The low point of the desperately grim ‘Sex In The City 2’, was when Samantha (the old one) gropes her male companion in a classy Abu Dhabi restaurant, and gets herself arrested for public indecency. You might think the Emirates would want to forget a film, described by critics as “blatantly anti-Muslim” and “borderline racist”, ever happened. However, in between their multicultural mishaps the girls do shop. A lot. And in neighbouring Dubai shopping is king. I am walking around Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping mall, with over 12 million square feet and 1200 stores. Along with Lady Gaga, the ‘Sex In The City’ theme tune is being piped through the sound system, a soundtrack interrupted only by the Muslim call for prayer.
Outside it’s 40 degrees in the shade, so your days are spent shopping, spending and sweating. If you need to cool down, a beer in the one of the world’s most opulent (some say vulgar) hotels will set you back £40. You’re paying for gold plated coasters and Dubai’s restrictions on alcohol consumption.
This is my third time here. In the past I’ve visited The Palms, had fun in Atlantis and enjoyed the Desert Safari (about the only short excursion available). This time I was determined to seek out Dubai’s cultural side.
After the Dubai museum I headed to ‘The Creek’ - the river dividing the city, and paid about 25p for a wonderful, all too short, boat ride to the old souks of Deira. The Spice Souk has been there for generations with dozens of stores selling aromatic cloves, frankincense, and cinnamon. Five minutes walk from there is the Gold Souk where (apparently) you can find some great deals. From there I spent a couple of hours getting lost in the old streets, taking in the smells, sights and sounds. It’s a safe, fun way to pass a morning. And that, from what I can make out, is the end of old Dubai.
A 15-minute cab took me to the Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest man-made structure, at 828 metres. If you want to go to the top of here’s a tip: book your tickets online at least 48 hours in advance. You pay a quarter of the walk-up price of about £80. Is it worth it? I suspect many people, me included, think: “We’ve come all this way, we might as well do it”. The lift shoots you up 124 floors in less than 60 seconds and the views are pretty cool. Best time to go it just before sunset, so you see the city in both day and night.
And now here we are, back in Dubai Mall, which is right next door.
Like the film, Dubai seems vacuous, shallow and materialistic. It’s the cultural equivalent of eating a Big Mac: you know it’s not good for you and if you did it every day you’d be sick – but once in a while, it’s fantastic.