Living the dream in Dubai
Beneath the blingfest, ian mallon finds real class in the emirate city
YOU'VE got to think big when you go to Dubai -- and by big I mean bigger than you've ever thought or believed possible. After all, you are flown into the world's biggest airport, on the world's biggest plane, to visit the world's biggest building, to stay in the world's biggest hotel -- on the world's biggest resort, shop at the world's biggest shopping mall, and all on the back of the world's biggest dream.
THE scale of things smacks you right between the eyes even before you land in the world's fastest-built city, this side of Guangzhou.
From the air -- and the comfort of the Emirates Sky Lounge -- Dubai looks like a gargantuan Legoland, which could have been put together by a group of hyperactive kids out of their minds on M&Ms and Coke.
Nothing quite makes sense -- giant columns of odd-shaped skyscrapers rise up from the sand into the heavens in great clusters across the city. There are more city skylines than in most US states.
Funny-shaped islands jut out into the sea like diamonds, glittering with six- and seven-star hotels, all serviced by sweeping seven-lane motorways and shining new monorails.
The whole city divides the Arabian Gulf and the Arabian Desert and stands where 20 years ago there were only tents and a port -- which is the only place today where you still feel an authentic middle-eastern atmosphere in its spice and gold markets.
It is is the lack of authenticity and atmosphere in the new Dubai that takes getting used to.
But the average visitor doesn't come to this land of sheikhs and high rollers for culture, and if you remember this it all makes sense. While Dubai may look like a child's fantasy, it's a very rich Arab's trillion-dollar baby.
With that reality comes a very specific experience, that while not for everyone, is for those less-inhibited global travellers looking for self-indulgence and a lap of luxury fit for a sultan.
That whole experience begins from the moment you are escorted to the Business Class lounge, before you board the Emirates A380 -- the largest passenger plane ever built.
Once on board you will find the most intimate seating arrangement on any Business Class section on any airline.
But worry not, there are plenty of little distractions if you do get sick of the splendid isolation, on the relatively short 'long-haul hop' to the Gulf.
There is the bar for one. Now I've enjoyed many indulgences in my time -- but washing down miniature pizzas with vintage Champagne, while watching surgically enhanced Russian girls cavorting at 40,000ft definitely beats Bannagher.
Of course, the Russians weren't laid on by Emirates, they were just there, like the rest of us, heading for the world's newest super city, where I think their pursuits were a little more ignoble than ours.
When you do get to Dubai there are tens of thousands more Russians already there -- many of whom are hookers or oligarchs of all shapes, sizes and values.
There are hordes of Asians and Arabs too, a few Germans (even Ben Dunne went there), all spending like crazy and enjoying the so-called seven-star luxury.
First stop for me was the mind-boggling Atlantis -- the world's biggest hotel (of course), built at a cost of €2bn.
For my next two nights at Atlantis I felt as if I were staying in an upmarket shopping mall, bedecked with Rolex, Porche and Prada shops, Nobu restaurants, all straddled by the world's biggest aquarium complete with sharks and 60,000 fish.
There is the Eurotrashy nightclub -- where Tinie Tempah hangs out -- and the greatest water park in the world.
Thousands of people mill through the foyer every hour, making their way through the various arteries that extend through this vast, heaving micro-civilisation of wealthy silicon-enhanced global travellers.
The heady mix of the Atlantis is not for everyone, so a quick transfer across the Jumerriah Palm and on to the beautiful One&Only Royal Mirage hotel.
This was more like it, a cosier affair -- of course this being Dubai, the hotel complex ran across the equivalent of an Irish town, but it was all tastefully done. Here was a more upmarket type of holidaymaker and here the whole Dubai experience began to make sense.
Luxury, a sedate, laid-back atmosphere and an opulence that wasn't showy or overtly arrogant -- Dubai went from decadent to delicious, and 'big' felt less the oppressive order of the day.
Sure it pays to think big, but you can also find real class in Dubai, and a level of luxury that you will do well to find anywhere else in the world.