Since moving back home to Sydney three months ago I’ve made three key learnings:
- That I will never, ever, acclimatise to weather below 20 degrees again. Ever.
- Toum breath is actually not an unacceptable thing to have after a lunch break. Consequently:
- I miss My Shawarma more than I ever thought possible.
A couple of weeks ago I bumped into a former colleague who is just about to join the Aussie expat contingent in Dubai. It got me reminiscing about the challenges, the achievements, the incredible hangovers. So, here are 20 highs, lows and in-betweens – none of which I’d change for the world.
#1: Nights in Downtown
Few downtowns in the world are as on fleek as Dubai’s. This glitzy neighbourhood really reveals its personality at night. I loved balmy evenings walking the main boulevard lined by palm trees strung with fairy lights, the air softly scented with sweet apple shisha smoke wafting from street-side restaurants.
Bonus points to go Downtown for it’s high score on the Tourist Sights Scale: Dubai Fountain, Dubai Mall, Souk Al Bahar, Dubai Opera House and the modest Burj Khalifa are all in this area. If you’ve got a day to experience Dubai (and have a fetish for ticking off attractions), this is the place to go.
#2: Tea time in Old Town
Fresh lemon juice, cooling fatoosh salad and the shady courtyard of Arabian Tea House. A favoured escape.
#3: Creekside when we ride
An abra ride across Dubai Creek for Dhs 1. Cheapest. Experience. In. Town.
#4: Do you even polo?
Being a journalist in Dubai meant I got to do some pretty awesome shit. Going to Emirates Palace to ‘play’ polo was one of them. This auspicious occassion also marked the first time I ever sat on a horse. The horse could tell, which is why it spent most of its time trotting off course and enjoying what was essentially an afternoon off from doing whatever it is noble steeds normally do. To see our professional-polo-player trainer hold his head in his hands at the end of the session was a career highlight.
#5: Started from the warehouse now we here
It’s a rare and beautiful thing to witness the first stages of a neighbourhood’s gentrification. I’ve witnessed Al Quoz evolve from warehouse-industrial-where-hope-goes-to-die area to creative hub of galleries, cafes, street art, boutiques and festivals. In short: a hipster’s paradise.
#6: This one time, at desert camp
Camping in the desert. I wish we did it more than once. To head off-road, dune-bash past date farms and into sandy nothingness is thrilling. It makes you feel intrepid. Until, of course, you wake up next morning and discover you’re actually only a kilometre from a kitsch tourist camp site. \_[“,)_/
#7: Camel racing in Biyata
To escape the city and be reminded that small towns and villages exist elsewhere in the desert was so good for the soul. It was while en route to aforementioned campsite that we stopped at Biyata to watch some local dudes racing their camels.
#8: The desert
Anyone who says the desert is boring needs to shut their face immediately, jump in a car and head inland via Abu Dhabi to the UAE’s section of Rub’ Al Khali (Empty Quarter). It’s a place that needs to be seen beyond a camera lens. Few experiences are more humbling (nor more painful in the nether regions), than sitting on a camel with endless sand and sky ahead.
When you’re living in a place where the sun shines 95% of the time (aaaah farewell, permanent tan), you develop quite a discerning eye when it comes to sunsets. It’s prime time in Dubai, with the sky ablaze in pink and purple hues as the sun sinks into the Gulf and the city lights up behind you.
#10: Being elsewhere
I’ll miss the nomadic living that comes with being so conveniently close to 2/3 of the world. Those long weekends in Lebanon. Deciding late one night to fly to Georgia and booking tickets to fly out the following day. Giving your employer a week’s notice about a trip and having them be totally chill about it because #yolo and anyway, they’re travelling too.
#11: Park life
Towards the latter half of my desert stint, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. In short, it was the complete opposite of fun (FFS, if you’re suffering, talk to someone, pronto). Regular exercise is endorphin-inducing, so walking to this park became a evening routine and a daily activity I cherished. On weekends, the place lit up with a beautiful local market (ummm what did I tell you about that sunset?!). This sweet little oasis is very dear to my heart. The kids who used to zip all over the walking track on their hoverboards are not.
#12: The Metro
Dubai, SHUKRAN KTIR for your clean, efficient metro. And for the women’s section, mainly because I was always guaranteed a seat.
#13: Lunch break
Few people are as deserving of credit as the men and women behind Dubai’s iconic, ever-growing skyline. Most of the workers hail from the Indian subcontinent – as such, they are all fanatical about cricket. This pic was taken from my apartment balcony during lunch hour, and I should point out that it was 35 degrees outside. When it comes to their beloved sport, these guys do not have limits.
Do Emiratis even realise how revered their fruit is around the world? I found dates in the superfood/organic section of my local supermarket the other day for 30 AUSSIE DOLLARYDOOS FOR A TEENY TINY PUNNET. God, we had it so good. SO GOOD.
#15: The UAE’s secret safari island
I’ve raved about Sir Bani Yas Island already, and I’ve written about it countless times for various publications, but that’s because it’s an island resort home to free-roaming animals and it is an amazing conservation park. And so many people don’t even know it exists. My fave place in the UAE, hands down.
#16: Power of prayer
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is moving up the list of must-see sites around the world, and for good reason. The peace and beauty of the immense mosaic courtyard and elaborately decorated prayer hall have to be seen to be believed.
#17: Diwali in Dubai
Fun fact: Dubai is home to churches and temples because all religions are embraced there. It was while on a Diwali food tour that I got to visit the only Hindu temple in the UAE. To see it come alive during one of the most important religious celebrations is an experience I am so glad I had. The food was ace, too.
#18: Scents of place
Oud, the fragrance of the Middle East, is refined, aromatic and has more variants than I ever thought available. The smell wafting through shopping malls and the souk at opening time – mmmmhmmmm.
I always irks me when I read lists about the safest global cities and Dubai is never on them. I have walked around alone at all hours (yes, sometimes after a notorious Ladies’ Night) and have never once felt unsafe. On weekends and during school holidays, kids are out playing with their friends for most of the day. A city with that community feel is a rare find.
Expats make up 85% of Dubai’s population, so it’s normal to build up a UN network of friends. Our first Christmas as an expat family was a delicious mix of seasonal traditions. And just like every good holiday movie, we all learnt a valuable lesson: no matter what makes up your Christmas spread, food comas are universal.
Dubai, it’s been a hell of a ride. So long, and thanks for all the pens.