The view from here
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We drove for about an hour before we reached a little car park from where we entered the desert and when I saw the sun rise over the yellow sand, turning it into an endless sea of golden dust, a feeling of pure exhilaration washed over me.
I just returned from a six-week "work remote holiday" in Germany and it was absolutely wonderful from start to finish.
As some of you might know, my current New Zealand employer allows me to work remotely for a few weeks every year so that I can spend more than just the usual 10 days of annual leave with my family and friends back home. Last month it was time again to turn this arrangement into action and it couldn't have come at a more perfect time.
My (fairly) recent life as a single female in her early thirties had let to all sorts of emotional meltdowns in the past 9 months and I was so ready to leave it all behind and surround myself with familiarity, loved ones and a sprinkle of adventure and wanderlust.
The second I touched down in Dubai after a 17 hour-and-40-minute flight from Auckland, I was buzzing with excitement. Tiredness? Jetlag? What's that? I had 4 full days in Dubai and I decided I wasn't going to let anything get in the way of making the most of this desert adventure!
I've heard so much about Dubai before I went but I had absolutely no expectations. I knew it was going to be different from anywhere I had ever been but I had no idea just how different it would end up being. I had stopped over in Dubai multiple times on my travels from NZ to Germany and back but I had only ever been in transit and never actually left the airport. This was my time. It was now or never. Well, maybe not never but it was an excellent opportunity as my brother and his girlfriend were visiting her dad who currently works there so I had local guides and family combined to join me on my Dubai exploration. My parents, driven by major FOMO, also jumped at the opportunity and booked themselves a return flight.
There I was, at Dubai airport, making it through the check-out for the very first time and being welcomed by my family! Being picked up from the airport is one of my favourite things when traveling, but being picked up by my favourite humans that I hadn't seen in months in a new and exciting place really took the cake!
I had met my family "in the middle" for a joint holiday before we would head home together. How efing brilliant is that?! I was completely blissful from the second we reunited at the airport and couldn't wipe that huge grin off my face until we boarded our plane to Germany 4 days later with exhaustion but full of unforgettable memories.
My family had arrived in Dubai a few days before me so they had already had time to adjust to the time difference and the unbearable heat of 52 degrees Celsius (if there ever is a way of adjusting to these kinds of temperatures that is).
Straight away I threw myself into the deep end. Meaning, I followed my brother and his girlfriend to their apartment, showered, changed clothes and climbed into their air-conditioned (thank the lord) van. We picked up my parents from their hotel and ventured off to Abu Dhabi which is only a 1.5 hour drive away. We had lunch in the “Etihad Towers” while marveling at the incredible views of the whole city and all its man-made sand islands in all sorts of different shapes and sizes.
Armed with some newly gained strength and plenty of water, we ventured out into the 50+ degrees heat to visit the "Sheik Zayed Grande Mosque".
We thought we came well prepared with long skirts/ pants, long sleeve tops and scarves to cover our hair, but nope, we would soon find out that this wasn't sufficient and that we had to put on an extra layer of clothing in form of an entire additional robe. *Help*
Dressed in all whites (men) and all blues (women) we made our way to the "Grande Mosque" which is indeed "grande" in so many ways. It's not just the size of it that's impressive but also its whole design and architecture. The interior with its over-the-top gold decorations, chandeliers made of jewels, mosaic floors and colourful silk carpets, is like nothing you've ever seen before. At some point wandering through the mosque, I looked around at my family. We were all so in awe that we seemed to have forgotten about the heat and kept wandering from one hall to the next and around the whole area like we were in a trance. It was truly awe-inspiring and we kept talking about every little detail we've seen for the rest of the day until I finally fell into a deep air-conditioned sleep.
The next day was full of the finest sightseeing spots Dubai has to offer. We started the day with one of Dubai’s world famous brunches at the Burj Al Arab. Trust me, this brunch is a truly incredible experience. It is pricey but if you want to treat yourself, it's worth every penny. The views from the top of the tower are free and you'll be treated like royalty. Almost as if you are part of the Sheik family yourself ;-)
We cruised around in our car after lunch, always on the lookout for members of the Sheik family who can be identified by the amount of numbers they have on their license plate. One number means you are driving past the Sheik himself. Two or three numbers mean you are driving past members of the Sheik family. We spotted one car with three numbers within the first couple of hours and celebrated with high fives all round. My siblings zoomed off to the waterpark which are incredibly fun if you are into adrenaline-inducing waterslides. I opted for some classic Dubai shopping with my mum before venturing out to the famous “Palm Island” for some walks along the Marina. It's such a random feeling walking along the beach knowing it's basically artificial and all manmade. For me, personally, just coming from New Zealand with its wild natural beaches everywhere, sitting down in the Dubai sand felt entirely bizarre and yet fascinating.
Another thing that stunned me was the ubiquitous contrast between tradition that’s thousands of years old and futuristic modernity that you can observe no matter where you go in Dubai. Starting from young men wearing the kandora (a long white robe) while chatting away on their latest iPhone, to women dressed from head to toe in a long black robe including a veil covering their entire face apart from the eyes, lifting their veils constantly while eating ice cream with rainbow sprinkles outside in the sun. The contrast between tradition and modernity is so stark it’s truly fascinating to observe.
After a quick visit back to the hotel for a much needed shower and change of clothes, we headed back to the Burj Khalifa which is the tallest building in the world with a maximum height of 830m. We had dinner right in front of it, marveling at the incredible view of not just the tower itself but the mesmerising fountain display right in front of us. The “Dubai Fountain” is also called the "world's largest dancing fountain". Every 30 minutes from 6pm to 11pm you can watch a "choreographed" water display to a range of different types of music, from classical Arabic tunes to western classics. The fountains shoot up to 150m in the air making them the largest in the world and can be seen from over 30 kilometres away.
Everything in Dubai is "bigger" and "better" and more "spectacular" but having dinner at the bottom of the tallest building in the world watching the highest fountain in the world truly is an experience I’d recommend to everyone visiting Dubai. The restaurants outside of the Dubai Mall and all around the fountain are all very affordable, standard-priced restaurants. The city keeps prices in this area affordable as the fountain was built "for the people", meaning the city of Dubai wants everyone to be able to enjoy the view while treating themselves to a nice meal. In a place so full of splendour and grandiosity I was surprised when I first heard about it. But watching people in this area, young and old, rich and poor, locals and tourists, all come together was a wonderful experience.
Even though I had seen so many jaw droppingly magnificent things by then, my personal highlight was yet to come and started at 4:30am the next morning when I was woken up by my desert adventure alarm!!!
THIS WAS IT! I WAS GOING TO THE DESERT!! Physically being in the desert was something I had dreamed of for years! It was close to the top of my bucket list and I was absolutely dying to finally do it and see it all for myself. I had come to terms with the fact that I probably had to be satisfied with an organised "desert safari" but I didn't care as long as I made it to the endless golden sand dunes somehow.
However, the dad of my brother's girlfriend offered to take us on a private desert adventure with his personal jeep. And it was like nothing I've ever experienced. We drove for about an hour in his car before we reached a little car park from where we entered the desert and when I saw the sun rise over the yellow sand, turning it into an endless sea of golden dust, a feeling of pure exhilaration washed over me. It was in that exact moment that I realised yet again why travel is one of my life's greatest passions and why I have to keep pursuing it.
The next few hours passed so quickly and I was in an almost ecstatic state running through the desert sand, up and down sand dunes, playing catch-me-if-you-can with my siblings, rolling in the golden dust, trying to soak up every second of this incredible, mind blowing experience.
Author - Natalie Gruner
Nat is one of the co-creators of Travelher and loves travel, family and all things beach. She is currently working in NZ and getting away for an adventure as often as she can.