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To the Infinity Pool and Beyond! On our own in Dubai

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It felt quite strange to wake up in a foreign country and see empty beds where the kids should have been sleeping. Of course we knew where they were, having fun with their cousins a few miles away in Mirdif, but it was still unsettling. We took advantage of their absence to skip breakfast and we took a cab directly to the Jumeirah Mosque. This mosque was on all the lists of the top things to do in Dubai and I have to admit I hadn't otherwise researched it very carefully. It seemed that as long as we would be in Dubai for a week we should probably visit the most famous historic and cultural sights along with all the ultramodern attractions.

Once we arrived at the mosque I was surprised to see how small it was, although it was an attractive building with a homogenous exterior of beige sandstone. It had a pristine appearance and I discovered that it had only been constructed in the 1970's, so it was far from a historic structure. The mosque can be visited only via their in-house tours which are conducted at ten in the morning and two in the afternoon every day except Friday. The tickets were sold in a separate building where there was also a small museum and a limited buffet lunch. I had prepared myself for lunch to be unavailable during Ramadan but to my surprise all their usual food was on offer and the tourists, generally European, were happily munching away. Eventually we received a welcoming speech from a British woman wearing an abaya and hijab but speaking in a rather strong regional accent, probably Mancunian. After some introductory words she took us outside past a photo-op guy with a falcon on his wrist into the mosque itself.

I noted with interest that a couple of tourists had chosen to wear shorts for their visit even though it seemed every reference I had seen to the mosque tour reminded the reader to cover shoulders and legs (and hair for the women). They were given kanduras to wear and I thought they looked kind of cool so I asked for one as well, although I was wearing long pants. Our tour proved to be a forty-five minute lecture on the principles of Islam, which although not completely uninteresting was not how I had hoped to spend our time at the mosque. The worst part was that when the British woman finally finished her speech some people in the group started asking very banal questions that they could have easily looked up on their phones. I was suddenly transported back to medical school where the professor would ask if there were any questions before the lunch break and we would all stare daggers at the class nerd who would inevitably launch into some annoying query anyway. We sat politely for as long as we could as one tourist after another eagerly displayed their thirst for knowledge of Islam until we were in danger of being late for our lunch reservation, at which point we made for the exit on our own. I was enormously thankful that we had decided to schedule this visit for our morning without the kids, who would have been enormously and rightfully bored. We concluded that Jumeirah Mosque was for the most part a tourist trap, a "showroom" mosque that had been skillfully promoted into a top cultural sight of Dubai.

One of the big ticket items I wanted to experience in Dubai was one of the city's famous infinity pools. My original choice was the Aura Skypool atop the St. Regis hotel which bills itself as the world's highest 360° infinity pool, but then I came across an article about the new pool atop a structure called the Link and I was in love. The Link is a cantilevered three story sky bridge between the two towers of the One Za'abeel development that had opened just two months prior to our visit.

Our taxi deposited us at the futuristic covered traffic circle in front of One Za'abeel Tower. Across the street from us was one of the city's original skyscrapers, Dubai World Trade Centre. When this ivory-colored Arabesque beauty was completed in 1979, virtually none of the buildings around us had even been conceived of. I couldn't imagine how different the city must have looked at that time. When I told the doorman we had reservations at the restaurant atop the link a concierge swiftly appeared to escort us through the lobby to an elevator. She was kind enough to take a picture of us against the backdrop of the lobby where the decor easily met Dubai's extravagant standards.

I hadn't been able to get a clear answer to the question of how to buy day passes for the pool. Attempts to make reservations online were rerouted to the page of the Japanese-Peruvian restaurant Tapasake which shared the rooftop patio. My queries over the internet went unanswered and I eventually called Tapasake and was told over the phone that our restaurant bill would be credited to the cost of the passes. Hoping for the best I had made a reservation at the restaurant for its opening time at noon. A tall blonde Russian hostess escorted us out onto the patio which seemed bright despite the clouds overhead. We had already become used to walking in the shadows of buildings on the ground level. From our table we could see more fantastic buildings such as the Etisalat Tower with its distinctive golf ball pinnacle as well as the iconic Dubai Frame.

The food at Tapasake was good although the menu prices were eye-watering. I decided not to sweat the check and enjoy our lunch, even though the hostess had advised me that the pool passes were seven hundred dirhams each and that we had been misinformed about the restaurant bill counting towards the price. I thought about simply taking a few pictures from the pool deck instead of jumping in the pool but the staff made it clear that without the passes we weren't permitted to pass the edge of the pool. We really couldn't see anything except the pool itself from where we were sitting, although that was very beautiful in its own right.

Once we'd finished our meal we had to make a decision about the pool. Was a quick dip and a few pictures of the skyline really worth two hundred dollars apiece? Once we had paid I hunted down the manager, a very pleasant Peruvian woman who had stopped by our table earlier. I asked again if it was possible to count our lunch check towards the pool passes, especially since there was hardly anyone in the pool area anyway. She replied that the best she could do was to give us the weekday rate of five hundred dirhams apiece. It was still quite expensive but at least they had made a gesture so we decided to go for it. As soon as we were able to relax on the patio I was glad I hadn't made the reasonable decision. The panorama of skyscrapers was absolutely spectacular, especially with the foreground of the rippled blue water of the pool. The only negative was that the pool either wasn't perfectly designed or wasn't completely full, such that the far edge was clearly visible which spoiled the infinity aspect. The water was quite warm and Mei Ling and I had the entire central section of the pool to ourselves.

Now that we'd paid our ounce of flesh we had rights to the pool for the whole day, but after less than an hour we felt that familiar restlessness of travel. We didn't have enough time in Dubai to spend a whole afternoon at a pool, no matter how beautiful the setting. We took the elevator down to a lower floor of the Link and found a beautifully configured space filled with elegant restaurants. Every new area we explored looked like a page ripped out of an interior design magazine. There weren't many people around and at one point a man wearing a suit caught my eye. He walked over to me and at first I thought I was going to be told we were in an area where we didn't belong, but instead he smiled and extended his hand. Youness turned out to be the manager of one of the restaurants and he wanted to extend a personal touch to a potential future patron. He was clearly Arabic and I thought I might be meeting my first Emirati but he was also an expat, from Morocco. Youness explained that the Link was part of a larger operation called One & Only at One Za'abeel, a hotel within the skyscraper that bills itself as an urban resort. One & Only is a worldwide chain of luxury resorts that is based in Dubai and is another arm of the company that operates the Atlantis resorts. Youness was very enthusiastic about his work at the Link and it wasn't hard to see why someone might be excited to be part of such a progressive and spectacular enterprise. I resolved that on our next visit to Dubai we would be sure to have dinner at one of the restaurants in the Link.

I wanted to reunite with the kids to see the sunset from the top of the Dubai Frame but that still gave us a couple of hours on our own. One item on my itinerary that I felt might work nicely into that slot was Dubai Design District, known as D3 to locals. This planned business district on the opposite side of Dubai Creek from downtown was just opened a few years previously and is part of an effort to position Dubai as the leader in art and design in the Middle East. In contrast to art districts such as its namesake Design District in our hometown of Miami, D3 had a distinctly artificial feel. A pristinely tiled grid of pedestrian streets was occupied by sterile glass-walled office blocks that seemed abandoned on a Sunday afternoon. The ground levels of the buildings were occupied by restaurants and high end boutiques that were also low on energy that day. D3 seemed like it was still a work in progress but for now it seemed like a place best suited for special events, with little to see on e regular day.

Art installations and murals were scattered throughout the area and some were quite interesting, but their appearance was more perfunctory than organic. A portrait of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Emir of Dubai since 2006, stood in the center of one street. When we got close to the portrait we realized it was composed of a series of layers with each level of darkness being placed at a different depth. From a distance it looked like a digitalized photograph but up close it was unrecognizable. The Emir's features were already easily recognizable to us as his portrait can be frequently seen around the city. He is the absolute monarch of Dubai so it is not surprising that his portrait is ubiquitous, but he seems to be generally popular among his subjects as his business initiatives have ushered in an era of remarkable prosperity for Emirati citizens.

Of all the buildings that grace the skyline of Dubai, the most visually astounding has to be the Frame. Completed in 2018, it challenges the very concept of what a building should be. Devoid of office or residential space, it is perhaps better described as a monument but it abandons all preconceptions for how a monument should look. There is no sign of a pyramid, obelisk, or monolithic human figure. Instead the predominant element of the Frame is the vast empty space whose contents depend on the angle from which the structure is observed. Even though I normally resist the urge to ascend monuments, there was no question in my mind that we should explore the Frame at the optimal viewing time of sunset. Now all that was left was for the kids to rejoin us. Cousin Ralph was feeling poorly again, or perhaps he just wanted to stay in with his beloved video games. That meant Drake would be escorting our three all the way from his villa in Mirdif to the Frame in a Careem taxi. I was somewhat anxious about this prospect but Drake kindly sent us a selfie from the taxi on the way over.

Once reunited I purchased the tickets and we waited on line for about a half hour to reach the elevator. I had expected worse and we arrived at the top level with a half hour to spare before sunset. The kids had fun with the transparent strip in the center of the floor that provided a vertiginous glimpse of the base of the Frame and the adjacent fountain.

Meanwhile Mei Ling and I took in the different perspectives on the city that the panoramic windows offered. We had a perfect view of One Za'abeel and the Link and it was hard to absorb that we had been having lunch and swimming on top of that bizarre horizontal block that very morning. From there we had looked out at the surreal sight of the Frame, and now we were in the Frame gazing back at the equally surreal Link. To our north was a more utilitarian area of office blocks with gleaming shops and restaurants on the ground level. The buildings were uniformly cream-colored and arranged in neat geometrical patterns. In the distance behind them we could see the towering hotels on Dubai Creek.

By the time we reached the ground level again darkness had fallen and the Frame was illuminated in deep red. We spent a few more minutes appreciating one of the most unique features of this remarkable city.

Now that we were all together again it was an opportune time to visit the Ramadan District night market. The only reason I even knew about this was that one of the kids had grabbed a free magazine at the airport which had a brief feature about Ramadan markets. After sunset on every day of Ramadan, Muslims traditionally break their fast with a large meal called iftar. A popular way to enjoy iftar is at a Ramadan market, which bears many resemblances to the Christmas markets that are ubiquitous in central Europe in December. We took a taxi to the Jumeirah Emirates mall where the market was being held on an outdoor ground level terrace. The mall was mostly empty with most stores already closed, but a robot coffee maker was apparently expected to be on duty twenty-four hours a day.

We found some cushions to flop down on and turned our attention to the food trucks which offered typical fast food like burgers and also some more appetizing fare such as Turkish grill. Besides the food trucks there was a sizable array of vendors selling designer clothing. Once the kids had finished eating I allowed them to get Thai rolled ice cream, a treat that has taken Asia by storm but we had only discovered a year ago in Xi'an.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the market was that it was located exactly across the street from The Museum of The Future. This museum is one of the most iconic and recognizable buildings in Dubai, not far behind the one we had just visited. The torus-shaped stainless steel building is decorated with Arabic calligraphy representing the poetry of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. For a variety of reasons the construction of the museum in the late 2010’s is considered to have been one of the most difficult architectural projects ever completed, requiring a substantial contribution from cutting edge computerized design technology. I originally had this placed highly on my list of Dubai sights and later deprioritized it after reading decidedly mixed reviews online. Or in the words of Drake, “my classmates say it sucks”. I had somewhat regretted the opportunity to examine the structure closely and now here it was right in front of us in all its glory, spectacularly illuminated in the darkness of night.

The museum wasn’t the only architectural marvel we were in close proximity to. I hadn’t realized it before but Jumeirah Emirates consists of twin towers that were among the tallest and most recognizable of the downtown cluster. I had already noticed them from the road and from the sky pool. The towers' most unusual feature is that their shapes are perfect equilateral triangles, another of Dubai's defiant challenges to architectural conventions. An even more obvious element of the skyscrapers is the eight-story cylindrical structure set into a large recess close to the top of each tower. The structure resembles a screw and makes each tower suggestive of an adjustable hardware tool, although I have no idea if that was the desired effect. We had come across the name Jumeirah several times by this point and a little research informed me that it refers to the coastal strip of Bur Dubai, which is actually quite far from where the Jumeirah Emirates towers are located.

On the other side of Jumeirah Emirates was another cluster of beautiful towers, so close together that they seemed to be embracing. The tallest was gold in color and resembled London's Big Ben, although there were no clocks within the circular centers of the pinnacle faces. This was the Al Yaqoub Tower which is also a hotel. Next to it was a residential building known simply as "The Tower" with a distinctive pyramidal top. On the other side of Al Yaqoub was a less eye-catching white building called the Capricorn Tower and after that another distinctive skyscraper called the Maze Tower with a dizzying maze pattern engraved into its facade. Seeing all four of these towers in such close proximity made me wonder if a few years in the future I might return to Dubai to see a solid wall of thousand foot skyscrapers lining both sides of Sheikh Zayed Road for its entire length, forming a man made canyon that would rival the cliffs of any fjord in Norway.

After the night market I felt everyone still had enough energy to visit a “food street” not far away which was named 2nd December Street after the anniversary of the UAE’s formation in 1971. Unfortunately the concept of street food in a modern city such as Dubai is more along the lines of cheap restaurants than the snack stalls we had become accustomed to on food streets in China. If we hadn't just eaten we might have found 2nd December more interesting but as it was we just had a ten minute walk back and forth and decided to call it a night.

Posted by zzlangerhans 11:05 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged road_trip family family_travel travel_blog infinity_pool tony_friedman family_travel_blog the_link jumeirah_mosque dubai_frame dubai_design_district one_za'abeel jumeirah_emirates

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