Saturday, 26 January 2013

Old Dubai Charm - Getting lost in Al Bastakiya

Attributing Dubai with the description "charming" seems like a misconception. Dubai is vibrant and over-the-top... and flashy. Like a glittering disco ball. Charming would be the simple, inexpensive baubles my grandmother use to decorate the Christmas tree, and hold some form of nostalgia or sentiment. All of which Dubai know nothing of.*

*This is just my personal assessment and opinion of a city  I visited for 48 hours, and objectivity is not one of my selling points. Also, I'm not for sale.

But I'm here to tell you that that's all "New Dubai"! Old Dubai is charming, and resonate with the simplicity of years before skyscrapers, water theme parks and hordes of tourists happened to Dubai.

Arabian Nights at the Orient Guest House

Since we came from Sri Lanka, which is only a four hour flight, we arrived in the afternoon which meant we could go to our hotel and check in immediately. That in and of itself was fascinating enough!

We decided to skip the mass of extremely-overpriced, glitzy five star hotels and stayed in a quaint boutique hotel situated in the old Persian area, known as the Bastakiya Quarter. (More on this later!)
The Orient Guest House is a traditional old limestone house with a wind tower, and all the rooms situated around a central, open air courtyard; which makes the place all the more charming! The room itself was a bit of a let down in all honesty, but functional and clean which is really all you need, right? Breakfast in the courtyard each morning is a tranquil affair and they serve the most delectable orange jam (I should have swiped a jar!)... I'd say that alone makes the place worth a second visit!

The Arabian Courtyard Hotel is just up the street, and it's amenities are open to guests staying at the Orient. Plus they have a huge genie with pointy shoes as the doorman!

It really is a treat to step out from the quiet coolness of the Orient, into the narrow alleys of the Bastakiya area, and retreat to it's tranquillity after a busy, hot day exploring Dubai.

Al Bastakiya Quarter

Al Bastakiya is one of the oldest residential areas of Dubai, with traditional houses and wind towers (the historical air-conditioning system), weaved together in an intricate maze of  narrow alleys. Even tough a large part was destroyed to build skyscrapers, the tiny area that remained is now renovated and cherished as a historical site. It is marvellous and reminiscent of old Arabia, but sorely lacking in authenticity... I can't help but feel like I'm walking around on a movie set. (In my case - lost on a movie set!)

 The streets are deserted, and the stonewalled buildings mainly house cultural museums, a few tea gardens, and art galleries.
A restoration workshop in the Bastakiya Quarter

Purchases at the Persian goods shop.
It's worth getting lost in for an hour or two, in fact I'll even include this helpful walking guide so you won't miss anything worth seeing, but loosing your way is part of the fun!
How else would you run into an American architect - now aspiring artist - who takes you to see his studio and tell you where to find the best tea garden in Dubai? Or find a small family store that sell authentic Persian goods; like beautiful table cloths, decorated plates and jewellery boxes made from camel bone. The Iranian owner and his son was delightful and very accommodating, even taking down a table cloth from their wall after I dismissed every cloth they draped open for my perusal.

Despite the  lack of residents and loud, spicy street markets that I so desperately want it to be; I did find Al Bastakiya charming.

Especially at night when everything is quiet, and the moon casts a glow on the carved doors lining the narrow streets. And because I get to share it with my darling husband, a sweet memory bauble to hang on our "travel-tree".

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