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
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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.


Magical Madrid: The unique charms of the Spanish capital

Madrid the capital of Spain. (Shutterstock)
Updated 13 November 2018
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Magical Madrid: The unique charms of the Spanish capital

  • Madrid is a European capital like no other
  • Madrid’s blockbuster sights regally lived up to their generations-old hype

LONDON: It was bad luck that brought me to Madrid — or perhaps fate. Midway through a two-month road trip around Southern Europe, diligently skirting the coasts of Portugal and Spain, but with no intention of venturing inland, my 20-year-old campervan broke down in the scorching Andalusian planes, some 30 km outside Seville, officially the warmest city in Europe.
My fate was sealed by the calendar as much as the location: It wasn’t just that I blamed the searing summer sun for overheating my ancient engine, but also for thwarting any chance of its repair. For the month of “Agosto,” I soon learned, the south of Spain simply shuts down. There wasn’t a garage in town with the faintest bit of interest in fixing my motor. And so, after a fortnight of shade-seeking 40-degree days and flamenco-filled nights in Seville, I impulsively rented a car and made a spontaneous six-hour road trip to Madrid. And whatever the repair bill ended up being, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Arriving exhausted at dusk, I emerged from my air-conditioned car to find the climate completely transformed, temperatures hovering in the pleasant mid-twenties, surrounded by commuters ambling amiably to street-side tavernas rather than racing to the metro — or hiding indoors like their southern compatriots.

Hurried logic (and a whiff of luck) had brought me to the south-western edge of the central Sol barrio, a maze of winding streets with colorful cafés and tapas joints that seem to be as busy for breakfast as in the early hours, entertaining a constant flow of customers and an insistent throb of lively chat. It was the perfect tonic for the breakdown blues.
Arriving without preconception or preparation had its benefits. I was free to follow whims, enjoying the kind of aimlessness which can only be bred through enforced limbo. Evenings drifted by nibbling gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns) and pimientos de padrón (padrón peppers), while practicing my newly acquired Spanish with friendly locals at Bodegas Melibea, an audaciously decorated café with wide open windows offering cooling vistas of the ever-changing street scene.

Madrid’s blockbuster sights regally lived up to their generations-old hype. The Plaza Major really could not be better named — a bright rectangular space built around the turn of the 16th century, lined with interconnected regal rows of identical three-story buildings, sporting a total of 237 tiny balconies.
Grander still is the Royal Palace of Madrid, a magnificent maze of 3,418 rooms which make it Europe’s largest royal residence. Be sure to stop at the nearby Temple of Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple donated to Spain and incongruously rebuilt in the early 1970s.
I had heard of the Prado Museum, of course, and held some inkling of its famed depth and breadth, but little could prepare me for the boggling floorplan and epic catalogue of art, which stretches from the 12th to 20th centuries. At any one time, only about 1,300 of the institution’s collection of more than 20,000 works is on display — but that still means that if you entered at 10 a.m., stayed until closing time at 8 p.m., and took zero breaks, you would have the equivalent of 27 seconds to view each work. Time is likely to be considerably tighter when an extension is unveiled next year, coinciding with the Prado’s 200th anniversary.

Temple of Debod. (Shutterstock)

More manageable and equally essential is the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, one of Europe’s greatest exhibitors of 20th-century artists which pays homage to the country’s headline exports Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí — including staging the former’s epic “Guernica,” a stark, monochrome Spanish Civil War epic which rightfully ranks among the century’s greatest cultural achievements. At 7.7 meters wide, it’s a work that no postcard or textbook reproduction can do justice to — a statement which needs to be experienced in the flesh, and studied up close, to appreciate even a jot of its power, scope or intent.
Madrid is simply magical. Not in that quaint, stately, Western European way of Vienna or Prague, nor with the pretentious powerhouse vibe of Paris or London. And nothing like the crumbling grandeur of Mediterranean neighbors Rome and Athens. It’s a European capital like no other — and it’s the one I’d move to in a heartbeat.