“I’ve had better breakfasts on British Rail”

Well, my midterms have been created and now I have a bit of a break until they are written next week. I hope that this means that I can get back to semi-regular blog writing. Last week it felt like the weather had started to turn cooler, but this week seemed to be warmer during the day than it had been in weeks. It has been particularly humid in the mornings. Most of the days this week started out with some pretty dense fog. At times during the drive into work in the morning we couldn’t see any other vehicles on the road, or more than a few feet of the shoulder.Foggy morning view

One morning, I got a picture of the view from my bedroom window of the fog surrounding the base of the Emirates Towers. It was a beautiful effect, but unfortunately the picture doesn’t quite do it justice. Part of the problem is that the windows are very sandy, and that mars the view. I hadn’t really noticed that I could see the Emirates Towers from my apartment before this morning. Like much of the architecture in Dubai, these towers are impressive and charming. I was told on the drive back from the university one day that these towers were once the tallest in Dubai. They were built just 15 years ago, and now they can easily get lost in the skyline.

On Sunday morning I headed to the Burj Al Arab for a much anticipated visit to the famous hotel. This is probably the most iconic building in Dubai – the hotel shaped like a sailboat. This hotel does not allow anyone to come inside unless they are guests or have reservations to eat at one of the restaurants inside. I had been told that the most inexpensive way to get inside was to go for tea – which costs about $80 Canadian. I had found out about the Expat Women.com Annual Breakfast at the Burj Al Arab, and so I bought a ticket for 330 dirhams (just under $100 Canadian dollars). The breakfast was scheduled for three hours, and there would potentially be lots of people to meet while I was there. I thought this might be the best way to see this sight.

I was worried about what to wear to a breakfast in a place that is described as the world’s only 7-star hotel. I have a semi-formal event later in the year that is work related. I had been looking for a dress that I could wear both for the breakfast, and then for the dinner in November. I had not managed to find anything that I thought was really appropriate for the dinner. I had a back-up outfit for the breakfast that I thought would be acceptable, but I was worried that I would feel under-dressed in front of all of the other expat women. On Friday, I met some of the other faculty at the Mall of the Emirates for lunch. They had all been to church that morning, I mentioned that I was still looking for a dress for this breakfast and Liz, the wife of one of my colleagues, offered to go shopping with me. I don’t really know how to shop, and Liz was great at it. She pulled lots of things of the racks for me to try. It was nice to get another opinion on the clothes. In the end I found a dress that I liked, and I thought would be good for the dinner in November too. I also bought another pair of shoes (I have lost count on what number this is) because I didn’t really have a pair that was formal enough to go with the dress. In the end, this breakfast ended up costing me about $300 for the ticket, the dress and the shoes.

The only reasonable way to get to the hotel was to take a taxi. I had a leisurely morning and then got dressed for the breakfast. I had seen the Burj Al Arab from several vantage points in the city, but driving directly towards it was by far the most impressive view. The taxi stopped at a closed gateway that lead to the front entrance of the hotel. He rolled down the rear window of the taxi so I could speak with the security guard. I had my ticket in hand with the confirmation number that gave me the right to continue forward. I had been sent an email that said I would probably only need to say that I was there for the Expat Women’s breakfast, and that turned out to be the case. The taxi took me to the roundabout that led to the main entrance of the hotel. When I reached the entrance, there was an attendant who opened the door of the cab for me to exit. As I was approaching the main entrance, I spotted Laurie and Lisa, whom I had met at the Tim Hortons a few weeks ago. Laurie was the woman who told me about the breakfast in the first place.

Laurie and Lisa were in the lobby when I got inside, and Lisa was taking quite a few pictures. I went up to them to say hello. I am pretty sure they recognized me, but I was also pretty sure they didn’t remember my name. I was introduced to a friend of Lisa’s who was also attending the breakfast and another woman who was Lisa’s friend’s friend . I can’t remember either of their names right now, which seems like poetic justice.Burj Al Arab lobby I took some pictures of the lobby of the hotel, and asked Laurie to take one of me in front of the cascading fountain that is between the escalators leading to the next level.

My first impression of the hotel was that it was very nice, but not overwhelmingly impressive. When you take the escalator up to the second level, there is another fountain the the shape of an octagon. After the breakfast I sat for awhile to watch the two fountains, and they were interesting, but again not overwhelming. The motif of the hotel is dominated by brightly coloured rugs and lots of gold accents. For example, the elevators are outlined in a shiny gold metal, that apparently is actually gold, and the doors are covered in a pattern of gold and blue. There is an incredible, large chandelier hanging from the ceiling of the Al Falak Ballroom, which is where the breakfast was held.

I will say that there was one feature of the hotel that I found truly awesome. While I was going up the escalator, I looked up. (Just a piece of advice for anyone visiting Dubai – always take the time to look up when you are walking around, inside or outside.) The inside of the hotel is basically hollow to the top – about 60 floors I think. Burj Al Arab look upI took a picture of it, but the picture really doesn’t give a true impression of the height. That view was by far my favourite part of the building.

I went up to the Al Falak Ballroom with Laurie, Lisa, Lisa’s friend, and Lisa’s friend’s friend (whom I am going to call Barbara for convenience for the rest of this blog), along with several other women who were attending the breakfast. One of the women in the elevator was wearing a dress that I had tried on when I was shopping with Liz. I was really glad I didn’t buy it, because it looked much better on her. When we got to the ballroom, we wandered around before trying to find a seat. I took some pictures inside and of the view outside. It was a hazy morning, so the pictures outside look fuzzy. It turned out that waiting to find a seat was a bad idea. By the time we went down to the seating level, there were very few seats left, and no tables that had a group of five seats.

I ended up sitting at a table with Barbara (not her real name) and several other women whom I had never met. Barbara is a 72-year old woman, originally from Wales, who had been living in various places in the U.A.E. for the past five or six years. Seated on the other side was a woman who was originally from Scotland and her sister-in-law who was just visiting for a couple of weeks. The breakfast itself was pretty mundane. It was a buffet, that had typical breakfast choices like scrambled eggs, pancakes, croissants, sausages and bacon. The pancakes were Nutella pancakes and there was chocolate sauce available as a topping. The sausages were beef sausages and the bacon was turkey bacon – no pork to be found. So there were a few special touches to the food, but I was really expecting some outstanding cuisine. I think most people in the room would agree with my assessment. Barbara commented several times that “I’ve had better breakfasts on British Rail”. Now I have never had a breakfast on British Rail, but I have definitely had better breakfasts – in particular the brunch at Grandview in Huntsville is much more impressive.

I will compliment the hotel on its service. Every time I got up from the table, my napkin was folded for me by the time I returned. The water in my glass never got below 1/3 full before  someone was there to refill it. The staff was very responsive to every request by anyone at the table. I would say that service generally speaking in Dubai is very good, but I could see that there was extra emphasis here.

There were a couple of speakers during the breakfast. The first was a doctor who had grown up in Dubai but left for about 15 years while doing her medical training. The speech wasn’t long, but it she had an interesting perspective on the changes she observed in the last 40 years or so – especially returning as a professional, female Emirate. In between the speeches I made my way across the room to talk to Lisa and Laurie. Lisa’s husband is the manager of the Tim Hortons and she said he has been incredibly busy. I commented that the coffee shop is always busy whenever I see it. After the second speech, which was basically a sales pitch for Mont Blanc (an accessories shop), and the raffle draws (which I didn’t win), I decided to head back to my apartment. I had a busy week ahead.

Jumeirah Beach HotelI took a few more pictures outside – including one of the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. This is the hotel that looks like a wave from the distance to complement the sailboat hotel. By this time of the day it was less hazy, so the pictures were better. I couldn’t really take a good picture of the Burj Al Arab from outside, because I couldn’t get far enough away.

By the time I had finished taking my pictures, the entrance to the hotel was filled with women who were trying to leave. Most of them were waiting for a valet to bring their own vehicles. The roundabout in front is very small, and it essentially caused a traffic jam. I asked one of the attendants if he could get me a taxi. He waved for a vehicle that didn’t look like a typical cab. It was all white, and when I got inside it had DVD players built into the front seat headrests. It turns out that the car was actually a Lexus – although the interior was a bit run down. For the privilege of this special cab, it cost 10 dirhams more to get home than it cost to get to the Burj Al Arab.

Overall, I am glad I went, but I have to say that it really was not worth the money. In particular the meal was overpriced. I would recommend that if you are coming to Dubai for a short period of time that you get close enough to get a good view and a good picture of the Burj Al Arab. However, I would say save your money for other site-seeing. At least I will get more chances to wear the dress and the shoes I invested in for the right to walk inside this “seven-star hotel”.

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