Glowing crystal buildings that spike to the highest reaches of the sky. Tennis played in the clouds. Glass domed buildings submerged under shark-filled water. It sounds like a place that sprouted from a fiction writer’s head. But it’s no fantasy and I’m heading to this real-life wonderland.

Outbound Traveler

Gables v5In a few days, I will again sit in the airport, watching people stroll by, lugging their bags while I wait to board a plane.

Travel. It’s something I do quite often. I have many jobs: YA/MG writer, medical writer/editor, mother, wife…The list goes on. Thanks to these many jobs, I’ve been lucky enough to travel and also write about it on my blog as part of an ongoing series of my blog I call “Traveling with The Travelers” (the redundancy is a reference to my debut novel, The Travelers).

I don’t always get to go to exciting places. I’ve been to Dallas more times than I can count in the last few years. But I can find a story anywhere. That’s the fun part of being a writer, you see stories in everything. This time, however, I’m headed to somewhere far outside the United States and far outside my comfort zone. I’m headed for Dubai, a place that seems like it was built on a writer’s imagination.

(Side note: Since I’m going for work and because of potential connectivity limitations, this means there might be a short break in my blog posts. Not to worry! I’ll be back with full details of the exciting trip as soon as I return.)

Digging in on Dubai

To be honest, when I first found out I had to go to Dubai for work, I was a little nervous. It’s not that I don’t want to immerse myself in another place and culture. That part sounds exciting. But I have this travel-limiting factor called Celiac.  (You might have heard of it or at least its dietary craze offshoot “gluten-free.”) It’s kind of a pain (literally).

It’s hard enough to go to a restaurant in my own country and have the wait staff a) know what Celiac/gluten sensitivities are and b) take it seriously. (So many people choose to be gluten-free now, people don’t realize there are those of us who actually suffer when we eat it.) When visiting another country it makes eating food downright risky. Add a potential language barrier can mean gambling with your health.

But, being me, I pushed this fear aside and decided to “dig in” on Dubai, not just in terms of food options for people with Celiac, but also in terms of customs, things I should know before going (something anyone should do when visiting another country.) I very much believe it’s important to know and respect the culture of the place you’re visiting.

Admittedly, I know very little about Dubai, other than it’s part of the United Arab Emirates. I’ve heard rumors of extravagance and riches, giant pet cats (lions, tigers, not overfed Garfield-like house cats) and sports cars being more common than minivans. Since I had no true understanding of the city, I set off to get some.

Five of the Most Interesting Facts I Learned About Dubai

1. Dubai has almost no crime

The crime rate in Ddubai police car.jpgubai is virtually 0% and it is considered one of the safest cities in the world.

2. It’s a city of immigrants

Only 17 % of the total population are Emiratis. The rest of the population consists of ex-pats.

3. The police have really nice cars (really, really nice)

Each police car in Dubai costs as much as sending one person to college in the US. The fleet includes Ferraris ($500,000), Lamborghinis ($400,000) and an Aston Martin ($1.79 million).

gold-vending-machine.png4. The country is mostly young and mostly male. 

Just 15% of the population is aged 45 or over and women make up only 30% of the population.

5. You can buy gold in a vending machine

The Gold to Go ATM in Dubai Mall allows you to buy anything from a gold coin to a one-ounce gold bar. There’s even a computer inside that changes the prices every 10 minutes in line with real-time fluctuations in the market.

Five Things I Hope I Get to See in Dubai

Burj Khalifa1. The tallest building in the world (for now)

Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world and it’s in Dubai. It’s 2,716.5 feet above the city, that equates to 160 stories. And, not surprisingly now that I’ve learned more about Dubai, the city is working on making a new tallest building in the world called The Tower. Dubai apparently can only outdo itself at this point. (Although Saudia Arabia has plans to vie for the title.)

Burj Khalifa 2

2. The mall

If you’re from the US, this will sound lame, going to a mall. We have so many of them that they’re starting to close down, over-saturated and under-visited. But we don’t have any malls like the Dubai Mall in the US.

It’s home to 1,200-plus shops, 150 restaurants (including some gluten-free!!!), an indoor theme park, an ice rink, a giant waterfall, and an aquarium plus an underwater zoo. I can’t even begin to imagine how an underwater zoo differs from an aquarium. Based on my research it looks something like this and I really want to see it!

underwater zoo.jpg

3. Ski slope in the desert

Speaking of malls, you wouldn’t think a place like Dubai only has one. However, if the Dubai mall is the Vegas of malls, what could the Mall of the Emirates possibly have to offer? Well, the Swiss Alps, apparently. Competing for the title of craziest thing someone could find in a mall, the Mall of the Emirates has a snow park complete with 5 slopes. The tallest one rising 1,300 feet. (Sure that’s probably paltry by Aspen skier standards. But have those snow bunnies ever skied in a hot desert? My guess is no.)

If that’s not enough, the desert snow paradise also boasts a penguin “encounter” where you can get “up close and personal” with penguins and a “snow bullet” (aka, a snow zip line.) I’ve never been much of a skier, but to say that I’ve skied in the desert…it might be enough for me to pack my winter coat.

mall ski slipe

4. Bastakiya Quarter (the Historic District)

While Dubai might appear at the outset to be all modernity and glitz, it’s a very ancient place. The first humans settled in the area now called Dubai in approximately 3000 BCE with a proper city cropping up out of a fishing village in the 1800s. Some of that old world remains in the form of the Bastakiya Quarter. While the 1800s is not ancient (the US had cities by then), it’s a glimpse into the city before it became the Middle East version of El Dorado. With its sand-colored walls that look like they grew out of the ground, this might be the place I most want to see.

bastakiya quarter

5. Dubai Creek

The Dubai “creek” (it looks much bigger than the creek that ran through my grandmother’s farm) is the reason people first settled in this area. (Remember it was once a fishing village.) A cruise down Dubai creek takes passengers past the aromas of Dubai’s spice souk (market) or the old area of Deira. Even if I can’t ride a dhows (a sailing vessel), I’d still like to see them docked, loading and moving cargo across the salty blue water.

dubai creek

There’s so much to see in Dubai, it was hard to limit it to these 5. There are beaches and an art district, a crazy water park, Dubai Museum, luxury spas, a man-made island shaped like a palm tree, an underwater hotel, the gold souk and the Jumeirah Mosque. (I spent much time debating between this last option and Dubai Creek for the #5 spot!) Not to mention there is an entire desert culture to explore.

It might seem lame, but a friend of mine who has been to Dubai told me that given my limited time (since this is a work trip and my actual tourist time might only be a day) I should get on a sightseeing bus. I normally turn my nose up at tour buses. But, for this trip, that might be my best option.

While I’m happy that I feel more prepared for my trip now, I’m also wishing I had more time. Dubai sounds like a place full of wonder and culture and things that you thought only existed in dreams.

I can’t wait to get there and see those dreams come to life!