Getting around in Dubai

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Dubai is very much a city designed for cars. Unlike a lot of places in the world, which see reducing their dependence on cars as progressive, in Dubai there is still a lot of status attached to owning your own set of wheels. To be able to visit all of the city, you will have to travel by car at some point. If you want to venture outside of the city and into the desert, access to a car is a must. The roads are big, more than six lanes each way in some places. The driving isn’t the best I’ve ever seen, nor is it the worst. And as making offensive signals or swearing at other people is illegal and punishable with imprisonment, at least road rage from other drivers is unlikely. I was lucky to always have other people driving me whilst I was there, so I didn’t have to concentrate too much on the road, but the network of highways and streets seemed very over-complicated. I couldn’t decide if this was intentional to make Dubai seem bigger than it is, or just a result of bad planning. Either way, driving is still the easiest way to get around Dubai. That being said, there are other options. If you are not able to drive yourself, there are lots of taxis available to transport you. You don’t even need to phone them. As it’s so unheard of to walk anywhere in Dubai (although possible and actually quite enjoyable in some places), as soon as you start walking anywhere on the street a taxi driver will stop and ask if you need a ride. It’s like some magic sixth sense they all have to let them know where the pedestrians are in the city. You can also use Uber, but the regular taxis are cheaper and just as efficient. Be prepared to get your own sat nav up on your phone, though, a few of the taxi drivers I encountered didn’t know where they were going and needed directions.

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If you don’t want to pay out for taxis and drivers all the time, there are public transport options in Dubai. The metro opened in 2010 with the red line that runs 52.1km through downtown and right up to the airport. The green line, which covers Bur Dubai and Deira, was added in 2011 and covers 22.5km. Although you are limited as to what you can access with the metro, it’s a very efficient service which I hope they will expand in the future. The regular carriages feel just like travelling on the underground in London, although here you are on an elevated track with good views of the city around you. The carriages can be just as crowded as in London, although you’re unlikely to get shoved and pushed as much because it’s also considered an offence. One Indian man accidentally touched my hand when we were holding onto the same pole, and looked petrified when he realised. He apologised profusely, but I assured him it was fine. As there has to be a VIP version of everything in Dubai, there is also the option to travel Gold Class. This is a separate carriage at the end of the train that has bigger seats and usually more space. It will cost you twice as much for the fare, but it’s still not expensive. The big advantage I found whilst travelling Gold Class, as recommended by my friend, is that you get a great view out of the front/back window. You can buy a top-up card at any of the metro stations, the staff are generally helpful and overall it’s an enjoyable transport system. There are also local buses and trams in Dubai, and although I didn’t hear of any problems with either network, I didn’t use them whilst I was there.

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By far my favourite form of transport in Dubai is also, apart from walking, the cheapest. For only 1 AED (about 20p) you can catch an abra across the Creek to Bur Duabi and Deira. It feels like there are hundreds of the little, motorised, traditional wooden boats waiting along the creekside to ferry people back and forth. They leave once full, about 20 passengers, and you find yourself bunched up with group of workers as you skim along almost at water level. It’s only a short journey, but one I would definitely recommend as something you have to experience in Dubai. You can also charter your own abra by the hour, although they’re so small I can’t imagine you can do much on them other than sit still and watch the views go by.

If you would like to see more of my travels on the public transport network in Dubai, including videos, please visit my Facebook page Sasieology.

 

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The Architecture of Dubai

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Prior to seeing Dubai for myself, I had heard many different accounts from various people who had been there. They differed wildly, but now that I have been there myself I agree with all of them. Dubai is a place of contradictions, where cultures and styles clash unapologetically. This is no more evident than in the architecture. It’s like a group of ten year olds have  been let loose with the worlds biggest bucket of Lego. In Dubai, if you can dream it, someone will probably let you build it.

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Huge skyscrapers of every conceivable shape and made from glass and steel house apartment blocks and hotels. Other hotels are built to look more traditional, their clean designs and too-perfect attention to detail making me feel I was in Las Vegas rather than Dubai. There is a definite obsession with building the biggest and the most impressive. If any other city tries to compete with Dubai to build a taller tower or a more expansive shopping mall, I’m sure they’ll immediately retaliate and go one further. This is where the boundaries of architecture are pushed to their most extreme limits.

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I took lots of photos of buildings that caught my eye in Dubai, which was pretty much constant. It seemed to me, though, that no-one in Dubai is looking at the bigger picture. Each of these buildings is an impressive feat of architecture and construction, but there is no thought to how the buildings fit next to each other, or how the city works as a whole. It’s great that Dubai has attracted all these architects and developers, but I can’t help thinking maybe they should have brought in a town planner at a much earlier stage.

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The construction is ongoing, and with a huge desert to build on who knows what Dubai will look like in ten or twenty years. It’s going to be a long time before they have to think about knocking anything down to create more space. For now, if you’re prepared to accept the pedestrian crossings that lead to nowhere and routes that do anything but take you directly where you need to be, Dubai is a place that will make you look up and say ‘wow’.

Bur Dubai and Deira

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For the past few years I have been keen to spend Christmas somewhere hot and sunny. This year I finally got my wish when a friend kindly invited me to stay with her in Dubai.

There are so many different neighbourhoods and experiences in Dubai, I’ve struggled to decide how to break it all down into posts so I can share it with you. In the end, I decided to start where Dubai itself started.

Bur Dubai was the first part of the city to be settled. The contrast between this area and the much more modern downtown area of Dubai is evidence of this. Here, buildings weren’t built to make statements or to appear as pretty patterns from above, they were built for people to live and work in.

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Dubai Museum is a definite recommendation on my list of things to do in Dubai, and at only 3 AED entry for an adult (about 60p) it’s very affordable. The museum is housed in the Al-Fahidi Fort. Built in 1799, it is thought to be the oldest building in Dubai. Previous to educating and entertaining the many tourists that flock to Dubai every day, it was once the seat of government and residence of Dubai’s rulers. As with most of the more traditional buildings in Dubai, the museum is built around a central courtyard. Here you will find examples of old fishing boats and a traditional palm-leaf house called a barasti. The barasti has a great example of a wind tower, which is basically what local inhabitants used to survive the intense summer heat before air conditioning was invented. Although I visited at the end of December, it was still very warm in the middle of the day, and I was glad to escape the heat by exploring the inside exhibits. The museum is really well thought out, and teaches you all about different aspects of Dubai life right from when the area was first settled up to the recent building boom. It also answers lots of questions you’ll probably have, like how they acquire so much water in the desert.

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Deira, Bur Dubai’s neighbour on the other side of the Creek, also feels like another era after you’ve spent time in the other neighbourhoods. Even the modern metro stations have been designed to fit it with the older architecture.

If you like bartering with traders for spices and traditional clothes, Deira is the place to head to. Wandering through all the souqs and markets, the only thing I have to compare it to are the bazaars in Turkey. I think I must have been asked if I wanted to buy a pashmina by about 20 people in the space of 5 minutes.

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It’s also worth taking a walk along the Creekside in Deira and checking out the dhows (long, flat wooden vessels used in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea) loading and unloading.

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You have a few options of how to cross the Creek between Bur Dubai and Deira. The green metro line runs underneath the water, and ferries run between various points. My favourite mode of transport here however is the abras, tiny boats that take you across almost level with the water. I’ll talk more about all the transport options in a later post.