In 2006 when I lived in Kuwait the first time, for two years, I visited Dubai three times and I just wasn’t in love with it. I didn’t get the attraction. It was so expensive, traffic was a nightmare, and it was more conservative that a lot of people realize. Dubai is still all of these things, but on this trip, my fourth trip to Dubai ten years after the first, I have changed my mind about this city.
How many times have I said, “I live in Kuwait,” only to have the person I’m talking to respond with, “Oh, how do you like Dubai?” Dubai is not in Kuwait. Kuwait is not in Dubai. Kuwait is a country. Dubai is a city in the country of the United Arab Emirates. It is one of seven emirates, and by far the most well-known city in the Gulf region. Some people seem so surprised when I tell them this. But I digress.
What made me change my mind about Dubai? One thing. The metro.
My Love Affair with the Dubai Metro
Surprised? So am I. This modern marvel of architecture in the middle of the desert simply amazed me. The metro in Dubai, which has only a red line and a green line, has changed the way people get around the city, making it affordable and faster, alleviating some of the traffic congestion that plagued this city and made me want to pull to my hair out on previous visits.
Disclaimer: I will not post pictures of the metro for safety reasons, so you’ll see pictures of other beautiful things in Dubai instead.
The metro is clean, almost cheap (5 dirhams per ride, or about 1.35USD), fast, and blissfully air-conditioned, although not all of the platforms are. Most of the metro runs above ground, so go up to board and down to exit. The best thing is the air-conditioned footbridge that not only takes you across Sheik Zayed Road, but at some stops, the footbridge continues right into the mall so you don’t even have to go outside. There is a 1.5km footbridge with moving sidewalks that takes you from the metro right inside Dubai Mall, and a much shorter one into Mall of the Emirates. It runs parallel to Sheik Zayed Road, nearly the full length of it, and connects directly to Dubai International Airport.
The designers of this metro (Japanese?) thought of everything. There are two women-only carriages on each train, which I love, and for those wanting to travel first class, there is a gold carriage. What can I say? Only in Dubai. There is no eating or drinking allowed, which ensures it stays clean. If you take the metro to Dubai Marina, exit the metro, and cross to the tram, where you do have to pay again, but the tram drops you right in front of Dubai Marina Mall. The tram is the orange line and isn’t shown on most maps for some reason, but it is shown on the actual metro. The tram makes several stops around the Jumeirah Lakes Tower area.
The easiest way to use the metro is to buy a Nol card which you can top up at a machine. The card is 25 dirhams, but that includes a 19 dirham trip credit. The Nol card can be, actually must be, used on buses and water buses as well. You cannot use cash.
Here’s a website that is very useful and tells all you need to know about the Dubai metro.
Taxis and buses are still around, but taxis are not cheap. Buses do run on a schedule, but at the mercy of the traffic congestion. Not everything is within walking distance of the metro.
My Obsession with Mirzam Chocolate
That’s enough about my love affair with the Dubai metro. I came to Dubai for three days, during its hot and humid summer, for one reason. Chocolate. I heard about Mirzam bean to bar chocolates through a friend, and I just had to see it for myself. After spending an hour at Mirzam, I decided this trip to Dubai in summer was totally worth it.
Mirzam is located in Al Quoz, an industrial area, in Warehouse 70 on Alserkal, which is a block of warehouses more so than a street. As I approached the area I wondered why in the world they would choose such an industrial place, but once inside Alserkal, I understood. The industrial space is perfect for roasting, grinding, and tempering chocolate to turn into beautiful bars of indulgence. After a tour and tasting, I tried their chocolate mint lemon tea, made from the husks of the cacao beans. It was divine.
The real reason I was here was to try their bean to bar chocolates, made right there in the store. You can watch them create this wonderfulness. While I was there, they were making white chocolate mango and date and fennel dark, both of which were faves of mine. They have small, ceramic bowls filled with samples beside each chocolate so you can taste every single chocolate on offer. And I did. One hour and a small fortune later, I left as one happy customer.
My Sheer Delight with Coffee Roasters
Since I’d been to Dubai three times before, and because it was hotter than hades outside, I didn’t have too much else planned during my trip. I was curious about local coffee roasters, so I checked out a couple of cafes/restaurants that use Adventurous Encounter coffee roasters. Common Grounds is on Level 2 of Mall of the Emirates, but don’t be put off by the mall location. Once inside, you’ll get great coffee, food, and desserts. It’s decor is a mix of modern and rustic and it has a great atmosphere, even though it is in a mall. Try the salted caramel chocolate donut. Absolutely sinful.
The owners also have another cafe called The Sum of Us near the World Trade Center metro stop, behind the Sheraton. It’s not as far a walk as Google maps says it is, btw. I like this one even better than Common Grounds. Similar decor, better atmosphere, and not only is Adventurous Encounter roasters located here, but so is Rise & Dawn Bakehouse. The menu is slightly different. They have a unique all-day breakfast menu, but the same wonderful coffee menu as Common Grounds. You can choose your bean and brew method. I love that. I also had an avocado and ricotta on sesame bread with pomegranate molasses and salad. Delish. Each item on their menu has a twist that makes it unique. In this case, it was the pomegranate molasses.
With three days here and not much to do, of course I went looking for other unique places to eat. My first night here I took the metro to Dubai Marina, Pier 7, to Fume Neighborhood Eatery. It was early, so there were only a few people dining here. I had a table by the window with a view of the marina. I loved this place as soon as I walked in. Concrete, metal, rustic wood, clever lighting. Not to mention a fantastic menu, and it was happy hour! Cosmo, please! The service was excellent and so was my tuna steak.
Dubai Marina Mall? Yelch. Pass. But the Pier 7 restaurants are worth going there for, especially Fume.
The food scene in Dubai will leave you wanting for nothing, especially if you’re not on a budget. Nothing is cheap here, although I though Fume was exceptionally well-priced out of all the places I went. Seven US dollars for a highball of cold brew coffee is standard. It’s almost double what you would pay in the US for coffee. But I was here and well, I needed my coffee. And I had to eat, right?
Should You Visit Dubai?
I’m glad I made this one last trip to Dubai before leaving the Middle East. Now I can truly say I like this city. Even in summer. Would I recommend it as a sole holiday destination? No. But if you’re on your way to somewhere else, and you have a layover here, I would definitely recommend extending it to three days to experience the splendor of Dubai. Just make sure your hotel is near a metro station. Dubai is safe, great for solo travel, and you’ll never run out of things to see, do, eat, or drink.