The Emirates: An Introduction

This entry is part 1 of 4 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 4 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 4 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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Abu Dhabi: Fun for all the Family

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series The Emirates

Although Dubai is currently the most popular Emirate, the capital Abu Dhabi is fast becoming a tourist destination in its own right.

This Emirate has plenty of rides and slides for the thrill seekers. Most of these are located on the man-made Yas Island, an up-and-coming entertainment destination. It boasts Abu Dhabi’s state-of-the-art Grand Prix circuit, the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi five star hotel, and theme parks. Ferrari World is a car lover’s dream. The car-themed amusement park is complete with a tyre changing show, a junior Grand Prix, a Ferrari gallery and even a play area designed as a car wash.

Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi. Photo © Michael Schindler

Yas Waterworld is the Emirate’s popular water park, an exciting adventure for everyone’s inner child. It is family-friendly, with a wave pool, vertical drops, a surfable wave sheet, a water fortress for young children, and group rides and slides, which cater to single riders and couples.   

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is Abu Dhabi’s colossal monument and its most visited attraction. Of course, it’s a frequented place of worship, but the Fatimid and Ottoman inspired landmark, constructed of Macedonian marble and furnished with mosaic tiling, attracts masses of tourists. Non-Muslims are granted access to all areas of the grand mosque, making it an enlightening insight into the architecture and religious customs of the Islamic faith.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, photo © Chris Mills

Another heritage site for tourists to visit is Qasr-al-Hosn. Being the oldest building in Abu Dhabi, it was originally a watchtower and was later converted into a fort by the royal family, who also resided in the Qasr-al-Hosn. Locals regard it as the symbolic birthplace of the Emirate. Those who want an experience of Abu Dhabi’s traditions should visit as there are plenty of artefacts on display presenting the region’s history.

Qasr-al-Hosn fort. Photo © Hsien-yang Tseng

Anyone in need of retail therapy can head down to one of the various shopping centers that Abu Dhabi has to offer. Between the two most prominent ones, Marina Mall and Abu Dhabi Mall, everyone’s shopping needs are catered for. Marina Mall has an ice rink, a Cineplex and many big brand stores.

Abu Dhabi is also a great place in which people can shop big names. The children’s play area “Kidoos” is perfect for families, and parents can continue shopping whilst their children enjoy hours of supervised fun. Arguably, the number of malls means that there is a risk of Abu Dhabi being compared to Dubai, its neighbouring Emirate which dominates the tourism industry in the region. However, the air-conditioned malls do provide a way for people to escape the intense heat and cool off.

Some may be surprised to find that the business orientated capital would have so many family friendly tourist attractions, but there are plenty to visit, making Abu Dhabi the perfect holiday destination.

Featured image © Ross Ruck

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