Dubai: Land of Wild Imagination

I’ll be honest…I really didn’t think I would like Dubai. I had conjured up images in my mind — of women forced into wearing hijabs, afraid of making eye contact…and me, getting myself thrown in prison for being a loud-mouthed American female.

Dubai is nothing like I expected. It is fun here…there’s no other word for it. Women run around town in mini-skirts, shorts, designer dresses and high heels. Gastronomy and shopping here are Olympic sports. What’s more, the architecture and man-made islands here are simply unbelievable.  (As a Fine Arts professor, I’ve used several of the architectural achievements here in my classes for years as examples of the kind of breathtaking architecture and construction that are possible given enough imagination, attention to detail and unlimited funds.)

My husband, Leon and I visited Dubai twice in two weeks: the first time was for a client meeting that Leon had to negotiate — and the second, a short vacation with my close friend Leesy and her two kids (our godchildren).

Our first visit was nothing short of perfect. We arrived on Sunday at around noon, and Leon went to a prep session for his client meeting the next day, while the hotel driver took me to the Dubai Mall to spend the afternoon. I wandered around the huge mall for a bit and then met up with Indu, one of my friends from Kalari Rasayana. It was so lovely to see her in her own element, looking so happy and beautiful. We sat for a long while at Angelina’s Cafe where we chatted over perfect French croissants and cappuccinos. Then she left to do some shopping for her new granddaughter while I went to the 10,000,000 gallon aquarium for a “behind the scenes” tour.

After his meeting ended, Leon joined me in the mall, and we ambled over to the 7pm “Dancing Fountains” show in front of the Burj Kalifa. The show was beautiful and fun: all sexy Arabian music and dancing waters. Then we made the loooooong walk around the fountains to the Armani Hotel (located inside the Burj) to have dinner at their Italian restaurant there called “Ristorante.” While sitting in comfy, overstuffed chairs on the terrace there, we watched the fountain show once more, this time from three floors above with the Burj itself rising 160 stories up…behind my chair. It was one of those “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this is happening” moments that you never forget.

As if that weren’t perfect enough, the hostess of the restaurant suggested that we go to the Atmosphere Lounge to enjoy the view and have a couple of signature cocktails. She got us reserved seating and ushered us to the private elevator that leads to the highest restaurant in the world (on the 124th floor of the Burj Kalifa). They gave us a table with an incredible view…the city lights laid out like a flying carpet at our feet. It was the most easy, laid back, beautiful night we’ve had in years. If any of you have the chance to go to Dubai, do yourselves a favor and copy this night exactly. It is heaven…absolute perfection.

The next day, Leon had his big meeting so we split up again, each to do our own thing. I got to meet my friend, Jan’s beautiful Italian wife, Rosenda, for lunch. (I can’t believe that after spending a month in a hospital in a remote section of India, I flew to Dubai within two days of my discharge, where I got to hang out with TWO different new friends that I had met through that same hospital. I mean…what are the odds?!?!?!)

Rosenda and I hit it off immediately. She is not only gorgeous, but smart, interesting, extremely loving and almost zen-like in her quiet calm. We had the best “Girl Day” ever: first a fun lunch at the only health food restaurant in Dubai, then window shopping for jewelry at the souq — where I found a gorgeous sapphire and diamond pendant that we both fell in love with. After admiring it a bit, the two of us went cruising over to the Gallery Quarter to wander through gallery after gallery. Before we knew it, the day was over. What a beautiful “first date” with a new gal-pal.

The second time we visited Dubai was only two weeks later — when we went back for a long weekend with my close friend, Leesy, and her two children, Zach and Maddie (our godchildren) while they had a two-day layover after visiting us in India. We stayed in the Atlantis on Palm Island as the kids really wanted to spend a full day at the water park. It was a total zoo there — completely packed with people from all over the world. Leon and I tend to favor small boutique hotels that are quiet, elegant and far less crowded, but the Atlantis was all about service, and the kids loved it, so all in all, it was great fun.

The first thing we did when we arrived was eat a burger — the first beef I’d had in seven months (since moving to India) and every bite was heaven! Then…all five of us piled into a touring jeep and went on a Desert Safari.

Let me just say that a desert safari is pretty much the perfect way to spend an entire evening having fun with your best friends, and that’s exactly what we did. Leesy, Zach and Maddie are our family, and we all squealed and giggled our way through the evening together. We played and laughed the entire night — doing what I believe might just be the perfect adventure tour of Dubai. The safari started with something called “dune bashing.”  That’s where they drive the jeeps kamikaze-style…right at these 50-foot high sand dunes and then climb over the top. While you’re at the top, the car starts to tip over the edge, and you can’t see anything on the other side. It feels like you are about to fall off a cliff. (The jeeps, thankfully, have roll cages, but I think that was more disturbing to me than comforting!) There is sliding and slipping and sailing through the air…and a lot of screaming (at least from all of us!)

Then we went to the camel farm to look at the baby camels with their moms. That was pretty adorable. After a short break there, we piled back into the jeeps and headed over to the private camp (complete with actual plumbing in the middle of a desert). My first stop was the camel rides. I ran, really ran, (like a little kid) to be the first in line. That was one Bucket List item checked off — first thing!

Once we had settled into the tiny, private city, Leon and our godson, Zach, went sand-boarding. Both did very well. Leesy and Maddie signed up to have their hands painted with beautiful designs in henna while I made friends with a falcon under the watchful eye of his handler. After a bit of wandering around from shop to shop, we all sat down for a beautiful dinner under the stars. At around 8:30, the live stage show began, and we capped off our evening complete with a whirling dervish, a fire-eater and a belly dancer…A marathon of fun!


The Burj Al Arab is the only seven star hotel on the planet. Frankly, I never thought I’d even see it in person, but my friend Indu and her husband, Kishore are members there so they invited us to dinner at Scape, the hotel’s beautiful poolside restaurant. All I can say is that the entire experience was once in a lifetime, and the company was the best part…by far.  Leon and I had the most wonderful time. After a gorgeous dinner on the outdoor terrace, the manager took us on a tour of the infinity pool area, the private luxury cabanas and the lounge area (complete with sand they import from Saudi Arabia because it’s heavier and won’t blow into the pool in the wind!)

After a good look around (and quite a few vacation photos taken by the manager) we took the gold-plated elevators up to the “Gold on 27” cigar bar to get a quick look before settling into the retro “Sky Bar” to have one last nightcap with our friends before saying goodbye. Dinner and drinks in a seven star hotel…Wow. Talk about a fairy tale night!

The most wonderful thing we did on that visit though was to go snorkeling in the huge aquarium at the Atlantis, stuffed to the gills (pun intended) with 65,000 tropical fish, 22 sharks and four different species of sting rays. Swimming with zebra sharks, grey reef sharks, bowmouth sharks, and giant guitar sharks simply blew my mind.

At one point, I felt something graze my hair and looked to my left where a three foot zebra shark was looking me right in the eye…ten inches from my face. I laughed so hard I had to bob up to the surface to catch my breath. Then the guide did the same thing. He and I laughed for so long that Leon popped up to ask if something had gone wrong. Nope…just laughing at the three foot zebra shark making eyes at me in the man-made lagoon…in a resort…in Dubai…on the coast of the Persian Gulf.

You just can’t comprehend any of it, so you laugh at the overwhelming disbelief of your life in that moment. And to see all of these gorgeous varieties of stingrays swimming next to and just beneath you as well…wow. Eagle rays, cow nose rays, marbled rays and cow tail rays just lazily floating past you as you lie weightless in the water. What a charmed experience.

On our way to the airport, Leon told me we were stopping at the jewelry shop where Rosenda and I had found the beautiful sapphire necklace that she and I had fallen in love with. Long story short, he bought it for me. Now, whenever I look at that beautiful, artisan pendant around my neck, I will be reminded not only of him, but also of my beautiful friend, Rosenda who helped me pick it out, her husband Jan, my friend Indu, my “sister” Leesy, our godchildren and the magic of the amazing city of Dubai. So many memories from one tiny jewel. My own personal treasure from the land of the sheikhs.


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