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Around the World in 80 Days Revisited

Dubai 8 October 2008

The highest atrium in the world 
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Inside the highest atrium in the world, at one of the world’s seven-star hotels. The Burj Al Arab, Dubai.
Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 Days RevisitedCaptain Khamis agrees to meet us the next day, which gives me a chance to sample some of the delights of the new Dubai. As we head out to the Jumeirah quarter, one new tower after another rises on either side of us and progress on the twelve-lane Sheikh Zayed Highway is sluggish. Alongside runs an almost-completed monorail system which is due to open next year, though few believe that it will make much difference to the traffic. This is a shopping culture, and with the aid of modern technology the crowded souks and bazaars of the old Arab world have evolved into the colossal shopping malls of today. The New Emirates Mall, in which we find ourselves this morning, boasts one of the world's largest indoor ski slopes. The fact that the outside temperature is 37° C and that it hasn't snowed here for centuries is exactly the sort of reason why the developers created it. It seems that the only requirement for building schemes in Dubai is that they start with the impossible.

The brazen confidence of the city is personified in the face of Sheikh Mohammed, one of the Al Makhtoum family which has run Dubai for 175 years. His likeness is everywhere, reminding the foreigners who comprise over seventy per cent of the population that the Arabs are still masters here. This morning I feel his craggy features and gimlet eyes on my back as I walk past a billboard on my way to take an abra, a water-taxi, to the Customs House. Abras are a rare example in this city of cheap and cheerful public transport. Little more than floating benches with a thin roof providing cover from the fiercest of the heat, they provide a continuous ferry service across the creek at its most attractive point, close to the old Bastakia quarter whose narrow alleyways and shining domes remind me more of Venice than Vegas.
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  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days Revisited
  • Chapter: Dubai 8 October 2008
  • Country/sea: United Arab Emirates
  • Place: Dubai
  • Book page no: 231

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