30 July, 2013
08 April, 2013
Yep, you read it right - we are headed to Dubai, the beckoning city of the United Arab Emirates that is working hard to make a name for itself.
Well neither of us have been to that neck of the woods before, and since we have decided to go, the friends and family we have told have had a wide variety of reactions. Everything from overflowing excitement to gripping fear... It seems to us that at the moment, the Middle East is quite possibly the most controversial place to travel in the world.
Dubai, a cosmopolitan city state on the Persian Gulf, is nestled right between Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Syria, and Palestine... The Middle East, an area known as a hotbed of violence, upheaval, uncertainty, religious fundamentalism, and ghastly gender inequality. Quite frankly, some people have told us we have to be downright insane for even considering the journey.
Well Dubai, the most liberal of the Arab emirates, would like to send a different message from the Middle East to the rest of the world, to paint a different picture... Having realized back in the 60's that their oil reserves would not go the distance, the Sheikhs (pronounced "shakes") began making strategic moves to open up their borders to international tourism, trade, investment, and enterprise, inviting foreigners to come and contribute to the growth of Dubai's economy. When the seven separate emirates decided to unite to form one country in the early 70's in an effort to support and bolster each other, and the United Arab Emirates (or UAE) was born. Dubai has also long offered itself up as a tax-free port. That's right, there are no taxes imposed on business or personal gains there, only on alcohol. Fair enough.
Today, this flashy gulf emirate is constantly touting it's newest architectural masterpieces and ever cultivating the tourist and expatriate culture that began there decades ago. In fact, the population of Dubai is now comprised of over 90% expatriates from approximately 150 different countries around the world. Some even estimate 200.
If you haven't heard much about Dubai yet, chances are you soon will... It is officially the fastest developing city in the world. 25-30% of the world's construction cranes are there on any given day, working on its non-stop projects in efforts to impress the world. And apparently it's working. Business is booming. Foreign investment is robust. In a city with a population of only 2 million, 27 new hotels have just opened in the last year.
"The plans for Dubai Inc are as ambitious as they are audacious."
Dubai's driving ambition and penchant for glitz are surely producing results - the world's tallest building, an indoor ski slope in the desert, a "7-star hotel" built on a man-made island, which also happens to be the world's tallest hotel, an archipelago of man-made islands shaped like continents of the world, and a massive palm tree-shaped island... Sounds crazy, right?
Well, it sort of is. What with constantly building at a feverish pace, round the clock air conditioning, the ongoing desalination of sea water, the shipping in of food, goods, and building materials from around the world, Dubai earned the title of the #1 most environmentally unsustainable country on the planet for the last 12 years, according to the World Wide Fund For Nature. In just 2012 Dubai made some strides that finally saw it to drop down a short fall to #2. And according to many, the social inequities are dizzying, some even reporting that these grand architectural feats are accomplished by routinely exploiting migrant workers from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and other subcontinent countries...
The accounts of Dubai are starkly contrasting. The tourists who love its beautiful beaches, vibrant nightlife, stunning architecture, adventure sports, extensive shopping and variety of dining options... The expats bragging that the quality of life is superb... The artists and performers who are so well taken care of there that they gladly return again and again... And the countless celebrities flocking to invest...
So what's the story?
Well, we plan to spend some time there. So we will engage with the local culture and see for ourselves... We will blog about our adventures in a land that's sure to be different than any we've ever traveled.
Curious? Stay tuned if you want to read about Dubai through our eyes. The food, the nightlife, the culture, and the expat scene... All that could prove to be fun, harrowing, confusing, inspiring, sobering (no pun intended), and truly revealing.
Dubai according to National Geographic...
This photo essay seems to well illustrate some of the contrasts and complexities of Dubai:
Photography by Maggie Steber
05 April, 2013
31 December, 2012
26 September, 2012
12 September, 2012
|The breathtaking Notre Dame|
We just left Belarus after two months and lots of fun with family and friends. A mere three hour flight brought us to Paris, where we had purposely booked a nineteen hour layover so we could see the City of Lights for the first time, and meet up with friends there whom we haven't seen for years. Well before long, we were living it up. Once we figured out how to find the Metro, how to buy tickets, how to make a call on a pay phone, and attempted to check our email, we were on our way to the city we've heard so much about.
After a forty minute ride on the well-designed train, which was a great experience for people watching and so refreshing after the homogeneity of Belarus, we got off at the St. Michel - Notre Dame stop to meet friends. So many different faces, shades, and languages! To be back in the midst of such diversity was like jumping in a cool pool on a hot summer day.
We had a stroll to find our friends at the beautiful Notre Dame, which was a lively hangout spot for all kinds of people; lovers taking in the romantic acoustic guitar, young people playing, laughing, having evening picnics along the promenade, tourists snapping photos, hip-hop crews doing their thing, grifters and drifters, everyone was there...
Our friends finally found us basking in awe of the scene, and we were off to meet another friend who had made a fine program for us that consisted of beginning with a champagne toast, followed by dinner at a classic French bistro, and after dinner drinks at a medieval cave-like bar that used to be a Russian cabaret. No complaints here!
|Us with our wonderful French hosts|
Everything was par excellence... Before long, we were sipping on Bollinger's Brut Rose in a cute Parisian apartment with a balcony overlooking the hip Latin Quarter, which is bursting with young international students having a good time at the plentiful bars and bistros.
Then it was off to Christophe for dinner. It was a classic place, and we went for it. Foie Gras, Escargot, Duck Confit... bring it on! Accompanied by what has to be the most delectable Chablis we've ever had. (They asked if the wine tasted different than the imported French ones in the States, and I have to say, surprisingly it did. Maybe it was even more exceptionally delicious after two months in Belarus, which let's just say, is not a wine country.)
|Escargot, the famous French snails|
|Duck breast and confit, best ever eaten|
Oh, what a night! From Brut Rose to Chablis, to Bourgogne Blanc, Bourgogne Rouge, Cahors... it was all superb! We spent some time walking around that warm night (we were told we came in time for the perfect weather), enjoying the bistro scene into the early morning hours, and having impassioned stimulating conversation.
The next morning we enjoyed an assortment of fresh croissants, fruit, and tea thanks to our wonderful hosts. We also took in more sights, famous architectural delights that just happened to be in our chock-full neighborhood on the way to the metro. We bid our friends adieu, and off we were to catch our flight to New York. Pity we had no time to go inside all the historical landmarks, churches, and universities in the area, but next time.
|St. Etienne Du Monde|
|The Pantheon, a historical shrine where many famous people are buried including|
Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Jean Moulin, Marie Skłodowska-Curie, and Louis Braille
|The Eiffel Tower is behind us, you just can't see it|
Charles De Gaulle is such a stylish, well-organized airport, and we had plenty of time to finish off our croissants (the best we've ever had of course) and find our gate. And AirFrance, complete with the best-styled flight attendant crew we've ever laid eyes on, was great to fly with as well. They even give you complimentary eye masks, mini VSOP Cognacs, and mini Camembert wedges (just in case you didn't try the French cheese on your visit I suppose, or even if you did, but we hadn't, so it completed the checklist.) (These are the kind of thoughtful touches that continue to set European airlines apart from American ones by the way.) The flight was only 7 1/2 hours to JFK. Not bad, for crossing the Atlantic.
Well what a difference nineteen hours makes! France truly wowed us, even more than we'd expected it to. Along with the warm reception of our French friends, the history, style, impeccable taste, and sensuality that ooze and emanate from this city make it irresistible to us, and we will make our way back soon. Wine country also awaits... Viva la France!
|Even the airport is beautiful in France|
As we've mentioned in a previous post, we like to make the most of our layovers. If you have to make a stop anyway, why not enjoy it and make it long enough to leave the airport? Especially if you have friends there or it's a place you've always wanted to visit, why not do so for the same price of the ticket? It's unorthodox so you might get a few raised-eyebrow reactions (even from airline professionals oddly enough), but it's a fun way to travel. Just make sure you have the airline check your bags all the way through (especially if they're on the larger side) because you don't want to hassle with lugging them around or even taking the time to store them during your precious layover time. You just want to get off the plane and go!