Exploring Dubai – a few favourites

Life in Dubai can perhaps be measured in two-year increments – which is the usual duration of a visa. Now that I’ve been here two years, this is a good time to look back at some of the interesting things I’ve done.

  1. Dubai International Writers’ Centredubai intl writers centre 2

The Writers’ Centre is an initiative by the organizers of the Emirates Literary Fest. Unlike the festival, which is on every March, the Writers’ Centre is a permanent institution that holds talks and workshops by authors, especially those with a Middle Eastern connection.

dubai creek writers centreThe centre is in the historic Al Ghubaiba neighbourhood and the creek is just a step away.

There are old buildings, cafes and even camels lounging about in the area, and the whole atmosphere is quaint and cosy. dubai intl writers centre

All three of the talks I attended were in the picturesque courtyard of the centre, which seats about 50 people.

I attended two discussions by Tim Mackintosh Smith, whose Ibn Battuta Trilogy I’ve read and loved. He was every bit as charming, modest and humorous as his books suggest.

dubai intl writers centre tim mackintosh smith

I went back late one evening in June to attend a chat by Rawaa Talass, a young Syrian art major who curates the excellent aRTproject page on Facebook. Her chat was about the early Syrian community in New York – who once lived in the area near World Trade Centre.

dubai intl writers centre 1Rawaa explained at the beginning of her talk that the word Syrian in this case was meant to cover people from Syria, Lebanon and Palestine – one of whom was Khalil Gibran. She had a treasure trove of old photographs with her and it was deeply fascinating.

dubai writers centre tim mackintosh smithHighlight:

It’s hard to pick one moment, but getting Tim to sign my copy of The Hall of a Thousand Columns was great! He was thrilled to know we were from Kerala, and spoke at length and with fondness of the Zamorin of Calicut.


2. The Icons of Art Exhibition at Opera Gallery

I’ll always remember this day, for it was when I saw my very first Renoir – or indeed impressionist art – live. The Opera Gallery is near the Ritz in the Dubai International Financial Centre. It’s housed in a posh little glass and steel enclave which is home to numerous galleries and high-end restaurants like Marco Pierre White’s Wheelers, to name just one. I however, feasted on the Renoir, Deux Filles dans un Pre, a few large and luminous Chagalls, some Picasso and Matisse sketches, a couple of colourful Miros and bronze casts of Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. I was drawn to the work of Raoul Dufy, whom I was hearing of for the first time.

Unfortunately, I only took a photo of the Renoir, which I don’t have any longer. But here’s the catalogue.


Standing in front of the Renoir, tiny though it was.


streetnights the walk3. Street Nights at The Walk, Dubai 

I try to go on my jaunts around Dubai using public transport. Taxis are plentiful here, but it can be a challenge to hunt down places in a taxi. I picked The Walk because I could go by Metro and Tram, and it looked like fun. streetnights the walk6

The weekend I went with my daughter, there was a street festival on, with food trucks, stalls selling colourful knick-knacks, music performances, live graffiti painting and other fun doings.

The Walk is a long promenade just off Jumeirah Beach, flanked by designer stores and restaurants.

The promenade is cobbled and all the cafes have outdoor seating. It’s a great place to people watch, and when we went in May, the heat was not yet stifling.

streetnights the walk2We walked about – what else – and after a small argument about what to eat – I wanted savoury, she wanted dessert – we sat down in the shade at Napolitana restaurant and demolished a bruschetta platter and some gelato.

It was too early for a full meal, but the assorted bruschetta with mushroom, goat’s cheese, breasola, and cherry tomato toppings were just right.

napolitana restaurant the walk


As part of Street Nights, the Book Munch stall had put up a big blackboard where passers-by could each contribute a line to build a story. My daughter did her share, and the board was a little more than half full when we left.

I believe the entire story was read out later at the Book Munch Café.


art dubai 2015 5

4. Art Dubai 2015

Dubai is a very visual city, highly committed to the arts. The city is home to serious investors and collectors; the presence of Christie’s proves it. art dubai 2015 6

Art Dubai is a fair where galleries from different nations exhibit their artists’ wares – most of it new and contemporary. It’s held in the lovely Madinat Jumeirah, which is well worth a visit for its own sake. art dubai 2015 3

The two hours we spent drifting across the various stalls and pavilions was nowhere close to enough. Also, I made the silly mistake of not writing down the names of my favourite art or at least photographing the name cards, which means I was left with a jumble of imagery with no context. art dubai 2015

I was most attracted to the art which connected to the region.

Hopefully, next year I’ll do a better job of understanding and recording the art on display.


Chatting with the staff at the gallery that sells Jitish Kallat’s work. As Kallat is the curator of the Kochi Biennale, we felt an immediate connection. We loved the work for its own sake too. art dubai 2015 7

PS: The fashion scene at Art Dubai was outstanding.


5. Dubai Museum

This was one of the earliest trips of discovery we made, and certainly the most touristy.

dubai museum2Also part of the Al Fahidi Historical neighbourhood, Dubai Museum is an old fort that doubles as a museum. The fort is small and exquisite, made of gypsum and quite unlike any other I’ve been to.

Inside, there are exhibits of old weaponry, tableaux of life in the Dubai of yore, and various historical displays detailing Dubai’s past as a pearling centre. dubai museum3

At the souvenir shop, I bought wall decorations with the Hamsa, coasters resembling mini Persian carpets, and other gee-gaws to gift to relatives back home.

Then, in the spirit of the day, we repaired to the Bastakiya Café in the Arabian Courtyard Hotel opposite, and tucked into lentil soup, Mezze (of which I chiefly remember the excellent Babaghanoush and the less-than-stellar Tabouleh), a platter of Arabic mixed grilled meats, and Arab bread.

dubai museumHighlight:

The working model of the wind tower at the Al Fahidi Fort was ingenious – I’d assumed until then that these towers were just decorative.


6. The Dubai Fleamarket

I’ve already written about it extensively here, but I hope to go for one of the night markets or ripe markets whenever they’re on next.

Summer’s drawing to a close (although temperatures still hover above 40). Winter is a fun time in Dubai, with loads of concerts, exhibitions, outdoor events and food happenings. I have a long list of places to explore – what about you?