2722 Feet

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Burj Khalifa. At 2722 feet, it’s currently the tallest building in the world, surpassing the Taipei 101 (which I visited in November 2015).

And it’s off we go again! This trip felt particularly well-deserved because we had planned to go in August only for a few unfortunate circumstances to push us to reschedule the trip to October. But, we are thankful we could still go, and the extra wait made us extra excited to finally take off.

As is often the case, my bizarre obsession with trying out the best airlines, coupled with my interest in selecting unique layover destinations, resulted in a booking on Emirates and a 10-hour layover in Dubai. Having never visited the Middle East, I wanted to have a small taste, even though I fully recognize Dubai is not necessarily an authentic representation of the Middle East I would’ve liked to see. But each trip is always what you decide to make of it…

Aboard the Emirates Airbus A380, it was a grandiose plane that had two levels. After seeing the Jennifer Aniston commercials featuring her drinking at the bar and waltzing through the aisles after having taken a glorious shower on board, I was definitely curious about how the first class seats would appear. But alas, the first class section and lounge were on the second floor so those of us sitting in economy couldn’t even take a look. For us commoners, the flight itself was pretty standard, though the aircraft was very nice and had a fun feature where the ceiling lit up into stars when they dimmed the lights. But the food was rather boring and there weren’t a ton of fun bells and whistles like on Singapore Air. Shortly after we took off, I realized I had left my raincoat at the gate – schoolgirl error to wear a new jacket on an international trip – so I had the flight attendant call back to the gate to see if they could find it but I don’t think she did because she never got back to me… The one observation we made was that they are super kid-friendly as the flight attendants brought over a ton of fun toys, gave the kids a ton of attention, and brought the kids their food first. Doug was pretty jealous.

After a 12-hour flight, we landed in Dubai in the early afternoon…soooo hot! The immigration process was super easy, we just waltzed right through with no fees or questions asked. I guess they are used to this.

A few people told us to check out the malls so we headed over to Dubai mall, one of the biggest malls in the world. Key highlights were a cool looking fountain, as well as a floor-to-ceiling indoor aquarium with sharks, turtles, and sting rays. We were amazed at how globalization spread to this area of the world – first seeing Wendy’s and Tim Horton’s on our way from the airport, and the mall had every American store and international designer represented. They even had a Cheesecake Factory! Of course none of this was of any interest to us but we needed to kill a little time before our reserved time slot at the Burj Khalifa.

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Aquarium right in the middle of the Dubai Mall
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Dubai Fountains outside of the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa. There’s a fountain show every night but we missed this.

Currently the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa initially broke ground in 2004 and, by 2010, became the worlds tallest building at 2722 feet. Over 12,000 people were involved in its construction. We took an elevator to floors 124 and 125 to visit the viewing platforms and got a 360 degree orientation of Dubai. It was a little hazy so we couldn’t see super far. You could go even higher but it cost twice as much so at $25+ a pop, we were good staying on the 125th floor.

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Futuristic 125th floor viewing area of the Burj Khalifa
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Birds’ eye view of downtown Dubai
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View of the Persian Gulf
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Modern Dubai in the front, old Dubai in the back
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Aerial view of Dubai Fountains
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Proof that we made it to the tallest building in the world!
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Making it legit. With the 6 foot spire makes it 2722 feet for extra measure.

We wandered around the area a bit, it was super modern and commercialized so we decided for a change of scenery and took an Uber to old Dubai. The change was night and day, as we went from an ultra-modern city to tangled narrow streets lined with old bazaars and frankly not a lot of tourists. In search of the abra, or water taxi, we headed towards Dubai Creek only to be overwhelmed and confused by the options. We negotiated with one to take us but he insisted on giving us a tour so we went down the creek to Dubai Park and looked at the contrast of buildings, old and new alike, before he dropped us off on the opposite side, at the spice souk. This was Doug’s worst nightmare as he isn’t good with aggressive salespeople (ironic given our occupations) but I really wanted to come home with some new spices. The options were dizzying and frankly overwhelming especially with a pushy owner standing next to you, so we smelled a bunch of wonderful spices and quickly decided on some teas and curry powders. Since the gold souk was close by, we quickly rolled through to have a look but it reminded me of the diamond district of NYC with a bunch of generic looking stores with no price tags, and we knew once we showed any interest, that would be a near commitment.
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Aboard the abra, or water taxi, on Dubai Creek
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Looking back at modern Dubai with the Burj Khalifa towering in the background
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Dubai Creek at sunset
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Spices of every color and smell abound in the Spice Souk
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Dried teas and flowers

So we walked onward, looking for a place to eat. For the record, there are practically zero options in old Dubai. Everywhere worth dining at was on the modern side of Dubai, inside a hotel and likely required a reservation, but alas, we were short on time and had to make do with whatever was nearby. We settled on a random Afghani restaurant that felt super authentic. Not sure if this was typical of Dubai but we had no other choice and hey, why not. It was definitely authentic, as we were the only tourists inside, everyone else was sitting barefooted and cross-legged in a traditional style on an elevated floor. The food was ok, we didn’t know what anything was so we pointed at photos and hoped for the best. Doug had a lamb kebab and I had spiced chicken kebabs of some sort, they weren’t too bad.

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Traditional chicken and lamb skewers at Kabul Darbar

Just like that, our 10-hour layover was quickly coming to an end so we took a taxi to the airport, grabbed a drink at a bar (something we couldn’t do in Dubai), and boarded leg #2 for the real part of our adventure to begin.

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