Earlier on today I posted a blog on the perils of ordering a food delivery and the subsequent navigational disaster that ensued. I feel that the subject can be broadened by highlighting a key issue. Do road signs mean anything?
Abu Dhabi is similar to Manhattan in its layout, its all grid roads and blocks. In actual fact it is relatively well sign-posted when it doesn’t really need to be.
You can’t really get lost very easily. I also like to liken Al Ain to Milton Keynes, not because they are threatening to steal my football team, but because it follows a similar grid pattern with lots of roundabouts. Again like driving around in Abu Dhabi its pure maths, counting the blocks or roundabouts as you go. But in these Arabian sands lurks a monster, a monster that taunts you with signs that have little to no meaning, it’s a monster that feeds on your temper and frustrations, it’s a monster that calls itself Dubai.
No, there is no river of slime running under the city like in Ghostbusters II but layer upon layer of fly-over and metro rails. I like Dubai, it’s a fun city to go out and enjoy for the day and there are some super places to go, but therein lies the problem, how are these places to be reached without adequate signage? The first time I tried to go to Dubai Mall was a catastrophe. I ended up – well to this day I don’t know where. Then there was the time I went to Dubai airport and got so lost and scared I actually started crying in a lay-by. The Gold Souq? Mother of God help us. Have you ever been driving along Sheikh Zayed Road and just beyond Trade Centre roundabout noticed that there is a sign to the airport in the far left lane and that there is also another sign to the airport in the far right lane? Go both ways and you end up back on the same road again but in different places, what on earth is that about? The stories of Martin vs Dubai are numerous.
No one knows Dubai’s roads really. They may lie and say “it’s easy to find” but I assure you they themselves have been lost in the darkest depths at one point or another. If you have a sat-nav then things can be achieved. It won’t help you when you come to a section of road works but you will have the luxury of smugness at times when others think about ending it all. So, I’m not to one to complain (err…well) but surely there is something we can do to reduce the pain?
I’m not going to start moaning about what the relevant authorities should be doing to tackle the issue – that’s not the point of the blog (sort the signs out cough cough) – but what can we as expats do to make things as easy as possible?
The obvious solution is to palm the problem off to others. If you’re new to Dubai then the best advice is to get around in taxis. But don’t waste the opportunity, watch where you’re going. It sounds simple but time and time again people who travel in cabs have no idea where to go once they start to drive themselves.
Don’t be fooled into familiarising yourself with landmarks. It’s all well and good thinking that you know how to get to Dubai Mall because it’s next to the Burj Khalifa (which can be seen from miles around), but what about the finite details at the end? Are you going to crash through buildings and shop fronts to cut across? No. You will need to learn patience. You are going to get lost and you’re going to miss your turn off at times and have to drive 400 million miles doing loops to get back; this is all part of the process. The more you get lost the greater your knowledge of the city will become, you’ll just need to allow some time. As far as I know no one has ever got so lost in Dubai that they never found their way out again.
Remember to keep your cool, ignore all road signs, crank up the Radio 2 and embrace it. And who knows? Maybe one day you can be one of those smug bastards, but without the sat-nav.