Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dubai and the Most Expensive Lunch of My Life

I began my day pretty awesomely by just barging out the front door of the hotel. I had a loose idea of where I wanted to end up but that's about it. I spotted a little supermarket and got some breakfast.

I wanted some dates, and there were so many different kinds that it took me a minute to choose.

So I'm doing my friendly guy routine and I sit in the front seat of the taxi and offer the guy a date. Well as we are waiting at a stop light one of the slippery little things falls out of my hand and promptly rolls loudly beneath the seat. Crap. So I slowly turn my head to the left to see if my first Dubai friend is mad at me. No reaction. Nice. I then slowly turn my head to the right toward the window to see a local in the next car over laughing his head off. We are off to a good start.

My first official tourist stop is the Jumeirah Mosque, where the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding gives daily interpretive tours. I went inside the visitor center to buy my ticket and then milled around in the gift shop a bit while waiting for the tour to begin.

Well they had milk chocolate camels. Made from camel milk.

Our guide was a Muslim British lady.

The first stop was outside for a ritual cleansing demonstration. She said that if water wasn't available that this could be done with sand.

She joked that this looked like currency exchange prices but that it is a sign that shows exactly what minute each of that day's prayers need to be done.

We got a really neat demonstration of how the prayers look. The whole room turned and looked behind us to watch this, because the man needed to be facing Mecca.

Our tour guide gave us a solid starter course on Islam. We learned about the different clothing that men and women wear and why, and even how to physically put it on. Apparently the black rope that keeps the cloth on men's heads here was originally the rope that they used to tie their camel's legs with.

I found the women's veil discussion particularly interesting.

My handy travel book seemed to favor the metro over the city bus so I asked at the mosque how to get to the nearest metro station. I was pointed in a general direction, so that's where I went. After wandering for a while I imagined that waiting for a bus couldn't be that bad, so I figured out which bus I needed and stood around until it arrived. I hopped on and asked if I could buy a ticket. The surly driver pointed at a ticket vending machine a block away and then drove away. The next bus wouldn't be for a half an hour! The Dubai bus system will rue the day it crossed me!

So I was all like "no he didn't!" and resolved to do some walking. So in my khakis and new dressy shoes I walked. And walked. I finally did make it to a metro station only mildly dusty and sweaty. Victory!

Dubai kind of reminds me of Vegas, with a central "strip" along which all of the fancy buildings reside. It is also fairly pedestrian unfriendly like Vegas. It often took several minutes of footbridge stair climbing just to get across the street.

The metro stations are really pretty awesome looking both inside and out.

Now it's getting to the point where I need to be heading toward the Dubai Mall metro station for the day's only appointment. The train comes, and I step into the rather crowded car. I look around, and am beginning to notice that these people all have something in common. Hmm... they all are women. Hmm.. I'm in the women's car! Ahhh! And I jump out just as the doors close behind me and the train speeds away. 

To be fair it looks like that is only enforced during rush hour, but still. My second try to get on a train went much more smoothly.

I see my destination in the distance: the Burj Khalifa, the tallest artificial structure in the world at 2,722ft.

The metro stop is called Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall Station, so how hard could it be to get from there to the Burj Khalifa? Really freakin hard. First was a several blocks long footbridge thing that connected to the Dubai Mall.

This cool view was available through a walk way window.

I make to the end of this long tunnel which isn't really getting me any closer to my destination, just sort of moving around it. Made it! Now fancy building time right? Nope. Now I am in the Dubai Mall which, according to Wikipedia, is the "world's largest shopping mall based on total area and fourteenth largest by gross leasable area". Crap. This particular day happens to be in January, a month which contains the Dubai Shopping Festival. explains: "Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2015, the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) is the largest shopping and entertainment extravaganza in the Middle East." Double crap.

I don't have many pictures of the mall because I was pretty much jogging in circles to make it to my lunch reservation.

There was this though.

A quick aside: while I am trying to secure freedom from the largest, most crowded shopping maze in the world, I notice a lot of American food chains. I thought it was funny because there are a ton that I've heard of but haven't made it to the Midwest yet, but yet are in Dubai.

Along the way I asked a mall employee for directions to the Khalifa, and she informed me that I needed a reservation to eat there, and I was like "just because I'm dirty and sweaty doesn't mean I don't like fancy lunches so back up!"

I finally escaped the mall after only having to punch and kick like 6 or 7 people. And I saw it: the Burj Khalifa, shimmering in the sunlight. Well I was at the wrong side of it, and I needed to enter one particular door to get in. So I walked and walked, all the way around the tallest thing that the human race has ever made. The walkway got narrower and narrower to the point that all the shoppers and tourists were gone and the only people around were groundskeepers.

I made it to the front of the building, but there's like a giant circle drive thing and no sidewalk. So I'm dodging fancy cars and taxis, walking in the middle of the road.

Then I got there.

So I walk in to probably the nicest hotel I will ever see, there are about 7 really well dressed attractive hostesses sort of wandering around greeting people, and I walk in really disheveled. I'd really need a gas station squeegee to get the sweat off of my bald head at this point.

I expected the Armani Hotel be garish for some reason but it was an understated sort of nice.

The elevator buttons were cool.

At.mosphere is on the 122th floor and is the highest restaurant in the world from ground level. And it's really awesome but expensive. Lunch was from a set course menu, with 2 or 3 course choices. I picked the 2 course plan so that I would have money left over if I ever need a down payment for a house.

I probably got more food that I didn't order than I did. They were very generous with the extras. There were two kinds of butter and a whipped spreadable thing made from fish. It was all great. Several of the staff addressed me as Mr. Milito, as they had my name from when I made the reservation.

They brought me the wrong brand of sparkling water so I spit it on the floor and yelled "send it back!" Not really. That square thing was like the most magnificent Cheez-It.

I don't know what a lot of the words mean relating to what I ordered so I'll just write them here. "Josper Roasted Lamb Rack 'Rhug Estate'. Lamb shoulder samosa, polenta 'à l'ancienne', rosemary jus". Those little dots were like little planets of intense flavor orbiting the sun. If you've ever eaten with me you'd know I tend to eat pretty fast. I noticed that I was eating much slower here though. Each bite was so good that I was consciously trying to savor everything.

 For dessert in the desert I had the "William Pear Souffl√©: pear sorbet, roasted pear with nougatine." My server cutely described it as "a little pear party".

Some random, unordered desserts also appeared. I ate them before anyone noticed the mistake.

Between courses I just sat and enjoyed the view.

I paid my 142 dollar tab and then took the ear popping elevator back down from heaven.

Just looking up at that building made me kind of sick to my stomach with height fright. That video screen is straight out of Blade Runner.

Well I hadn't had enough mall torture yet so I took the metro to the comparable Mall of the Emirates. I mostly just wanted to see the indoor ski slope.

There was an Islamic donation vending machine by the door.

They are wisely keeping Christmas behind glass at the Mall of the Emirates. Don't let it out of there!

My last stop of the day was Souk Madinat, which is sort of a Disney version of an Arabia market. I realized later that it is inside a hotel resort. So awesome.

That banana shaped building is the famous Burj Al Arab. It's website humbly suggests that you "Stay at The Most Luxurious Hotel in The World".

The whole thing was like a way better version of the Morocco area we visited in Epcot Center.

Well, I know that I must have done a good job traveling because I'm tired and my feet hurt. Later!

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