Expedia Explorer Becky Wicks shares her experience growing up as the Burj Khalifa was constructed and took over the Dubai skyline. Read the pages of her Dubai travel diary:


How I grew alongside the world’s tallest building

When I first found out about Dubai’s impressive plans to construct the world’s tallest building, nothing could have surprised me, really. I’d been living in the hot and dusty desert city for a month by then and my days were a series of walking dreams, whereby every five minutes another five-star bar or restaurant launched to a fanfare of fuss and fireworks, or a glitzy hotel rose from a pile of rubble like a phoenix from the flames.

Burj Khalifa Dubai UAECredit: CC 2.0 /  Adam

Dubai was a city of dreams. Nothing was a mission impossible until the crash of course.

Back then (2007), I was living in a place I lovingly called ‘The Iransion’ – a large mansion-type villa owned by an inventor from Iran. His latest invention was sitting in the driveway, blocking the view of the palm trees and swimming pool. He called it the ‘Fleethorse’.

“I will take it to the USA!” he enthused, stroking it proudly once he’d dragged me outside into the heat to see it. He explained how this contraption – essentially a conveyor belt in a glass box on wheels – was built to exercise a horse while acting as a moving marketing tool for Dubai’s businesses. “You put the posters on ze side”, he said, “and zen gallop down ze road!”

“But what about the air-conditioning?” I asked, wiping a hand across my sweaty brow. “Won’t a horse die in there? It’s so hot!”

The inventor’s face fell, like he’d forgotten it was a hundred degrees in the shade and he’d probably have animal welfare on his back if he ever put a horse in a greenhouse, on a freeway. He continued to talk about his plans for world domination, but my attention had drifted over his head to what looked like a pile of scaffolding in the hazy distance.

“What’s that?” I asked. The inventor frowned again, clearly annoyed that something else in Dubai was coming together more successfully.

The Fleet HorseCredit: Becky Wicks

Ze tallest building in ze world, he said with a sigh.

It didn’t look very tall, but sure enough, a few days later a press release landed on my desk at the magazine where I worked.

What I read was impressive: ‘The Burj Dubai [it was called this before it was changed to Burj Khalifa] will be the world’s tallest building and must-see landmark of Dubai’s urban landscape. It will carry people 124 floors to the world’s highest viewing platform, and in an array of restaurants they will enjoy some of the world’s finest cuisine by the world’s greatest chefs…’

OK, it wasn’t exactly in those words but I do remember thinking ‘Wow, I really am in the worlds greatest place so why am I still the worlds poorest person, living in the worlds weirdest house with the worlds kookiest Iranian man?

So many questions.


Burj Khalifa, floor by floor

Over the next year or so I watched the Burj Khalifa being built from my window. If I fluffed up my pillow just right, I could see it growing floor by floor from my bed.

It was constantly casting shadows over the inventor as he huffed and puffed and tried and failed to get his Fleethorse off the ground. As he sweated and cursed and fixed what broke, the Burj climbed its way into the sky, till it was piercing the clouds with the world’s spikiest roof and Tom Cruise was talking about scaling the outside for a new Mission Impossible movie!

Being one of those ‘media people’ in Dubai, who over time had miraculously started dating the man of her dreams, landed two great jobs in quick succession, moved out of the Iransion and finally started paying off her debts, I was lucky enough to be in one of the first groups invited to the observation deck, once the building was complete. As the elevator whisked me up the 124 floors I’d watched expanding like my waistline, I felt a bit emotional, like I’d somehow grown alongside it in every possible way.

So had the inventor. I bumped into him one day. His Fleethorse had finally come together. He had a horse test it out and, amazingly, it didn’t die. Not only that, it had caught the attention of a sponsor in the USA. “I will go make it big in ze greatest place!” he grinned as the sun glinted off his shades. “Ze other greatest place, I mean.”


Looking down from the world’s highest man-made heights, knowing that on the floors below me sat an incredible hotel, luxurious million dollar apartments, offices and more gourmet cuisine than one could ever eat in a lifetime, it was hard to see anything but the tops of smaller buildings. They were all shining through the cotton-ball fluff like a fairytale kingdom in the clouds.

But I was sure somewhere down there from a driveway not far away, the inventor was looking up at me and smiling. After years of sweating it out, he was living his dream, just as I was. He never stopped believing.

The Burj Khalifa and Dubai, and its overpowering, self-awarded greatness taught us both something during that time. Sometimes, on the way to the top, we all have to stand in the shadows. But keep on moving, turn your face to the sun and eventually those shadows will fall behind you.

Head here to visit or book a stay near the Burj Khalifa.


Photo credits: Getty Images