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All these recent headlines remind me of my own unexpected trip to Dubai in early , three years before moving from the Washington, D. The surprise offer arrived at on a freezing Thursday afternoon — in the form of an urgent email from a New York public relations firm. Why not, I thought, browsing the itinerary and suddenly imagining that I was basking in the warm desert sunshine. Champagne Friday brunch at the Armani Hotel. Walking tour of Old Dubai and the spice market. But perhaps the wealthy emirate had gotten some soul, and besides, I was eager to escape — if for only six days — a brutal Maryland winter that was only just beginning.
With only 30 minutes to decide before the coveted spot would be offered to someone else, I immediately called New York and said yes. DXB, with its plastic palm trees, refreshing mist machines and fabulous duty-free shops, covers Even before entering, visitors walk past nostalgic scenes of Bedouins herding their camels; a donkey loaded with kerosene, and a blue s-era Land Rover parked next to a bustling tent market.
Nevertheless, the morning our little group stopped by, the Dubai Museum was crammed with Muslim tourists from the Philippines and Indonesia. Veiled young women in colorful scarves happily photographed each other among the replicas of wooden fishing boats and ancient cannons.
On Dec. Those five others — Ajman, Fujeirah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain — were known only to nerdy stamp collectors like myself who eagerly sought their colorful but ultimately worthless issues. Today, Dubai is a booming metropolis of 3. Thanks to its prosperous economy, the United Arab Emirates is today home to 9. Alex, our guide, has lived in Dubai for more than 30 years. Early the next morning, we were taken to our next appointment: the Bateel date factory , where employees from 52 countries work in a sprawling complex about 45 kilometers outside the city, packing chocolate-covered dates for export to fancy boutiques and specialty shops around the world.
We got into date chocolates because you have to keep re-inventing yourself if you want to stay in business. Of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, only Sharjah strictly prohibits alcohol, even in hotels. In the other six, tourists may consume freely in bars. But one place bursting with local color is the crowded gold souk, where we arrived via a motorized wooden dhow across Dubai Creek. In this ethnic marketplace are more than shops, nearly all of them run by Indian merchants.