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June 17/18th

The Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building as of 2010, at 2,717 ft, with 160 floors. Dubai holds over 60 world records and this building is no exception (in fact, so many that the Guinness Book of World Records set up a satellite office in Dubai). It cost $1.5 billion and was built in a record 6 years by workers from over 80 different nationalities. We had to go to the top.
As some of you may know, I (Kimberly) have developed a moderate fear of heights in my 40s, so it took some overcoming to make it to the outdoor observation deck for this picture (see how “tiny” the massive skyscrapers behind us look!).
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Earlier that day, we visited the Jumeirah Beach Park and went swimming in the hella hot and saline waters of the Arabian Sea. It was fun, but definitely not refreshing. We have no photos, because photography is illegal on the beaches in Dubai.
Dubai is a pretty nutty place – 85% of the workforce are expatriots – so you have 100s of different nationalities living as guests in a country that was founded only 40 years ago (1971). They are still searching for an identity, but with more money than they can shake a stick at. We spoke to several workers throughout the day (mostly from Pakistan) and asked them how they like living in Dubai and they said “It’s great! It’s safe!”. I suppose, at our core, after food and water are taken care of, feeling safe is a basic human need that many of us westerners take for granted. My feeling of safety was definitely challenged looking down through the floor to ceiling windows on this view:
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Big thanks to Mom and Dad for the fantastic visit. The kids got a little taste of the middle east, but nowhere near as authentic as it was just one generation ago. Only time will tell where the never-ending development will take them. If you are an architect, Dubai is your playground. If you have an idea for a tallest, widest, shortest, longest anything – then come lay your claim – I’m sure you can find a sponsor here.

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We headed to our final destination in the UAE, Dubai, I can’t believe we only had 2 days left.  

Lets see, we trekked in a desert, surfed, rafted, shopped, ate, water slided, went 150mph on a roller coaster….what else did I want to do here? Oh yeah, go skiing!

If you have not heard, yes you can ski in Dubai. We went to the mall to see the people enjoying the winter wonderland inside while it was 110+ degrees outside, having a large feeling like it would be fun we skipped on this. Next time, next time.

 

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I don’t know about you but I always dreamed of a souk as a mystical place where camels and shady characters roamed around under huge mazes of tents.  A place where you might still find Aladdin’s lamp or run into Indiana Jones. We headed off to the Spice Souk, followed by the Perfume Souk and finally the Gold Souk. What we found was not what I dreamed.

San Francisco is famed for its Fisherman’s Warf. Have you been there? Yes, it is a massively historical site and picturesque to a fault.  But at first glance all you see is rows and rows of cookie cutter restaurants, souvenir stalls and touts selling Segway tours. Well that’s what I thought of the Souks. I was more than a little disappointed as we bolted through the mostly new structures with new canvass tents. It was like Stanford Shopping center with some kitschy stalls. Needless to say we did not stay long.  On the bright side, there was a massive amount of gold packed into those tiny shops.

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As traveling does, you learn to trust your instincts and look for the sunny side of the street. Since we were in the area already we decided to poke our heads into one of the oldest building in Dubai and the oldest school.  We soon found out that they aren’t really that old as we looked at the signs and discovered our house was built around the same time, but hey come on look to the sunny side remember. The historical house and the school were both gems. It was like opening a box of ice cold chocolates. Each place had about 10 doors centered around a courtyard, inside each door was either a diorama or some cool photos or short films about life back then. Each room was also air-conditioned to the hilt. Imagine walking around in 110 degree heat all day with your kids. Then you walk into a one room museum that is cool and clean and quite, your kids and you have a sudden lust to read all the placards and just stare at all the displays as the sweat dries and leaves cool white salt rings on your clothes.

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After the “cool” history lessons, we headed back out into the streets.  This particular district is much older than the rest of Dubai and the streets twist and curve around like the Arabic writing.  I have not seen Chai Wallas since India, but there were lots of them here. Also lots of people with huge wheel barrels for moving goods. This seemed like the engine of Dubai, where the real people toiled and worked. Not part of the machine but the actual metal, the people were sweaty, hot and dirty like oil. The people were walking with fever and purpose as goods were being purchased and sold all over. One street would sell only womens shoes “wholesale only” plastered on the store fronts. Another street sold only rice, another TVs, all with the “wholesale only” signs on display. I did not think anything of it, until we got to the river front.

Big old boats lined the river front, 3 to 4 deep at times. The boats were being loaded with boxes and bags of everything imaginable. They seemed extremely unsafe and way too loaded down. “Where are these boats going?” I asked someone. “To Iran” I was told.  Ah…now I understand why all the stores said wholesale only.

 

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It’s hard to believe we have been in the UAE for almost a week and only eaten at restaurants and malls. If you know us, we like street food! When we exited the old Dubai area and saw what looked like a great chance to get some real fresh squeezed fruit juices and shwaramas we jumped at it. The tables were on the street corner of what seemed like a 14 way intersection.  The customers were from Pakistan, India, Arabia, Africa…then us. The food could not disappoint.  It was delicious.

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Feeliing like explorers we ended our day by jumping on the river bus to cross the river. “why are we on this boat” aksed Soleil. “So we can see what we can’t see from land” I told her.

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Fathers Day started off as most other fathers days of years past. A leisure breakfast, followed by some hugs and kisses from the kids, a few lovely cards and of course the wife asking “what would you like to do today? Its your day.”

George and myself had made a few plans for everyone to visit the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi in the morning and then a few of us would head off to more fun.
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It was the first time my kids had ever been into a mosque and they marveled at the stone work and huge amounts of marble. It was strange for us to, all the famous mosques I have ever been in have been old. Ancient in many cases, but this was new. The lights were LED, the doors were sliding electric and even the clocks were digital. I could not put my finger on why, but it was strange to be in such a holy place and it be so new.

The UAE has oil and lots of it. The oil translates into loads of money and keeps the country very very comfortable. Land is the other thing vastly abundant here in the UAE. So what would you do?….build the worlds fastest roller coaster? Hells yeah. Enter Ferrari World, you wanna feel what 0-150MPH in 4 seconds is like? Check out the video on this page. (http://www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com/en-gb/attractions/formula-rossa.aspx)
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Yes you have to wear goggles, yes your cheeks are blown back, yes your mouth blows open so wide that bugs fly into your mouth and all the saliva rolls back down your throat, but it’s a total thrill. When the roller coaster stops, there is water shot onto the wheels and parts of the track to cool them. Sure it’s 110 degrees outside, but the damn wheels need to be cooled after each time the cars are run, its fast! This was by far the best roller coaster we have ever been on. So we went twice.

But why stop there why not build a massive water play area where you can surf, kayak, raft and zipline too? So, after the roller coasters, Kai, George and myself headed to the middle of the desert and into the 115 degree heat to play in the man made water oasis (http://www.wadiadventure.ae/). We arrived just in time to be briefed by our Nepalese rafting guide. I felt like this might be the real deal on the water, why else would you have a world class raft guide at your disposal? After a few drill with 5 us in the boat in a flat calm water area, we were ready to run the gauntlets. Most white water rafting trips start with a car ride or a long hike to put in at just the right spots, not here. We paddled over to the conveyor belt and while in the raft, went up to an area where some massive pumps were clearly sending lots and lots of water down a man made river. The actual run was a blast, especially since I got tossed out of the boat twice! The first time I hit the water I was laughing and then I thought “this is real”, I was rushing down the river with my feet up in front of me and bouncing off rocks. The second time I got tossed out the boat George and Kai were in the water too. A little concerned that Kai would be scared, I quickly swam to here to make sure she was ok. When we climbed out of the water and onto the river bank, she was grinning ear to ear. “That was awesome!” was all she said. That’s my girl.

I had to miss the last 30 minutes of rafting as my surfing appointment was about to start. So strange…my surfing appointment? I ran across the park to the wave machine and fake beach. I grabbed a rather short surfboard and proceeded to paddle into the line up with 5 other guys. If you have ever surfed you know that the swell comes from far far away and a large part of surfing is being able to judge when and were the swell will break and paddling to put yourself in that right spot. All the time there are others trying to put themselves in that particular right spot too. Not so in the wave pool. You line up between a drain and a sign that says 2.5Meters, so close to the wall that I found it easier hold onto the sign with my hand. Your sitting in totally calm water and then suddenly a wave appears about 50 feet away and you turn to the beach and start paddling like mad to catch the wave. The wave itself is about 6 feet high and has a fun drop in, but after that its sort of weak and shapeless. But still, you just surfed a head high wave in the middle of the desert in a massive pool!
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Have you ever wanted to test your fears? Try an airpark. Kai and George did. An airpark is a ropes, logs and planks course that is situated some 20-30 feet off the ground. Don’t worry if you fall you wont die, your harnessed into a safety tether. But do you really want to test the tether? Kai was brave and started the course first, all the while saying to herself “you can do this, your wearing a harness”. While George just said “come on, you gotta be kidding me,” every step of the way. It was big test of mind over matter that was rewarded with a zip line over the park.
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The two kids fell fast asleep in their wet bathing suits 2 minutes after climbing into the car last night.  I love it when I know every last fume of their energy has been spent.  It tells me they lived life to the fullest and left nothing on the table.

Yesterday morning we climbed into the car at 3:30AM and my Dad drove us for two hours out into the middle of the Arabian desert.  We arrived as the sun was coming up and we climbed the highest sand dune we could see. The ocean of sand was infinite. There appears to be no sign of life in every direction, except for the sand tracks left by the occasional bird, snake or desert fox. It is so quiet that someone can be 5 sand dunes over and you can still carry on a conversation.  If you follow a ridge, the sand is hard-packed making it easier to walk on.

Kailani loves hiking and climbing, so she had no problem keeping up with MeMe who climbs these dunes regularly for exercise.  Soleil, on the other hand, preferred lying down in the cool fine sand and letting it run between her fingers. After an hour and a half, the sun was rising and it was time to escape the heat.  The kids (mike included) enjoyed jumping off the dunes and making sand avalanches – when your feet hit the falling sand they make a funny fart sound.

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Sweaty and sandy, my parents drove us another 10 minutes down the road to an 8-star resort (5 stars isn’t enough for the Emirates) – a beautiful hotel right out of the Arabian Nights with a breakfast buffet that rivaled anything I’ve ever seen.  We had a long leisurely breakfast in the lap of luxury sampling delectable treats including camel milk with dates, Foul, hummus and lebneh, smoked fish and Shakshouhk – YUM! (Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort)

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Full and content, we pile back in the car for the drive back to Abu Dhabi, and halfway there, out of the empty sandy dusty desert, emerges a massive sand-colored pyramid and an abandoned jetliner aircraft. We had to check out the Cars Heritage Museum, also known as the weirdest place on earth according to me. Outside a sandstorm was blowing dust like a white-out at burning man, but inside was a dark cool quiet cavern of nearly 200 cars on display.  We were the only ones in the place, apart from the kind little Filipino guard.  A Sheik had amassed a collection of random automobiles and put them on display.  Ford trucks, corvettes, Mercedes benz’ in every color of the rainbow (and this guy likes rainbows!), Suzuki Samurais… the list is too long to name them all.  He even had one of the original automobiles ever invented from 1885!  Outside was a Guinness book of world records winner for the largest 2-wheeled caravan ever manufactured – it had 8 bedrooms and bathrooms and 4 garages!  There also was an abandoned jetliner.  Here this place sits, in the middle of the desert, with not a soul in sight – extraordinary.

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After a two-hour siesta, as if we hadn’t had enough fun for one day, we decided to visit the Yas Waterworld, which is right across the street from my parent’s apartment – the kids (mike included) were ecstatic.  The water slides, wave pools and lazy rivers kept us busy for hours, and kailani took several slides going double with grandpa. We closed the place down and the kids collapsed in the car, exhausted.

Our first day was mostly getting our bearings in this wild and wacky place called Abu Dhabi.  We visited the Corniche and dipped our toes in the hot-tub-water hot Arabian Gulf.  Some guard was enforcing some random wacky rules on us like “adults are not allowed to touch the playground equipment, even if you’re trying to push your child on the swing”, or “your feet must be on the sand (not the sidewalk) if you want to be in your bathing suit”.  The view of Abu Dhabi from the window of the suite we are staying in displays a vast array of architectural feats – a building in the shape of two convex circles (mike likened it to a space station that had landed on Tatooine), a bridge that looked like an unfurled paperclip and a mosque that is so white it blinds you to just walk across the central plaza- to name just a few.

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The place we are staying at is awesome – my parents sprung for a two-bedroom suite in the complex they are in and it is more than comfortable.  The first night, Kailani had jetlag and woke up at 2am and couldn’t sleep the rest of the night – and neither could I, so we both stayed awake and read while we watched the sun rise over Tatooine.

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P.S. funny joke Soleil made up – “Hey Mommy, a camel that is camouflaged is actually ‘camel-flaged’!” – cute!