I wanted to visit the Burg Khalifa tower in Dubai, reputed to be the tallest building in the world, twice as high as the Empire State Building in New York. A few hours remained the afternoon of my arrival from Australia, my only chance to do so. I would’ve liked to enjoy the High Tea and champers but hadn’t been sure what time might be available, or whether jet-lag would affect me on the day, so hadn’t been able to book in advance. At least, I thought, it might be possible to ascend and take in the view.
A hotel clerk at Al Bustan residence, where I was staying at Al Nahda, gave me a Metro map. ‘You change from the Green line to the Black.’ She circled Union station. ‘Burg Khalifa station is your stop.’
It seemed straightforward enough but, setting off, I felt rather nervous. Aha! There was the imposing structure of the Metro. A driverless train, it has the longest automated line in the world, elevated viaducts and underground lines in the CBD.
Upstairs, the ticket office was closed, my only option a machine . I didn’t have a clue how many zones I needed. Perhaps two? Fed in a 20 Dirham note and won the jackpot –clattering coins almost filled a purse. As I made to leave I felt guilty to notice the long queue which had built up behind me.
Took an escalator, more stairs and finally reached the platform, enclosed with glass, as in Hong Kong. I stood waiting for the train, checking the Metro map several times, fearing I might never be seen again. A good-looking young Indian man standing nearby assured me I was heading in the right direction. ‘Change from the Green Line at Union’… Soon it emerged that – surprise, surprise – he too planned to visit the tower that day.
He told me his name was Oria. ‘Let’s go together?’
I hesitated. After all, it was daylight… ‘Why not?’
Leaving the train, we took another escalator, with him leading the way towards the black line. Hurrying behind him, I missed my step and fell heavily, sprawling on the polished marble floor, surprised not to have fractured anything. People were asking if I was all right. I shakily regained my feet, one knee aching in protest, assuring them I was fine. Luckily, I’d brought along my Arnica tablets, amazingly effective in dispersing bruises.
Emerging from the second train, Oria strode through the barriers, but my ticket was rejected outright, doors slamming in my face. An official waved his hands at me. ‘You have the wrong ticket. Not enough zones.’
‘I’m a visitor,’ I protested. ‘Didn’t know how many zones were needed- Don’t understand your currency. Let me buy the right ticket.’
He kept messing me around, wasting precious time. ‘Look, just sell me another ticket. It’s late and I want to get to the tower.’ Oria came over and counted out most of the coins and handed them over. A new ticket enabled my escape.
Setting off, I was surprised Oria knew the way, since I’d earlier gained the impression he hadn’t been to the tower. We walked for what seemed like miles along a covered walkway decorated with pots of pink orchids. It was similar to HeathrowAirport, in that there were moving walkways to speed pedestrians along. I kept expecting to see a sign pointing to Burg Khalifa tower. At times Oria made asides to invisible people in the passing crowd. I began to fear this excursion was part of some elaborate scam. Were he and a network of thieves plotting to rob me?
Oria used my camera to take a picture of me against a large poster of the city and tower. ‘This one very beautiful,’ he said.
My knee had settled into a gentle throb by the time we reached a huge and very elegant shopping-centre, the Dubai Mall, reputedly, the largest shopping centre in the world. We went up and down several escalators. Oria questioned an official-looking man. I assumed he was enquiring about the tower entrance, but next moment we arrived in the luxurious basement with magnificent window displays from every fashion icon one could desire. Chanel, Yves St Laurent, Louis Vuitton, Prada… My escort exclaimed how great it was to explore with someone.
‘I agree. This is very exotic. But where’s the tower entrance?’
He took me outside, indicating a large, attractive artificial lake with white timber structures and a walkway. I gaped: far, far away, across the lake, gleamed the Burg Khalifa! He’d led me away from, not towards the tower. Clearly, Oria never had any intention of going there. I should have felt annoyed, but, frankly, after my fourteen hour flight from Sydney, followed by the long walk, I felt too exhausted to care. Still, I protested ‘But I wanted to visit the tower!’
‘It’s very expensive. One hundred dollars. Besides, you must book in advance, even to go up.’
‘Well,’ I sighed, ‘No High Tea for me,’ realizing by then it had always been impossible. ‘At least take my picture with the tower in the background.’ Wonder why people take what is clearly a vertical shot on the horizontal mode? Ah, well.
Oria told me that soon we would enjoy a magnificent fountain display on the lake. ‘Not to be missed.’ Purely by chance, he said, his ‘friend’ happened to be working nearby. ‘He’ll arrive shortly.’ This information made me feel uneasy, again wondering if he conspiring with someone.
He told me he worked in IT, and showed me pictures on his mobile phone. He looked very handsome in his suit at work. He asked about my hotel. What was the food like? The beds? I ignored his query about beds. ‘Haven’t tasted the food. The apartment’s modest enough but suits my needs. There are even cooking facilities – not that I’ll use those.’ I refused to give him my room number. ‘Sorry you can’t ring me tomorrow, or show me around. I have tours all day.’
He telephoned his ‘friend’ on the mobile, and, of course, I couldn’t understand a word.
I said, ‘Thank you for your help with the Metro. I’ll go now. Must be home before dark.’
‘Are you sure you know the way?’ He pointed in the right direction. ‘Upstairs.’
‘Thank you – I’ll be fine.’
The light was fading fast, but I felt confident of making it back safely. Happily, someone was selling tickets, so I bought the right one: all zones. Two crowded trains later and I emerged into the street near my hotel, none the worse for my little adventure – well, apart from a dodgy knee. How good it felt to be ‘home’.
My afternoon excursion with Oria had enabled me to stroll inside glamorous Dubai Mall, view a beautiful artificial lake, and glimpse that elusive tower from a lovely setting. I’d never have found it all on my own. Next time I’m travelling alone, I’ll engage a private guide. Expensive? Yes, but worth every cent. And I’d certainly like to do more journeys on the Dubai Metro.