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My skin registers dry and warm sensations, telling me that, once again, I have landed in a new world begging to be explored. Inhaling the dry desert air is unusual for me, though, even after having lived in Western Australia for quite a while. The desert-dust-infused air seems more intense here, more demanding, more fierce. My throat feels a little scratchy from it and I pull my water bottle out of my hand luggage, which is packed to the brim as usual, and take a longing sip of the lukewarm, life-giving water.
What is travel, if not the conscious decision to throw yourself in the deep end, to taste the waters of change, may they be spicy, bitter, sweet, pungent or, ahem, warm? My mind wanders off, which comes especially easy after a long overnight flight from Singapore with too many snoring guests aboard. Juggling a myriad of unknown sights, scents, and sweet nothings, I wearily step out of the bus and smack out into a crowd of industrious businessman, ladies in traditional Burka attire and a colorful melange of tourists.
“Instead of resisting to changes, surrender. Let life be with you, not against you.” – Shams Tabrizi, Persian spiritual teacher
Truly, it does take surrender to travel, I continue my train of thought, because you never know what´s around the corner – but that´s also what makes it so pretty damn exciting, right? The thrill of not knowing what to expect, who you´ll encounter, and which challenge you´ll have to (or have the blessing to) embrace next…. Talking of challenges: Here´s one – can you picture a mall with a gigantic ice-rink in it?
Give it a go while you walk with me into the Dubai mall, which showed itself very unimpressed by my (our?) silly little doubts as to its unfailing grandeur. Bare with me, friends, malls are normally not my favorite place to hang out either – but this one can really not be categorized as a mere mortal mall.
Just like the Middle East has a tradition of outstanding poets and philosophers that have gifted us with immortal poetry and wisdom, Dubai offers us its worldly counterpart and truly holds the title of global capital of superlatives. Want a little taste test of this?
Alright: Dubai, the city and emirate in the United Arab Emirates, home to 3,1 million people, is also proud presenter of the largest man-made island, worth a whopping US$12.3 billion. Excuse me, I think I just choked on my cinnabon! Also: It´s shaped in the form of a palm-tree and subsequently called the Palm Jumeirah. Dubai also cements its reputation as global city of superlatives through the existence of the world´s only “7-star-hotel”, the sail-like Burj Al Arab, an iconic world landmark.
People who are willing and able to cough up the US$1,200 plus per night can expect private butlers, 24k-gold iPads in two-story suits, the world’s largest chauffeur-driven fleet of Rolls Royce Phantom at their disposal, a helicopter-landing-place…and this pretty surreal list goes on!
If you currently can´t afford this, you can still enjoy the joys of the world´s longest automated metro system, when you hop on a Dubai Metro train. The theme song to this experience could be a rather futuristic one, as the Dubai Metro is fully automated, and no human drivers are present. At 46 miles/ 74 km long, it’s the longest automated metro system in the world.
And, of course, the Dubai Mall, which we are currently about to enter, is a big part of the Dubai superlative equation. Giving into our urge to explore the largest shopping mall in the world, we enter the 50 soccer fields big center of fun and decadence. Financial Centre Road; +971 4 362 7500; www.thedubaimall.com
At first, your eyes just gaze upon the spotless corridors with luxurious shops upon shops lined up next to each other, one expensive brand after the other inviting their prospective customers to a little spending-playtime. So far, so good (or bad, depending on which perspective you take on capitalism). Better remember that there is much more to the Arab peninsula than extravagant architecture and luxury-shopping-experiences:
“This wordly life is like a shadow. If you try to catch it, you will never be able to do so. If you turn your back towards it, it has no choice but to follow you.” – Ibn Quayyim Al-Jawziyya, medieval Islamic spiritual writer
Let´s turn a corner now, and turn slightly to our right -yep, you´ll probably need to look twice! Because you are witnessing people throwing themselves down a waterfall! What? Where is the security-personnel?! Ah wait…you didn´t have your glasses on. Phew! The “people” turn out to be artistic fiberglass sculptures of human divers, thank God/ Goddess/ fill in your higher-power-belief-system here for that.
Often featuring as a meeting point for the mall explorers, the so-called Human Waterfall (see, you weren´t so far off after all) turns out be a pretty impressive water feature that traverses the mall´s four levels and runs through the whole height of this Mecca for entertainment-aficionados. I´ll tell you one thing: I definitely stopped munching my cinnamon-infused doughnut when this fancy waterfall stopped me in my tracks! And that says something.
It even held my attention for so long that it was getting much too late to explore the 1200 shops including, and that one was a bummer, the world´s largest candy store Candylicious, and/ or the game center featuring a 3D bowling game. On the plus side, this time-induced Stop sign made me honor my conviction that its better to reuse and get creative than to support the endless story-of-stuff-cycle.
Anyways, we had to ask ourselves one major question at that time, when the clock showed that it was getting close to 22:30 PM. Were the 22 cinema screens and 160 plus restaurants calling us, was the amusement park seductively whispering our names, or was something completely different tickling our fancy?
I know, talk about too much-choice-induced- paralysis! You already know the answer to this one, my friend. Because, as opposed to me, you did your research before visiting – and are well informed that this Dubai shopping center of decadence also contains one of the largest aquariums in the world! Of course it did/ does.
Laying eyes on the aquarium as the clock strikes almost-midnight is a rather supercalifragilistic- expialidocious experience, to say it in the words of Mary Poppins. The 2.64 million-gallon-Dubai Aquarium itself is held in place by the world´s largest acrylic panel – and is home to more than 400 (hopefully not shopping-averse) sharks and rays and a total of over 33,000 marine animals on display.
After connecting with sexy sharks, pretty penguins, fancy fish and heftily-dressed-humans, it´s time for one last impression of Dubai´s glitz-and- glamour-world of superlatives – and it´s just around the corner!
As you might know, one of Dubai´s signature trademarks is its ultramodern architecture. The Burj Khalifa building is one of the icons of Dubai – and, yep, the world´s tallest building. 1 Emaar Blvd., Downtown Dubai, Dubai, United Arab Emirates; +971 4 888 8888; www.burjkhalifa.ae
At 2,716 feet/ 828 meters high (and worth US$1.49 billion) it can be easily accessed as soon as you step outside the mall. Come on, I am sure you will be impressed! You can snooze afterwards, I promise. The Burj Khalifa is that tall that its 164 floors make the rest of the city look like a miniature town!
If you fancy coming back here tomorrow and go to the top of the tower (with a fee), you can enjoy mind blowing panoramas of the city and Arabian Desert. If you aren´t a lover of hights, you can always catch a water fountain show, nightly at 7 PM, at the Burj Khalifa lake just outside the mall. Wow, talk about an evening of superlatives, hey? Well, I am off to the Burj Al Arab now. My butler just called. 😛
Healing tip: For inspiration on how to transform the way we make, use, and throw away stuff so that it is better for people and the planet, check out the fabulous Story of Stuff project.
Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever been to Dubai? What were your first impressions? If you haven´t been – which of the superlative-sights would you be most interested in checking out? As always, would love to hear from you:)
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