West Virginia Executive Summer 2014 - Page 121

Wonders of the Middle East Setting Sail for Mumbai While my husband, Delbert, and I have made five trips to subSaharan Africa for the safari experience, our tour through the Middle East produced photos of buildings instead of animals. Architectural design there is breathtaking; the chrome and glass seem to burst through the sand floor. The Burj Khalifa is connected to the Dubai Mall, which houses 1,200 shops, including the largest sweets shop on earth: Candylicious, which spans over 10,000 square feet. In this land of excess, the descriptions of “the biggest,” “the tallest” and “the first” are used before and after the names of most attractions, including the hotel where we stayed. At 72 stories, the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai is the tallest hotel in the world. Following our ascension into the clouds, we were treated to high tea on the mezzanine floor of the Burj Al Arab Hotel, a multi-colored, sail-like structure on the shores of the Arabian Gulf. While seven courses accompanied tea, even more impressive was the sighting of my first—and only—chrome-plated Rolls Royce, from which sprang a 30-something, fair-haired man who tossed his keys to the parking attendant. Excess is everywhere. I am genetically engineered to shop, but the Dubai Mall was retail on steroids, so we opted for a smaller venue called Saga World. With absolutely no intention of buying a Persian rug, we quickly found ourselves negotiating prices in a showroom littered with handmade Persian rugs. Our comments on the high cost of the rugs were met with a stern but pleasant explanation: “Sir, buying something expensive is like going to the doctor when you are sick. The pain of paying a lot of money is similar to getting the shot. It hurts at the time, but later, you don’t remember the pain, you just feel better.” Fortunately, shipping was free. Exploring the dazzling Gold Souk, a marketplace for gold, was a highlight of our tour. More than 40 stores brimming with gold, including the very yellow 24-carat, lined both sides of a long pavilion. Dubai is known for really cheap gold, but the golden rule here is persistent haggling. After three days of opulence overload, we boarded our cruise ship, the Seabourn Odyssey, and set sail for India. Warned about the poverty, trash and smells that would greet us in Mumbai, we cautiously stepped onto solid ground and witnessed the human assault on the city’s harbor: discarded water bottles, two and three deep, lined the shore. Within minutes, we were witnessing a man pouring bottled water into the street where it pooled among cigarette butts and bottle caps. He dipped a little girl, no more than 4 years old, into the puddle, washed her and handed her to the mother. The young girl’s clothes were washed in the same water, squeezed dry and placed back on her.