Guest Post: Traditional Dubai

Hello guys, welcome to a guest post from Neha who blogs at Dubaiwikia

Dubai, the capital of glitz and glamour has a charming traditional side to it which brings to mind its transformation from a pearl diving and fishing village to the cosmopolitan giant it is now. Dubai’s history, along with that of the UAE, goes back for millennia. The city has a rich culture and a richer background which forms a tapestry of traditional jewels that adds to Dubai’s charm. Here are glimpses of Dubai’s traditional elements. You’ll see from them that the pearl-diving village still exists, underneath the glamorous layers.

Al-Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood

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The Bastikaya Quarter, or old Dubai, in Bur Dubai is Dubai’s oldest neighbourhood, built by Persian merchants in the 19th century, who named it Bastak, after a town in Iran. The Persian merchants were attracted to Dubai owing to the relaxed trade tariffs. This picturesque heritage neighbourhood has quaint lanes, sandstone buildings, and wind towers, an old but effective form of air conditioning. While in the Bastikaya Quarter, be sure to learn a bit more about Dubai’s history at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Visit the Dubai Museum, the Arabic Tea Garden, and other places of note.

Al-Fahidi Museum

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The Dubai museum occupies the old Al Fahidi fort which dates back to 1800. The front rooms showcase old weaponry, and various utensils that were used in Dubai from historical times. In a corner of the museum is a traditional “Sarasti hut” which is topped by a burlap wind tower. This is the sort of structure where Dubai’s past generations lived. The walls of this hut are made of palm fronds which allows plenty of air circulation.

Explore the museum’s underground displays which showcase traditional Emirati and Bedouin life. There are several rooms with life-size mannequins and dioramas that showcase every aspect of traditional Emirati life including prayer, traditional clothing, games, camels, falconry and local architecture.

The Dubai Creek

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The Dubai Creek is a deep seawater inlet which was used as a main trading route at one point. The creek runs through the heart of the city, splitting Dubai into Bur Dubai and Deira. Along the sides of the creek are modern hotels, restaurants, office buildings and old sandstone dwellings and wind towers as well apart from bustling souqs.

Souks in Dubai

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Souqs are traditional Arabian markets. There’s a souq on either side of the Dubai Creek – one on the Deira side and one on the Bur Dubai side. The gold souk is located at Bur Dubai. At this old market you’ll see traditional storefronts selling 24 carat gold, along with rubies, diamonds, emeralds and other gemstones, all decoratively arranged in windows. The gold price here is much cheaper than elsewhere in the world, as it is tax-free.

The narrow and colourful spice markets in Bur Dubai declare their wares from a distance when the delicious smell hits your nostrils. Follow the exotic aromas to the traditional open stalls selling cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, saffron, and a myriad other spices.

On the Deira side, you’ll find stalls selling carpets, Arabian clothing and pashmina shawls. You’ll find some gold souqs there too, but not as many as in the Bur Dubai side. You can set up a quick bargain for any item you wish to buy from any of the souqs, something you cannot do at Dubai’s posh malls.

Heritage Village

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The Heritage Village is a reproduction of an old Bedouin village. It’s an attempt to showcase the way life used to be before oil was discovered and the world changed. Here you can witness traditional palm-leaf huts and wind towers being built from scratch. Wander around the replicated village and admire the handicrafts and woven articles made by the women. It’s a fine place to pick up some souvenirs. Be sure to observe the falconer’s ability to train and control his falcons at the Heritage Village – it’s a treat!

The Dubai Desert

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The most ancient and most enduring aspect of Dubai and the UAE is its desert. The desert has been around for millennia, shaping the lives of the people of the Middle East. Sign up for a desert safari to truly appreciate the beauty of the mysterious, mystical red sand dunes. Even if you’re not into desert adventure sports, take a tripod and camera and capture some great sunsets or sunrises. The desert safari comes with typical Arabian entertainment such as the Tanura dance show and bellydancing, so it’s a good way to get to know the region’s culture as well.

The Dhow Harbour

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Don’t miss a visit to the old dhow harbour, where you can see old dhows lined up for repair and renovated dhows all decked up for cruises on the creek and on Dubai Marina. Observe the traditional methods of ship building that are still being followed. Dhows have been built in Dubai for many thousands of years. Today, dhows are being used not just for trading and fishing, but for recreational pursuits. If you’re in Dubai during May, be sure to catch the Al Ghaffal Traditional 60ft Dhow Race. Enjoy the emirate’s rich maritime heritage by signing up for a dhow cruise.

Dhow Cruise Dubai

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You can sign up for a dhow cruise of the Dubai Creek or Dubai Marina. The piece de resistance in either case is the beautifully renovated and decorated dhow, done up in beautiful glass with gold accents. The dhow, when fully lit up, makes for a festive sight on Dubai’s waters. Enjoy the pleasant atmosphere, on-board entertainment, and a wonderful Emirati vegetarian and non-vegetarian buffet dinner on board. On the Creek, you’ll pass by the old town, Sheikh Saeed’s house which is the birthplace of Sheikh Saeed, the Dubai Golf Club, and several major landmarks including a distant view of the Burj Khalifa. If you’re taking the dhow cruise on the Dubai Marina, then you’ll see the Burj Al Arab and the Atlantis hotel along with the Palm Islands close up. You’ll also get to enjoy close up views of the super yachts moored at the Dubai Marina, the yachts that cost millions of dollars.

While modern Dubai’s distractions are great to see and admire, it is Dubai’s traditional aspects that actually feed the visitor’s soul. Don’t ignore what your soul demands. Take a trip down the lane of history and make good use of your time in Dubai by learning the story behind its stupendous success. Learn about the grit of the Emirati, the vision, the determination and the nerve to keep trying. Be sure to spend time at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding to know more about Dubai’s origins.

Guest Post: Saskia’s Adventures in Seville

The summer adventures of Sophie, a British blogger from Wiltshire, and her daughter Saskia in that sultry beauty of a place called Spain. Sophie’s previous guest post for me was on Bruges

Seville in August is an experience; it is boiling hot (daily temperatures often reach upto the 40s), full of history and it comes alive at night for Tapas and Flamenco. We visited for a long weekend and we fell in love with this stunning city and its fiery and friendly people. Don’t be put off by your drive from the airport…..just wait and Seville will work her charm!

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We booked an apartment – as we are a family of four – which was in the Jewish Quarter of old Seville where all the shops were and had air conditioning. This worked well for us and gave us the flexibility that we were after. It was a 10-minute stroll to the cathedral and a 20-minute walk to the Plaza de Espana. There are loads of places to stay in Seville but if I were to go again in the summer months, I would look for a hotel with a rooftop pool such as this one.

There are so many things to do in Seville! These are my top 6 things for you.

  1. The Cathedral

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This is a MUST and if you only have one or two days I insist that you go! It is the most beautiful cathedral I have ever visited and needs to be seen with your own eyes to be believed. It is a UNESCO World heritage site and it was completed in the early 16th century. The Giralda Bell Tower was once part of the city mosque which is even older. It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. It is immense. The ornate carvings and gold work are something to behold; all the wealth of old Spain sits in this place!

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There are many tombs here but my favourite was the tomb of Christopher Columbus.

  1. The Real Alcazar (palace of Seville)

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The palace is one of the most beautiful in Spain and Moorish in design. The upper levels are still used once every three years or so by the present Spanish royal family.  It is another UNESCO World Heritage site. As we waited to go in, a lovely lady called Isabel offered to be our guide, so we jumped at the chance to learn more and jump the queues. It was the best 10 Euros we spent as she was a resident of Seville and told us all about the history of this fascinating place. The palace has been used in many movies and TV shows; the most recent was in Game of Thrones. I came away though with the fact that under the rule of Alfonso X in the 1250’s, Christians, Jews and Muslims all lived together in peace and this is shown in the symbols around the palace that intermingle with each other.

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The gardens are equally stunning and are worthy of a visit. We stayed here for many hours and you really need at least half a day to see everything.

  1. Plaza de Espana

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Built in 1928 for the World Fair of 1929 to showcase Science and Technology they are now government buildings.

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Take a horse and cart to explore Maria Luisa park which surrounds the Plaza. Spot parrots that fly above your head or relax amongst the cool trees. There is a lot to see here and many other points of interest such as The Museum of Arts and Traditions is worth a visit if you have time. Or just relax and enjoy a drink at one of the local bars or cafes.

4. The Metropol Parasol

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The Metropol Parasol is the largest wooden structure in the world and gives a great view of the city as you can climb to the top for 3 Euros and even get a free drink! Roman relics were discovered during construction and these have been preserved in the underground Antiquarium museum. We visited in the daytime but apparently is beautiful at night as it is lit up.

  1. Maestranza (the bullring)

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Whatever your feelings about bullfighting, the bull ring is worth a visit. There is a tour which includes some of the bullfighting costumes and art work.

  1. Tapas and Flamenco

There are numerous Tapas bars and cafes throughout the city but the place to go is the district of Triana. This is a 20-minute walk across the Isabel bridge from Old Seville. Here, under the mist that is pumped out to keep you cool, you can sample wonderful food. Don’t go too early though as Seville is the place for a siesta between 2pm and 8pm. Many of the bars play Spanish guitar music and offer Flamenco. Well, Triana is the birthplace of Flamenco!


Saskia’s Adventures in Beautiful Bruges

If you can imagine a fairy tale town from one of the fairy tale books of your childhood, it would be Bruges. A medieval town in the Flemish region of Belgium, it is easy to get to from the UK, for a long weekend. We went in July, the weather was glorious and the beer cold.

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Our two-night stay for the weekend was at The Hotel Dukes Palace, a palace from the 15th century which was absolutely perfect. It is right in the centre but has secure parking in the underground car park, and as we drove, this was essential. This is a luxury hotel, so it’s a real treat, and it is comfortable and central, which is what we wanted. There are many hotels to choose from and, as we always book at the very last minute, we can safely say that this works for us. This way, you can get some great bargains too.

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What to do

Whenever we go anywhere, we wander around, because we feel that it is the best way to get to know a place. Bruges is a great place to do this as it is easy to walk around. The streets are cobbled, so comfortable footwear is essential. It was warm in July but it does get very cold in winter and you will definitely need to wrap up accordingly.

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The city is surrounded by canals and many of the streets are pedestrianised so it is safe and very clean. We headed for the historic centre called Burg Square which is very easy to find. The buildings that line the square are ridiculously pretty with tall, coloured walls and stepped roofs. There are lots of welcoming places to eat or sit and grab a ice cold Belgian beer. We decided to take an open-top bus as the teens don’t really enjoy sightseeing. This way we could still see some of the points of interest without dragging them around museums or churches!

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The bus leaves the square every 15 minutes, costs around 15 Euros per person and takes about 45 minutes. The commentary was easy to follow and, as a history nerd, I liked all the historical details that were provided. It’s good to learn something about the places that you visit. Bruges is known as the Venice of the North as it is surrounded by canals and has more than 80 bridges. Once it was one of the wealthiest places in Europe due to these waterways enabling trade.

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After the bus tour we wandered around the shops which were all enjoyable. There are about 50 chocolate shops in Bruges where the chocolates they display are like works of art. Many shops sell beautiful lace too.

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Now for the best part….the beer. Try the Dubbel Blonde which was definitely my favourite. Proost everyone!

*Did you enjoy it? This is a guest post from a fellow blogger, Sophie (Saskia is her daughter). Do head over to Sophie’s and experience with her a life in the shires, where the lovely lady lives in an old house with a wonderful family, two cats and her dog Dottie (we clearly have something in common).