A lot of places proudly describe themselves as being the “city that never sleeps”, but the lack of quiet is something I’ve never noticed quite as much as I did in Dubai. My sister lives in one of the newer communities, but even so whatever hour of the night I was restless at there was always the swish-swish of a passing car along a nearby road. It wasn’t annoying: on the contrary, I grew up on a flight path and behind a road, and have come to regard some sort of nocturnal white noise as essential for sleep. But it was noticeable.
That said, we really have to talk about the mosque.
I’ve become, with age, a pretty heavy sleeper; and so I was convinced that by the end of my short stay I would have developed the ability to sleep through the first adhan – the Islamic call to prayer – of the day from the mosque behind my sister’s house. Not so. Although, as I allowed myself to get sucked into a Wikipedia vortex after one particularly heavy night when drifting off again proved impossible, I started to warm to the idea when I discovered that the first prayers of the day change time to coincide with the sunrise. I’m not traditionally religious, but there’s something beautiful about dedicating the start of your day to your god like that.
Of course, it stood to reason that the night I got the least sleep would be the one before our busiest day. Since my sister has only been in Dubai herself for five months – and most of that time has been spent working – she thought it would be a great idea for both of us to do some sort of city tour. She actually booked the Deka Tours Dubai city tour on Christmas morning, which gave us both something to look forward to when she had to leave to go back to work.
We had absolutely no idea what to expect of the tour, only that we knew we’d got a bargain – so we stood shivering on the steps of the Deira City Centre Mall waiting on some rickety old bus to pull up. What we got instead was a gleaming gold jeep, driven by Hassan (at least I think that was his name, I was very hungover), a Pakistani man with excellent English who had been living in Dubai for years. We made a second stop to pick up an Indian family, and then we were off.
We made our first stop at the Old Gold Souk, and were delighted when Hassan pulled up and told us we had 20 minutes to have a wander and take in the sights and sounds of this traditional Arabian market. We had had visions of sitting in the jeep for three hours while being driven around, so it was a really nice surprise to discover our day wasn’t going to be like that at all! Although it was early on a Friday morning – the Islamic holy day – and the market was quieter than it would have been otherwise, we could still have bought all the silk scarves and fake Rolexes our hearts desired, and MC bought four richly-coloured hand-painted bowls to brighten up our kitchen.
Our second stop was Dubai Museum which, in keeping with the Friday theme, was closed – not a problem for us though, as we had too much to fit into one day for a proper look around and all we wanted was some sister selfies. We then drove around Zabeel, where many of the sheiks’ palaces are situated – there’s one that tourists are allowed to drop by, but only if you promise not to go as far as the second police car.
After this, things got a little frustrating – there was a road race and our jeep got stuck in traffic, meaning by the time we got to the man-made islands of The Palm we were tired, cranky and desperate for some lunch. We decided that rather than let Hassan take us back to Deira we’d leave the tour at the Dubai Mall stop so we could eat and I could buy some makeup, and then we’d get the Metro back to the car and have a nap before our night out that night. However, there were still loads of photo stops to go – which would have been brilliant, had we been in the mood for it, but instead meant that we got grumpier and grumpier and by the time we hit the world’s biggest mall it was all a little overwhelming.
It’s not something we can fault the tour for though – after all, it’s not as though we were the only passengers in the jeep so we could hardly hijack Hassan as our personal chauffeur to the mall. On any other day, without the weekend traffic, this would have been a really efficient and cost effective way to see all the sights of Dubai, from the fairytale wonders of Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab to the Old City and the souks. We even got our choice of soft drink and some water thrown in, which after a couple of hours in a car really makes a difference!
The Deka Tours Dubai City Tour costs 49 AED (less than £10) per person, and can be booked online in advance.