Dubai canal – the perfect winter day out?
A much-anticipated event took place recently. They opened the Dubai Canal. In the makings since 2013 there was much anticipation about this event.
The first we really knew about the opening was when we were stuck in traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road (SZR) after they closed the road for the opening and forgot to tell anyone.
But we don’t hold grudges.
So with the fabulous Dubai winter weather turning on a perfectly clear, warm day of blue skies and sun, we thought we’d give the new canal a bit of a spin. Here’s some highlights for those of you who haven’t seen it yet…
Dubai canal flows under a massive highway…
We live right near the newly opened Canal. So we start out on our walk from our apartment. We’re striding along zipping in and out of the crowds on our street angling for a clear line for the pram. Eventually the crowd thins and we near the canal.
The first amazement is the fact that Sheikh Zayed Road (SZR) runs straight over the top. This is no simple engineering feat.
SZR must be one of the busier roads in the world. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it without streams of traffic either travelling at terrifying speeds or in peak hour trapped in bumper to bumper standstill.
At no point was SZR closed down during construction of Dubai canal. One day, all of a sudden you were just diverted slightly and driving over a bridge.
In fact, the only day the road was actually closed was ironically for the opening ceremony of the canal. Apart from that, seamless construction right alongside the functioning highway. It’s quite incredible to stand underneath it and hear all this traffic flowing just metres above your head.
“I hope this was designed well” we both speculate as we stride along the water.
with clever fountains…
When the sun sets, a waterfall starts to flow out from the base of the road into the canal, all lit up in fluorescent purple light. It’s completely random and attracts huge crowds.
We are standing there marveling at what a strange idea this is when we see an open-topped boat coming up the canal.
“Excellent” we think. This should be the amusement for the afternoon.
And you won’t believe it, but the water parts as the boat approaches and the occupants float past without getting a drop of water on them. Ever so slightly disappointing, but also strangely mystifying.
Why build this fountain in the first place? And why make that fountain configurable for boats? It’s just such a strange concept but somehow, like most things in Dubai, it just works. People flock to see this waterfall and to enjoy the anticipation of whether or not the sensors will work each time a boat approaches. Ourselves included. So random yet strangely soothing.
and work in progress landscaping…
Then we’re back out in the sun marveling at this feat of engineering (or ecological disaster depending on whether you are a glass half full person or not). It’s such a Dubai experience to walk along this canal. You could walk all the way to Jumeirah beach and keep going along the boardwalk if you wanted to.
It’s randomly been built-in the middle of a desert for no apparent reason other than to provide more water views and ‘waterfront living’ options. Each side of it has a fabulous footpath with stops every few hundred metres that look like ferry terminals even though there’s no ferry service.
There’s little landscaped sections of garden, beautiful lamp posts and along some sections even piped music coming through hidden speakers. Every piece of ambiance you could want.
Except if you move even 10 centimetres off the path.
On both sides of the Dubai canal, the footpath is a certain width and then there is literally nothing. Sand, construction, rubbish, dead grass. Look in one direction and you see beautiful water and picturesque scenes of families hanging out. Look the other, and it’s a complete wasteland.
They’ve obviously built Dubai canal and opened it with the vision of what it will be one day firmly constructed in their minds. In one part there were even enormous billboard-style walls to sell you the vision of the future and what the designers of the canal have in mind. It looks spectacular. Not even the slightest resemblance to the current state of a work very much in progress.
But you know what, there were literally hundreds of people around. Walking, running, biking, skateboarding, sitting – just enjoying.
what’s finished mean anyway?
Dubai really has worked out the secret of a Field of Dreams vision – “If you build it, they will come…”
You actually don’t even have to finish building it. Dubai could re-write that famous line in fact to say “If you partially build it with a plan to finish it one day, put up lots of pretty pictures and then just bite the bullet and open it… they will come”.
This is true of Dubai canal. A great example is the lifts to take you to the cross bridges. You get to the lifts and you wonder if they’re actually working. There is the smell of fresh paint. The lift well is only partially sealed and everything is covered in construction tape and dirt. Whilst they’re not pretty, the lifts serve their purpose. Probably most importantly, from far away, they look great.
And that is Dubai all over.
Why wait until something is finished and polished before opening it. Why miss out on months of revenue from ferry trips on the empty canal when you can open it now and run ferries up and down checking out masses of construction. Why fuss about whether people might find the lifts a bit unfinished when you can open something functional that people can enjoy immediately.
but does it work?
And it has worked. People are flocking to see this place.
We constantly marvel at the vision of the Dubai leaders. They have made an incredible something out of nothing. And something about it just works. We get sucked up in the constant buzz of excitement here. There’s always something opening or some new attraction to check out.
And you couldn’t get a more obliging population. The people here are always happy to make the most of it and enjoy everything Dubai has on offer. There’s a vibe here that I don’t think you get in many other places, especially in winter. Even if it is just a large body of water with an odd purple fountain.
The perfect ending?
We finished off our landmark first walk around the canal with another slightly surreal activity. A visit to the Christmas market in Al Habtoor city – another middle east anomaly.
How many Muslim countries put on a Christmas market complete with gluhwein and grog, and a record-breaking Christmas tree? The Chubs had a great time playing in the fake snow and riding on the reindeer train as the warm sun set and the twinkling fairy lights came on. The Arabic speaking Santa freaked him out a bit but what Santa doesn’t freak out little kids? It was all completely random but lovely and festive!
Sure, it was nothing like the scale or quality of the European Christmas markets. But everyone there including the flocks of Emirati families, appreciate the effort that this city puts in. People here seem to love celebrating the great festivals of many different cultures of the world.
So, the Dubai canal might end up being one of our new ‘regulars’. It’s a good walk with decent paths and we know that one day it will meet the vision set out in all the plans. Until then, we can pretend…
Hats off to you Dubai! Somehow, you’ve made it work again. We embrace the weirdness as much as we can while our time here lasts. Hope to see some of you out on the trail one day.
Happy winter everyone!