The Emirates: An Introduction

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series The Emirates

On the south east border of Saudi Arabia, bordering Oman and sharing the Persian Gulf with Iran, Qatar and Bahrain, seven emirates occupy an area of 83,600 sq. km formed mainly of dune and oasis-filled desert, rocky mountains and fertile plains. This small union of states, well-known for being home to one of the most luxurious destinations in the world — Dubai — has an interesting, perhaps less well known, story.

When I first visited Dubai in 2011, I remember being astonished at how young the city seemed. When I saw the remains of the old city wall, built in 1800, I thought to myself, that isn’t old at all. I wondered how this city, certain vistas of which made it look as if it had been plucked from a sci-fi film, had sprouted up in the middle of the desert. So I’ve decided to find out more about the tax free United Arab Emirates (UAE), where an estimated 7.8 million of the 9.2 million residents are expatriates, where alcohol is only permitted in certain buildings, and where you can allegedly leave your designer handbag unattended in public and nobody will touch it. Continue reading

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Bastakia: Art, Heritage and Crafts in Dubai

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series The Emirates

A stroll through Dubai’s Bastakia Quarter is like a stroll back in time, or a walk through a movie set. If you take the chance to step away from Dubai’s bustling, shiny shopping malls or its luxury beaches for a walk through this historical neighbourhood, you will find peace, beautiful architecture, and Middle Eastern art and heritage.

A beautiful mosque stands at the edge of the Bastakia Quarter. Photo © Kathryn Parsons

Bastakia in Bur Dubai is easily reached by heading to Al Fahidi metro station and walking up Al Satwa Road towards the creek. Once you reach Bastakia, immerse yourself in the area by walking around the tiny alleys and seeing what you discover! The neighbourhood is home to the Coin Museum, the Coffee Museum, various art galleries, craft shops and cafes set in sunny courtyards. Most of my purchases during my visit to Dubai are from Bastakia — there’s a wonderful incense shop where I brought some oud crystals for burning and an art shop where a lovely man wrote my name in Arabic and framed it. There are also shops filled with Iranian pottery, handicrafts and jewellery.

Often named ‘Old Dubai’, Bastakia is also home to the remnants of Dubai’s old wall, constructed in 1800 from gypsum and coral. The neighbourhood has recently undergone restoration and is now a completely pedestrianised heritage centre, so it’s a perfect, peaceful place to see traditional Middle Eastern buildings and visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Here you can also go upstairs for great views of the neighbourhood.

Shops, cafes, galleries and museums are hidden in the narrow winding allies. Photo © Kathryn Parsons

My favourite part of the Bastakia Quarter is the Arabian Tea House Restaurant and Café, and not just because the food is delicious — this courtyard café is dreamy! In my opinion, there’s no better word to sum up the atmosphere as you sit down under the white canopies amidst the trees and flowers, order a cool minty lemonade filled with ice, and enjoy your surroundings. They also boast a selection of over a hundred different kinds of tea from all over the world, and an impressive variety of dishes to keep you going throughout the day, from traditional breakfasts, to barbecue, to hearty salads and afternoon teas.

Mosaic graffiti spotted in Bastakia. Photo © Kathryn Parsons

One of the best things I found about visiting Bastakia was that it was an ideal place to visit with others or alone. I first went with a group of people, which was ideal for meandering around the lanes, checking out the art and enjoying a nice lunch — even if we did occasionally lose somebody to the next alluring alleyway or art gallery! But it was also great to visit the quarter alone. The second time I went, I was visiting my sister who worked in Dubai at the time, so I had a few days to entertain myself. Aside from being invited to lunch by two men on the metro who were on their way to their mother’s house, I spent the afternoon in uninterrupted peace walking round Bastakia. I got to spend as long as I wanted pondering the interesting graffiti, sampling the scents of each incense and, best of all, drinking coffee and writing alone in the serene courtyard café.

Featured image © Kathryn Parsons

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Around the World in Two Days

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series The Emirates

Global Village is the fastest way to travel the world.

…Not literally, of course,  but this seasonal, cultural extravaganza allows you to visit most of the globe within a few hours.

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