Follow contributing editor Ed Perkins as he embarks on a round-the-world "Joan Trip." (What's a Joan Trip? Find out in Take That Special Trip ... While You Still Can.) According to Perkins, "neither frequent-flyer miles nor people improve with age," so he's working off a bundle of miles seeing the world, combining places he missed over the years with some old favorites. Read the rest of Perkins' round-the-world-trip posts.
On my second day in Dubai, I decided to visit some of the city's most famous attractions and check out the local culinary scene. Here's an overview of my experience in the Middle Eastern metropolis.
Navigating Dubai is a snap. The Metro is very user friendly, with bilingual signs and station announcements in both Arabic and English—the latter in the pear-shaped tones of the best BBC reporters. The two-route system is entirely automated, like transit systems in Vancouver or Bangkok.
Cars are air-conditioned, of course. Trains have a special compartment for women and families and an extra-fare "gold" compartment where you can pay to avoid the crowding. Buy tickets from an agent or an automatic machine. Fares are based on zones. Stations are easily accessible, with elevators or escalators available from track to street level. In fact, I don't remember climbing a single flight of stairs during my entire visit.
The number-one visitor attraction in Dubai is that tall tower, the Burj Khalifa. Visits to the observation deck are timed. They depart every hour, and you can book in advance. When I booked, the signs noted that many of the tickets for visits the rest of the day and the following day were already sold out, although when I walked up to the counter, the trip leaving in 10 minutes was available. I suspect this may be par for the course, but don't count on it—book ahead if you can.
You start your trip at the visitor center on the lowest level of the adjacent Emirates Mall (Dubai's other main attraction). And given how easy most navigation is in the city, getting around the mall is a bit of an ordeal. Yes, there's a Metro stop labeled for the Mall and the tower, but it's far from the attractions, and walking in Dubai's daytime heat is not recommended. So you take a shuttle bus. The fare is included in your Metro fare, but the bus is incredibly crowded most of the time. And once you're there, it's difficult to figure out how to get back to the bus stop—you have to ask.
The food in Dubai is generally today's standard international menu, with more of an Italian slant than you might expect. The mall's several food courts are celebrations of round-the-world fast-food operations. You find the American regulars—Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC—and the rest, along with a bunch of Asian and home-grown local chains.
If you like a glass of wine or beer with your meal, you have to stick to restaurants located in hotels, as most other restaurants are not allowed to serve any alcohol. Fortunately, the lounge in my hotel offered ice-cold glasses of draft Heineken. All in all, you don't go to Dubai for the cuisine, but you can certainly find plenty of adequate food offerings.
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