and then there’s the OTT
indulgence found in Dubai.
Dubai’s sci-fi modern scene redefines the jet-set lifestyle.
n Dubai, you quickly discover that if something isn’t the first, the biggest or the most expensive, it doesn’t belong here. This is a place that lives up to its billing as “the city of superlatives.” The skyline—with its grandiloquent collection of glass skyscrapers—has a Jetsons-like futuristic vibe. But instead of flying cars, the highways are lined with Lamborghinis and Ferraris. The Dubai police even cruise around in $300,000+ McLaren sports cars. As one of my taxi drivers said: “You have to be really rich to not feel really poor in this town.” To commemorate my week-long adventure in this Arab kingdom, here are five personal records that I racked up.
1. MY FIRST FIRST- CLASS EMIRATES A380 RIDE
I smiled when I recently read David Owen’s “Game of Thrones” article in The New Yorker about how airlines cater to the 1 percent. He recounts his inaugural adventure in first class and how he didn’t want to look like a “front-of-theplane rookie.” I know what he means. When I learned that I was being upgraded from business (I know, cry me a river) to first class, I had to resist doing a fist-pumping victory dance. The fact that I was travelling with my new boss—who wasn’t getting an upgrade—also tempered my OTT enthusiasm for this unexpected glimpse of life as a 1-percenter. Owen writes that it’s not unusual for people who travel long distances in high style to consider the flight the best part of the trip. I couldn’t agree more. When I think of my time in Dubai, it’s the 15 hours I spent on the flight getting there that tops my list of memorable moments: the cocktail bar, the on-board Wi-Fi and the suites—I mean first-class seats. Owen describes them as “bedroomlike micro-palaces.” When I blogged about the experience, I described my fluffed and feathered nest—with its shuttered doors—as “an adult bassinet with ultra-luxe gold and marble finishes.”
Then there’s the on-board shower. Yes, shower. Emirates is the only passenger airline that offers such rock-star indulgence, and I was only too game to experience a five-minute shower at 40,000 feet. The spalike setting is the size of a small galley kitchen, complete with heated floors and luxe Timeless Spa products on display. When I emerged, there was an attendant waiting outside to offer me fresh fruit and hot ginger tea. Only then did I notice a woman, wrapped in a blanket, standing against the wall at the bottom of a flight of stairs that were cordoned off with a velvet rope. She had that
distinctive—oh, I know it so well—economy-class look of a poor wretch who hadn’t slept a wink. I slipped back into my gilded oasis, knowing full well that I was an interloper on borrowed time.
2. MY FIRST DUNE- BUGGY + CAMEL RIDES IN THE DESERT
I’ve ridden a snorting, snot-flinging elephant in Nepal and, more recently, a feisty mule as part of a four-hour extreme adventure in the Mexican jungle—but it took only a brief ride on a one-humped ungulate to reacquaint me with my long-dormant oblique muscles. #ouch. According to my Jeep driver, a “Bedouin massage” would work out the kinks. For those of you who haven’t been on a desert-dune-buggy ride, that’s the jolts and jabs you experience as the Jeep lands on two wheels after catching a little air. I had signed up for the “hard ride” because the “soft ride” was for wimps. When I asked him where he learned to drive, he laughed and said, “In my bedroom...on Nintendo!” A few days later, my obliques, quads, triceps, glutes—you name it—were put through the paces with Burj Club trainer Thomas Woolf. I tried to distract him by getting him to talk about his crowdsourcing site for charity (justgiving. com), but he saw through that ruse fairly quickly. “I know what you’re doing, Noreen—get moving.” Busted!
After our session, I headed to the Armani Spa to experience my first (and quite likely my last) Thai massage. My therapist was lovely and talented—it was my body that wasn’t interested in being bent out of shape or walked on. “You should stick to deep-tissue massage,” she said, clearly flummoxed by the human two-by-four lying on her mat.
3. MY FIRST HENNA TATTOO
I had requested something “minimal” and “architectural” with straight lines. The artist looked at me, paused and then started to draw intricate swirls, dots and paisley shapes. Less is more—Middle Eastern-style.
4. MY FIRST TIME BEING 124 STOREYS IN THE AIR
Only Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his invited guests have been to the very top of the 828-metre (163-floor) Burj Khalifa tower. However, on the 122nd floor— inside the h
Atmosphere lounge during high tea—you still get an impressive view of the desert and the nearby Arabian Gulf. You can also spot some of the world’s most expensive handbags on the arms of women wearing black abaya robes and hijabs. There are Birkin bags (yes, plural) and Chanel 2.55 flap bags too numerous to count. After tea (and bubbles), I went two floors above to the outdoor Observatory Deck (the highest in the world) and asked a guide whether they really had violent dust storms like the one that engulfed the tower in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. “Only in the movies!” he said, laughing. “You mean this city was trumped by Hollywood hyperbole?” I replied. After snapping some vertigo- inducing photographs, I made my way to the elevator. Five men, dressed in impeccable long white tunics and equally pristine white kaffiyeh head scarves, joined me. “They must have fixed the noise problem; it’s quieter now,” one of them commented to his friends as we whizzed to the bottom in the fastest double-decker and longest elevator in the world. “Was it very noisy?” I asked. “Oh, yes, it used to sound like wire being cut.” Gulp.
5. MY FIRST TRUFFLE- THEMED CHEF’S MENU
Staying at the Armani Hotel in Dubai is a stark reminder of how a minimalist aesthetic is such a Western sensibility. Giorgio Armani, in particular, is a master at understated elegance, whether it’s his fashions or his posh hotels. “When we first opened, people weren’t sure how to react,” explained Shona Mac Sweeney, director of marketing and communications for the hotel—which is located at the base of the Burj Khalifa. “Guests kept asking us if it was finished. When they pay for luxury, they expect golden opulence. It has taken some time— and some education on our part— to explain why this is luxurious in its simplicity.” The meal I had that night in Armani/Ristorante, however, was anything but simple. The sevencourse truffle-themed menu was a deliciously complicated, unexpected medley of flavours with earthy black and fragrant white truffles as the star ingredients. The highlight? The Mont Blanc sphere with marron confit, caramelized pear, meringue and white-truffle ice cream. The next day when I was checking out, the doorman informed me that they would be bringing the Bentley around to pick me up. I’m practically car illiterate, but even I know that a Bentley is a posh ride. “What a beautiful car,” I remarked to my driver. “Yes, it’s only for beautiful women to ride in.” (These wheels may cost more than $200,000, but flattery at 6 in the morning is priceless.) h