They call it Crocus Break here in The Netherlands. But let’s just call it what it really is – a week-long escape from the cold dark winter. Crocuses make one think of spring and new beginnings. As a Northeast girl hailing from Boston, and someone whose expatted here for a few years, way back when, I know those crocuses have more time left in the ground.
Piggybacking on my husband’s work trip to a warmer climate on another continent, we cashed in some of his well earned air miles and took our teenage daughter to Dubai – land of sun, sand, immense shiny wealth and artificial beauty. Making my way on to the Emirates Airbus 380, I realized this destination is very popular among Europeans, one of the closest guaranteed warm weather vacation spots, and just a little over 6 hours from Amsterdam. There are other crocus breakers here too.
From the moment we entered the enormous, beautiful, glitzy, perfectly climate controlled Dubai airport, after deplaning with 500 plus other crocus breakers and their small screaming children, we were in awe of the enormous shining silver columns reflecting all around as we waited in line to pass through immigration. Without saying one word to our immigration officer, who also had nothing to say to us, we found our transport and headed to our hotel.
On the twenty minute drive to Jumeirah Beach, it was impossible not to marvel at the myriad of uniquely designed skyscrapers rising up from the desert twinkling in colors of red, pink, purple, green and white in the cloudless night sky. Unable to stop searching out of each side of the car windows, past the loads of jaw dropping luxury car sales offices (McLaren, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley to name a few) I found it, the truly one of a kind spectacle I was looking for, the Burj Kalifah. Truth be told, it was Ethan Hunt who scaled this building on one of his impossible missions that sparked my interest in seeing this man-made wonder. It’s even more impressive up close.
When we reached our hotel on the artificial Palm Tree designed with reclaimed sand and sitting proudly in the Persian Gulf, I thought to myself, it’s not just the Dutch who know how to reclaim land. And in Dubai, they do it much fancier.
A little fearful after reading the guidelines to vacationing in the United Arab Emirates, I soon realized after talking to the many other vacationers who have gone before me that there was not too much to be worried about. Putting aside my real concern for possible arrest and incarceration for swearing, something I have been known to do from time to time, a few times a day, or showing public displays of affection, also something I do a lot of, or inadvertently using my left hand to hand something to someone, I started to relax on my vacation in the Middle East.
Dubai is truly impressive, a modern, cosmopolitan city and emirate. There is no way to miss the wealth oozing out from everywhere. Lounging on my beach chair at our hotel, facing the sun and gulf, my view to the left is bombarded with a futuristic cluster of awe-inspiring buildings. I feel like Jane, wife of George Jetson.
As if lounging for days on this beautiful beach was not enough to enjoy our time in Dubai, we decided to embark on a once in a lifetime adventure, an Arabian desert safari. Our guide from Uzbekistan was very talkative on our hour-long journey to the 87 square-mile Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve and informed us what it’s like to live here. Dubai’s population is made up of only 10% UAE nationals and the rest are expatriates here to work. It is a popular place for expats since there is no income tax and everyone speaks English.
We learned that the national sport is cricket, although football (or what we Americans call soccer), rugby and horse racing are also popular. A real surprise was when we stopped to see another popular sport – camel races. Camels run. They run with robots on their backs. Because children between the ages of 5 and 10 (who did not weigh that much) sometimes fell off the racing camels, robots were introduced as safer substitutes. Camels will not run without weight on their backs, and they cannot see who is on them anyway, child or robot. Camels are protected here in Dubai. In fact, if you accidentally hit a camel with your car, you are fined $100,000. If the camel is pregnant, you are fined $150,000. Good reasons to slow down in the desert.
You can choose between open-air Landrover or camel to ride on your safari. We chose to go by camel. Camels spit and bite so they wear a hand-knitted facemask. You can still hear them grumbling though, as they are guided to stand up or kneel down to get on and off them. On our hour long camel ride guided by our Arab host, we were transported into another time and world of the Bedouin nomads who trekked through this same beautiful sand.
After climbing/half falling off my camel, we enjoyed a falcon show as we sipped on delicious sparkling apple and date juice. Falcons are the national bird of the UAE, even though they are not native here. We watched a peregrine falcon fly, dive and hover while hunting its prey from the falconer it imprinted on since birth. Peregrines are the fastest animal on earth, being clocked at 180 miles an hour. This demo was over pretty fast.
Afterwards, we dined in an authentic traditional Bedouin styled camp made entirely from natural materials including stone, wood and goat hair. It was stunning, lit up with lamps and gorgeous pillows and Persian rugs under a starry sky. We enjoyed authentic Emeriti cuisine prepared by local chefs such as lamb cooked over 24 hours under the sand, marinated chicken kababs, assorted rice dishes, fattoush, Chubab bread and various deserts. We passed on trying the camel cooked in herbs and spices.
This weeklong escape to Dubai is one we will never forget. Waiting in line to board the plane back to the land of crocuses, a little sore from my camel excursion, more burned than kissed from the Arabian sun, I ask my husband when he must return to this beautiful place – for work. He just gave me that look. He knows I am hoping he has more air miles to share.