Natural air conditioning
The United Arab Emirates have always had a very harsh climate, which prompted the locals in inventing a natural form of air conditioning ages before electricity was invented.
This natural air conditioning is the wind tower. It is a rectangular tower fitted on top of buildings with openings on all four sides. The hot air enters the tower from one side and flows down into the building below. By flowing down, it will cool down significantly and expel the warm air in the building through the opposite opening in the tower. The result is a constant flow of cool air through the building.
"Fancy a date, my sweetie?"
The date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) has been cultivated in the Emirates for thousands of years. Not only the fruit itself, but also the leaves & trunks of the tree were used for basket making and house & boat building.
You can eat dates fresh & juicy (harvest time is summer: July/August), or after they've been dried in the sun and have developed even more concentrated fruit sugar. The latter is the most common (I also don't like the taste and squidgy-soft consistency of fresh dates... yuch!)
You can buy dates at the souks and in most supermarkets. You will see dates from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the UAE. Some are filled with almonds or walnuts (my favourite!) and some are even coated in chocolate!
TIP UPDATE 2008: Dates are available in all differents sizes, flavours and qualities. Good-value dates are available in most supermarkets. For something special, I like to buy some "luxury dates" at Bateel, in pretty boxes they make a perfect gift!
In Dubai, Bateel has outlets in the Bur Juman Mall, the Town Centre Mall and also in Deira City Centre Mall.
During the Holy Month of Ramadhan, Muslims generally break their fast by eating dates. Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) is reported to have said: "If anyone of you is fasting, let him break his fast with dates. In case he does not have them, then with water."
Dates are said to be rich in natural fibres, oil, calcium, sulphur, iron, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, copper, zinc and magnesium. Strangely enough though, they are one of the few types of fruit that do not contain any vitamin C.
Although healthy, be careful when it comes to your waste line! Fresh dates contain about 20 calories each. But dried dates, as with all dried fruits, contain far more calories than their fresh counterparts.
Because dates contain high traces of magnesium, zinc, etc. they are said to also be good for... well... a man's libido. My mother is a tour guide and tells her tourists these and other facts about dates. Funnily, she has quite often heard the wives of elderly men whisper: "Bill, go a buy a couple of packs of dates!" Hilarious!
What's the deal with pork & alcohol?
As you are surely aware, Muslims do not eat pork and do not drink alcohol. (Well, at least they're not supposed to... but that's a different story...;-)
Therefore, I've noticed quite some confusion from first-time UAE visitors in regards to what is allowed, what is not, and where to purchase it legally.
Alcohol is *not* sold in supermarkets in the UAE. Even products containing any kind of alcohol (i.e. chocolates) are sold in designated liquor stores:
MMI Maritime Mercantile International
A&E (African & Eastern) are the 2 licenced suppliers of alcohol.
They are often adjacent to a supermarket, but with a seperate entrance and no windows. To purchase alcohol you must hold a liquor licence. Any non-Muslim UAE resident who wishes to drink alcoholic beverages, buy alcohol from an officially approved retailer, transport the legally purchased alcoholic beverages or store them at their residence for their family and guests can apply for a licence. Based on your income, the Dubai Police-CID decides the appropriate monthly budget you are allowed to spend on your licence.
Tourists can only buy alcohol in the airport's Duty Free upon arrival.
--> Alcohol is served in restaurants & bars that are located in hotels. Indepenent eateries (e.g. in shopping malls) do *not* have a license to serve alcholic beverages. (you will see that in all of my restaurant tips I indicate at the beginning whether the venue is licensed or not)
Pork is sold in the more "Western-oriented" supermarket chains, such as
Spinney's (various locations),
Choithram's (various locations),
Carrefour Hypermarket (Deira City Centre, Bur Dubai near Shindagha Tunnel),
Park 'n' Shop (near Safa Park, Jumeirah).
There is a seperate section (click on picture) in the butchery reserved for pork & any food items containing pork (i.e. bacon flavoured potato chips, canned soup, pork gelatine, etc.) Both Alcohol & Pork items are generally more expensive than they would be in Europe, America, United Kingdom, etc.
Although Dubai is in the desert it is possible to purchase pretty much everything you know in your home country. You can buy Vegemite, Peanut Butter, Haribo, Beef Jerky, Thai products, Japanese products, South African biltong, German bread, Swiss cheese, French yoghurt...
NOTE: Although Dubai prides itself on having "everything" available for its huge expatriate community, be aware that most European imports can be extremely expensive. For example: A large yoghurt that costs 50 cents in Germany costs 18 Dirhams (4 Euros!) here.
Dubai by Night
Dubai is a beautiful city at night. There are lights on all the Palm Trees; some of the buildings change colors in the evenings. The malls are usually open until midnight. On Fridays, (which is a Sunday to most of us), nothing opens until 2 pm. It is very safe to walk around Dubai by yourself during the evenings. Anything and everything goes in Dubai. I was a bit surprised at this. Women wear mini-skirts; shorts; tank tops; you will see it all. However, on the private beaches there are signs posted indicating that going topless is forbidden.
Ferry transfer in deira
To get from one part of the old town of dubai to the other you need to take a boat. There are a lot of small boats who bring you over and it's very cheap too. just sit in one of those wooden barges. They are going to start when the barge is full. it's really cheap! but take care! I once was looking for a boat to cross the river and one guy told me to hop in. He crossed with only my on board and I had to pay for about 20 people. But never mind....even the price for 20 people is cheap!