Dream city on the sands

Costa Rica

Photograph and video - Gareth Huw Davies.

The Arabian fantasy

A FOUNTAIN tinkled in the central-courtyard of our own personal kingdom, deep within the Madinat Jumeirah resort. It is built like an ancient rambling Arabian town.
Shifts of private butlers hovered to answer our every 24/7 whim. A silent electric boat stood by to whisk us on a Venetian canal network to any of 41 restaurants. Armies of staff in enough colour-coded garbs to costume a Hollywood epic’s cast stood near to direct us through endless marble corridors. They work hard to keep you a willing prisoner here, in lounge after lavishly furnished coffee lounge and cocktail bar, with their very own souk, theatre and private beach. And when we finally had to quit this wonderful, wanton excess, noble African porters clad in royal blue were there to open our taxi door.
The writer travelled courtesy of British Airways,

Slope off to the shops

LET nothing surprise you in this town of such lavish ambition. Speeding down the indoor pistes of Ski Dubai, one of the largest ski slopes beyond the Alps, in the Mall of the Emirates, is no odder than riding its magic carpet ski lifts. Or hearing the muezzin’s call to prayer over the mall’s PA system.
If you have jewels embedded in your credit card - or even if you don’t - prepare to flash it here, in the 400 stores in the largest shopping centre outside of North America.
There’s retail relief in a 14-screen cinema and 65 restaurants. For the authentic end of the shopping spectrum, take a taxi (about £10) to the five separate souks (gold, perfume, textiles, electronic and spice) crammed into a maze of alleyways on both banks of the creek in Bur Dubai.

Cross to the other side ... for 1/2p

LOOK behind the gilded tower blocks of boomtown Dubai, and you find the original village, a trading post on a creek on the edge of the desert, just like it was, still welcoming the argosies of the world. Linking two bustling banks is a river crossing. I will remember it with the awe I reserve for the Hong Kong, Staten Island and Mersey ferries. We paid the daydream price of 1/2p each and squeezed into a gap on the bench seats of the abra, the open-sided craft rather light on health and safety, for the four-minute crossing. We jinked through ordered nautical chaos of medieval proportions. But, sensibly perhaps, we and everything else gave way to a monster motorised junk with a cacophonous engine storming upriver. Click to see a video here

Study the high life

BY THE time you finish this article, Dubai will be an inch or two taller, as the non-stop building spree surges up.
So the drive from the airport is one to savour. Best time to arrive is at night, on an afternoon flight from the UK, when the city's psychedelic light show is at full wattage. It is a redwood forest of buildings, each one framed with a different colour neon, with workmen’s lights twinkling urgently on the ones still rising.
During the day, the construction to watch is Burj al Arab, one of the world’s few seven-star hotels, and tried to imagine who’s about to land on the heli-pad. Already the hotel is an icon: its elegant shape of a curving sail is a mental profile you store along with the Eiffel Tower, London Eye and Sydney Opera House. If you can afford it, book a table in the restaurant that protrudes from the top of the hotel. Otherwise, like us, just gaze up and marvel.

Sample some model Bedouin hospitality

UNLIKE the great cities of Europe, Dubai does not tell its story in its buildings. They are all too new. So even if you are only a bit curious about how this tiny emirate became the top success story of the troubled Arab world, push open the formidable iron-studded door of the Dubai National Museum in Al Fahidi Fort. Built in 1787, this is thought to be Dubai’s oldest building (entrance 2p).
Displays are lavish and entertaining. I liked the full-size mock-up of a perilous pearl-fishing expedition; and the recreation of the desert under the stars, portraying Bedouin hospitality , where wanderers are welcomed to a night of feasting and stories. In the nature section, look for the mini-mighty desert beetle.

Visit the garden of the Gulf

IF YOU have time for only one trip out of Dubai, head to Al Ain ‘The Spring’, 80 miles away (it is actually in the Abu Dhabi emirate, but the borders are open). The taxi fare is about £32 one way. It’s on an excellent four-lane freeway, cordoned with trees. While we fret about drought, here they are greening the desert, thanks to irrigation.
Al Ain is the ‘Garden City of the Gulf’, full of parks, tree-lined avenues, decorative roundabouts and traditional souks. The hot ticket is a camel race, a high octane dash with automated ‘jockeys’ that makes horseracing look like a country canter.
Finish your trip on a high with a visit to the top of mountain range Jebel Hafeet, (3,000ft), for the view at sunset.

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