Every year, Richie’s company hosts a global energy conference; usually it’s in a location with some sort of ties to the energy industry, and about every other year, it’s somewhere outside of North America. Last year’s conference was in good old Houston, TX, setting up this year’s conference to be somewhere a little more exotic 🙂 I don’t think anyone was more excited than Richie when the Firm (I feel like I’m in a John Grisham novel when I type that) announced that the 2012 conference would be in Dubai. He regularly watches those “how it’s made” or “build it bigger” shows, and he’s been fascinated by the stories of how they built the Palm Islands, the World Islands, and the Burj Khalifa. It’s been on his list of places to visit for a number of years, and while I honestly didn’t care too much about the number of world records being broken by this city, I did love the fact that the temperatures were going to be nice and warm in the middle of November. So, since the Firm was paying for Richie’s flight and hotel to attend the conference, it was an easy decision for me to buy a plane ticket and tag along.
The conference was held at the Atlantis hotel on the Palm Islands. It holds, among other things, a water park, a dolphin adventure, an aquarium, and probably close to 15 restaurants. In other words, it’s massive, and you never have to leave it to do anything you want to do. This was a great thing for me, because my infamously sensitive stomach, plus a sleepless flight that landed in Dubai at 6 am local time, meant I didn’t really feel well enough to be adventurous. I spent most of my days lounging by the pool for 8 hours, book in one hand and frothy drink in the other. The abundance of beach umbrellas meant that I never even had to wear sunscreen and didn’t get burnt at all.
When I got sick of the pool, I changed it up a bit and went 50 meters down to the beach.
After being in the cold, sunless days in Budapest (the sun sets at about 4 pm right now, and average temperatures are around 40˚F), I was in heaven.
I did escape the resort for a few special adventures. My mom’s cousin Lynda moved to Dubai in the 1970s with her husband, and has five children that are all around my age. The one closest to my age, Manar, and Lynda picked me and Richie up for dinner at a lovely little cafe while we chatted about family matters and learned a little bit about life in the UAE. I’d only met Lynda once before, at a family reunion when I was a little girl, but they were so welcoming and friendly that I felt like I’d known them for years. I didn’t think to get a picture taken with them, but Richie’s already mentioned going back to Dubai for a “real” vacation (apparently it doesn’t count when you’re indoors at work meetings most of the day), so we’ll hopefully get to do that and spend more time with them.
We also visited the Dubai Mall, which, with over 1,200 retail stores and 160+ food vendors, is the world’s largest mall. Manar said that she actually hated shopping there because you’re so exhausted from crossing the whole thing. And my gosh, she wasn’t kidding. It was massive. I loved that all of the stores had the shop names in both English and Arabic, and the Arabic words matched the colors/fonts of the English logos as much as possible.
I was really struck by how westernized the UAE is. There are so many foreigners living and working in Dubai (one statistic that I heard was that less than 20% of the population is UAE nationals – the rest are foreign expatriates) that everyone must be fluent in English in order to get by. All signs are in both Arabic and English, and pretty much any store you wanted from the U.S. is available at the mall, such as Pottery Barn, Bloomingdales, Skechers… even Texas Roadhouse.
It struck me that Dubai, despite being in the Middle East and being much further from the U.S., was far less “foreign” to me than Hungary is. In Hungary, it’s not at all uncommon for a shopkeeper, a cashier, a taxi driver, etc. to not speak English; most signs are only in Hungarian, except for menus which are almost always in both Hungarian and English; there are very few American stores. In Dubai, while I was in the mall, I could almost forget that I was in the Middle East, with the abundance of American stores and English surrounding me. Only the occasional abaya-covered woman and Arabic lettering reminded me of where I was.
The Mall is connected to the Burj Khalifa, which is… you guessed it… the tallest building in the world.
We paid the 100 dirham (about $30) to travel to the lookout point, which was 124 stories up. The building itself is 209 stories (163 usable, plus 46 maintenance/utility levels in the top of the spire), so there was still a LOT of building above us, and still I felt like I was ridiculously high up.
Later that night, the Firm held a gala at the base of the Burj Khalifa, right next to the Dubai Fountain. To the dismay of most of the attendees, the evening was the beginning of a religious holiday, meaning no alcohol was allowed at the gala (and thus meaning this was the first Firm-sponsored event I’ve attended in 7 years that was alcohol-free). It was sort of amusing to see how quickly people left after dinner. I sipped my pineapple juice and enjoyed the view.
Our flight home departed at 1:55 am, and we had a little time to kill at the airport, so we wandered in the duty-free stores and grabbed a quick snack, where I saw this gem:
Yes, Dubai truly has everything.
It’s good to be home in Budapest, but I do already miss my swimsuit and beach towel. Sigh.
Our next trip will be my first trip back to the U.S. since we moved! We’ll land in Houston on December 15th and make the rounds to Dallas, Belton, and possibly Austin if I can talk Richie into it 🙂 I want to see as many people as possible, so if you’ll be in Texas for Christmas, let me know if you want to meet up!