come in The entrance to the Palace restaurant, which takes luxury to the maxPHOTO: supplied
Dubai, a futuristic, architectural dream that – with its gold and mirrored high-rises that flirt effortlessly with the sun – stands far away from the reality of home.
The only way to describe this city is that it’s one filled with sheer opulence and decadence.
These factors draw people from all over the world to the city – such as the friendly hotel bartender who travelled from India to make money so that he’ll be accepted by his future in-laws and the young woman who arrived here a month ago and welcomes visitors with a warm smile at an amusement park. I realised after a short conversation that she was South African.
This is their reality away from the splendour and extravagance of the marble and gold.
In the world of politics back home, just the mention of Dubai has become synonymous with the wealthy and politically connected Gupta family, which has dominated headlines in recent times given their alleged influence over President Jacob Zuma.
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'Full of fun, but rather exhausting'
My two-day visit to Dubai earlier this year was full of fun but rather exhausting. Finally, I was experiencing the wonders of the populous country that forms part of one of seven monarchies of the United Arab Emirates. It brought out the kid in me.
The city was abuzz as my arrival coincided with the Dubai Shopping Festival, which brings people from all walks of life to shop till they drop.
I got to feast at The Palace, a luxurious eatery with its flamboyant draping, accessories and scrumptious buffet of Arabic and Eastern cuisine. Other dishes, such as Omani prawns, tuna, lobster and different meats are prepared in front of you as you wait at the cooking stations. The dessert was over the top.
And boy, was I happy to finally have a glass of wine. Strict rules apply regarding venues where alcohol can be sold, and it’s only served in selected hotels and private clubs. The child in me is let loose.
We visited four different sites in two days, which meant that, in a day, I easily clocked more than 20 000 steps - I know this thanks to my fitness watch.
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Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of the lucky guests who had a room with a view of the world’s tallest tower – the iconic Burj Khalifa, which is connected to the Dubai Mall – from my window.
My resting nest was on the ninth floor of The Roves Hotel, so I was able to watch the reflection of the sunrise in between tall buildings.
Below was a lush green park, which immediately awoke the fitness bug in me and I had the urge to go for a jog, which I would have done had I not been so exhausted after the eight-hour flight from Johannesburg.
We arrived at Al Maktoum International Airport at the crack of dawn and hurriedly checked in at the hotel at about 5.30am.
The hotel is right in the heart of the city and not far from the Dubai Mall – the world’s largest shopping and entertainment centre, which is also famous for its impressive indoor aquarium.
My day started two hours later with a long shower and a quick breakfast at the restaurant. A friendly Kenyan waiter offered me eggs after he scanned my plate of fruit, cheese and ostrich sausage with a mango smoothie on the side.
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I had a few bites and ran off in anticipation of what awaited. The first stop was a visit to Dubai Parks and Resorts, which is an enormous leisure park – the first of its kind in the Emirates – that caters for the young and old with three different theme parks, a water park and an entertainment zone.
I hopped on some of the 27 key rides, albeit rather reluctantly. The roller coaster was my worst nightmare and I couldn’t wait to get off. The last time I was on one was when I was about 12.
I avoided the adrenaline-pumping activities and opted for the multimedia park rides and media-based theatre show, such as a walk through the Shrek and Smurfs villages, not forgetting to hunt for ghosts like the famous Ghostbusters do - where superheroes live.
The next day, we headed off to IMG Worlds of Adventure, an indoor theme park that also offers a variety of food from the Middle East, the US and Europe.
With the capacity to welcome more than 20 000 guests a day, it opened in August in the midst of a theme-park boom in the region and offers many shops where children and their parents can browse and buy Cartoon Network and Marvel Universe merchandise.
For those who’ve saved enough and have money to spend, I suppose Dubai’s exhilarating skyline and experience awaits you.
For me, it was fulfilling enough to watch my niece nearly collapse when I gave her a Captain America watch for her birthday when I returned. She will probably be one of only a few in the world to own that specific timepiece.
Exploring Dubai's Global Village
Three whole hours is what you’ll need to end up walking triumphantly out of the massive Global Village in Dubai with a bag or two of authentic, bold-styled flair from around the world, all available at one location sprawling 1.5 million square metres.
The Global Village is a brightly coloured shopping, lifestyle and entertainment haven of surprises and now has a life of its own outside the Dubai Shopping Festival, which attracts millions owing to unbelievable bargains and raffles.
Open from November to April, it brings together snapshots of cultural extravaganzas from across the world in one massive, open-sky emporium. Over 75 participating countries are represented in over 36 pavilions, with more than 50 fun rides and 26 restaurants offering food from around the world.
Entrance is about R53, and if you’re prepared to walk, you’ll find interesting jewellery to embellish your body and exquisite, contemporary home decor that fuses the old and new. And, although some vendors sell similar items, they allow you to bargain to get an even better deal.
One piece of advice: dress appropriately and according to Dubai’s rules. One colleague got weird stares and was berated by another woman about her “short dress” as we entered. The dress was just above the knees.
Of all the pavilions, none is as colourful as the African Pavilion. You can’t help but be filled with excitement as you look through the beautiful Masai beadwork, Senegalese earnings, bracelets and oils from Uganda and Tanzania, and brightly coloured traditional kaftans and shoes from Morocco.
I was a little disappointed not to find South Africans showcasing our wealth of art and traditions. Maybe next season.
Disclaimer: Nhlabathi was hosted by Dubai Tourism
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