My Dubai diary: 48 hours in the city that really never sleeps

The Dubai Mall is a monument to shopping that almost every UAE visitor stops by. (Shutterstock)
Updated 29 May 2018
0

My Dubai diary: 48 hours in the city that really never sleeps

  • The ultimate guide to two days in the city of malls, beaches and all-around fun
  • From The Dubai Mall to City Walk, there are a host of new experiences to try

JEDDAH: I’ve frequently visited the busiest emirate of them all, Dubai, with my family, and specifically my mother. When my superiors came up to me with this trip to Dubai, I was enthusiastic, yes, but I felt there was nothing left for me to discover in Dubai. How terribly presumptuous of me.

I checked into the Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates, which left us — I treated my mother to an impromptu trip — completely in awe. We spent the rest of the day wandering around The Dubai Mall and devouring some Lebanese food at Al Wafi Gourmet, something that had become a ritual of ours on countless Dubai visits.

Bright and early the next day, I was treated to an insightful tour of the Kempinski hotel’s facilities by Marketing Director Bianca Cartin, starting with the Aspen Chalets overlooking the indoor ski ramp, Ski Dubai.

The suite, or mini-cabin, transported us into a city in northern Europe with its sophisticated yet cozy ambience. I was fairly impressed with the electronic fireplace running, as I settled down on the sofa and observed families enjoying the slopes.

Later, we were shown the tennis court, swimming pool, in-house spa and the hotel’s Brazilian restaurant, Texas De Brazil, which garnered a noticeable drop in enthusiasm from the entire team as, frankly, nothing could top the chalets.

We then headed to City Center Mirdif and the mall’s managerial duo took us on a round trip across two stories of easy, accessible shopping, before leaving us in front of iFly Dubai.

To experience skydiving without the complications and distress that comes with jumping off a plane is breathtaking. iFly Dubai is the first to offer that inside a 10-meter wind tunnel in a shopping mall, where an instructor — Julie, in my case — helps adjust your form and signals for her partner to adjust the airflow depending on the guest’s adaptability and how safe they feel within the tunnel. To be able to let myself go and watch the ground diminish before me while being sure Julie was an arm’s length away in case anything went wrong was liberating and absolutely empowering.

Our evening was spent strolling around City Walk — an outdoor urban retail complex, with restaurants and a central fountain, and exploring Hub Zero: Home to a plethora of hyper-reality experiences for children and adults.

We started out with a Final Fantasy VII spin-off where we join Cloud Strife and his party to save the fictional land of Midgar from a monstrous Behemoth, and then moving on to Double Agent where I got to act out my favorite scene from 1999’s “Entrapment,” in which Catherine Zeta-Jones avoids laser beams to steal a Chinese mask from a museum.

Our last leg at City Walk consisted of a stop at the award-winning chocolate store, Boutique Le Chocolat (that has the chocolatier world's equivalent of an Academy Award, pictured below), where we were spoiled with all kinds of flavored chocolate. We were also swept into Le BHV Marais, “the Parisian’s favorite department store,” before finally dining at Cocoa Kitchen, where every recipe is accentuated with cocoa.

Day Two

The first place we explored on the second day was the Italian-inspired mall, Mercato Mall.

The shopping center’s interior design resembles high-end European streets. It seemed to have opened a portal from Dubai to the streets of Italy; its roof was encased with glass panes letting in the sunlight as we received shopping vouchers from the management and split up to shop through the Italian districts.

We then met with the team behind More Café, who informed us that it is set to branch out in Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as an outlet opening soon in Jeddah. The news delighted me greatly, as I had the best meal for the duration of my stay there. Their tomato soup was the perfect concoction, and they offered numerous stuffed pies that I found myself enjoying without really getting full. We were treated to some gelato from More’s Glow parlor after that, and I settled for a flavor titled Cleopatra, with ingredients like dates and cinnamon.

Our last stop at Mercato was at Singaporean brand Charles and Keith, for chic footwear, handbags and accessories, where we were introduced to their latest line, an accompaniment of their spring collection, as well as their special Ramadan collection for Muslim-majority countries.

The Dubai Mall is a monument that almost every UAE visitor stops by, and I’m no exception. I’ve probably been to Dubai Mall more than the locals themselves due to the onslaught of never-ending retail stores, cinema, and my absolute favorite place to be, Kinokuniya — a Japanese bookstore, stationary and a hidden gem to anime and manga fans.

Having visited the mall quite often, I wasn’t expecting this experience to be different. However, the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo has had a massive expansion, and experiencing it with a guide made it more fun as he continued to shower our group with very interesting fish trivia in the walk-through tunnel.

After that, we took a quick spin around the new extension, Fashion Avenue, which introduces an additional 150 luxury brands to The Dubai Mall shopping experience.

In case you need convincing, you should know that The Dubai Mall welcomes more than 80 million visitors annually while the mall’s total area is at 12 million square feet, which is the size of 200 soccer pitches. How’s that for a day out?

All in all it was a perfectly enjoyable 48 hours in Dubai, filled to the brim with new experiences and meal after meal of fantastic food.


World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Updated 13 June 2018
0

World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Moscow

Both Tunisia and Iran are based in the vibrant 800-year-old Russian capital, renowned for its golden domes and stunning orthodox architecture. It is home to the famous Russian ballet and a wealth of art, culture and iconic scenery, including the breathtaking Red Square. A truly multicultural capital, Moscow is home to a sizeable Muslim community, which first began to settle here around the time of the Golden Horde. If you want to explore some of the capital’s Islamic heritage, visit the historic Muslim area, Zamoskvorechie, and head for the ‘Historical Mosque,’ built in 1823 by Muslim tatars. Reopened in 1993 after a lengthy closure under communism, the mosque has recently undergone a major refurbishment. Along with the 10k-capacity Moscow Cathedral Mosque (pictured), it is the capital’s most significant Muslim building.
Halal Food: You’ll find plenty on offer, from highly rated restaurants including Mr. Livanets (Lebanese), Dyushes (Azerbaijani), and Gandhara (Asian) to halal food carts.
Mosque: The Moscow Cathedral Mosque on Pereulok Vypolzov.
Qibla: South.

Saint Petersburg

Saudi Arabia’s national team will be based in this bastion of Russian imperialism, known as the Russian ‘Venice’ for its stunning network of canals, neo-Renaissance architecture and its plethora of culture, arts and all things splendid. Visitors can enjoy a wealth of museums, galleries, open promenades and the finest dining in the northern hemisphere — talking of which, sun lovers will be delighted to know that during the World Cup the sun will barely dip below the horizon. Muslim visitors should not miss the St. Petersburg Mosque’s sumptuous Central Asian architecture and mesmeric blue tiles (pictured) — a design inspired by Tamerlane’s tomb in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Halal Food: Limited, in comparison to Moscow, but both Eastern European restaurant Navruz and Oh! Mumbai (Indian) have received generally positive online reviews.
Mosque: St. Petersburg Mosque on Kronverkskiy Prospekt.
Qibla: South-east.

Grozny

Egypt’s ‘Pharaohs’ should feel right at home in the Chechen capital, which is home to a huge Muslim population (its coat of arms features a mosque), making it one of the most halal-friendly destinations on our list. The mosque in question is the city’s flagship monument and main tourist attraction, the Ottoman-style Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque. Modelled on Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Mosque and sited in a serene location on the west bank of the Sunzha River, it is part of an ‘Islamic’ complex also housing the Russian Islamic University, Kunta Hajji, and is the spiritual headquarters for the Muslims of the Chechen Republic. Much of Grozny is still being rebuilt after being virtually destroyed in two wars with Russia in the 1990s and 2000s, much of it through investment from the UAE.
Halal Food: Chechnya is majority-Muslim, so you’ll be spoiled for choice, from fast-food chain Ilis to high-end restaurants in five-star hotels.
Mosque: Akhmad Kadyrov on Prospekt Putina.
Qibla: South-west.

Voronezh

Morocco are based in quiet (at least until the tournament starts), picturesque Voronezh. The city is littered with lush green spaces and stunning churches. It’s home to a large orthodox Christian community, as well as small Jewish and still-smaller Muslim ones. The city’s beautiful 114-year-old synagogue on Ulitsa Svobody is a popular tourist attraction. Those looking for more ‘familiar’ heritage should head to the Kramskoy Museum of Fine Arts on Revolyutsii Avenue, home to an impressive collection of ancient Egyptian works of art on stone and sarcophagi.
Halal Food: Very sparse. The Asian restaurant Bahor bills itself as offering the “only halal food in Voronezh,” and there are reportedly a couple of grocery stores selling halal meat, one in the city’s central market.
Mosque: While no official mosque has yet been built in Voronezh, Muslims do gather to pray. According to Halalguide.me, there is an informal mosque on Ulitsa Gvardeyskaya.
Qibla: South.

Essentuki

Essentuki, which will host Nigeria in its Pontos Plaza Hotel (pictured), is famous for its health spas and mineral water, so the 'Super Eagles' should at least be able to relax after their games. Muslim visitors may want to drop by Kurortny Park, where the drinking gallery was inspired by Islamic Moorish design.
Halal Food: Hard to find. There is a kebab house that may be able to provide halal options. Otherwise, head to the area around the mosque in nearby Pyatigorsk.
Mosque: The nearest mosque is 25 minutes drive west in Pyatigorsk, on Skvoznoy Pereulok.
Qibla: Southwest.

Kaluga

It’s all about space exploration in the city where Senegal will be based. Space travel pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky taught in Kaluga in his early years. The town’s main attraction — unsurprisingly — is the Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics, reportedly the world’s first space museum. Second billing goes to the rocket scientist’s quaint old wooden family home.
Halal Food: Very hard to find. Asian restaurant Chaikhana and Russian eatery Solyanka (pictured) appear to cater to alternative dietary requirements, and may be worth a call.
Mosque: The town’s main mosque is a converted building off Ulitsa Annenki.
Qibla: South.