The Bar At The Top Of The Burj Al Arab

When the immigration officer leans back in his chair with a bit of a smile and you say Hullo and he says Hullo and, without another word, stamps your passport and hands it back, you know you’re entering a civilized country. So it was coming to Dubai last week.

The first warning was to be prepared to sink a few if I went to the bar at the top of the world’s only seven star hotel the Burj Al Arab, which was next door to my hotel. Some guys had gone there the night before, ordered a beer, and got charged US$90 each. After commenting on the expense of the beer, they were told that the beer only cost $20, but the minimum charge in the bar was $90 per head. So they felt pretty much obliged to drink four beers each. The five minute trip in a golf cart from my hotel over the bridge which leads to the Burj on its artificial island, takes you to the entrance to a hotel atrium like those soaring empty spaces rising some 30 floors you find in Taipei hotels. In front of you, as you walk in, is a rock face which loads of synchronised water bursts ranging from little snakey things plopping from pool to pool to the occasional extended sprays. On either side of the rockface are escalators going up and down, to and from the mezzanine floor and the whole wall on the side of each escalator is a huge fishtank. The mezzanine floor has posh shops, and a fountain, and gold-leafed representations of palm tree trunks on either side, and lots more gold leaf and bright colours and brightly coloured carpets. Claridge’s it ain’t. Knowing what I know I don’t go to the roof-top bar. After an hour or so in Dubai, you begin to wonder: Are the locals taking the piss? Between the Burj and my hotel is a place called the ‘Wild Wadi Water Park’. The taxi driver mentioned it reverentially as a must-see. Then they’re building the world’s tallest tower which I can see from my hotel room balcony, looking like the barrel of a gynormous gun. It’s about 60 per cent of it’s final height, said the taxi driver, but they won’t say what it’s final height will be, in case someone builds a taller one. This seems a very witty approach to construction. My hotel is one of a block of four in a complex, one of which is the Burj, and the other three of which are connected by a series of meandering waterways along which ply motorized dhows to take you around. These three hotels are in traditional Arabian architecture but new. They’re what the Americans would build if they wanted an Arabian Nights themed hotel in Las Vegas, or an ArabLand sector in Disneyland. That’s not to say the hotels aren’t sumptuous, with engaging staff who like a joke, and, amazingly to me, good food. Normally indifferent to foreign food, for me Dubai’s cuisine has all the good things: stews, curries, grilled fish, kebab. Every night you get to smile before you turn the light out because there, at the bottom of the bed, someone has arranged a towel into the shape of an animal with big beady eyes looking at you. It’s no bad thing going to sleep on a giggle.

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