real life

A date with Dubai (and Gloria Gaynor).

Dessert wine? Pfft. Try desert champagne.

 

By KAHLA PRESTON

I don’t know about you, but five-star meals in the desert and intimate performances by Gloria Gaynor rarely feature in my travel itineraries.

An occasional restaurant meal and the odd night in a private hostel room (rather than the usual 12-bunk arrangement) is about as luxurious as it gets when I’m abroad. Bonus points if it’s a hotel.

So when I travelled to Dubai as part of the Qantas-Emirates partnership launch last month, I suddenly found myself in a world of fluffy hotel robes, fine dining and flowing champagne. Along with a small VIP contingent of Qantas staff, fellow media personnel and ‘friends of Qantas’ (i.e. famous people), I was spoiled rotten from the moment I arrived in Dubai.

Actually, I lie – even the trip to Dubai was a luxury.

As a rather tall person with limited flexibility, jet-setting, while exciting, is not a physically comfortable experience. However, being seated in premium economy – and then being upgraded to business class (!!) on the return flight – was an “aha!” moment. Who knew it was possible to sleep on a flight and not wake up with a debilitating case of pins and needles or a leg cramp? Revolutionary.

My two days in Dubai passed in an exciting flurry of press conferences, fascinating tours, mingling (a local souk merchant was convinced Hugh Sheridan and I looked so alike we were siblings. In fact, we could not look less related), fabulous events – and food. Oh, such delicious food, and an abundance of it. This is rather problematic when the words, “No, I shan’t have another slice of cake, for I am already full,” have never escaped your mouth. Even now, I think my body is still running on the meals I ate in Dubai. No regrets.

At this point, you may be wondering what Gloria Gaynor has to do with all of this.

Yes – Gloria Gaynor. I still can’t believe it.

In celebration of their new venture, Qantas and Emirates hosted a spectacular gala dinner in a giant, decked-out tent at Atlantis resort, with over 700 guests present. While I tried to determine which set of cutlery corresponded with each dinner menu item (confusing!), it was revealed that the two airlines had each selected a performer to entertain the crowd. Aussie representative Jessica Mauboy gave a fantastic performance, but there wasn’t a jaw in the room that didn’t hit the dancefloor when Gloria Gaynor strutted on stage.

Gloria. Gaynor.

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Until that moment, I’d had no idea what she looked like – or whether she was even alive. But I’m happy to confirm that yes, she is, and that at 63 years of age she’s still got it.

Anyway. Let’s talk about Dubai.

The Qantas-Emirates partnership means Dubai is a new stopover destination for Aussie travellers en route to Europe. If you ask me, you’d be crazy not to break up that 20-something-sanity-destroying-hour-long flight to Paris with a couple of days marvelling at the unique sights and experiences of this city.

Just because lists are fun, here are 5 reasons why:

1.       Everything’s bigger/taller/faster in Dubai

I have a sneaking suspicion Dubai is actually a creation of the Guinness World Records, because just about every structure within the city comes with a plaque naming it as the “world’s tallest/biggest/fastest”. Look, having grown up in Tamworth – home of the illustrious Big Golden Guitar – I’m not one to be easily intimidated or impressed by “big things”. Yet even I have to concede that, yes, Dubai is kind of eye-opening.

My introduction to Dubai’s Big Things started with my accommodation: the world’s tallest free-standing hotel, the JW Marriott Marquis. With 70 floors, 16 restaurants and spectacular views, I guess you could say it was a slight improvement on the grungy backpacker hostels I’m accustomed to.

However, Dubai is not content to just host the world’s tallest hotel. Oh, no.

The view from 124 floors up. Can you say “vertigo”?

I then found myself marvelling at panoramic views – and wrestling with my slight fear of heights – from the 124th floor of the world’s tallest building. Resembling a shiny cluster of drinking straws, the Burj Khalifa is basically Inception for world records. Within its 829m frame lives the world’s tallest nightclub, restaurant and mosque, along with the world’s fastest elevator, which propels visitors to the viewing deck in SIXTY SECONDS at 64km/hr. My ears were so enthralled by the lift’s rousing, Indiana Jones-like soundtrack, they forgot to pop from the steep altitude change.

Other records include the largest gold ring (64kgs, studded with 5.1kg of Swarovski stones) and the largest acrylic panel, in the form of a giant aquarium inside… you guessed it, the world’s largest mall. I’m sure the aquarium simultaneously holds the record for Closest Proximity of Sharks to Retail Shoppers, but curiously the people at Guinness don’t consider that an achievement.

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2.       The architecture is out of this world

There’s a reason architects and designers flock to Dubai simply to admire its buildings. The skyline is punctuated by futuristic creations shaped like sails, cargo ships and other unidentifiable objects – with many more still under construction – side by side with beautiful mosques. Be prepared to spend your entire trip gazing upwards with mouth agape (don’t worry – it’s an attractive look and not at ALL frustrating for the people behind you on the footpath).

3.       The shopping malls are on steroids

Not only do Dubai’s malls boast almost every major clothing store in existence – rest assured, MM readers, I undertook some very hands-on research in order to present these findings – but they provide some unique non-retail entertainment. A little bored of shopping? Why not go ice skating, or indulge in a spot of skiing? That’s right. The Emirates Mall has an indoor ski field. Because who needs the outdoors, anyway?

4.       Souk it to me

Well, if you do like to interact with the “outdoors”, a stroll through the historic district Al Bastakiya and the souks (markets) is a must – BYO poker face and fierce haggling skills. There are multiple souks, dedicated to gold, spices, clothing and fresh produce, with stalls manned by local merchants determined to convince you that a spangled pair of belly dancing pants, or perhaps a dead baby shark, is a necessary purchase. A word of warning: the meat souk is not for the weak of stomach.

5.       You can live out all your Lawrence of Arabia fantasies in the desert

According to my tour guide, if you visit Dubai and don’t venture into the desert, you haven’t really seen Dubai. So it would be a bit daft, really, to go all the way to the UAE and not get friendly with at least a small patch of sand. And trust me – you won’t regret it.

My desert experience began with 4WD voyage out of the city, during which I took approximately 139,074 photos of the sandy horizon and spotted several gazelles. Eventually, we stopped to enjoy champagne by sunset as the Lion King’s opening theme played (in my head, at least), before riding camels and dining on local produce.

So. Have you booked a ticket yet?

Kahla was a guest of Qantas Airways on the inaugural flight to Dubai.

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