Brighter lights, bigger city

This weekend, under the pretext of needing to re-enter Qatar so we could upgrade our visas to something a little longer lasting, family Little City paid a visit to its bigger, brasher neighbour, Dubai.

It was the first visit (bar stopovers) for all of us, so a weekend of discovery awaited.

One of the reasons we were so keen on the move to Qatar in the first place is that the options of where to go for a weekend away or a holiday suddenly become a lot more exotic (thanks to Qatar Airways’ sale, it’s Goa in the spring).

So putting Abu Dhabi and Muscat on hold for now, we took the short flight south. Here’s five things I learned this weekend:

Dubai is like someone’s hit fast forward on Qatar’s next decade

Everything about Dubai is more…polished than Doha. It’s taller, bigger and a little more mature. For example, the driving is, for want of a word, UK-esque (which means by and large people stay in their lanes, indicate when they want to move, leave a vague gap between them and the car in front; tedious guff like that)

The city has decided what it wants to be, built it, and invited the world along for the ride. I get the sense that in some quarters Qatar is still having that debate and that we’ve got an interesting few years ahead of us.

“Dubai is all finished,” one taxi driver told me. [He meant in the sense of being completed.] “Occasionally a new skyscraper, but basically it’s all done.”

Speaking of which…

And you thought London’s Shard was big…

The Burj Khalifa is a big pointy stick in the world’s eye

By some considerable distance the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa announces its ambition through the desert haze from miles away. It looks like a demented game of reverse Jenga, where someone’s kept on adding tiny pieces here and there in a bid to make it so immeasurably larger than anything else that it’ll hold the record forever; a game of architectural double dare written in steel and glass.

Who knew training could be so fun?

For all its impressive credentials, however, my favourite building of the weekend was a lot closer to the ground.

Emirates’ Aviation College is shaped like a jumbo jet. If you have to have some professional development, at least sure it takes place in a fun-shaped building.

Ikea Dubai is just the same as Ikea Toulouse or Ikea Southampton*

Which is lucky. So if there’s something you lost, forgot or broke in your recent move, then fill your boots…

If you’re going to laugh in the face of death by deliberately plunging down a 90ft near-vertical drop, send an eight-year-old down first; they make excellent guinea pigs

I used Kid A.

It really does leave you with very little option to do the same, despite all the voices in your head screaming ‘no!’, if you’ve just dispatched your first born down a massive chute. I thought I should at least have the decency to follow her down and check she was ok. Luckily, she loved it and even leapt up the steps to do it all again.

It’s pricy, but the Aquaventure park is a great day out for kids big and small, as you’d hope from a theme park built in the back garden of a seven star hotel.

Great facilities, very helpful and friendly staff, tons of lifeguards everywhere and very cleverly organised (waterproof wristbands can be loaded with money at the entrance so you can play in peace, for example).

Only downside: the signage appears to have been done by the same person who hid the Long Stay car park at Doha International behind a hedge about half a mile from the terminal building.

Speaking of which…

Don’t drive yourself to Doha International Airport

We knew this was a city not designed for pedestrians. Hell, they came somewhere below camels when the list of “Things that might want to use Doha’s roads” was drawn up.

But once you’ve found it (and it took us three go rounds), the walk from Long Stay to the terminal (kids and bags in tow) doesn’t even feature an unbroken walkway, let alone any shade.

And then when you return, you realise that Arrivals and Departures are basically on opposite sides of the airport and your car is a wait, a bus ride and a walk away. Across four lanes of traffic with kids and bags still in tow, and no ramps.

I’m sure it will all be better when New DIA opens sometime next year. I’m sure someone’s thought about the pedestrians. Convinced of it.

(Signage, lack thereof, was a theme of the week: we had gone on our first proper night out since we moved, only to have to cancel our reservation at the award-winning restaurant we’d booked because we couldn’t t find it anywhere…)

So: taxis all the way it is.

PS: the visas

So the purpose of the trip – to power up our permits – was mostly successful. As soon as we find out what blood type the kids are, they can get five year visas. Five years!

The best I can do is turn my one-month into a six-month version. For that, I merely have to have a full health check (weight, x-rays, height, weight, TB immunity test – oh, and blood tests for a few killer diseases – the usual…)

  • Except the meatballs, obviously.

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