I very distinctly remember the moment my sister-in-law, Laura, told us she and her family were moving to Dubai. Dan and I were living in Sydney, Australia where I was pursing my Master’s degree in International Public Health. My sister-in-law sent us an e-mail asking to talk. And soon. We were guessing she had long awaited news about where in the world they would be heading after three years in France and were anxious to connect. The time difference between Paris and Sydney made for a bit of a challenge, especially when combined with our poor home internet service. (It’s a complicated situation that I’d be happy to explain in a later rant post, but in Australia we paid by the usage and one Skype call could easily use all our data for the month.) We scheduled a talk for something like 10 pm in Sydney. On the evening we scheduled to talk, Dan and I walked about 20 minutes to our local public library and sat outside, on the steps, in the dark to connect via the library’s free WiFi.
When we heard the news my immediate thought was, “Wow! That is amazing! What an incredible opportunity for their family! How can we get there to visit?” While we sat on the steps of the library, still talking about the exciting move, I started researching flight options, prices, if we could go directly from Australia, if we could go from the United States, how long we could stay, etc.
And then the reality hit. Dan was starting his PhD studies, I was finishing my MIPH, we were moving to a new state in the United States, I had to find a job, that job would have to give me vacation, and on and on. While we still wanted to go, I just wasn’t sure we were going to be able to make it happen. But we had been saving and imaging with the hope that things would “fall into place” while keeping the honesty to recognize that it just might not.
After months of waffling, we decided to go for it and start planning our lives, knowing that if we didn’t go soon, we might miss the opportunity to visit the United Arab Emirates while family was living there. So we booked tickets, looked at a few quick tourist sites, consulted with my friend from graduate school who lived in Dubai… And then that was it. We stopped all planning. Dan got wrapped up in massive amounts of school and lab work and I was wrapped up in four different consulting gigs and working what sometimes felt like endless hours.
A bit over a week before we were scheduled to go, it hit us. We were flying 10,000 miles to visit our family and see the United Arab Emirates and had made zero plans. Zero. So we really have our tour leader, Laura, to thank for figuring out what we wanted to do (even though we ourselves didn’t know) and organizing an incredible trip.
Here are the highlights:
Breakfast at the Sheikh Mohammad Center for Cultural Understanding: a traditional UAE breakfast (which officially hooked me on date syrup) that allowed us to ask questions about life in the region.
Followed by a stroll around the souks (local markets) and the river.
We also visited two of the 75 malls in Dubai, complete with trip by the aquarium and Ski Dubai, an entire indoor skiing complex. From the mall we could see the tallest building in the world: the Burj Khalifa.
And a photo to try to give some perspective on just how tall the Burj Khalifa is:
Which requires a few photos of the unique architecture you find throughout Dubai. (The Oreo-looking building is in Abu Dhabi.)
We had lunch along the mall’s lake where we enjoyed two dancing fountain shows and some of very tasty hummus. The fountains dance and move and shoot high into the air accompanied by music. It’s definitely something to check out on a visit to Dubai.
We also experienced something rare in Dubai: rain. All day rain. It was so much rain that many of the streets flooded and made it extremely difficult to navigate the city. We braved a first trip to the beach in the rain to visit Jumeirah Beach Resort. (We went back later in the sun, which was a surreal experience. You crossed the line of the sidewalk and suddenly felt like you were at a beach in Europe and that the conservative nature in the rest of the city was far, far away.)
But the time in the rain was worth it because it was followed by some of the most delicious vanilla bean pancakes (with date syrup!) I’ve ever eaten. Thanks Leopold’s of London! (And that’s saying a lot because Dan makes some pretty amazing pancakes.)
Laura also arranged for us and our niece and nephews to go dune bashing and have dinner in the desert. Dune bashing involves taking SUVs into the desert, letting a bit of air out of the tires, and driving up and down the dunes, sliding around, and hoping you don’t tip over. Thankfully the driver took it easy on, because that dune bashing can certainly bring up motion sickness that I didn’t know I’d get.
The desert experience also included camel rides, four wheeling, dune boarding, and a traditional dinner with performances by a belly dancer and whirling dervish.
I was most impressed by the whirling dervish. To not lose your balance while spinning around for over 15 minutes is impressive enough, but to do it while wearing over 100 lbs of costuming is even more impressive.
We even got to go kayaking in the mangroves in Abu Dhabi before visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque with our niece as our personal tour guide. She had previously visited with her school and taught us a lot about the mosque.
We also had the added bonus of getting to have breakfast with a good friend from graduate school at Sydney Uni and her parents.
But the best part of the trip was getting to see our family and be part of some of their activities, like reading a book to our nephew’s kindergarten class, going to my niece’s soccer tournament, cheering on the middle two at takaewando testing (the oldest is already a black belt – watch out!), watching movies together, and just getting to hang out.