Dubai On A Layover
Updated: Jun 30, 2018
If you want to skip the whole story, the moral is that you should definitely leave the airport!!!
The last time I booked a flight to South Africa, I had the option to fly to Heathrow with a short layover, or Dubai with a 9 hour layover. I had never had much interest in visiting Dubai. Don't get me wrong, Dubai is an absolutely insane city, but it is a mirage. It is a city in the sand, that really began developing when oil was found there in the 60's but took off in the year 2001 with the construction of the "Palm Islands," three man-made islands surrounded by royal blue waters. The whole thing is completely artificial. The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa began contruction in 2004. Even though the actual city is several hundred years old, any evidence of its original history has long since been wiped out. Personally, I love exploring old cities. The glitz and glamour of new buildings just doesn't do it for me. That being said, it's Dubai! Where else can you see ridiculously ornate structures, Maseratis and Lamborghinis filling parking lots like Civics and Altimas here. Dubai is a city that you kind of want to see, but you don't want to commit a full vacation to it. I jumped at the opportunity to see it on a layover!
I started researching long layovers in Dubai but the results were discouraging at best. Yes, it's the Middle East and that scares people. 9 hours is also not a ton of time and when you're flying to Africa, you do not want to miss that connecting flight! I went back and forth on whether or not it was a good idea. I called the airline and tried to push the connecting flight back so we could spend a night there, but Ian (my adoring husband) brought the wrong passport to the airport and those plans went to hell.
We landed in Dubai around 9:00pm and decided to at least leave the airport for a nice dinner. After getting off of a 14 hour flight, we both needed to get out of the airport. We had to exit through customs and explain that we were coming right back. If you have not spent a lot of time in the Middle East, you need to mentally prepare yourself for customs. You know that uniform Saddam Hussein was always wearing in photographs? Yeah, that's what the customs officers wear. And then you have a few guys dressed in Sheikh attire with the white robes and checkered head dress. If you are an American, taught that Saddam Hussein was an evil doer, it can be a bit shocking to walk into a room wit a bunch of dudes carrying automatic weapons, dressed in the same garb. Now, Ian and I did have some difficulty in customs. We were "randomly selected" (I'm sure all minorities know exactly how this feels because TSA "randomly selects" people too) and pulled to the side. A man came over to search our belongings. It was made extremely clear that I was not allowed to speak to this man, nor was I allowed to approach our belongings. Right... I am a woman in a Muslim nation. My bad. When I say they searched our bags, I mean that they went through every single article that we had, while I stood to the side and Ian watched. We were both frisked as well. Eventually, we were released, but it took about 45 minutes to clear customs and the two of us were pretty shaken by the whole ordeal. Getting back in through customs was an almost identical experience. Just prepare yourself that it may seem a little frightening, but plenty of people in the UAE speak English and you will be fine.
We exited the airport into a warm evening with a light wind. Ian hailed a taxi and we went to Jumeirah beach (we had originally booked hotel reservations to stay the night, but the whole missing our flight thing threw that off). The driver was very friendly and I was allowed to speak to him. We drove through the glittering city, past the Burj Khalifa, and countless shops. The Jumeirah Beach Hotel felt remote compared to the rest of the city. There was room to breathe here. The hotel has no shortage of eateries, but I love eating al fresco, so we walked out the back where little cabanas were nestled into the sand, hookah smoke drifting through the air while waves rolled lazily agains the sand. After being on a tin can for 14 hours, anything would have been an upgrade, but this was exactly what we needed.
The beach restaurant was busy with people from all walks of life enjoying a night out. The server was very friendly and welcoming. We ordered a hookah (you can't go to the Middle East and not smoke hookah!), some bottled waters, and something along the lines of a sampler platter with dolmas, tabbouleh, hummus, and pita. The food was some of the best that I have ever put in my mouth. The ingredients were so fresh, lemony, and aromatic. We sat under the stars and enjoyed not being in an airport! After dinner, we walked down to the water to dip our toes in. We had the concierge fetch a taxi to collect us and take us back to the airport. We had plenty of time to get back for our flight and didn't feel rushed at all. Obviously, my original plan of staying in Dubai for one night would have been more ideal, but I am very happy that we got to experience a dinner on the beach, even if it is "fake."
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