The term “Middle East” defines a general area, that is, without precise boundaries. Most experts believe that it includes Saudi Arabia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Georgia, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Syria, Yemen and the Palestinian territories.
Our incursion into the 1001nights in the Middle East will take place this time in the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar.
The Orient has always been a fascinating attraction for each of us, perhaps because of its remoteness, or maybe because of its different culture or exoticism. I must admit that I have been waiting for an incursion in this world for so long and when I discovered an itinerary of a cruise ship that pointed out some of my “targets” in the Middle East I could not refuse the adventure.
So, I embarked aboard the COSTA DIADEMA, which offers the most complex, innovative and wonderful experience aboard a cruise ship. Just to give you some clues about the ship: it has a capacity of 3708 passengers, a crew of 1253 people and was built in 2013. The ship has 14 accessible decks, 2 pools, 8 jacuzzis and countless leisure options. On board the ship we find 1862 cabins, divided into 16 categories.
In previous posts I admitted that I like this type of tourism aboard a cruise ship. But, let me remind you that: a cruise is a vacation, an escape from everyday stress, a floating hotel where you have to unpack only once… A cruise offers the chance to relax and discover comfortable facilities, fine food, of impeccable service, of a vessel that changes the scenery only for its passengers… It is a carefree holiday and most importantly: it is an extremely safe holiday. Everything is within the reach of tourists and what’s more, there is always someone willing to help. A cruise offers excellent value for money, variety, a chance to discover new places, to meet different people, to make new friends, and, besides all this, it offers the ingredients of an unforgettable trip.
Back to my itinerary, it included: Dubai (United Arab Emirates)- Muscat (Oman)- Doha (Qatar)- Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) – Dubai.
So, my story begins in Dubai, where I was lucky enough to meet an extremely professional and friendly guide, Geo, (speaker of Romanian) who in the nearly two days of his stay in Dubai introduced us to a world of opulence, luxury, skyscrapers and contrasts.
Dubai was originally a small fishing settlement, which around 1830 was taken over by part of the BANI YAS tribe from the Liwa oasis, led by the Maktoum family, who still rule Dubai today. Dubai was under the protectorate of the United Kingdom during the 19th century. Dubai’s economy began to prosper after 1894, when Sheikh Maktoum Bin Hasher Al Maktoum began to grant tax exemptions to foreign traders. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Dubai was a settlement only 3 km long and 1 km wide, with most houses built of branches and palm leaves; only the houses on the water edge were built more solidly of stone. In 1908 there were 350 shops in Deira and 50 in Bur Dubai, specializing in trade with various products, which later became the modern bazaars. In the 1950s, Dubai’s prosperity increased with the development of gold trade, and in 1966 when oil was discovered, the emirate grew rapidly and this is where the creation of modern Dubai began.
Modern Dubai means skyscrapers, expensive cars, luxury hotels, and a cityscape that literally leaves you speechless. In Dubai something is constantly being built and it seems that we are witnessing a competition between the great architects of the world who race in mastery and inventiveness.
Our first stop in the tour of Dubai, flawlessly organized by Geo, was Dubai Marina.
Dubai Marina is a thriving district of Dubai, known for The Beach at JBR, a leisure complex with restaurants and sandy beaches for relaxation. Here you can enjoy luxury yachts that can be admired from the promenades of Dubai Marina Walk, guarded by cafes and craft stalls. In the evening you can try a cruise on a traditional ship – dhow where you will have an unforgettable panorama.
The tour continues with stops to see Atlantis The Palm and Burj al Arab. The two hotels are true jewels and emblems of Dubai. Atlantis The Palm located on the artificial island The Palm Jumeirah, the largest artificial island in the world, has the shape of a palm leaf and is composed of a 2 km long “stem” (central road) and 17 branches, joined by another circular road, it owns an incredible sandy beach and an impressive panorama over the Arabian Gulf. Tourists staying here have access to an aquarium, can swim with dolphins and can visit the largest water park in the Middle East. Burj Al Arab is known as the only seven-star hotel in the world (officially five-star luxury) and is in the top 3 tallest buildings in the world used exclusively as a hotel. This hotel is also located on an artificial island, 280 meters from Jumeirah Beach. The building has the shape of a sail, being inspired by the traditional boats – dhow. This hotel also offers tourists staying here access to the Wild Wadi Park water park.
And now it’s the turn of the most fascinating part of the tour in my opinion, the transition from modern Dubai to Classic Dubai with an abra boat. Even if crossing it takes about five minutes, it offers the chance to admire the traditional houses, towers and minarets and to reach the spice bazaar or the gold bazaar. The abras cross Dubai Creek, a natural saltwater canal that divides the city in two (Deira and Bur Dubai) and reaches the Persian Gulf. In my opinion, this moment was the most authentic and the closest to the oriental spirit.
The Gold Market or Gold Souk Dubai it is the place where you can see the biggest gold ring in the world, and the locals brag that more than ten tons of gold are for sale in the bazaar. Narrow streets with shop windows that shine with the richness of 22 and 24 carat gold are awaiting you here. The shops are open until the evening around 22.00. In its immediate vicinity, there is the Spice Market, a true symphony of colors, smells and tastes. Cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, saffron and turmeric are some of the spices waiting for you here! In the Middle East, perfumes are a real culture, so we can find here the Perfume Market, where extremely strong extracts are sold, including Frankincense, a strong natural essence, obtained from the resin of four species of trees, with deep roots even in Bible – it seems that Frankincense (which originates from “frank encens”, in the old French “quality perfume”) was one of the gifts made by the three wise men to baby Jesus.
The tour continues towards Dubai Mall, the largest shopping center in Dubai, covering an area of over one million square meters which also includes the Dubai Aquarium, the Olympic Skating Rink and the Dubai Fountain. Dubai Fountain, the highest choreographic fountain in the world, offers a captivating experience with water, music and lights. The fountain throws up to 22,000 gallons of water (84,000 liters) at a height of 140 meters. Each jet of water lit in colors swings to the beat of music, producing what has become Dubai’s most popular show. The show takes place every 30 minutes, every night, starting at 18:00.
From Dubai Mall there is another adventure awaiting: we climbed up Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world (so far … :)). The imposing structure is essentially made up of three sections arranged around a core. Seen from above, it follows the onion-shaped dome pattern that is often found in Islamic architecture, although on a much smaller scale. The 828-meter-high Burj Khalifa building has attracted visitors from all over the world since its opening in 2010. The Burj Khalifa brags with not one, but two observation decks – At The TOP, located on floors 124 and 125, as well as the highest observation platform (555 meters), located on the 148th floor.
During what was left from our stay in Dubai we chose to do a more adrenaline-fueled activity and we chose Safari in the desert. The Arabian Desert is the second largest desert in the world, after the Sahara. The program was very well developed and besides the fun with jeeps on the dunes we had dinner in a Bedouin camp in the middle of the desert where we had the opportunity to ride a camel, to try on the local folk costume, to make a henna tattoo, to take a picture with the falcons. During the delicious dinner we had an impressive show containing belly dancing, dervish dancing and flame swallowing. It was an activity that was well worth it and can be repeated any time!
The incursion into this special world began exactly as I expected: with a lot of gold and opulence, with the smell of sandalwood and strong perfumes, with the taste of dates and spices, with a fantastic combination of tradition and modernity, with life lessons that will leave a deep trace within me, with the desire to learn more about this part of the Universe. From here we go to Muscat, the capital of Oman. I’m waiting for you with my next story from the 1001 nights in the Middle East.