Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's a long way to the top...

And now for something completely different.

From the world of scrabbling for a few dirhams to being above it all. Literally.

Perhaps you've heard of the Burj Khalifa. It would be the tallest building in the world. At 2,716.5 feet it is the equivalent of stacking 4 1/2 of Seattle's Space Needle on top of one another, which would be quite the balancing trick. Another Guinness Book of World Records experience for us? Yeah, we're there!

Actually, it holds seven world records.

You can see the Burj Khalifa from really, really far away, and it's both impressive and beautiful, especially when the light reflects off it at certain times of the day.

I couldn't get a photo of the whole thing. That's big.

The opening ceremony in January was an over-the-top fireworks display like nothing ever seen before. Visualise the Space Needle again, this time on New Years Eve, with the fireworks shooting off it. Now multiply by 4 1/2. I can't believe nothing caught on fire.

It was going to be called the Burj Dubai, and we'd called it that all the time it was being built, but in a surprise move, Sheikh Mohammad renamed it Khalifa as a nice thank-you for the monetary bail out of Dubai by Abu Dhabi.

Sometimes, a Hallmark card simply isn't enough.

I was a little sad several times when I read international news descriptions of the Burj Khalifa that said things along the lines of a dark spire stabbing into the burning sky, as if it housed the Eye of Sauron from Tolkien, perhaps.

Why the negative journalism, again? This is cool stuff, people!

I mean, the scope of this project is wild.

Even if I set the Burj Khalifa aside, I could write and write about the many buildings of Dubai, and how amazing the skyline is. The man-made islands are pretty stinkin' cool too. I kept hoping some enterprising company would give engineering and architecture tours of the city.*

Ah well.

Being on the world's tallest elevator ride alone would be, to my way to thinking, well worth the (online) price of admission. Online, adult tickets were 100 AED apiece -$27.22- and considering that I paid 50 AED apiece to take the kids to 3-D Toy Story 3, well, not bad. If you showed up to buy them at the Burj Khalifa ticket window, though, heaven help you. There the going rate is 400 AED -$108.91- apiece, which is kind of crazy even by Dubai standards.

The elevator had some issues not long after the tower opened early in the year, so they closed it to the public. People getting stuck in an elevator is not so great for tourism or the reputation of the city, you see. We'd kept our fingers crossed as the weeks and then months dragged by, that would open up again for visitors before we left Dubai for good. did.

I won't deny that it crossed my mind more than once that getting stuck in an elevator somewhere between the ground and 124th floor would not be the best of times, but this vague and mostly unfounded nervousness was easily overruled by our most basic rule: if it's a once in a lifetime opportunity sort of experience with a high likelihood of survival, do it.

We showed up at our assigned time, and once through the initial line and friendly security, found ourselves walking a somewhat long distance from the entrance at the Dubai Mall to the core of the building, made entirely painless by lots of educational and interesting displays and visuals about the history of Dubai and the Burj Khalifa, and hey, why not, an occasional moving sidewalk.

Also the heady scent of money, which made us a bit euphoric as we breathed it in deeply.

The actual elevator lobby is swank and dark, adding to the mystery and anticipation. Velvet ropes and beautifully uniformed staff, Arabic music swelling and wrapping around us.

And...the elevator. I was slightly disappointed that we couldn't see out of it. A dark enclosure, with a sort of light show and music to keep us entertained for the 60 second ride. Wait, 60 seconds to ascend 124 floors?

On second thought, it was a good thing we couldn't see out. One would need the stomach of a fighter pilot. That meant, at 124 floors in 6o seconds, the world's fastest elevator goes an average of 33 feet a second. Twice that at top speed.

As it was, the ride was smooth, pleasant, and was it just me or were they still piping in that money scent? Mmmmm.

The doors opened and we stepped out to the Observation Deck. Not the highest on in the world, would you believe (the tallest one is at the Shanghai World Financial Center) but, ohmigosh, this one is not only inside like in Shanghai, but also outside.

Whoa. Hadn't been prepared for that. And boy, was it ever straight down.

To give you some perspective, the tallest building we're looking down at on the left there is the Address Hotel, which is 63 stories high. The other skyscrapers look insignificant, don't they?

There was another view from the observation deck, straight up, which was dizzying. Above us were another 40-some floors, including the world's highest mosque on the 158th floor. Talk about a place to worship.

I admit it, I skittered inside. It was too high and bright and...yeah. A few minutes of that was good for me. Inside were huge windows, nice solid walls and air conditioning, thank goodness for that. And more views.

What views.

Sheikh Zayed Road, the major highway though the city, and downtown Dubai, the Gulf beyond.

You could walk 360 degrees around, looking out west to the World Islands being built,

east to the desert, south to the Palm Islands, Dubai Marina and the Burj al Arab, and north to the city. It was strange to see the cityscape and not see the Burj Khalifa.

Thomas and Mike, checking it out

I got kind of a kick out of the AT THE TOP merchandise available for purchase. Hey, if you've got it, flaunt it, right? I figure they earned bragging rights, to be sure. Along the lines of earning it, however, those water bottles on the second shelf are 299 AED. Somehow I managed to resist.

The impressively large Burj Khalifa-shaped camel milk chocolate (see top of entry for photo) was slightly more tempting, but since even a little piece of camel milk chocolate bought at ground level is indulgently priced, I didn't even bother to look to see how much they were. Best not to know.

Visibility out the windows, the real reason we were there, was good but not great, what with the early ever-present sand hanging in the air. Not surprisingly, the designers had thought of that and installed special telescopes all around that would show you not only what you were looking at, but with the touch of a button, what it would look like on a clear day, and what it looked like at night.

This was pretty darned cool, and I was impressed, but after the kids found Safa park, they were ready to go find some lunch.

Apparently it's hard to impress a Dubai kid. Yeah, Mom, it's cool, but you know, a pizza and some Magnolia cupcakes would be even better.

Oh, fine then. Be that way.

Back down the super awesome elevator, though more exhibits, which Mike and I were far more interested in than the kids would ever be,

Check this out! The original proposed model for the Burj Khalifa

and the kids' reactions as they loll on what is undoubtedly VERY expensive designer furniture

Were we impressed? Yes. Was it strangely anti-climactic to be there? Also yes. I don't know why, and that's OK. The Burj Khalifa literally stands alone as an achievement the attests to what people can accomplish if they set their minds to it and, as Dubai is well known for, refuse to see limits.

We were there, even if we didn't fork out for the T-shirts.

*The Discovery Channel has a show, Impossible City, about Dubai that I highly recommend. Here is a link to the part about the Burj Khalifa (which they refer to as the Burj Dubai) and our beloved Burj Al Arab: . Well worth 9 minutes of your time, in my admittedly biased opinion. You can really get a sense of what an enormously, unfathomably HUGE building the Burj Khalifa is, and what an undertaking it was to build it.


*Paula* said...

Wow, my stomach is churning thinking about that elevator ride! I love a good sky-high view but I would definitely be with you on the inability to stay outside for very long :) It sounds amazing. I will definitely have to check out that show.

Julia said...

Here's the fireworks show.

I really liked the Discovery channel, although I thought the "scary voice man" was a bit out of place. "Up next when buildings attack, people are afraid of heights in the Burj Khalifa"

paris parfait said...

Great shots, Natalie! Having heard so many horror stories of the terrible conditions in which the builders worked/lived, it's a relief to see it turned out beautifully (and hopefully those workers were paid their rightful wages and able to return home).