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Old Dubai - Exploration
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Walking the streets of Old Dubai was my core objective a few of days of culture, exploration, reflection and probably a bit of soul searching. My outline Foot Journey of old Dubai post explains the full reason behind my decision to take time off in a city Ive already been living in for eleven years.
Walking the streets of Old Dubai was my core objective a few of days of culture, exploration, reflection and probably a bit of soul searching. My outline Foot Journey of old Dubai post explains the full reason behind my decision to take time off in a city Ive already been living in for eleven years. In a nutshell, I wanted to experience Old Dubai, especially the historical parts, in the same way a five year old kid might do eyes wide open, eager to absorb the energy of real street life. And so I did, for three magical days.
I booked myself into the Barjeel Guest House in the Shindagha Heritage area, located bang on the creek. Its a newly built guesthouse that follows the traditional lodging style, and as it turned out a great place with a cool atmosphere and the perfect positioning in the heart of the anticipated action. Breakfast was served on the rooftop overlooking the creek promenade and it was a joy to experience a city come alive in the early morning hours people from all walks of life taking early morning strolls followed a few hours later, by the suits, ready to take on yet another day at the office. By evening, the same place was awash with couples enjoying evening walks and guys doing their illegal fishing. At set times, the call for prayer echoed over the water, adding to it a mysterious feel. This area of Dubai does have a true amazing character.
I spent most of my time out on the streets of Bur Dubai and Deira, ferrying between the two by abra. I just wanted to be impulsive with the direction I took no agenda, no plan, no boxes to tick the darker the alley or rougher the neighborhood the better, in that I was eager to take the routes least conventional. Conformity is so dull. Along the way, I stopped regularly for a feed or juice at little roadside restaurants.
Hidden in a back alley in Bur Dubai, lies a Hindu temple (thanks to my buddy Martin for showing me this place eight years ago) surrounded by quaint little shops. The atmosphere, the smell of incense, the crowds around me for a moment, I felt I was in India. It was amazing to see a million shops in Deira selling exactly the same goods and the hidden alleys behind them crafting those very same goods. I found this amazing AED 5 barber shop oozing with character and colour, located in the middle of a bed sharing district. Bed sharing is advertised on pasted sheets of paper on walls and is a level up (or down depends on how you evaluate) from room sharing. Given that a person only needs eight hours of sleep, why have the bed lie empty during the hours youre not sleeping? It does make sense then to split the rent and take turns sleeping, similar I guess to submarine living. I stuck my head in a few of these rooms and trust me, theyre pretty rough for my standard but a real-life culture for many. I shied away from getting my camera out.
One particular area that stood out is Bastakiya or Fahidi as the district will in future be renamed. Here you can find amazing old houses, beautifully preserved, many of which have been transformed into galleries and arty guesthouses. You can easily wander around the narrow alleyways for hours and be transported back to the days when life wasnt quite as hectic as it is today. A while back, Sheikh Mohammed granted The Emirates Lit Fest an old house to work from and when I went to check it out, it just felt amazing. A big tree in the middle of a courtyard, flat rooftop areas to chill & be creative, little rooms with heavy doors and a quintessentially rustic and heritage feel. It was there and then that I realised how much I would love to have an office in this area too.
My last dinner was spent at a Pakistani restaurant on the sidewalk next to the Bur Dubai bus station. Sharing the table with hardworking craftsman and eating a full dinner without cutlery set me back a crazy AED 13. Thats cheaper than a coffee at Starbucks and was an authentic, fun and memorable experience. Talking coffee, I did miss drinking decent coffee in historic Dubai. If you dont like Nescafe youre stuffed so I did feel a bit defeated when I jumped on my (inaugural) metro trip heading for my Grande Latte at BurJuman. Dubais metro system is awesome. Try it! Coffee is a bit of a ritual for me, dedicated time to read Wallpaper like magazines, flick through advertising books or to munch of a branding topic. Part of this Old Dubai trip was dedicated to think about the direction our brand is heading, so in the luxury of the mall, on a caffeine high, I drafted a few valuable mind maps.
My conclusion? Simply put, AWESOME. We should ALL take time off. Let go of life, discard the agenda and embrace life in the now. Just go with your current thoughts and experiences, note them down in a nice scribble book and truly go offline to spend time with yourself, in your own thoughts. Your car gets a big service every year so why not recharge your own batteries with the same regularity?
Quite a few will be reading this post and thinking of doing a field trip of their own. As I mentioned, you should. Youre free to identify your own content; where, why and how. But the unfortunate reality is that many will never leave their nest and jump into unknown waters. Thats just the nature of how many live. Personally, Im super happy I did it and look forward already to the next.
Big thanks to Dubai for the energy, the smiles and the opportunity to experience my hometown from a totally new angle. Thanks also to my lovely wife for taking care of the household in my absence and supporting my journey.
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