Sunday, December 27, 2009

How Old is Old Dubai??

It’s easy to come to Dubai and get caught up in the glitz and glamour of the place – I know I do on a daily basis. If you’ve only lived here a few years like I have it’s easy to forget that as few years ago, most of the skyscrapers weren’t here. It really was just a pile of sand. So when visitors come it’s nice to take them down to the older parts of Dubai, near the creek. (And when I say old, I mean 30 years old. Hardly ancient by our standards....!)

Bastakiya is a lovely area and one of the few places where you can see old-style houses and imagine Dubai ‘as it used to be.’ They were going to pull all the buildings down until a certain Prince Charles paid Dubai a visit and commented on how marvelous the area looked. Cue huge renovation project – and the end result, if a little too polished, is really lovely. It’s a small area and an intriguing maze of shady passages. I recommend booking a tour through the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding – without a guide to take you round you really haven’t got much of a clue what you’re looking at.

Our guide was a very lovely young lady called Khulood Al Atiyat. She took us all around the area, and then we stopped for coffee and had a chance to chat and ask her questions. Fascinating. I had to stop my mum from asking her what brand of mascara she used (she was stunning) but otherwise she took our nosiness with very good grace and chatted to us for a while about her friends, family, and life in general in Dubai. A very interesting morning.

After that we had a good rummage round the textile souk. As ever with places like this you do get a bit harangued by shop-keepers, but they’re generally pretty nice and not too intimidating. I have a favourite shop (at the very end on the right-hand side, if you’re interested!), where the staff are pleasant and they don’t mither you too much. Oh, and it’s huge. My dad is now rocking out a variety of Arab scarves and I have a couple of new pashminas to fight off the air con.

Next stop: an abra ride across the creek. I'm ashamed to say I'd never done this before! Abras for those not in the know, are small wooden boats which take people across the creek for the princely sum of one dirham (about 20p...finally, a bargain in Dubai!). If you're big on health and safety, look away now. They don't really moor the boats up so you have to fling yourself onto them from (my heart was in my mouth when my 72 year old grandmother launched herself onto it!). They're open sided and I didn't spot a lifejacket/buoy......and the creek gets a bit choppy at points.
Anyway, this is all forgotten once you set off. The breeze, the sunshine and the old boats that you sail past all combine to transport you to a different time and completely different way of life, all whilst still in Dubai, of course. LOVED it.

A quick sniff around the spice souk (dried lemons a big hit with the family) and it was time to catch an abra back across the creek and head home. As far as first days go, I think it was a good start to the family's holiday. I have to admit to struggling at more than one point. That's what yo get when you go out drinking the very night that you have to meet your parents at the airport at 3 am....and only get 3 hour's sleep before heading out. Whoops!

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