Photographer and freelance journalist Flash Parker recently traveled to the United Arab Emirates’ most glittering jewel: Dubai.
For all of Dubai’s flash and dash, there’s still an air of elegant mystery to this city. Old Dubai’s attractions are legion, but no matter where you go, no matter how far back into the past you try to look, the future is always present, always urging you to come along for a new ride. At least I thought as much while sampling sinfully delicious treats at the Cheesecake Factory (I can honestly say I never imagined I would be eating at the Cheesecake Factory while on the road) at the Mall of the Emirates, pressed up against a giant window as I was, watching adventurers take on the slopes at world-famous Ski Dubai, arguably the city’s second most incredible engineering feat – skiing in the desert is as surreal a scene as there is, and worth a look even if you don’t plan on bundling up to brave the elements. I took to the slopes to work off some of my dessert, then burned off even more calories wandering the mall, a 700-store behemoth, dwarfed only by the 1,200-store Dubai Mall, home to the beautiful Dubai Aquarium, skating rinks, movie theaters, a gold souk, and anamorphic and anatomically correct dinosaurs – because this is Dubai, and dinosaurs are just one of the things you should come to expect from this city.
I found a bit of prime beach real estate at the Fairmont Palm, itself one of Dubai’s most beautiful hotel attractions, and unwound under the Arabian sun as towers glistened in the distance. For all the fuss about Dubai’s keystone attractions, the beaches get little notice – which is wonderful, since there’s a good chance that if you do head down for a swim or a bit of R&R, you’ll have plenty of sand to yourself. When I’m at the beach the furthest thing from my mind is the world’s tallest building, islands dug up from the bottom of the sea, ski hills, aquariums or gold souks; all I could think of is the sand beneath my toes and the sun in my face.
Dubai became one of my favorite destinations the moment the city’s tallest towers begin to disappear in the rear-view mirror of my guide’s Toyota Landcruiser, and as the desert grew wider and deeper in front of us. I’m a city slicker at heart and love the hustle and bustle and madcap mania of a wild urban playground, but nothing touches my soul like adventures into the wild. My Arabian Adventures desert safari began with a quirky falcon show, but it was the dune hopping in the big-wheeled cruiser that really got my heart racing; the engine roared as we climbed high over one dune and sailed over the sand toward the mountains and the border with Oman. We raced on and on, deeper into the dust, stopping here and there to shoot photographs of the setting sun and frazzled oryx, great horned beasts unsure how to treat these desert intruders.
Eventually we climbed aboard stately camels and rode for the final few miles to our camp in style, lucky to be part of a bespoke small-group package, a custom experience with room enough for a little more than a dozen people – in other parts of the desert, guests are ferried over the dunes and delivered to sprawling campsites for buffet dinners and belly dancing shows void of the quaint feel of our experience. After a torchlight dinner I wandered out under the stars to spy the night sky, and marveled at the fact that not far removed from this vast, beautiful emptiness lay one of the busiest places on earth, the future incarnate, buzzing with activity like a beetle in the evening air. Dubai’s newness is remarkable, but perhaps its greatest charm is its ability to fuse all that glitters today with the charm and allure of history.
Goway Travel is the global leader in tailor-made travel experiences to Dubai, and has been curating experience-driven expeditions to the world’s most remarkable destinations since 1970. Goway can arrange custom trips to Dubai, the Arabian Desert, nearby Abu Dhabi, and beyond. www.goway.com
Dubai boasts some of the finest hotels in the world, though many tout style over substance with spectacular exterior design and lacking interior embellishments. That’s why the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts experience is so refreshing; experience the sleek, urban chic of the Fairmont Dubai at the trendy Cigar Bar, Cin Cin wine cavern, Cascades Restaurant, and the sunrise and sunset rooftop pools, and the languorous luxury of the Fairmont Palm, located on the sand at the Palm Jumeirah, and featuring amenities like the famed Fairmont Gold Lounge, the beautiful Seagrill on 25º Restaurant & Lounge, and all the creature comforts The Fairmont is famous for. www.fairmont.com