A steaming Dubai morning. My husband and I have just landed with our kids, aged six and three, with the intention of stretching our legs and sleeping in a bed. It’s a break from the two-day journey from Australia to the UK. We end up staying for six days as the ash-cloud over Europe blocks the skies.
I’ve never stayed in hotels with my kids when travelling. I couldn’t get my head round all four of being us in one room, around bedtime with both children to appease at the same time in the same room. But here we are. We will put it to the test, out of necessity. Our luggage is still in transit mode, so we just have our carry-on supplies of toys, a change of clothes and toiletries to unload before heading back downstairs for breakfast.
Afterwards, we decide to explore Dubai a little and take the kids to the beach. It’s Friday, the Muslim day of rest, so the spice souk is quiet, with only the stalls owned by Indians and Pakistanis open. Dried lemons are whacked open for me to smell, frankincense in huge bags looks like murky crystals. There are also mounds of cinnamon bark, huge jars of saffron, chalky bars of indigo. River falls asleep on Gareth’s shoulder, tiny droplets of sweat on his nose. We walk from shady spot to shady spot as stall-holders beckon us inside, offering sweets to Phoebe and snaring us into conversations.
‘So how much of this you want?’
But before long Phoebe starts getting grumpy – we’ve been up since 3.30am, as we’re still on Australian time. So we sit at a table outside a café and order fresh mango juice for her and spiced mung beans and roti bread for us. It’s delicious. This is starting to feel like a holiday…
We catch a taxi to Jumeirah for a cool swim. Although we have no swimsuits or sunscreen, we’re all wearing modest underwear (I plan to wear my singlet over my bra) and I hardly imagine a Dubai beach to be the body-beautiful judgmental kind. The beach is beautiful – palm trees and white sand and turquoise waters – and I quickly spot another mother to borrow sunscreen from. A sign by the public toilets lists beach rules, one of which is to respect local custom and wear modest swimwear (the symbol being a woman in a two-piece with a line through it), but here at the foreshore it’s all teeny bikinis and Ray Bans.
River plays by the water’s edge as Phoebe splashes about and I lay my legs out for the sun. I feel the jetlag wobble slowly lift and a peace descends as my eyes close to the sound of laughing children and gentle waves. But we can’t stay long – the midday sun is intense. When we get back to hotel it is still only 1pm and I feel like I’ve been up for a week.
In the late afternoon we go outside and sit on the immaculate nature strip, planted with red gladioli and palm trees, beds of hot pink annuals. The odd plane takes off, the kids eat crisps and I do some yoga. Other guests are lounging on the grass too, sunbathing and reading. Phoebe spots a little girl playing on a Nintendo and asks if she wants to be friends. She does.
In the evening we go into the bar to meet Pete, a fellow Australian we got talking to at breakfast. He’s on his way to see his son in London, but his son too is stuck, in Morocco. He’s in the bar with two other men, all of them burnt a deep red – they also went to the beach unprepared. They tell tales of their predicament like war heroes, with a cheery camaraderie. One is an art dealer from Melbourne already thousands of pounds out of pocket through lost deals and disgruntled artists. He’s not hopeful about leaving before Monday.
The following day brings news of flights being re-opened. We make it to the airport with our mountain of luggage, but by 2pm the flights have been cancelled again. So we trundle our bags back through the hotel lobby and, in the spirit of making the best of things and to give the kids some fun after a long and fraught morning, we go to the beach again. Once there, all memories of the morning’s arc of hope to disappointment is washed away in the clear waters and we watch the sun come down on another day in Dubai.
Read more about family holiday and breaks in Dubai, including hand-picked places to stay and things to do.