Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.
Who: Suzanne Struglinski (author of this account) and Wayne Broadfield of Gaithersburg
Where, when, why: We went to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates Oct. 21-28, inspired by Wayne’s love of architecture — and an amazing Groupon deal through Gate 1 Travel.
Highlights and high points: Dubai is home to the tallest building in the world, one of the largest shopping malls and many other superlatives. Standing on the observation deck on the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa, looking down at soaring skyscrapers, was unbelievable.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi was unlike anything we’d ever seen before. It’s open to non-Muslims, so we got to tour the inside and learn more about Islam.
A main highlight was the desert safari, where we got to pet a penful of camels before going on a ride and standing atop huge sand dunes in a real desert.
Another high point was Friday morning brunch at the Burj Al Arab hotel. We had great views from the top floor, and it was quite an amazing spread of food.
Cultural connection or disconnect: I brought a long dress for the mosque visit, but the tour guide noted that it did not reach my ankles and that the slit up to the knee would not fly inside the mosque. So we ventured to the souk in search of traditional dress. Haggling over an abaya was an experience in itself, but then as the shopkeeper showed me different ways to wrap the head scarf around my head, it became clear that I was a long way from home. I tried to repeat the wrap for the mosque, and when a woman nodded that I had it right, there was a small connection there. Walking through the mosque in traditional dress just deepened the experience for me.
Biggest laugh or cry: The biggest laughter was in the Jeep during the desert safari. More than once, we thought for sure that we were going to bash into the car ahead of us, and we let out a few yells. Our driver spoke little English but would turn to the group and give us a thumbs-up. The six of us in the car just laughed, not really sure what exactly it translated to!
Also, as we walked through the souks, vendors would say “Pashmina, magnet, pashmina, magnet.” It just seemed like a very strange combination.
How unexpected: Walking through the Dubai Mall is like walking through Tysons on a much bigger scale. We couldn’t believe all the familiar brand names and stores there. We were walking through the mall to see the fountain show, and there was a Garrett Popcorn shop. As a Chicago native, I moan that I cannot get this treat in Washington unless I order it online, but there was a shop halfway around the world!
Fondest memento or memory: My abaya is truly a great souvenir, but more important, we left with the impression that the world is really big yet really small at the same time. Of course, I also loved the camel milk chocolate and chocolate-covered dates. And riding a camel not at a zoo or a Renaissance fair but in the desert is another great memory.
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