Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Visiting Dubai had never been high on my travel wish list. I didn’t even expect to like it. Not a fan of big cities to begin with, I figured it would be noisy, crowded, pricey, and impersonal. My assumptions were based on the stories I’d heard about this city of excess. In 1965, when the United Arab Emirates (UAE) gained independence from Britain, the site where Dubai now rises was little more than a fishing village on the banks of the Dubai Creek. But with the discovery of oil a year later, a modern city began to emerge from the barren Arabian Desert. When Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum became the ruler of Dubai in 2006, he set about make Dubai bigger, better, taller, faster – a city of superlatives that is today unrivaled on the planet.

Let’s Begin With Tallest…

More than just a city of skyscrapers, Dubai is home to the 2,716.5-foot high Burj Khalifa. Not only does it claim bragging rights as the tallest building in the world, it is also the tallest free-standing structure in the world, has the largest number of stories in the world (according to their website, “more than 160”), has the highest occupied floor in the world, the highest observation deck in the world, the tallest service elevator in the world, and its 57 elevators have have the world’s longest travel distance from lowest to highest stop.

Viewing Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, is a must-do when visiting Dubai, UAE

Viewing Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, is a must-do when visiting Dubai, UAE

The spiraling “Y” shape of the Burj Khalifa is an aesthetic wonder, but the design is functional as well, reducing wind forces on the tower. The building is topped by a 700-foot telescoping spire comprised of more than 4,000 tons of structural steel. It was constructed from inside the building and jacked to its full height using a hydraulic pump. The exterior of the Burj Khalifa is clad with reflective aluminum and stainless steel panels, into which 26,000 individually hand-cut glass panels were fitted.

While visitors are welcome to visit the observation decks located on levels 124/5 and 148, it is the exterior that most excites tourists. Wherever the tower is clearly visible on the skyline, there is sure to be someone posing in front of it. The only difficulty is finding a spot from which to capture its entire soaring height as well as the person standing at its base. Read More

Dhow cargo boat on Dubai Creek in Dubai, UAE, is loaded down and ready to haul anchor

Click on title to view photo in large format. A dhow cargo boat on Dubai Creek in the Deira neighborhood of Dubai, UAE, is loaded down with merchandise. These old wooden boats carry cargo from the UAE to destinations as far flung as Iran, Pakistan, India, and Somalia.

The spectacle changes from day to day. My first walk along the wharves took me through the world’s largest Bed, Bath and Beyond. Impossibly high mountains of bedspreads, pillows, sheets, draperies, and towels teetered and threatened to topple. Another day, Read More

Massive aquarium at Atlantis Resort in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates

Click on title to view photo in large format. At Atlantis Resort in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), an enormous aquarium on the lower level allows guests close-up views of giant manta rays and sharks. The resort stands at the head of Palm Jumeira, the largest man-made island in the world, which was built in the shape of a palm tree. The five-star Atlantis in Dubai was modeled after its sister property in Read More

In the United Arab Emirates, shoppers go crazy taking photos of the new Tesla cars on display at Dubai Mall.

Click on title to view photo in large format. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), shoppers flock around the new Tesla cars on display at Dubai Mall. Several Emiratis made serious inquiries about purchasing one of these revolutionary, all-electric cars. In one instance, a salesman quoted the price Read More

Every morning, I passed Aisha on the sleepy sand streets of Bodufolhudhoo Island. Her black head scarf and ankle-length cloak revealed only her face and hands. I longed to speak to her, but after greeting me with a radiant smile and a heartfelt “Good morning,” she always lowered her eyes demurely and continued on her way. Like all the women in the Republic of Maldives, she seemed painfully shy.

On day four, I finally screwed up enough courage to ask her a question. “Can you tell me what your head scarf is called?” After she explained that the scarf was called a hijab and the cloak an abaya, I blurted out the question I’d wanted to ask for years. “Aren’t you hot?” I had long wondered whether the traditional clothing worn by Muslim women made them hot or was cooling because it afforded protection from the relentless sun.

Main road on Bodufolhudhoo leads to the harbor

Main road on Bodufolhudhoo leads to the harbor

“No, I’m not hot,” she claimed, even though perspiration beaded her chin and upper lip. We stepped into the shade, where Aisha explained that the Quran, the holy book of Islam, states that women should cover themselves so as not to offer temptation to men. Efforts to remain chaste begin at an early age in the Maldives.

Though I’d previously understood that girls begin wearing the hijab and abaya after the beginning of menses, Aisha donned the traditional garb around the age of six. “I cried and cried. I didn’t want to wear it. But my father explained it was necessary because only my husband, brothers, and father should be allowed to see my body. He was protecting me so that he could deliver me to my future husband as a pure virgin. Today it is a pleasure to wear it! By doing so I honor the scripture and my husband.” Read More

At the end of the day, local youngsters on Bodufolhudhoo Island in the Maldive Islands gather beach mats used by tourists

Click on title to view photo in large format. At the end of the day, local youngsters on Bodufolhudhoo Island gather beach mats used by tourists. This tiny speck of an island is located in the Alif Alif Atoll group in the Maldive Islands. It is so small that I was able to walk entirely around it in 15 minutes. As all citizens of the Maldives are required by law to be Muslims, the dress code is extremely conservative. However, residents of the island have set aide a strip of private beach Read More

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