Friday, 27 December 2013

Dubai: In the colorful Souks of Dubai

Ancient, east winds blow in the crowded corridors of the traditional Souks carrying the aromas of spices, the glittering of gold, the spirit of Arabia..

by Kon Hans

Boats, hundreds of them, big and small, made from old timber with austere lines and orient colors, fill the big canal in the Dubai, the famed Dubai Creek.  Under the imposing shades of skyscrapers of futuristic aesthetics, a traditional world unfolds: As in a curious technocrat Venice of the East, the canals of Dubai, create an impressive, parallel universe.  More specifically so,  in Bur Dubai and in Deira, these watery avenues will transport you in the fragrant, colorful and palpitating heart of the Middle East, where a thousand aromas from the spices and the shine of pure gold will enchant you, drifting you away into mysterious Arabic paths, in ancient recollections of an Orient that all carry inside us. 

Approaching Deira with the abra (traditional boat)

Bur Dubai: Heritage Village, Meena Bazaar

Here, the gondoliers are dark-skinned, from India and Pakistan, as is, in reality, the vast majority of the population of Dubai.  They may not possess the charm of a Venetian gondolier they are, nonetheless,  simple and polite people, that will carry you across to Deira and to its famous souks, for hardly 20 cents of Euro!  However, before you embark on their small wooden "abra"(traditional small boats) take your time and explore the part of Bur Dubai, with its beautiful Heritage Village and the vibrant Meena Bazaar

The abras crossing the canal 

In an extended area along the creek-side in Bur Dubai, a big part of the old neighborhood is preserved in all its traditional Arab glory by the Government of Dubai; thus, the Heritage Village, apart from a particularly popular tourist destination aspires to be included in Unesco, as a World Heritage Site.  In this magical place, the character of old Arabia has remained intact: with small narrow alleys  that provide shade most of the time and the typical turrets that function as ventilators and offer shelter to hundreds of birds.  Inside this perfectly maintained cluster of traditional architecture you will find beautiful, flowery courtyards with small tables where you can sit and enjoy a fragrant Arabic coffee and an authentic tea with mint, or, if you are bold enough, try a camel burger!  One of these traditional cafes is the ArabianTea House, that offers an astonishing range of teas, from the impressive blooming teas (teas that “bloom” once inside water) up to various other qualities and flavors, while you can also taste the local delicacies.

Heritage Village, Dubai Creek

Moreover, you will discover various exhibition spaces with folklore collections, where many aspects of the traditional Arabic way of life are explained and if you fancy an authentic, and soft as a baby skin, "pashmina", the Meena Bazaar with its anxious sellers awaits you just two steps away.  Afterwards, you can sit by the sea listening to the relaxing sound of waves with the company of a flavored shisha (a local smoking glass pipe) a strong coffee and some delicious dates, - Dubai's are perhaps the finest in the world!-, before you take the abra for Deira.

Deira: Spice Souk and Gold Souk

As in Bur Dubai, the greater part of the population in Deira consists of Indians and Asians, and naturally the dozens of small shops selling everything, the street merchants , the voices, the multicolored chaos, all reflect this southeastern character.  In this vibrant labyrinth, and constituting its vital centre, you will find two of the most traditional bazaars of the Middle East, known here as Souks, the Spice Souk and the Gold Souk.  Your nose will lead you to the first one, as it is situated very near to where the boat leaves you, and you can see the crowd flocking into its corridors with the traditional wood-engraved arches.  Here, among the hordes of tourists as well as the local populace, spices of all types and from all over the East and the whole world, tint the benches with the fiery orange of saffron, the deep green of cardamom and the sweet brown of cinnamon.  You will also find rose water of the finest quality as well as frankincense or other exquisite incense, together with some impressive cases made from timber, mahogany and ivory.  You can buy whatever you want, spices either in powder or whole and other local handcrafted items, always with the indispensable barter of the, admittedly high, prices. 

Colorful Spices

A little bit further away from the perfume extravaganza you will come upon the indisputable and brilliant kingdom of gold in Dubai.  More than a Gold Souk, it is a place of worship of this noble metal: all along its blinding showcases you can admire it in every possible shape and form, be it in incredibly thin embroideries that create entire skirts of gold or as excessively bulky and heavy necklaces that grant a new dimension to the kitsch. At the same time, you can witness an infinite collection of particularly precious jewels, from diamonds, emeralds, rubies and almost anything else that can capture the magic of the prismatic colors.  If you want to make a precious gift to someone special or just to feed your vanity, then this is the ideal place: most probably, nowhere else in the world is the gold sold in such a low price, and if you make a good bargain with the merchant you could even buy for half the original price.

Loaded with your fragrant spices and gleaming jewels you can now depart from this colorful and oriental parallel universe of the advanced and futuristic Dubai, with the certainty that each city has two sides and many times it is this concealed side that makes it unique. 

(Published in KATHIMERINI ©, on January 11, 2014 (transl. & edited from greek, original here)

In the Meena Bazaar

Morning traffic in the Meena Bazaar
Golden creations
Golden creations 2
Sishas on parade!
Dubai Heritage Village

Local handcrafted products

National Colors

Traditional Arabic shoes in Meena Bazaar

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Greece: Anafi, an ebony sculpture in the Aegean Sea

Like a shining white balcony suspended above the sea, you will be dazzled by its Chora (main settlement), and its calm, exotic beaches

(updated with links!)

by Kon Hans

St. Nikolaos beach

Anafi island is a small ebony sculpture embraced by the Aegean Sea, where a gorgeous, white small town (the Chora) bursts out from its dark, volcanic bowels, gazing at her great sister Santorini and the vastness of the blue horizon. The beauty of Anafi, the austere beauty of black and blue, is the one that testifies to the serene power of mother earth, a power which endows this special island with a unique and wild character..

View from above, the Chora
Away from the spotlight, unlike the neighboring and famous Santorini, Anafi is a small surprise: a genuine, volcanic black jewel that is waiting for you to discover. As soon as the ship is moored in the tiny harbor, you will be impressed by the wild beauty of this place as your gaze climbs up the black rock to meet the magical Chora on its top. Like a white balcony overlooking the Aegean Sea, the Chora of Anafi is built amphitheatrically, with a particular and serene architecture, that may bring to your memory some other familiar alleys, under the shadow of Acropolis! Don't get surprised though with this déjà vu, as the explanation is simple: a small-scale  copy of the Chora of Anafi is located in Plaka, exactly below the Parthenon, known as Anafiotika. Built from 1847 to 1863 by builders from Anafi who came to Athens to construct the palaces of King Otto, Anafiotika's traditional cluster brought the Cycladic sea breath in the centre of Athens.

View from above, the harbor
Here you can find, relatively easy, nice, traditional rooms to let in reasonable prices although Anafi has recently been turning into a sought out destination. The Chora is, however, a small treasure trove of images and surprises that await you in every corner of this blinding white labyrinth. Therefore, it is strongly advisable to explore every inch of it: from the small upper square with its panoramic views, and all the way up the alleys leading to the ruins of the Venetian castle, full of purple flowers and lazy cats lying down on the warm grey stones. In the central promenade you can find beautiful small taverns and cafés for a tasty breakfast, some good coffee or Cycladic tapas and ouzo, all of them blessed with a unique view to the infinite sea and protected from the fierce August winds.  Some of these are, the "Armenaki", a tavern with nice folklore music ensembles, "Alexandra", overlooking the traffic on the main road of the island or the "Astrakhan" with the best views of the island and the "Liotrivi" with its old oil press; while savoring the local delicacies, you should try the excellent honey and Anafi's famed cheese and sausages. Here, you will enjoy the peace and tranquility you seek, all the more so as the use of cars and motorcycles is banned inside the Chora, being a protected traditional settlement.

In the Chora, the alleys
Starting right beside the small harbor, you will find the first large beach in Kleisidi, while a number of beautiful sandy beaches, large and small, stretch all across the southern part of the island. In general, the beaches are quite good, not so organized, except Kleisidi, but all with crystal clear waters and golden sand; their charm lies precisely in their isolation and the serenity it offers. The most notable are Katsouni, Flamourou and the famous Roukounas, the big and the small, the big being really enormous, as it is the largest sandy beach of the island – and perhaps of the whole Aegean Sea – and has a remarkable restaurant, "Roukouna", serving a delicious roasted local wild goat that will melt in your mouth.  If you go further east, you'll find more beautiful, deserted beaches, mainly with pebbles, like the "Megas Potamos" beach or "Prasies". On the other hand, If you decide to explore the mainland, you should definitely visit the ancient Acropolis in "Kastelli", with its ancient walls tinted in fiery red from the sunlight and the shadows of its past glory stretching out in the lonely sunset.

Small chappel 
However, the most important sight of the island has not been created by the hands of humans, but by the majestic forces of nature. A giant monolithic rock known as "Kalamos", 460 m. high, only second to the  Gibraltar rock, is towering above the sea in all its eerie magnificence. The path leading to the top of the rock is a haunting and unforgettable experience and perhaps one of the most impressive routes an island has to offer; just head to the Monastery of "Zoodochos Pigi" (or "Panagia  Kalamiotissa"), preferably early in the morning, and follow the somewhat unclear indications and your instinct!  The route is relatively demanding and requires some strenuous climbing at moments, but it is astonishing, with an unnatural feeling that you walk substantially upon an enormous rock, a colossal stone tower with sudden alternations that offer you a unique view not only to its imposing volume but also to the sea beyond; a monument to the grandeur of nature and a remarkable experience for a lifetime.  Upon reaching the top, and entering the precinct of the "Old Monastery of Kalamiotissa", a stunning picture will leave you wordless and astounded, as the infinite blue horizon will embrace you and fill your soul with the precious poem of the immense sea, a poem dedicated to you.

(Published in KATHIMERINI ©, on September 9, 2013 (transl. & edited from greek, original here )

The Chora on the hill

Traditional Greek breakfast!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Greece: Astypalaia, the white nymph of the Aegean Sea

as soon as you set foot on this hospitable land you will instantly feel the calm vibrations that will  wash off all the anxiety and preoccupation.

(updated with links!)

by Kon Hans

Deep in the Aegean Sea, in the borders between the Dodecanese and Cyclades, a glorious lady, an Aegean nymph, stretches out her wings, wide over the waves, while her crown, ancient and splendid under the sun, rises proudly and shines like a lighthouse day and night, visible for all to admire.  It is the "Chora" (main settlement of an island) of Astypalaia, one of the most beautiful in all the islands of Greece. Familiar white Cycladic houses mixed with the Dodecanese character, pulled tight together, blend marvellously with the environment as they seem to pour from above, from the Castle, like pure white lava that engulfs the hill all around.

The Chora is certainly the most famous attraction of the island and will require most of your time and your admiration, but also the rest of the island with its famous and remarkable shape as a "butterfly", with its small coves, beaches, islets, its mysterious caves and numerous paths is generously offered for exploration.  The legend wants the island as the only island in Greece without snakes, "ehthron einai tis ofesin" (in ancient Greek meaning “an enemy to the snakes”) by the words of Aristotle, but at the same time it is believed to host a dragon in its innermost part, in the Dragon's Cave or “drakospilia” (in Greek).  

An island with a mysterious power, some call it magnetic field like its nearby sister island of Amorgos, while others believe that it is something deeper;  you, on the other hand, as soon as you set foot on this hospitable land you will instantly feel the calm vibrations that will  wash off all the anxiety and preoccupation.

The Chora and the Castle of Querini

"Agios Georgios" (St. George) in the Castle
Once you settle down either in Pera Gialos (the old harbor and a more economic option) exactly below the Chora, or in the Chora itself (a more expensive option but with spectacular view), or in Livadi (more touristic) or even in the famous camping of the island (one of the most organized campings in all the Aegean), you should then start ascending to the Chora. High up there, right beside the beautiful mills, lined up as if waiting another Don Quihote, let your gaze wonder at the unblemished Cycladic architecture and the infinite Aegean Sea far below.  

At some point, in the midst of the magic alternation of the pure white and blue around you, your gaze will meet the greyish Castle of Querini standing proud, high above the Chora, the last jewel in the crown of the nymph Astypalea: it is your next destination.  The climb among the alleyways is in itself an artistic travelogue with the inspiration awaiting you in every corner, but the destination is even more exciting. 

"Panagia" (Holy Mary) of the Castle
The view from the Caste is unique, while the windows of the restored Venetian settlements are like frames of paintings of outstanding beauty, like a living museum where the exhibits are masterpieces of nature itself.  These settlements, the so-called Castle-houses, collapsed in their majority in 1956 along with the entire north-east side of the wall, when a tsunami as high as 25 m. hit the Island as a result of a strong earthquake.  Since then, there have been multiple intents of restoration from the authorities, not worthy though of the beauty of this citadel. Unfortunately, here also the lack of information with multilingual texts, with marked paths and other infrastructure, degrade even more the tourist value of this unique place. 

Chora of Astypalaia
After leaving the Castle, you can enjoy a more leisurely walk in the Chora and refill your energy by trying the “pougia” ("pouch" in Greek,  a kind of sweet pastry in the form of a pouch), “chlori” (a salty kind of cheese), or toffees with local honey and saffron and other local delicacies.  Some nice taverns and restaurants with a distinctive colour to enjoy these specialties are “Ageri” and “Barbarossa” in Chora while most of them are down to Pera Gialos, like “Akrogiali”, “Australia”, or the “Maistrali”

As the sunset arrives be sure to pay a visit to the unique terrace of “Archipelago” and taste its exceptional confectionery  where especially at night with the exquisitely illuminated Chora in front of you like a gem beneath the moonlight, you will live a magical experience that will accompany you forever. 

Sunny beaches, gloomy caves

Sea view from above
After you indulge in all the delights that the Chora has to offer, it is time for the charming beaches, the magical trails and the mysterious caves that await your visit.  The beaches are mostly pebbled, and many are quite small, you will not find here the Caribbean colours of Koufonissia, or the large sandy beaches of Rhodes, but the beaches of Astypalaia have this authenticity that you find in a landscape without much tourism, the calm and remote beauty waiting to be discovered. 

The largest are in Pera Gialos and Livadi (the most organized), and also in Marmari, in Steno and Vatses (further away), then there are the small and relatively easy to access as isTzanaki (a nudist beach), Papou, Agios Konstantinos, Maltezana and Schoinontas and finally there are the more remote beaches like Kaminakia, Psili Ammos, Agios Ioannis and Vathy – some of them more easily accessible by boat.  However, the beaches that really worth a visit require a beautiful ride by boat through the waves in order to reach the small islets of Koutsomyti and Kounoupa and dive in their clear emerald waters. 

If during the exploration, you get hungry and you happen to be at the small charming beach of Kaminakia, be sure to visit “Linda’s Tavern” for excellent homemade recipes, and do the same in “Analipsi” at Maltezana beach or in “Gerani” at Livadi. Last but not least, you should make a descent into the mysterious depths of this place, either in the Cave of Negrou at Vatses or the Dragon’s Cave (Drakospilia) at Vathy, both easily reached by boat, where maybe, deep inside their ancient darkness, you will feel the slow beating of the heart of this unique island.

Published in KATHIMERINI ©, on July 7, 2013 (transl. & edited from greek, original here )

Chora by night

Windmills in Chora 

Sunday, 5 May 2013


A new entry in the restless hub of the DIFC and a breath of fresh air at the same time, it already has an army of fans and faithful customers and it impresses with its minimalist design.

by Kon Hans

White luminescent walls surround a well defined rectangular open space in the middle of the coming and going of people in the Art Galleries sector of the busy financial core of Dubai, the DIFC, while the strong aroma of the espresso seems to pour out from it.  Add to this a really updated catalogue of magazines of all sorts arranged on the inner shelves of the walls as a colourful graffiti, that you can read at your leisure, and you get yourself a modern, cultural café; its name, what else: “The Magazine Shop”.

The Magazine Shop - exterior

A new entry in the restless hub of the DIFC and a breath of fresh air at the same time, it already has an army of fans and faithful customers and it impresses with its minimalist design.  Inspired perhaps in the plain and clear lines and forms of the Nordic architecture, it is more of an open space that acquires its identity as a café from its functionality rather than from its physical form.  The surrounding low walls define distinctively the physical limits of the café space while at the same time they allow your perception of the surrounding area, thus giving you the impression of a constant interchange with the outer environment.  The gentle white light emanating from the walls not only relaxes your mind and eases your thoughts but also enables you to choose and read from a rich variety of magazines, with subjects ranging from travel and art to business and finance.  The small wooden tables and stools, re-arrangeable around the relatively small space, provide you with a sense of freedom of choice as you can arrange your own personal corner and endeavour to your coffee drinking/magazine browsing ritual; the shelves around you, also allow you to conveniently store your belongings as the tables and stools are somewhat small.  The coffee bar is a small area in the front by the entrance totally integrated with the rest of the place making the service quite effortless as you can simply grab your coffee at the entrance and go “inside”.

The Magazine Shop

The owner, a passionate individual with the press media culture, will happily introduce you to the world of magazines and inform you about the latest issues.  He can also recommend you the appropriate magazine in relation with your interests to enhance your reading experience.  The magazines themselves arranged in the façade of the wall in the background function as an integrated element of decoration that colourfully breaks the uniformity of the “whiteness” around you.  In addition, a row of potted small plants encased in one lateral wall bring up a freshness and put the more vivid and substantial green colour in the scale thus opening the space a bit more.  On the other hand, the dim lighting offers a gentle and pleasing contrast with the somewhat darker area around while the lack of a ceiling or a door lets the natural light of the day flow around you.  The cartoon-like cute logo and the menu depicted with nice sketches upon the front wall by the entrance, all bear witness to the easy going, casual character of the team behind the concept of the “Magazine Shop” and of the shop itself.  The white cubic space with its thick walls forms a unity that is completed only with the human presence and activity, inside and outside, thus redefining the space as an urban, social element incorporated in the environment and at the same time detached from it.

Overall, the feeling you get upon visiting the “Magazine Shop” is that of a relaxed and cosy corner for yourself only, sheltered in your private white bubble and conveniently disconnected from the hustle and bustle all around you that will surely convert you to a faithful customer and, without a doubt, a magazine lover.

(photos by Kon Hans - more photos are coming! )


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Greece: The reign of the Athamanian Mountains

In the heart of Epirus, in northern Greece, the mountains spread out their ancient, unshaken and imposing kingdom.. 

By Kon Hans

Leaving behind the faceless chaos of the city the road becomes a path in the serenity of the mountains. The vivid colours of spring make up the dress in which nature chooses to flirt with the brilliant sun as it rises in the blue horizon.  Here, you can hear your thoughts whispering at the rhythm of the small crystal clear streams all around; you are alone, as a child that slowly finds its way to the embrace of his mother. 

Nature is everything; she is your existence and your god, your mother and father, the cord that still unites you with the vast, inexplicable universe.  You need to breathe the oxygen and smell the humid wood, to let the soil caress your palms as you pick it up and let it in the wind to become earth again. You need to let down your defences that the urban life has provided you with, when you first entered the mechanical entrails of the City.  You need to feel the breeze of time at your cheek, just to realise the enormous illusion we live in; you need to let go in order to be free.  Only then, you can admire the brilliant work of nature, the masterpiece of existence in which you are just an insignificant speck; the sea of mountains, ancient, unyielding, imposing are there to remind you just that, your fragile and yet unique and beautiful existence.

The Athamanian Mountains

Tzoumerka mountains in Epirus, north Greece (photo by Diogenis Hantzopoulos) 

In the heart of Epirus, in northern Greece, the mountains spread out their ancient, unshaken and imposing kingdom.  Others are gigantic, with lazy outlines and covered in their deep green cloak, while others are bare, with abrupt and rough slopes as they rip the deep blue sky with their peaks, and all of them embellish the backbone of the vast mountain range of Pindos.  None of them, however, hold the wild, unblemished and proud beauty of the “Athamanian  Mountains” or else “Tzoumerka”mountains, rising high like the sanguine teeth of a mythical dragon  as the last rays of  a red dying sun embrace their bare peaks.

In their fringes they have allowed the human presence even from the ancient times, (the ancient tribe of “Athamanians”) and thus now, centuries afterwards, a lot of villages, called “Tzoumerkohoria” (which means “the villages of Tzoumerka mountains”), unfold under their shade and in their slopes while their proud inhabitants look far beyond, to their sea of mountains as it fades in the horizon. The land is harsh, made from stone and oak, and the people that inhabit it are harsh and together they are locked in a primordial struggle trying to tame one another, signs of which can be seen in the arid fields, the ravines, the stony watering holes.  All around, the virgin nature engulfs in its suffocating embrace the labours of men but her call is irresistible: the perfume of the lotus and the humid timber, the live red of the dogwood and the yellow of the loquat, they all call to you: to leave behind the streets of the city until they become no more than a shadowy path in the wild vegetation.

Unique villages and stunning sites

More mountains (photo by Aris Hantzopoulos)
However, after you decide to follow nature’s call, you should know that the access to this region is relatively difficult, the road network is unfinished and the roads in many points are hard to traverse (mainly in winter), which partly explains why these hidden diamonds remain hidden from the domestic and international tourism; in any case, rest assured your efforts will pay off. You can reach Tzoumerka either coming from Arta and Ioannina, or coming from Trikala, as it is relatively easy to find the road for the bigger villages, such as Pramanta or Agnanta and from there continue to explore.

 The “Tzoumerkohoria” are roughly about 47 villages, stretching out between the 
Agios Dimitrios church in Ramia village (photo by Diogenis Hantzopoulos) 
Municipalities of Arta and Ioannina, a region which is constituted henceforth by the Municipality of Central Tzoymerka with its seat in Voulgareli village and the Municipality of Northern Tzoymerka with Pramanta village as its seat.  All of them are beautiful villages, each one with a separate quality, others are pretty small and remote while others are big and more accessible; others are deep inside the pines and others next to gurgling waters, others with alleys and masterfully crafted stone mansions while others spread out in the slopes and in the gorges; all of them, however, possess an authentic mountainous character.  You can drink a coffee in the beautiful square in Voulgareli looking at the view from above or a “tsipouro” (strong alcoholic drink) in the warm and traditional refreshment pavilion in Ramia’s square or you can wander around in the stone alleys of Syrrako and Kalarrytes, admiring the unique architecture of the twin Vlach villages – many regard them as the most beautiful mountainous villages in Greece.

You can savour the marvellous roasted lamb and goat kid in Hosepsi (or Kypseli) or in the bigger villages such as Agnanta and Pramanta, where there the culinary options are even more, or you can admire the grandeur of the forces of nature as they materialize in the deafening roar and the vast crystal column of the biggest waterfall in the country, in the village of Katarraktis (which of course in Greek means “waterfall”!) In addition, just opposite of the village and situated on an evergreen hill you can find the “Kedros -Dasiko Horio” (Forest Village), a complex with beautiful houses and villas of traditional architecture ready to warmly welcome you and accommodate you.

The famous Bridge of Plaka (photo by Diogenis Hantzopoulos) 
The choices are really endless, and since the region has started, in the past few years, to attract tourist interest,-though at a snail's pace still-, you will find other appreciable rooms to let and hotels to stay as you make your exploration trips.  Furthermore, if you want to combine the exploration with the adventure, then in Monolithi, and only a short distance away from the historical and impressive “Bridge of Plaka”, you will find the synonymous modern hotel (“Gefyri tis Plakas”) that can initiate you into the secrets of rafting in a valley of picturesque beauty.  There, you will also find the restored Customs, a historical building that signals where the old borders between the emerging State of Greece and the Ottoman Empire have been; close by,  a lovely traditional hotel is now the bearer of the name and its historic importance (“Teloneio” = “Customs”), where you can warm yourself sitting on the “basia” (traditional low benches) next to its imposing fireplace.

If, on the other hand, you prefer the car - presuming that it possesses good suspensions - then you can use as a base for your expeditions some central village as Pramanta or Agnanta and discover graphical villages and stunning views almost in every turn of the road.  Some of these roads may bring you to the cave of Anemotrypa (“Wind’s Hole”) outside Pramanta, where you can enjoy a magical route of 250m. between underground small lakes and a river, or to the Byzantine RedChurch in Palaiochori, near Boulgareli, built by master stonemasons with stones that have a natural red shade.  If again you fancy walking in the nature, then the options are even more as there are great many paths to explore; however, you must pay attention in the gorges and the abrupt precipices that here are widely known as “stefania”.

In the duration of your journey to the wild beauty of the Tzoumerka villages, you will find that the local cuisine with the exceptional quality of meat and various pies is a guaranteed benefit and even more so regarding its star product, the “tsipouro”:  produced by the local mountain variety of grapes, named “zampela”, it is a strong and pure spirit, with transparent flavour and body that you are sure to enjoy.  Sometimes, engulfed in the silence of nature as the veils of rime cover the sleeping mountains, a tsipouro can ease your thoughts and free your mind as your gaze wanders among this forest of eternal peaks.

(Published in KATHIMERINI ©, on May 11, 2013 (transl. & edited from greek, original here )

Tzoumerka mountains (photo by Aris Hantzopoulos) 
A small path.. (photo by Diogenis Hantzopoulos) 
Local cuisine: natural baked bread in the fireplace (photo by Diogenis Hantzopoulos) 
Tzoumerka mountains (photo by Aris Hantzopoulos) 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Dubai: a city in the future

Dubai: a city in the future

by Kon Hans

From a fishing village and in just 50 years time, Dubai has turned into a new metropolis of the 21st century

Burj Al Khalifa by day

A familiar red hat and a dazzling smile, the symbols of Emirates Airlines, one of the largest on the planet, will be your first encounter as you embark on your flight that will take you to one of the busiest airports in the world, to the new ultra-modern airport of the rising metropolis of the 21st century, Dubai.

Dubai Mall - exterior

Afterwards, a completely automated metro carriage, on an elevated railway and passing between huge towers made of mirrors and filled with all the colors and races of the world, will leave you by an impressive hotel –they all are! From its window you can contemplate a vast green park giving its way to the golden sand of an exotic beach with palm trees, while the shadow of one of them seems to expand endlessly into the sea materializing into the astonishing "Palm Jumeira" with its residences floating as if on a new Caribbean Sea at the edge of the Arabian Desert.

Wherever you turn your head the development will hit you hard in the face in a “superlative” manner: the world's tallest hotel has just inaugurated, the biggest mall in the world is here again (Dubai Mall) and so is the largest flower garden (Dubai Miracle Garden) in the middle of the desert! If this is not enough then look at the horizon as the colossal “Tower of the Khalif” (Burj al Khalifa) traverses with its shadow the entire Dubai below, like an enormous solar clock indicator. 

Taxes, the non-existent 

Some small towers!

The images are transformed into exceptional experiences that highlight the uniqueness of a metropolis in its blooming. Unrestrained, glamorous, with all the momentum of the future in its foundations, it seems as though nothing can halt its course as it lunges itself into the embrace of the new century with the confidence of a robust economy, a galloping development and a new multicultural identity in its birth.
Dubai, from a small fishing village with a long history as a commercial channel, in just 50 years time has managed to become an international hub of trade, investment and tourism. Its success lies, to a certain extent, on the Emirates' vast oil and gas deposits though the majority belongs to the neighboring Emirate of Abu Dhabi, and at the same time the capital of the seven United Arab Emirates. However, it’s not only the oil responsible for this success: a lot of work lies behind, challenging and innovative decisions had to be made with determination; the "economic miracle" of Dubai is no miracle at all, it is just the result of a logical and methodical planning.

Dubai Mall - interior
The whole Dubai relies on its unhindered growth; it rests with both feet, firmly, on the, - ill famed for many lately - , “free market”, and it can’t be more free: there are no taxes! However the State ensures and pushes this development since the 1980s, attracting investors from all over the world with all possible concessions and facilities, understanding very early the advantages of a recycling market. Thus, the “free zones” are everywhere in Dubai and are very specialized: there exists the Media Zone, the Internet Zone, the Academic Zone and others totaling 20 highly developed areas where trade is booming free from any kind of taxes or customs duties and with State-of-the-art facilities already installed. Amongst them, the pulsating, huge industrial heart of the Emirates, the world's largest industrial zone, “Jebel Ali Free Zone”, stands out with a port and airport included for the faster service of almost 7,000 companies that operate inside! 

Bur Dubai, Karama 

Leaving behind the overactive core of the development of Dubai, which warms up even more its motors to accommodate, with any certainty, the largest convention of investment and trade worldwide, at the EXPO 2020, we are moving towards the "old" Dubai. Here, in Bur Dubai and Karama, the oriental spirit is widespread since the people who build this architectural paradise live here: Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, in their colorful neighborhoods and spicy restaurants have created their own microcosm and have integrated in the local society.

Dubai Museum
They are the labor hands, nonetheless they gaze into the future with optimism; huge complexes with apartments have been built especially for them, as they contribute to the economy as much as anyone else, something that lately you won’t meet in many European developed countries where they live in admittedly worse conditions. The bazaars with the oriental fragrance, the ripe honeyed dates and the scent of cardamom, the strong Indian curry, Chinese lanterns, Filipino shops, gold and spices, colors, flavors, aromas, all coexist effortlessly, beautifully, dynamically in this new hyper-Babel of the desert.

When the time comes, I’ll leave knowing that the huge economic chain of Dubai is well oiled and will continue spinning, as here everybody contributes, others more and others less, resulting in a modern diverse and inclusive culture: nowadays people are arriving by the thousands to this new metropolis, as they believe in its model of development; but that was not possible until after Dubai started believing in itself.

Published in KATHIMERINI ©, on February 2, 2013 (transl. & edited from greek, original here )

(All fotos by Kon Hans)

And a small video I found on the internet which shows the growth of Dubai in 11 years, from 2000 to 2011, enjoy:

Dubai Mall - exterior

The Gate - DIFC (Dubai International Financial Center)

Fountains, Burj Al Arab in Dubai Mall - exterior

Burj Al Khalifa by night

Dubai Mall - interior