosques are closed to the non-believers, but this mosque is more open and has guided tours. Sadly, these tours must be booked well in advance and only operate at 10:00AM on certain days of the week: just turning up as we had done will get you nowhere.
Also in the region has, despite still being under construction, the world's tallest tower. As it is still being built, it is not accessible, but we were hoping for some pictures from nearby. We didn't manage to get close enough though, and it was always barely visible in the ever-present haze.
After a sumptuous long lunch at a nearby restaurant, it was time to head back to the markets. Businesses tend to close between 1PM and 4PM, and we found that many of the market shops didn't reopen until 4:30PM, but once they did, wow! The Gold Souk had shop after shop of gold and diamonds on display. It all looked quite dazzling. The gold also looked different from what we usually get elsewhere: the gold here is purer but instead of looking more "gold-y", it actually tended to look slight duller. Nevertheless, the sheer amount of it, and the way it had been designed into extravagant items of jewelry was most impressive. Equally impressive was the glittering array of diamonds on show. It was easier to spot the better quality diamonds as some of them twinkled brightly, while others clearly had flaws which didn't twinkle much at all.
After the gold markets, we moved on next to the Spice Souk which had many small shops in a maze of winding streets. My sense of smell wouldn't be the best but nevertheless the fragrance here was sensory overloading with big bags of vividly colored exotic spices on the streets. The most popular items seems to be Frankincense, Mirh and Saffron, though be prepared to haggle: we spotted some American tourists who were clearly being had!
Along the way we also squeezed in some more historical building reconstruction tours and by the time it was getting dark it was time for a relaxing sit down by the river with a drink (non-alcoholic naturally ;) All in all, another action packed day in Dubai.