The Palm Jumeirah, take two

I went to Dubai six years ago, which made the UAE my 100th country at the time. Since then, I also visited Abu Dhabi, which was nearly as impressive as Dubai, but what Abu Dhabi has in malls and mosques, Dubai has in buildings and beaches.

the Burj Khalifa doesn´t even fit in the frame

I stayed on the very tip of the Palm Jumeirah, and getting there in a taxi is a bit indirect. First you head northwest onto the manmade, palm-shaped island all the way to Atlantis, before swinging around east and curving down south to the Aloft hotel. The coast on one side had windy, rough seas, with a perfect boulevard for marathon training, and inside the palm, we had a perfect, sandy beach with calm, blue water perfect for stand up paddle boarding.

catwalk at the Atlantis

I was there for a joint 60th birthday party, and we dined our way through some exotic meals. The food itself wasn’t the exotic part, but the locations – once we dined at Atlantis, strolling past an underwater world of sharks and Manta Rays, and another night at the base of the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world. It sparkled in the night sky, and every 30 minutes, the lit up fountains danced to music to make everything even a bit more fantastic.

champagne and sunset cruise

The other parts of Dubai were extravagant in different ways. Traveling around the palm and into the Dubai Marina by yacht with champagne in plastic wine glasses made me feel like a rockstar. The Waterpark on the Palm was endless fun, especially for adults, where we could finally run and play and splash around like children and feel normal. There were enough slides and tube rides to fill a whole day without ever riding the same ride twice, and going on an overcast day meant there were no lines and no chance of sunburn.

the waterpark, under Atlantis, and me and my Freewaters

It rained twice in the short time I was there, which was also fascinating. For a desert city in the Middle East, it was hard to imagine where all the water for the waterpark could possibly come from, plus the showers and pools of every hotel. But perhaps that’s the charm of Dubai, a mysterious mega city where nothing adds up, but it doesn’t really matter, because it doesn’t feel like a real place; how can a real-life Disneyland for grown ups really exist?

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#100: The United Arab Emirates

sunrise from the palm

It didn´t really feel like a desert or the Middle East when I arrived in Dubai. The city was huge, full of highrises and smog, water and palm trees, and Australians and Indians who were all called ‘Boss’. I was staying with my friend Brooke, who lives in a 52 storey high building of Emirates Air hostesses. From her apartment on the 46th floor, you could see the shiny glass buildings fade into a dusty desert, and from her boyfriends apartment on the Palm Jumeirah we looked down onto a Caribbean blue beach, so I never really figured out what the rest of the U.A.E is actually like. But, it was technically my 100th country, and it´s like no place I´ve ever been before, although I have a feeling Dubai isn´t exemplary of the rest of little Arabia.

me and Brooke under the Burj Kalifah

My main interests in Dubai were sun and heat, but you can´t really avoid the shopping culture since malls the size of Reykjavik are full of most of the tourist attractions. We went to one mall that had an ice skating rink and an aquarium in it. And this wasn´t just a tank with some fish, but an entire underwater world with sharks and sting rays in it that you could pay to go scuba diving in. When we left the mall, we walked outside to a mix of Venice, Las Vegas and Shanghai; bridges and canals stemmed from a lake with dancing water fountains under the shadow of Burj Kalifah, the tallest building in the world. The other big mall had a winter wonderland built inside of it, complete with a snowpark, snowslides, toboggan runs, 5 ski slopes and a ski lift, all kept at a cool -1° while temperatures reached 30°C outside.

We baked in the sun every day, and our evening shenanigans always involved a lot of Savannas and Australians. We went to Barasti beach bar, Dubais iconic nightlife destination for hundreds and hundreds of people every day. I had the most expensive meal of my trip at Meat Co., eating steak and Quinoa salad beside the lit up fountains dancing to Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you” and some Arabic songs that made me want to belly dance. We smoked hookah at a New York steak house that felt more like an all-inclusive Mexican resort restaurant, and had a 7 hour brunch date with 20 of Brooke’s friends who managed to eat more than 50 different entrees and appetizers over the course of the day.

paradise in the city

Other highlights were paddle boarding around the palm´s beaches, driving to Atlantis at the end of the palm, seeing the Palm from a highrise observatory, and finally believing the Burj Al Arabe is a real building. I really wanted to see a helicopter land on it, but no such luck. I also missed the Dubai World Cup $10 million stake race by half a day, so I have two reason to go back.