Dubai is a transient city with people constantly coming and going. When I meet people and they ask me how long I’ve been here, a majority of them are always shocked and in awe when I tell them I’ve been here for almost 30 years. They constantly ask me what it was like growing up here, and if there was even anything to do at all!
So with National Day here, I thought why not celebrate the places that made Dubai so special to myself and all the others that grew up here?
I grabbed my friend Lucky who’s only been here for a few years and took him to my 3 favourite spots growing up in the city – Al Nasr Leisureland, Al Ustad Special Kebab and Safa Park.
Al Nasr Leisureland opened in 1979 and was a special place for us as kids. It really had it all from bowling and ice-skating, to a theme park and arcade games. Only when I got little older did I find out that the bowling alley was actually licensed and probably why my parents loved taking us there. A little unknown gem is the ice skating rink. Quiet and spacious, the rink is great if you want to escape the crowds at Dubai Mall or take part in some ice hockey. There are kids and adult teams and it’s also where the UAE national ice hockey team practices and plays. When we walked in, there were some serious ice skaters practicing their routines to music.
After an exhausting experience on the ice (it’s been over 15 years since I last tried ice skating) we headed over to Al Ustad Kebab in Bur Dubai. Right at the door we were greeted by one of the owners who clearly loved the camera and wasn’t shy at all.
Established in 1978, Ustad Kebab truly is a cornerstone of Dubai’s history and culture. You can feel it from the minute you walk in with its walls full of UAE nostalgia. From photos to popular UAE cell phones, and soccer jerseys, you can really feel a vibe like no other in here. I used to come here as a kid with my family and with friends in my teenage years. Asides from the tasty food, the owner can tell you stories for days about the restaurant, city and famous people that have walked through its doors. There’s even a photo of him in 1984 (the year I was born) standing outside the restaurant with his parents. Looking at the photos on the wall you’ll see that some special guests have visited the restaurant over the years, from royal family members to actors and many more. You’ll probably even see photos of friends you know as well.
After a heavy lunch, we went to Safa Park in Jumeirah where we could hopefully walk off the meal.
Opening its doors in 1975, Safa Park was a huge park that sat in the middle of the Al Safa neighbourhood. From my recollection the whole park was only sand based, and we’d always come home dragging sand in with us. It shut down for a few years in the 90’s and when it reopened it was transformed and filled with grass and trees, which was super exciting for us. With the transformation came an arcade, Ferris wheel, bikes to rent, BBQ spots and so much more. They even built in a basketball court and a football pitch. It was really a place that had everything and was packed on weekends. In my teenage years, it really became a special place to me as it’s where we all played basketball 4 times a week. Picture competitive games, 40 players lined up waiting their turn, boom boxes blasting music and endless basketball from 4-11pm. Those were some of the best days of my life and I’d later leave the city to pursue a short career in basketball. None of it would have happened without Safa Park!
You’d never think that reliving your childhood memories could take all day and be pretty exhausting! It’s safe to say though that my body is sore (definitely the ice skating) but I got to show a friend how we grew up in the city that is now celebrating its 46th birthday. With all the change going on we tend to forget about the past and it was truly amazing to find the places still there and intact. Hopefully I’ll get to do this more often and share more places with you. So until the next time.
Happy National Day!