Persian (Arabian) Gulf – March 16-24, 2009

After our Petra visit, Rita and I flew from Amman to Dubai to embark on our cruise of the Persian Gulf (also known as the Arabian Gulf or just “The Gulf” in an ongoing naming dispute between the Arab nations and the Persian nation of Iran). 
March 16: Arrived in Dubai and stayed for a night at the Grand Hyatt. We took photos from our room and got a preview of the smog that is common in the United Arab Emirates (pollution, heat – even worse in summer when temperatures rise to as much as 130). The pyramid building is the Raffles Hotel, and that is the sun, not the moon, trying to shine through the pollution. The tall skinny building may become the tallest in the world, depending upon which test is used (highest occupied floor, roof, nature of towers, etc.). It is not scheduled to open until September of 2009.

Dubai looks to be the most overbuilt city in the world with loads of offices and condos under construction without a likelihood of filling up in the current economy. Their oil is expected to run out in about 20 years, and the flurry of building and debt was meant to turn them into a Middle East version of Hong Kong – only time will tell if it works.

A big event occurred upon our arrival in Dubai: Rita had entered her 100th  country. We celebrated with dinner at the Al Mahara, a seafood restaurant at Burg Al Arab, the famous hotel that looks like a sail and sits on reclaimed land in the Gulf.

Until the Rose Hotel (also in Dubai) opens, Burg Al Arab is the tallest building in the world used exclusively as a hotel. You cannot enter the hotel unless you are a guest or have prior dinner reservations. The restaurant is built around an aquarium which made for an interesting and enjoyable dining experience – not cheap.

March 17: St. Patrick’s Day. We boarded the Silver Wind and sailed out that evening.

March 18: Arrived in Abu Dhabi. The city had been a fishing/pearl village until the oil revenues started coming in about 50 years ago. The smog followed us.

The main tourist stop is the new huge mosque – oil money can buy the best – the same Italian marble as the Taj Mahal and similar touches with inlaid semi-precious stones.  Non-Muslims can tour in the mornings other than Friday, and the women are provided with suitable clothing – see Rita in her black outfit. The series of clocks reflect the Muslim prayer times.

Below, the stunning Emirates Palace Hotel.

Women drive in the Emirates, and these two women were watching some speedboat racing and then left in their Mercedes.

March 19: We arrived in Fujairah, our third Emirate of the seven that make up the United Arab Emirates – we will not see the other four – our remaining two cruise stops will be independent nations. There was not a lot to see on this stop. Below, a golf ball building top that covers the antennae and some interesting traffic circle sculptures.

As always, US fast food outlets.

While leaving the port, we took some exit shots of the hazy skyline and then opened our champagne.

March 20: We arrived in Muscat, Oman, on a Friday, the holy day. Some shops were open in the souk which is an underground maze reminiscent of the market in Istanbul. Otherwise, the city was relatively quiet.

Old Portuguese prison forts are in the hills, and the Al-Riyam amusement park and beaches are in the area below the observation tower shaped like an incense burner. Not based upon my TV watching, but I understand Al-Riyam was a stop on Amazing Race 9.

March 21: Day at sea. The trip from Muscat back north took us through the Straits of Hormuz where the day before, a US sub had collided with a US ship. No major injuries or damage resulted, but kind of embarrassing. What were they doing there? The Fifth Fleet is based in what would be our next stop, the Island of Bahrain.

March 22: If it’s Sunday, it must be Bahrain.

We toured a mosque and a fort, checked out some architecture and visited a camel farm owned by the ruler’s uncle.

Below, a causeway that connects Bahrain to Saudi Arabia.

Back on the ship – dinner on formal night.

March 23: Back in Dubai. We are docked next to the Queen Elizabeth II which has been bought to be based in Dubai, but may suffer the same fate as some of the empty buildings. Our escorted tour included an outside view of the sail hotel where we had dined a week before, an interesting local history museum, and a boat ride across Dubai Creek to go to the spice and gold souks.

We took a cab to the Atlantis hotel which is at the far end of reclaimed land shaped like a palm tree in the Gulf.

Only guests can enter the hotel, but we were able to go to the attached Chambers of Atlantis, a very impressive aquarium. The sign being held by me is for granddaughter Alex who has a March 23 birthday.

There’s always a Starbucks.

We used our remaining time before our late evening flight to visit one of the Dubai shopping malls. With the Dubai World Cup coming up the following weekend, several Australian and London hat makers had set up a temporary hat souk. Whether it is the Kentucky Derby, the Dubai World Cup or the Ascot Race Track in My Fair Lady, big horse races mean big hats. Guess what? Rita bought one even though we do not plan to attend any of those races. After many fittings, she selected the one with the orange band which was designed by Celine Victoria, the Aussie lady next to her in the last photo.

Then, to the airport for our overnight flight to home (15 hours from Dubai to Atlanta).