Cruise Specialists hosts Steve and Wendy Bodenheimer are continuing to share their journey with us from aboard the 2016 Holland World Cruise. Previously they shared the experience of navigating the Panama Canal, sailing the Pacific in to French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand and now they’ve reached Dubai.
After our 4 days at sea, we arrived in the fairyland that is Dubai for a two-day stay. It’s hard to describe how over the top this city is, but we’ll try.
We are in the United Arab Emirates, an association of 7 separate states joined into one country, much like the US, but on a smaller scale. Dubai is the second largest but has the biggest population of over 2 million. The discovery of oil here in the 1960’s changed everything. In a very few years, it has become known for its incredible feats of engineering and fantastic architecture. For example, Dubai is home to the world’s tallest building (the Burj Khalifa), the largest mall (the Dubai Mall), the tallest hotel (the J. W. Marriott), the tallest residential building, and the world’s most luxurious hotel (in the shape of a sail – the Burj al Arab). They have created such wonders as the Palm Island and the World Archipelago, which are man made islands off the coast shaped like a palm tree and the globe of the earth – fantastic when viewed from the air. Everywhere you look, there is one amazing skyscraper after another – all different. Work is underway on what will be the world’s largest airport with six active runways and a theme park called Dubai World that will be six times larger than Disney World. The world’s largest picture frame (building) is currently under construction. And if you want to ski in the desert, try Ski Dubai, a year-round indoor ski resort complete with lifts and slopes.
And still scattered all over this very spread out city are 750 mosques of all sizes. Only one is open to the public on a very limited basis – the Jumeirah Mosque. We were able to visit it on the outside, only because of our arrival time, but it was most impressive, like everything else we saw. Our visit here was part of a tour we hosted for our Cruise Specialists Guests. Only 13 percent of the people living here are Dubai citizens. Everyone else is here on work visas from all over the world. The citizens get free everything – schools, health care, even homes. The Sheik is very generous to his people, but you do have to be a native. There is no such thing as naturalized citizenship.
Our second day in Dubai was spent on a trip to Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the UAE, and a two hour drive away. Our important stop for the day was at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, largest in the UAE and one of the largest in the world. Everything here is on a grand scale – largest carpet in the world, largest chandeliers with millions of Swarovski crystals, accommodating 40,000 worshippers. Filled with marble, gold trim, and mother of pearl, it is a beautiful and serene atmosphere, even when filled with tourists. The dress code here is very strict. All women must be covered completely to the ankles, to the wrists and to the neck with a scarf to cover the head. Tattoos on men cannot be visible. We were all inspected before entering and a few of our Guests were given long black outfits to wear because their regular clothes were not acceptable. We also had a fabulous lunch at the Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi Grand Canal – across the road from the Grand Mosque. There were probably 100 items to choose from on an impressive buffet – a wonderful mix of Western and Middle Eastern cuisines – all delicious. We had time to look around the beautiful hotel and enjoy the grounds before returning to Dubai.
So we had two very memorable days in the United Arab Emirates. It would have been interesting to see the other five Emirates to the North. Next time!
On to the city of Muscat, in the Sultanate of Oman on the Arabian Sea. We are close to the Straits of Hormuz, that narrow body of water that Iran is always threatening to close. Oman, bordering on Saudi Arabia and Yemen, is an absolute monarchy ruled by Sultan Qaboos (pronounced caboose) bin Said. He orchestrated a coupe in 1970 against his father and ever since has brought prosperity and economic development to his country. There is oil money here, although not as much as in Dubai, but it has been used to improve the infrastructure, and increase tourism. You don’t find the big, gaudy malls and skyscrapers of the UAE. There is a beautiful dramatic landscape here as Muscat is surrounded by jagged mountains and lots of well preserved palaces and forts that are a reminder of the Portuguese influence of old.
Our tour in Muscat took us to to the Grand Mosque. Smaller than the one in Abu Dhabi, it is almost as beautiful. We actually like the main chandelier here better. Again, marble, crystals, gigantic woven carpet, gold plating, and the same serene feeling. The same dress code was enforced here. We also visited the Bait Al Zubair Museum, the Al Alam Palace (outside view only) and the well known Muttrah Souq.
The souq is a highlight for many as they wander the hundreds of stalls and bargain for local merchandise. This area is famous for fragrances, including frankincense. The scents can be overwhelming in the dark enclosed spaces of the market! Our afternoon was spent walking the waterfront area called the Corniche. Also in Oman is the southern city of Salalah. We were docked in the industrial port, about 14 miles from the actual city. This place is often referred to as the Garden City because of its lush vegetation but you couldn’t tell from where we were. No shuttle was allowed, so if one was not on tour, one would have to negotiate a relatively expensive taxi ride. In her pre-port talk, the location guide was careful to say several times that we would have to invest some time and money to get anything out of this visit. Fortunately, we did have a Cruise Specialists organized tour that took us to some interesting places. We did visit a small local farm to observe the coconuts, bananas, papaya, ginger, vegetables, and other fruits being grown for local consumption. A taste of coconut water and some fresh coconut meat were an unexpected treat. Then it was on to the Grand Mosque of Salalah which we could only observe from the outside. A small but beautiful building, our visit was on Friday, the Muslim holy day when no non-Muslim visitors are allowed. Of note is the 90 meter high minaret that stands out in an otherwise flat landscape.
No tour is complete without the shopping stop. This time we were at the Al Husn Souq where they specialize in the frankincense crystals of Dhofar. Then it was a 45 minute ride up into the mountains to the Tomb of Job. We had some great valley views and a chance encounter with a herd of camels coming down the road.
There were also a few camels at the tomb site, who could be petted and posed for pictures. Our Guests were way more excited about the camels than the tomb. But it was a very good tour and we got to see a lot in a half day, much of it from the cool comfort of our coach.
In the heat of the afternoon, we ventured our of the port for a steamy walk to get the two geocaches that were only a half-mile down the road. Is that dedication or insanity?
Have they sparked your wanderlust?
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