Mid-flight at the oasis for the weary
IT is 14 hours from Sydney to Dubai, about the limit before Europe-bound passengers start to crack under the strain of captivity. A reviving stopover in the largest city in the United Arab Emirates is thus a good idea.
But planning is everything. Expect traffic and choose your short-stay accommodation carefully, because most of those famously ostentatious hotels and resorts are kilometres from Dubai airport and the roads are jammed. (Car lovers may not care as in this city surrounded by shifting sands almost everyone is shifting gears in Ferraris, Aston Martins and the like.)
My flight-lagged partner and I head for Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel. To step from the rising desert heat into the temperate zone of the hotel’s marble reception area is heavenly. Our room, too, is cool. Crisp bed linen, huge floor space and loads of light create a favourable first impression.
Breakfast is being served in the splendid Italianate setting of Vivaldi Restaurant. It proves to be a feast, catering to all nationalities. Local fare such as labneh balls made from goat’s cheese and mint, smoked fish, creamy hummus and wafer-thin Arabian beef sends us into degustation mode.
The hotel’s food will prove a highlight of our brief stay but we also decide to see something of the city. Gold and spice souks are close by but malls are our mission. A short taxi ride from the hotel is Deira City Centre. Such shiny temples are similar the world over but rampant consumerism forms a pillar of this emirate’s economy. At Deira we observe a familiar sight in Dubai: nouveau riche Russian tourists acting like American game-show winners, pushing mammoth trolleys filled with teetering piles of widescreen television sets and other expensive toys into waiting cars.
As empty-handed as losing contestants, we retire to the comforts and distractions of our hotel.
Afternoon tea in the lobby coffee shop is followed by a refreshing swim. Even in the milder months from October to May, the heat is dessicating. Climatic conditions do not affect our appetites and Ashiana, the hotel’s award-winning Indian restaurant, has been recommended for dinner. We manage to chill out while being plied with hot food, assisted by arctic airconditioning and a soothing quartet playing classic Indian instruments.
After dinner we adjourn to the Chelsea Arms, an English-style pub in a corner of the lobby. Here British expats in denial about the inhospitable dunes separating them from London clutch pints and talk football.
Those more interested in losing their tummies than filling them seek out the hotel’s tennis court or recently renovated Health Club. Some of us prefer the less physical challenge of going online in foreign cities. High speed internet connectivity in all rooms is a welcome convenience.
Finally, and importantly, our Sheraton Sweet Sleeper bed lives up to its name and we awake prepared to face the airport. A 10-minute drive and we are there. Oasis is probably an overworked simile in Dubai but our hotel deserves that comparison. Refreshed, we face the next leg of our flight over the dry desert. Leonie Coombes was a guest of Sheraton Dubai Creek.
Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel and Towers, Baniyas Street, Dubai. (+971 4) 228 1111; www.sheraton.com/dubai. Tariff: Rooms from about $US200 ($250) a double. Book by July 31 (for stays to September 30) for 20 per cent off stays of two nights or 30 per cent off stays of three or more nights. Getting there: The hotel can arrange pick-up from the airport; taxis are plentiful and reasonably priced. Checking in: Mainly corporate guests, conference groups and stopover travellers. Wheelchair access: Yes. Bedtime reading: Perhaps not the Geraldine Bedell novel TheGulf BetweenUs , recently banned at Dubai’s inaugural International Festival of Literature (it features a gay relationship). Try Paulo Coelho’s The WitchofPortobello , partly set in Dubai, where it was launched in 2007. Stepping out: Beaches draw many tourists to this city built on sand, and the Sheraton Dubai Creek provides a free shuttle bus to coastal Jumeirah. Brickbats: The proximity to the airport is also a drawback as some of Dubai’s tourist attractions are several kilometres away through dense traffic. Bouquets: Multicultural atmosphere and a friendly welcome from staff; the perfect antidote to a long flight.