I wish I had a pound for every time I've heard that phrase this year. Whenever someone exclaims how hot it is here in Riyadh there's always someone in earshot who reminds you that it's a dry heat. It may be true but it doesn't necessarily make the complainer feel any better.
Riyadh's central position in the Kingdom gives it a dry (low humidity) climate, whereas the Eastern and Western provinces are much more humid. The same is true of the United Arab Emirates, a country to the East of Saudi Arabia and the destination for our latest weekend away. When we arrived in Dubai we quickly realized the benefits of "...a dry heat", since here it's just as hot as in Riyadh (around 42 degrees centigrade), but now we also have 70% humidity to go with it. By the time we'd queued for 5 minutes outside the airport for a taxi we were all soaked with sweat, and as I stepped out of the air-conditioned taxi on arrival at the hotel my glasses steamed up and I had to take them off to find my way to the lobby.
Dubai is the second-largest and most populous city in the U.A.E., with approximately 80% of it's 1.1 million inhabitants being expatriates. There is an explosion of development going on in the city, with hundreds if not thousands of skyscrapers and other ambitious property developments under construction at the same time.
It is said that about one third of the world's cranes are in Dubai and I'm prepared to believe it. Everywhere you look (up) there are cranes nursing partially-built residential towers to their full stature. You can almost feel the wealth here; development originally funded by oil riches has provided a modern, glamorous tax-free focal point for doing business in The Middle East, and companies from all over the world are flocking to set up shop and take advantage of the opportunity. If you have some money put away and are looking for an investment I reckon you could do a lot worse than buying a property in Dubai.
We're staying at The Oasis Beach Hotel on Jumeirah Beach and close to Dubai Marina. We had reserved two double rooms but once the check-in clerk saw our Diplomatic Passports he upgraded us to a two-bedroom apartment in the newly-built Oasis Beach Towers, just across the street. Even though it's probably only a 30-second walk to the Towers a golf buggy is waiting for us as we leave the hotel and we all sit in it for the 20-second drive around to the front door. Our apartment is on the 22nd floor of the 46-story left tower (looking from the beach) and is very nice indeed; huge living room, kitchen complete with all appliances, utility room with washing machine and tumble dryer, and two large en-suite double bedrooms. From our living room balcony we can see (looking left) the beach and ocean, and in the distance the Palm Jumeirah - a massive man-made island development in the shape of a giant palm tree, and one of three such "palms" on the coastline of Dubai.
We spend most of Thursday at The Wild Wadi - a water park situated on the beach between the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the Burj al-Arab hotel. You pay once to get in - as with most theme parks - then you go on whatever rides you want all day, as many times as you want.
The Wild Wadi's all about getting wet; from the large pool complete with wave machine to the adventure park for smaller children, from the surfing ride to the Jumeirah Sceira, all the rides are water-based which makes it a great place to spend a few hours in the heat and humidity.
Our first ride is the Master Blaster - a collection of uphill water rollercoasters and downhill slides that take you right around the park and which you can join and leave at multiple points - kind of like a hop-on, hop-off tour bus. I spend half my time on the ride being impressed by the engineering that provides water jets powerful enough to propel an adult sitting in a rubber ring uphill at speed, and the other half concentrating on keeping my bottom up so I don't bang it on the bottom of each slope.
Another feature of the park is Juha's Dhow - a part climbing frame, part adventure playground aimed at younger children. The best part of Juha's Dhow is the huge water bucket at the top of the mast, which every minute or so tips over to totally drench all who are foolish enough to be standing in the way.
But for those who like their thrills high and fast there's only one place to go - the Jumeirah Sceirah (not sure how the second word is pronounced, but we chose "scarer" for reasons that will become apparent!). It's a 33m high water chute that you go down feet first lying on your back, and it propels you to the en of the chute at the bottom at 80km/h. Karen and Elliot took one look and walked off in the other direction, but Abigail and I wanted to go on it so we followed the twisting and turning path to the ride's tower, and climbed what seemed like a hundred steps to get to the top. Abigail went first, following the lifeguard's instructions to cross her legs at the ankles and fold her arms tightly across her chest, then down she went, down the long downhill slide with two humps along the way. The lifeguard and I watch the guard at the bottom of the chute until he waves his flag, signalling my turn! Time to blank out any fear and apprehension, assume the position, and just go! It's all over in about 10 seconds and is very thrilling, but once I slide to a stop at the end of the landing zone and stand up I feel a sharp pain in my posterior area. Abigail's got the same thing and it's the pressure of water using your backside as a brake pad to bring you from 80km/h to a halt in about three seconds.
Needless to say Abigail wants to go again!, so off we trot with me picking up the rear - in more ways than one! Back at the top of the stairs and we're queueing behind two men whom I recognize as brits, middle-aged father and late-teens son, both looking very apprehensively at the top of the slide. I say to Abigail, "Can I go first this time?" and they both instantly turn around and the older one says, "H-h-have you been on this before then?" "What's it like?", whereupon 11-year-old Abigail gives them a blow-by-blow account of what to expect with a big smile on her face, thus rendering useless any excuses they may have been thinking of trying to use to bail out at the last minute.
Evening, and from the hotel we take a taxi to The Madinat, a large complex comprising a hotel, over thirty restaurants, bars, and even an indoor souk (market). After an early and excellent dinner at Trader Vic's we catch a gondola and cruise round the Madinat's network of man-made canals to the lobby, where another taxi takes us to the Mall Of The Emirates.
The Mall Of The Emirates is a huge shopping mall with the biggest Carrefour supermarket I've ever seen at one end, and a 12-screen multiplix cinema and bowling alley at the other. Oh yes, and also Ski Dubai (more later). No weekend away from Riyadh is complete without a trip to the cinema as you know, and we're hoping to see The Da Vinci Code, which had it's "worldwide" release the day before. We know the critics have panned it and it's apparently dire, but all of us except Abigail have read the book so we're determined to sit through it, if only so we can criticize it afterwards. Drat and Darn! It's not showing in Dubai til the end of the month! So much for a worldwide release. We end up seeing Mission Impossible III, which I quite liked despite being too near the screen (which I hate), and Karen slept through most of it.
Friday morning is spent again in the water, firstly at the beach where the waters of the Persian Gulf are crystal clear and almost as warm as a bath, then we move to the hotel's large pool, complete with poolside bar.
We meet Gerard - a colleague of mine from Novell Middle East for a nice, leisurely, but sweaty outdoor lunch in the hotel garden, then he kindly gives us a list back the The Mall Of The Emirates so we can do a bit more shopping and visit Ski Dubai.
Ski Dubai is the third-largest indoor ski resort in the world and presents a welcome opportunity to feel cold air on your body. We've only got a couple of hours and have never ski'd before, so now's not the time to start.
Instead we visit the Snow Park where, after donning your ski jacket, trousers and boots you can walk in the snow, have a snowball fight, and ride the various luges and toboggan slopes while to the left the skiers ssssshhhhhh to a stop at the foot of the ski slope.
We felt a bit daft at first wearing winter clothing that God knows how many others before us had worn that day, but everyone's in the same boat and we even see Arab men & women with black Puffa-style coats on over their thobes and abayas.
The best of the rides available to us in the Snow Park was the Snowtubing slide. You grab yourself a large rubber innertube and then stand on a travelling walkway that pulls you up to the top, then sit down in the ring (just like in Wild Wadi!) and slide down, spinning round and round as you go.
After a little more shopping it was time to return to pick up our luggage from the hotel then leave for the airport to catch the flight home. Dubai is a fantastic place to visit and in our short time we only scratched the surface of things to do, but the humid climate would put me off wanting to live here. Come back Riyadh, all is forgiven!