I was skeptical in Dubai – but I found things I loved

Xenia Taliotis - Zodee Media

Xenia Taliotis – Zodee Media

Some marriages are made in heaven, others in the land of square pegs and round holes, chalk and cheese. Dubai and me – that’s us.

In fact, the difference between what he stands for and what I stand for is so great that his position in the top five places I never wanted to visit has remained unassailable for years, despite frequent requests from a close friend who work there. the emirate for eight years.

Granted, she didn’t do much to sell the place – describing a city where she lived a lonely and disconnected life, but it was the price she was willing to pay to clear the mortgage on her Chelsea flat: 25 a year working in London versus eight in Dubai.

The reasons I avoided the emirate over the years was the impression that it represented conspicuous consumption and unbridled capitalism. I worried about all the air conditioning, the lack of nature, the fact that it was a magnet for influencers – and the likelihood of having to take taxis everywhere.

Recently, however, something took me there. And something I thought was that I was becoming too stubborn in my ways and becoming more reluctant to challenge my views. I wanted my opinions to be based on experience rather than speculation. Good friends told me that I should give Dubai a chance, that a different scene was emerging under the headline skyscrapers and the celebrities who flocked to them.

I had also learned that 25 hours, a brand I had heard great things about, was opening a hotel there. So I left Dubai for five days. On each of them, I found much to confirm my views but also plenty to challenge them. Here are five things I found to love.

25 hour hotel Dubai One Central

Christoph Hoffmann’s first 25 hour hotel outside of Europe is full of playfulness, creativity and charisma. It’s full of things to do, including 6,000 books to read – probably 1,000 more than even the most voracious reader will read in a lifetime – some interesting art and antiques, great food and café, and an analogue area I like medieval music. They can relive old memories by listening to the sounds of the past on vinyl or tapes in a Walkman. ​​​​​​The über-hip Monkey Bar, on the roof, even got me an old stick in the mud – last seen dancing in the 1980s – moving.

Doubles cost from £208 (00 971 4 210 2525; 25 hours-hotels.com)

Another Dubai

Dubai, Bur Dubai, Bastakiya Quarter - Sylvain Sonnet/The Image Bank RF

Dubai, Bur Dubai, Bastakiya Quarter – Sylvain Sonnet/The Image Bank RF

It is not easy to get a glimpse of what life was like here before the arrival of high-rise tourism, but it is certainly possible. You need to leave the hotel-heavy Downtown, Al Barsha, Palm Jumeirah and the International Financial District and instead go to Al Bastakiya, Deira and Bur Dubai.

Al Bastakiya (dubaiculture.gov.ae), known as Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, on Dubai Creek, is the oldest community in the city. Built by Persian merchants during the 1890s, about half of the 60 or so beautiful stone, gypsum, teak-, sandal- and wood-wood buildings were demolished in the 1980s.

What remains has still been completely renovated but somehow retains a sense of history. I spent the morning meandering along its twisting lanes, watching shadows shift on desert-colored gusts of wind and snooping around junk shops to find treasure among the clutter.

In Bur Dubai, I had lunch at one of the oldest restaurants in the city, Al Ustad Special Kabab (alustadspecialkabab.has.restaurant). This Persian hotspot, which opened in 1978, was fast, frantic and fun. I loved the pace – the lunch timers shouting out their orders as they walked in, the speed at which the food appeared and then promptly disappeared.

Al Fahidi Historic District (Bastakiya) - Dubai - GCShutter

Al Fahidi Historic District (Bastakiya) – Dubai – GCShutter

An evening food tour with Frying Pan Adventures (£96pp; fryingpanadventures.com), visiting restaurants in Al Rigga, provided further insight into how residents live. Every chair in a barber shop was occupied by men getting their faces steamed, their beards trimmed and their feet coddled; sidewalk cafes bustling with family life, and neighbors dawdled on the street to exchange pleasant.

We ate diligently through the Middle East: falafel from a small Palestinian street cafe; mana’eesh (herb flatbreads), tahini and hummus at a Syrian restaurant, and Lebanese baklava.

Some art, in storage

art gallery in Alserkal - Thomas Linkel/Camera Press

art gallery in Alserkal – Thomas Linkel/Camera Press

Independent tea and coffee outlets – Project Chaiwala (projectchaiwala.com) and Nightjar (nightjar.coffee) respectively) – women-run art house cinema (Cinema Akil; cinemaakil.com), community art project (thejamjar; thejamjardubai.com) and sustainable fashion… was I in hipster Berlin? Brooklyn? No, I was in the industrial-cum-cultural area of ​​Al Quoz, Alserkal Avenue (alserkal.online). Home to many warehouses that were once part of a marble factory, the avenue’s buildings now house emerging artists, designers and entrepreneurs. I really liked its wit and enterprise, the boundless energy of the creative souls gathered there and their principles.

How nice that the Chaiwala Project serves tea in clay pots that dissolve deep again, and that the French-Tunisian artist eL Seed (real name Faouzi) uses his beautiful art to spread messages of peace and causes they need to publicize the world’s attention. The founder of Alserkal Avenue, Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, says the artistic promotion is a sign that Dubai is evolving. “It’s the natural progression that comes with the development of a city,” he said in an interview he gave to Christie’s Magazine. “It takes time to develop a middle class that wants to enrich their lives by looking at art.”

Community project for women

Irthi Craft Project - Nida Mehboob

Irthi Craft Project – Nida Mehboob

A 30-minute taxi ride north out of Dubai will take you to the Contemporary Crafts Council (irthi.com), in Sharjah. Irthi creates opportunities for women to use traditional skills handed down from mother to daughter, not only to enable them to make a living, but also to preserve heritage crafts such as safeefah (weaving palm leaves or khoos) and telli (hand) . -braiding metallic threads and silk).

her craft project

her craft project

At the Irthi showroom I learned how collaborations with international designers and even mega brands like Cartier and Bvlgari are breathing new life into craftsmanship and making it more relevant to a younger market. The project also provides education, training and mentoring.

The desert

desert - KARIM SAHIB/Getty Images

desert – KARIM SAHIB/Getty Images

Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (ddcr.org) is the first national park in the UAE. Covering 5 per cent of Dubai, this last unspoilt desert is truly spectacular – and there’s plenty to do, including a wildlife drive where you can spot Arabian onyx, Arabian sand gazelles and even wild cats (from £ 88; getyourguide). .co.uk).

I went for a dune and rooftop experience (from £177; nara.ae) (from £177; nara.ae), the highlight of which was a falcon display, or display of the falcon’s enthusiasm for its a bird His love for them was overwhelming – yet another revelation on a trip that blew my mind at least.

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