Thursday, February 19, 2009

Welcome to the hotel...

There is one thing that I have wanted to do since before I even set foot in the United Arab Emirates. Something that probably tells quite a bit about my personality, and embarrassingly so, I suppose. But since you already know all about The Hat, there's no point in hiding it.

I have dreamed of having the highest of High Teas at the Sky Bar here:

At the Burj al Arab. See that bit that sticks out right by the top on the ocean side, opposite the helicopter landing pad?

That's the Sky Bar.

You can't even go into the lobby of the Burj al Arab, formerly the world's tallest hotel at 333 meters (1090 feet) unless you are a guest there. (Of course it has been topped by...two other hotels in Dubai. What else is new?) It calls itself a 7 star hotel. The iconic sail, to resemble that of a Dhow, is our favorite building in Dubai.

So Colleen and I decided we'd "treat" each other to birthday teas there, since neither one of us felt we could justify buying such a thing for ourselves.

We made the reservations, and when the day came we were a bit nervous, a bit keyed up. We tried to be casual about what to wear and such, but it was all an act. Of course we primped and preened and took too long to get ready.

I'd decided to park at the nearby Souk Madinat, and have us arrive in a taxi. The parking spots there are ridiculously tight, and though I wedged Bird Car backwards into one, there was no way I'd be able to open either door to get out. So we tried backing onto another spot. A passing gentleman took pity on us and offered to park it, and for once I stepped on my feminist attitudinal tendencies and accepted. (Mike later teased me a lot about this, but for the moment all I wanted to do was to get us to the tea.)

Car parked, we headed up the escalator, and a disaster of small proportions struck. The escalator wasn't running, though often when you step on a stopped one it starts. Not this one. We both stepped, and stepped again, and Colleen caught her shoe in the mid front of her skirt. The skirt she'd been saving to wear for just this occasion. The skirt that we'd carried around in a shopping bag to try and find the perfect shirt to match, the skirt that we'd emptied out my closet to find a top for. The skirt that ripped quite a bit, dead front and center.

There was no helping it, it was pretty trashed.

I dragged her to the nearest cashmere wrap store in the Souk. "Scissors, we need scissors!" we gasped. Colleen held up her hem while the bemused young man did his quick best to even out the hem once the major hole was cut out. Colleen moaned and groaned but I put us into a taxi to the Burj al Arab.

We made it through the gatehouse and were unceremoniously dumped off at the entrance, despite giving the cabbie a triple-the-fare tip for such a short drive, he was still surly. Usually cabbies and I get along, but not his time. Colleen was still making decidedly unhappy noises about the state of her dress, and I had to snap her out of it for fear she'd be so self-conscious she'd miss the experience.

I am, as you know, a big fan of experiences. Legal ones, anyway.

So, after managing not to have to physically shake her by the shoulders to lighten up, we both relaxed and began to look around as we headed for a grand...escalator. I snatched one of the largest, most delicious dates I've ever had to good fortune to enjoy, and we rode up next to a huge wall of darting salt water fish, swimming playfully over their home of coral.

At the top of the escalator was a view, straight up, of the (yes, yes) world's tallest atrium:

Boarding the nearest elevator, we were whisked up to the top and stepped out to the Sky Bar reception area. Warmly greeted, we were brought in past a man and his party who were most assuredly being turned away, not even being allowed to "take a peek".

It's possible there was a tinge of smugness at this point.

Escorted to "the very best table, madams, the very best" we were overwhelmed by the view. It was splendid...all of Dubai laid out below us, the curve of the Jumeirah Hotel, the dark spire of the Burj Dubai, and to the sea, the barges pumping sand onto the World Islands, the Palm Islands and Atlantis, the white strips of beaches below us and blue stretching away to the horizon. You could sense the curvature of the earth.

A helicopter flew in to land on the helipad. We watched it and then its shadow soaring over the blue waters far below until its shadow merged with the that of the Burj al Arab.

We spent long minutes exclaiming over the view to one another as we sipped flutes of Mo√ęt & Chandon White Star champagne with accompanying berries. If we put down our glasses it was to pick up our cameras.

Our menus arrived. Tall, thin and elegant. It took three pages just to list the gourmet teas. One could have gone the coffee route, but that would have been just plain wrong.

I selected a classic, handpicked "Splendid Earl Grey-Darjeeling Autumn", (these teas had pedigrees like race horses), Colleen chose a fruit tea and still fretting, requested another set of scissors to further doctor her torn skirt. Of course the accommodating hotel staff magicked some for her out of somewhere.

We were each brought our own little teapots with much ceremony. Sadly, these pots were engineered so that the leaves sat in the hot water, oversteeped, and became tannic. A shame of a thing to do to such an excellent tea. Design flaw. Only a tea snob would notice. (How embarassing!)

Accompanying the teas was what they named "Pure Indulgence," an eye-catching Burj ala pastries, handmade chocolates (with edible gold and silver foil), mouth-watering little cakes, tea sandwiches and mignardises. (feel free to look that last one up, I had to.) After we ate the top tier the plate was whisked away and replaced with one bearing scones with incredibly delicious handmade jams and Devonshire clotted cream.


It was a lovely dilemma to be in: what tiny taste sensation to try next. We ate until completely satiated, with delicacies to spare.

Walking all around the deck of the Sky Bar, it was true, the waitstaff had given us the best table in the house. All the tables had magnificent views, and I imagine after dark the city lights and stars must be enchanting.

Several hours of tea-ing, we finally left, rode down the elevator, found another one with glass open to the view and joyrode that one up and back down just for the fun of it, then wandered the exclusive shops and admired the impressive water-percussion fountain beneath the atrium. This consisted of streams of water timed to make a toe-tapping, eye catching spectacle of water pattern and sound, building up to a high finale of crashing water.

A hotel employee whose sole job it was to wipe up and squeegee the water worked endlessly aside the fountain.

Another percussion fountain spanned the entire space between the two grand staircase-escalators, with sound and light to dazzle us. We loitered as long as we could justify in this surreal world, then walked outside and back to Souk Madinat in the afternoon light.

Such a thrilling and indulgent way to spend our birthday celebrations together. Truly memorable.


*Paula* said...

Wow! That sounds amazing! I love the photographs. Happy birthday to you!

Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian said...

I've been in the exotic land of Tennessee for the last 9 days and after returning home last night, have gotten all caught up on your adventures.

Jeni said...

Wow that looks fantastic!!! What a view, what an experience!!

Happy Birthday!