Day One of Diving into Dubai, UAE

I made it to Dubai!!! Exhausted, but in one piece :).

Believe it or not, the 15-hour flight from Orlando wasn’t as bad as I imagined. The seat I had in coach on Emirates wasn’t any more spacious than a domestic coach seat, but the cushioning was definitely more generous. I had a window seat in a 3-seat row with no one in between me and the “aisle guy,” so we had some extra room to spread out. Easily the most difficult thing about the flight was getting to and from the restroom. I strategically picked my seat to be a close as possible, but it was still a challenge to get in and out of the row–especially when two of the seats in the row in front of me were reclined. Either way, I managed.

For my arrival, I arranged for a concierge service to do a meet-and-greet and get me through immigration/customs, handle my bags, and provide a car service. They were extremely courteous and helpful, and well worth the money. As for the airport itself, it’s like Las Vegas–but shinier, newer, and bigger. Lots of Roman-style columns, mirrored columns, and shiny floors. The airport was also my first glimpse into Dubai culture. This is a very international city, and only 25% of the population here consists of native Arab Emiratis. However, there were plenty of women wearing head scarves and full-body abaya dress, and men wearing the white robes and headdress.

That being said, once you’re out of the airport and driving through town, you can’t help but gawk at everything. It’s like a combination of Vegas and Disney World. Not much is older than 20 years, and there is high-rise construction EVERYWHERE. The buildings themselves won’t settle for being plain OR rectangular. Many of them twist as they rise, or are created in oval or almond shapes. There’s a constant tan haze of desert dust, but that didn’t diminish the awe I felt when I first laid eyes on the Burj Khalifa–the tallest building in the world–from the distance of the airport. Driving to meet my friend Rebecca at the American University here, we drove through most of the city. Almost everything–ads, billboards, store signs–are written in English, with few Arabic translations. All the street signs are bilingual. The wealth is evident everywhere; I lost track of how many Ferraris, Maseratis, and Porsches I saw on the highway.

My initial plan for getting around was just to work with my electric scooter, but we had to nix that idea in the bud. As incredibly handicap accessible as Dubai is almost everywhere, the sidewalks all around town, for the most part, don’t have cutouts (the little ramps at the corners that allow you to roll to street level). The curbs (or kerbs, as they call them here) are also incredibly high in some places, making using elbow grease to force my scooter down or up and over a non-starter. So, for only US$88 I rented a manual wheelchair to use for my trip. Looks like I’ll be getting an upper body workout this week :).

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