We got lost before we arrived in Morocco. High walls impossible to see above, narrow streets that look alike, no signal, and false directions. Jardin Majorelle is the exception, an ultramarine blue (known as Majorelle blue), yellow, and green concrete labyrinth in Marrakesh. One is easily seduced by this tranquil oasis where colors used by Matisse are mixed with those of nature. In the miniature green jungle a column is rising and the sign reads: Yves Saint Laurent memorial. Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé restored the beautiful botanical garden by respecting the vision of its creator French artist Jacques Majorelle. A pearl in the city.
Away from the mega-skyscrapers, malls, and neon highlights of new Dubai is a small area on the Creek now known as Al Fahidi. Known as ane of the oldest heritage sites in Dubai and the last wind tower quarter in left on the Arab side of the gulf. When I was a child, it was called Bastakiya - named after the area in Iran from which the textile and pearl traders who established Bastakiya in the late 1800s originated. I loved this place back then because my favorite museum was here, but on a return visit I enjoyed the calmness found in this maze of tiny streets, wind towers, and walled courtyards which house art galleries, hotels, cafés, and cultural organizations, and the raised views over the Creek to Deira.
Further north along the waterway, through the new Souq and into Al Shindagha is the Heritage Village, constructed in the late '90s to highlight traditional activities that took place in Bur Dubai before the Emirate metamorphosed into the tourism hub it's known as today. Currently hidden amongst the models of Bedouin settlements and displays of pearl fishing are various contemporary artworks - Monira Al Qadiri's"Alien Technology", for example, shimmers like an iridescent, petroleum-covered UFO that somehow landed in the Diving Village and couldn't get back out.
Walking back through Al Fahidi at dusk, the streets filled with textile stores, electronic showrooms and the odd photo studio (whose owners laugh and tell me to buy a new camera when I ask them if they stock any analogue film), I'm reminded again of the Dubai of my childhood; a somewhat less polished, but somehow charming version of the city.
After driving the long, straight road through the flat desert landscape between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, we arrive at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, its bright white domes popping out against the blue sky.
First stop for ladies on a visit to the mosque is the subterranean cloakroom where you collect an Abaya; the Emirati version of a Burqa, and required attire for entering the grounds and interior of the mosque.
A mass of black-swathed female tourists pour out of the cloakroom, while the men sit patiently in the "gents waiting area" in the carpark.
Inside the mosque, which took nine years to construct, you are struck not only by its scale (the mosque can accommodate over 40,000 people for prayer) but also by the amount of different materials used for it's construction and design. The white marble of the domes, the coloured crystal in the chandeliers, the hand-knotted carpet that covers the entire main prayer hall, and the floral-motif tiling covering the pillars around the wings of the mosque all make for a incredible attention to detail - even the ladies' bathroom is beautifully tiled. This, the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates, is known for "uniting the world", using artisans and materials from countries such as Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Greece and United Arab Emirates istself.