Saturday, January 8, 2011

Homeward Bound via Dubai - ONE BUY, TWO BI, GOODBYE DUBAI

Some Dubai video <<<<<<<<<<<<<<< Click here

Leaving Afghanistan is an emotional experience.  It is such a unique place. And, by definition, the visitor is worn out , a little dirty and especially a few days before Christmas, homesick.  Westerners were leaving in droves so all the systems were pressed to the hilt.  Safi Airways did a surprisingly great job.  You have to decide to go through Frankfurt or Dubai.  I chose Dubai and it was a great decision. Flights were canceled all over Europe due to snow and  Dubai is one of the most interesting places I have been.

I paid for airport transfers as part of my deal at Le Royal Meridien.  It is about a 25 minute drive so I figured the extra dollars were a break even.  I had no idea that my airport shuttle would be in a showroom quality brand new BMW with driver and hostess who immediately handed me clean cold wet white hand towels.  I wouldn't have been surprised if a plate of sushi had followed.  Coming in at night I got a sense of the skyline(s) of Dubai.  The hotel was great; on the beach, a bunch of pools and the best service I have encountered.
The View from My Room of the Most Luxurious Hotel
My Friend's Yacht Happened to Be in the Harbor

Side note on fancy places.  Dubai is home to the hotel reputed to be the most luxurious in the world.  Since I am not getting any younger and don't anticipate being a regular visitor, I figured, "Perche no"?  The answer to that question was cheapest room = $6,000. per night. I demurred. Saving over $5700 a night and receiving more luxury than I could imagine worked for me.  Coming directly from Kabul, Lower Satva (at Doe Bay Resort and Retreat) would have seemed like a Four Seasons.

Looks like a Mirage

The Dubai story is all about the architecture.  The entire city appears to have been built within the last decade and a half and money doesn't seem to have been a limiting factor.  And, notwithstanding the financial problems facing the Sheikdom, there were more tower cranes (by my estimate, nearly one hundred) than I have ever seen.  We thought we (in Seattle) got carried away with development during the boom,  but this eclipses our excesses by a longshot.

I was lucky to have lived in New York in the late 70's and to have eaten a few meals at Windows on the World in the World Trade Center, then the tallest building(s) in the world.  Since that is now a lifetime experience, I have always felt lucky to have experienced it. 

So, Dubai is now home to Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.  It opened in January.  Did I mention that I am a little afraid of heights? I am. But I know it is an irrational fear so I decided that I had to go to the top of Burj Khalifa.  I went to the Dubai mall which was the nicest mall I had ever seen; even nicer than Southcenter. 

 I had a few hours so I stalled.  Finally I went outside and saw the building..... My jaw dropped.  I looked away and looked back and my jaw dropped again.  It is bigger than life.  Oz came to mind.  I laughed and said no bloody way am I going up to the top.  It is so high, I couldn't really see the top and it was impossible to photograph in a single frame.

Side story about Bhutan, the Tiger's Nest and heights.  I remembered climbing up to Tiger's Nest in Bhutan with my daughter Megan just a few years ago.  I had been sick and was a little lightheaded and said, "Megan I don't really want to continue doing this."  She said, "Dad you will be so mad at yourself if you stop."  I was almost coinvinced.  The trail has huge dropoffs, is carved into the rock and needless to say, no guardrails.  Then a somewhat roundish Buddhist nun came along in her robe and fliplops more or less skipping back from the top so I persevered and have never regretted it.

Was I about to get this close to the tallest building in the world and not go for it?  No way. 

The Mall is a big distraction by the way, so it was easy to keep stalling.  Check out this fountain.

I headed for the ticket buying area in the mall.  The electronic signs told the sad story:
1:30 - Sold Out      2:00 Sold Out    2:30 Sold Out... etc...there was limited space at 7pm.  Was I off the hook?  Even so I would be grumpy about getting this close and not experiencing it (Over 3 times higher than the Space Needle.) 

I vaguely remembered a space available ticket.  I went to the cashier and asked the charming Dubai salesgirl.  "We only have VIP last minute tickets," she replied.  A ticket is 100 UAE Dirhams.  That is about $27.00.  A last minute ticket is 400 Dirhams.  You do the math.  Dilemma #2.  That is a rip.  I will not take more space than I would for 100 Dirhams; BUT, Was I really willing to miss out to save $75. that my kids would probably inherit which would only screw them up?  "I'll take a VIP ticket."


So now I was doing something I only half wanted to do and I was paying twice what everyone else paid. (I felt like I did at the Kabul Zoo when I paid $2. for a 20 cent ticket the previous week.)  The rest of the experience was cool.  The tube ride to the elevators had some really cool videos.  The elevator went 120 plus stories non-stop.  The views were incredible.

A couple last thoughts on Burj Khalifa:  There was a pane of glass that was missing.  They roped it off with those ribbon deals they use at the airport to keep people in a straight line.  There was a piece of plywood where the glass used to be.  This did not instill confidence.

  There is an outside deck at this level so I had to go out there. 

It was pretty cool but the scariest thing was going out there and then looking up.  There is basically another 45 story building above you.  I was dizzy.

I met a couple guys from Greece (MD's early in their careers) at the club in le Meridien.   They were eally nice guys, with whom I shared a few drinks, a few meals and some rather brilliant conversations.  I also swam in the Persian gulf which was perfect.  The weather was also perfect!