getting lost in the mall

Sometimes I think that the Dubai Mall used to be 2 or 3 malls separated by a parking lot and were later joined together and the space between them made into additional mall space.  From one end of the mall to the other there seem to be design changes that could easily be explained if it had once been several malls.  Perhaps, as the mall was built over time, different contractors added to it changing its design as they expanded.  The mall is like no other in the world but its changing floor plan can sometimes get tourists lost; if it wasn’t for the direction signs I would always get lost in this mall.  I took a photo of it from the Burj Khalifa (above) and it looks like a huge department store and you can see how there are straight and curved corridors, large domed plazas and all sorts of other designs.  From the outside it appears to have been constructed at the same time and by the same company but inside I found the floor plan to be quite a maze.

I’d seen the “gold ATM machines” on the internet but this was my first time to see one firsthand.  This machine dispenses 24 carat gold bars, you just insert your debit or credit card, choose how much gold you want and it is dropped into the slot below.  Surprisingly, the machine was doing brisk business I watched as some European and then Japanese travelers purchased gold bars.  Everyone watched as they made their purchase and then heard the “clunk” of the bar hitting the delivery tray.  I’d never seen anything like it.

Unlike my earlier visits to this mall I had my SLR camera this time and was able to get some better shots of the huge fish tank.  I even went up on the second floor to get another view.

I haven’t gone “inside” of the fish tank exhibit yet but from the second floor looking down I could see the tunnel that I’d heard about; visitors get to walk through a plexiglass tunnel that is (literally) under water.  Visitors can look up and around as sharks and other large fish swim by.  For those who can’t swim or have never been scuba diving it provides a chance to see ocean animals up close and in person.

Despite the economic setbacks of 2008/2009, one thing hasn’t changed in Dubai: a shortage of taxi cabs.  If you’re going to a follow on destination after visiting the Dubai Mall, be sure to allow planet of time if you’re taking a taxi – especially during busy times like weekend evenings.  I had to wait close to 45 minutes in this long queue before I could get a cab.


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Burj Khalifa

Looking out my window at the Grand Hyatt, Dubai, I saw the skyline that has grown tremendously since my first visit in 2002.  The sky scrapers are packed together so densely that one might mistake this skyline for New York or Shanghai.  To give some scale to the size of this skyline, the Burj Khalifa (just left of center, the tallest building in the photo) is almost twice as tall as Chicago’s Sears Tower.  Many of the buildings around the Burj are very tall themselves (many about 2/3rds as tall as the Sears Tower) but still look like dwarves next to this pinnacle.

From the vantage point of my hotel room I could really begin to see what the big deal was about this building and I could see how tall it was compared to the other buildings in the city.  Much like Las Vegas, Dubai is surrounded by desert and is probably the last place you would ever think to build a city.  But here it is – a metropolitan oasis in the middle of the desert on the southeast shore of the Persian Gulf.  And it is only about a 30 minute airline flight from Iran!

In many of my previous visits the Burj was still under construction.  But it is now open to visitors and I decided to make a visit and see it firsthand.  I caught a taxi cab and asked the diver to take me to the Burj Khalifa and then verified that I was going to the correct place by adding, “World’s tallest building?”  He acknowledged that this was the name and said he would take me there.  He then inquired if I had a reservation?  “Uh-oh,” I thought, I hope I don’t have to have a reservation.  “Do I need a reservation?” I asked almost afraid to hear the answer.  He told me that I needed a reservation but that I might be able to get one at the ticket office.  He told me that the ticket office was located inside the Dubai Mall and that the actual entrance to the Burj was also inside the Dubai Mall.  I was in the Dubai Mall last year and hadn’t even noticed that the world’s tallest building was practically in the parking lot!

I arrived at the mall and looked at the direction signs and (for the first time) noticed the heading, “At the top, Burj Khalifa.”  Funny, I didn’t notice that on my last visit, maybe I thought “At the top” was the name of a restaurant.  I followed the signs through the maze that is this massive super-mall and eventually I came to the ticket counter.  I was quite disappointed when I saw this sign:

I had ascended the Sears Tower back when it was the world’s tallest but now that it had been passed up I wanted to climb the new height leader.  At the Burj ticket counter the listed ticket price to visit the observation deck was 100 Dirhams but then I saw another entry that read 400 Dirhams for “immediate entry.”  I made my way to the counter and the polite clerk told me that I could ascend for 400 Dirhams “without a reservation.”  My word to anyone considering making the trek to the Burj Khalifa observation deck: get a reservation, you’ll save 300 Dirhams!  You can purchase a ticket at the Dubai Mall ticket counter for subsequent days and I wouldn’t be surprised if you could buy a ticket online using your credit card.

After making my ticket purchase I made my way outside and sure enough, the Burj Khalifa was right next to the Dubai Mall.  I chuckled – I’ve been to the mall many times and I never realized it was just outside.  When you come to the mall in a taxi cab you are usually dropped off inside the parking structure and there is no view to the skyline.

In the shared courtyard of the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall is a huge fountain that mimics the one at the Vegas Mirage to include water shows every few hours.  The fountain shows come complete with cheesy music – I stayed to watch one and found the fountains to be a bit anemic and didn’t really compare to the big Vegas fountain.  There was a large crowd of people looking at (and photographing) the Burj, posing for photos in front of the fountain and dining at the numerous cafes that lined the sidewalk.  All around the fountain are dozens of tall apartment buildings that – at first – looked like scale model replicas but as I looked again I saw that they were actual buildings that people live in.  All across the skyline there are cranes as the Dubai construction boom continues.  Despite the economic setbacks of 2008, Dubai continues to survive and appears to be expanding again.  The mall was full, I saw traffic on the streets and considering that tickets to the Burj were sold out for the next 24 hours I estimate that the economy here is rebounding.

I passed through security that was as tough as at an airport including metal detectors and x-ray machines for handbags and backpacks.  Once I passed the security checkpoint I passed station after station of interactive displays that revealed the statistics of the Burj, photos of its construction and comments from its builders.  The designers did a super job of creating an entertaining atmosphere that distracts the wait to board the elevators to the observation deck.  In one room where the queue snaked back and forth just like the line at a Disneyland roller coaster ride, a flat screen television displayed all sorts of interesting factoids about the Burj.  Some of the statistics that I remember included: if you laid the Burj’s iron beams end to end they would stretch all the way to New York and all the way to Australia, and, the weight of the cement used to construct the Burj is the weight of 100,000 elephants.  That’s a lot of iron and cement!

When we finally climbed into the elevator we were told that we would climb to the observation deck on the 124th floor in under one minute.  I made a quick calculation and realized that the elevator would be almost passing 3 floors per second!  The Burj has the world’s fastest elevators and what was most amazing was that you couldn’t even feel the elevator more; the ascent started off slow and smooth and accelerated without any noticeable movement.  Going up I didn’t notice any change in elevation but during the descent after my visit I had to plug my nose and blow air no less than 8 times to equalize the ½ mile descent; dropping so quickly it felt like diving underwater and the pressure to my ears was very noticeable.

Outside on the deck I looked up and saw that the observation deck wasn’t even at the top of the building!  The observation deck is about 2/3rds of the way up the building but is still the highest observation deck in the world!

 I took a look at the view; the Burj has a 360 degree view of Dubai with views of Sheik Zayed Road, the ocean, views of the Dubai Mall and views of the desert inland.  As I looked down at the other Dubai skyscrapers I realized just how high we were.  In the photo below you can see the greatest concentration of Dubai’s buildings on Sheik Zayed Road – this road has become the most popular “strip” and is populated with apartments, restaurants, night clubs and all sorts of businesses.  The new train leads down this road from the airport and getting to and from different parts of Dubai is easier than ever.  In the background you can see the Jebel Ali Port one of the busiest shipping destinations in the Middle East.

Looking towards the southwest I could see the “World” islands that are/were being constructed.  I recently heard a rumor that the islands were “sinking” and I’m curious if they will ever finish these private islands that will provide each resident with the chance to own their own island.  It is an ambitious plan and if it fails I cringe to think about how many millions will be lost to investors.

I had a wonderful time visiting the Burj Khalifa; the Burj has wonderful views and was a bit of an adventure to visit.  The next time you’re in Dubai I give it an enthusiastic recommendation – just be sure to book tickets in advance!


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Back in Dubai!

Arrived in Dubai yesterday afternoon & it is so nice to be back.  My cab driver was a friendly man from Pakistan we talked about Pakistan, Afghanistan, Waziristan, the Taliban - all the “an’s!”  He told me about how difficult it is to live & find work in Pakistan – Dubai is a much better life he said.  It was quite humid, maybe 80% and the temperature is warm and balmy.  Unfortunately, a dust storm blew in and the visibility was less than a kilometer (1/2 mile).  My Pakistani driver assures me that they’ve had clear weather all week – just my luck.  I captured this photo of the Grand Hyatt to show the dust – even the sun had trouble poking through the thick skies.

I’ll only have a day or two here – I’ll have to see how much I can visit in 24 hours!


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