I recently returned from nearly two weeks in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and wanted to share my experience with my readers. First off, a big “Thank You” to Fireworks by Grucci® for making the trip possible. I recently started working with them and was very excited to find out I would be making my first trip to the Middle East. Grucci was attempting a new Guinness World Record on New Year’s Eve at Al Marjan Island in Ras Al Khaimah. Ras Al Khaimah is one of the seven Arab Emirates that make up the UAE, and is a little over one hour away from Dubai. So after the work at Al Marjan Island was complete, I was going to spend a couple of days on my own in Dubai. I’m happy to say the New Year’s Eve show was a huge success and Fireworks by Grucci® and Al Marjan Island now jointly hold the Guinness World Record for the Largest Aerial Fireworks Shell. You can read more about this stunning achievement on my blog.
As most of you probably know, I love photographing New York City, especially night. So the prospect of photographing a world class city like Dubai was really quite exciting. I had heard and seen amazing things about it and knew it would be a photographer’s dream. But first I had to get there!
The flight from New York is approximately 14 hours. That, along with a nine hour time change, created some trepidation for me. While I can generally handle long flights, losing nearly a full day due to the time change was an unknown. Initially my sense of excitement helped carry me past the fatigue but eventually it did catch up with me and when the fireworks were over (literally and figuratively), I needed a couple of days to crash.
The UAE, being in the Middle East, is a desert climate. Winters tend to be very mild. While I was there, temps ranged from the low 60’s at night to the mid 70’s-80’s during the day. There was even a relatively rare, large rainstorm that moved through one night during my visit which created some localized flooding. Contrast this with summer in Dubai: Temperatures can get as high as 120 F degrees with very high humidity. No one I met had anything good to say about the UAE’s weather in the summer!
Weather back home also came into play during my trip. The morning I was supposed to return to the US, a huge winter storm hit the East Coast, cancelling my flight and many others. JFK was closed for nearly 48 hours creating a huge international backlog of air traffic. As a result, it was six days before I could get another flight home. At first it was a little upsetting, especially because the information as to what was happening in New York was slow to come through. But once I saw that my home town had gotten 15 inches of snow and was being hit with record-breaking Arctic temperatures, I was happy to be in the warm, sunny embrace of the Middle East.
Modern Dubai is a relatively new city. Since the 1960’s, the forward-thinking government there has had a grand vision to make the city a world class destination for tourism, banking, aviation and real estate. And for the most part, they have achieved their goals. Dubai has a reputation as a top international destination and everyone I told I was going was very excited for me. Its futuristic skyline is home to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. At 2,717 feet, the Burj Khalifa is an absolute masterpiece of design and held great interest for me as a photographer. (For my New York City friends, the Burj Khalifa is nearly as tall as the World Trade Center plus Empire State Building combined!) There’s also a 12 lane highway and a modern monorail train system that run right through the center of the city. And Dubai’s skyline continues to grow and change - everyplace I looked there were new construction projects, many being manned around the clock. Dubai seems to be in a race to outdo itself, and I can only imagine what the city will look like in ten years from now.
Culturally-speaking, Dubai is a modern Arab state. Many Emirati citizens wear traditional Muslim clothing, and several times a day (during prayer times) the air is filled with beautiful Islamic chants played over loudspeakers across the city. That said, Dubai has a huge immigrant population (mostly from India and Southeast Asia) that outsize’s the native Arabic citizens four to one. The city itself also has a distinctly Western feel: almost everyone speaks English and all the road signs and most commercial advertising are in Arabic and English (and sometimes only English). The streets of Dubai are filled with the same automobile brands we have in the US and the city has whole-heartedly embraced the Western ideal of high-end retail shopping. The Dubai Mall - the world’s largest - occupies nearly six million square feet and welcomes more than 80 million shoppers a year. It has 1,200+ retail stores, include flagship luxury brands Valentino, Gucci, Chanel, Guess, Ralph Lauren and more. It took me nearly 25 minutes to walk from one end to the other!
That said, what impressed me most about Dubai was the warmth and friendliness of the people. There were several instances where I asked a local for some kind of assistance – driving directions, food purchases, etc. Whether they were native Arabs or one of the many different immigrant groups, the people I met were all very helpful, friendly and welcoming.
One particularly wonderful person was fellow photographer Ihsan Salhia. I found Ihsan on Instagram a few weeks prior to my trip and reached out to him once I knew I was coming. He ended up helping out on the New Year’s Eve fireworks show at Al Marjan Island, and then showed me around Dubai during my visit. A great photographer and a kind, generous person, please check out Ihsan’s work on Instagram and Facebook.
My time in Dubai was initially supposed to only be 2 ½ days. The plan was to cram as much photography in as I could during that time. But when the weather in New York turned for the worst it was really a blessing as I was able to take full advantage of the City. Without that weather delay I would have ended up missing a whole lot. Ihsan got us access to several rooftops around the city during my extended stay and all I can say is the view of Dubai from 50+ stories up is truly breathtaking!
I’ll let my photos do the rest of the talking. You can see the entire Dubai Collection here. Again, I want to thank Fireworks by Grucci® for this wonderful opportunity to travel to Dubai, and also thank Ihsan and all the other wonderful people I met for their warm hospitality and welcoming smiles.
And thanks to you, my readers, for taking the time to go on this little journey with me. Please feel free to share this post and don’t forget to post your comments on my adventure!
Until we meet again, thank you Dubai for a wonderful - and wonder-filled - couple of weeks! All the best!
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