Thank You: Shokran
Currency: Dirham (AED)
From the plane, it’s easy to see the city as a stark contrast to the desert surrounding it. The polished white dome of the Grand Mosque proudly perched in its purity where once there was only desert. And once I land and walk through the airport, I can see even more contrasts to the world I left in southeast Asia. My taxi is a Mercedes mini-van. Clean, metered, with seat belts, air-conditioning and with a well dressed driver complete with cap. I seem to have dropped into a pristine world of perfection.
My visit started at the Sheik Zayed Private Academy for girls. However, the school does include boys at the primary level. I was lucky enough to sit in as a guest in Miss Sue’s class of 4th graders. She introduced me as a “world” traveler and invited the children to ask me questions. Here was a group of children who had traveled and vacationed in Europe and other destinations with their families before they were 12 and I didn’t even leave my own continent until I was 27. And I was the world traveler.
The questions started with, “What countries have you been to?” and “What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?” I can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon! Even after the bell rang and most of the children left, five girls stayed gathered around me as if I was some fabled rock star. They kept the questions coming, “Have you been to South America, Nepal, Africa, Japan?” Any affirmative response created the signature school girl groaning of “you’re SO lucky!” I was the one who was lucky to be in the company of unedited and joyful admiration and envy.
On my first day, I had my eyes on the manufactured beach that was a short ten minute walk from my friend’s apartment. I had a perfect view from my guest bedroom and for the first time in weeks, I planned to do nothing but sit and relax. As I settled into my chair in the shade of an umbrella, I quickly realized that this beach was different from any beach I had ever visited. There were few people and it was strangely silent. It wasn't long before I found out why - beach security. A tall lean security guard quickly resolved the one source of noise from some young men as they messed around in the water, yelling and splashing at each other. I heard the guard explain to them that this careless noise was offending people resting quietly on the beach. I was embarrassed that they might think I was one of the offended parties as I found this to be normal American beach behavior. And it seemed silly when the silence was constantly challenged by the sound of jet skis and boats further out as the emiratis played ceaselessly with their toys.
When walking through the city, I found the streets to be equally spotless, with flowers to ornament the long boulevards and bits of cultured grass to break up the endless concrete. It feels like some sort of Utopian world peopled with normal citizens struggling to stay compliant.
The nationals, known as “Emiratis”, wear traditional dress in public, so I found myself walking among men wearing the floor length white robes known as a kandura. This robe is accompanied by a white or red checkered headdress known as a ghutra secured by a black cord called an agal. I couldn’t imagine how they kept the robes so glowing white. I am convinced that they wear them once and then throw them away.
The women wear a contrasting black abaya with a headscarf called a sheyla, but many women wear a burka which covers all but the eyes. The abayas can be covered with embroidery or beadwork embellishments making what seems to be a simple robe a piece of art. Although I did not witness it, I was informed that high end fashion was sequestered under those robes. The only confirmation I had was an occasional view of some pretty fabulous shoes.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque - After spending months visiting temples and pagodas, it was time to investigate a mosque. And this wasn’t any mosque. I’d been to mosques several times, usually old but still endowed with the beauty and art of their creation. The Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi is a stunning tribute to Islam and is one of the most spectacular examples of a mosque displaying glowing white walls and a striking interior complete with ornately decorated floors. The chandeliers and even the clock were beyond compare.
Emirates Palace - This hotel was made famous by the Sex in the City movie. Take some time to walk through the hotel and enjoy the opulent decor. We stopped for tea and to enjoy the superior service. I ordered the cappuccino sprinkled with gold flecks, a silly indulgence but a novelty as well.
Corniche - The Corniche is the area adjacent to the beach which makes for a hot but nice walk along the water. If you’re interested in using the beach, you can pay to enter and then pay for a chair with an umbrella. One benefit is that the beach is not really crowded since many of the locals don’t seem to use it. It seemed to be a place for ex-pats and tourists to sit and relax.
Dhow cruise - Even in Abu Dhabi, you can use a Groupon. My friend, Patti, had a Groupon for the Dhow cruise and we thought, “Why not?” Well, it was easy to see why the cruise was offering a Groupon. We sailed down along the coast for a nice skyline view of the city, turned around, and went back to the dock. A small investment of time but you can follow the cruise with a visit to the fish market.
Fish Market - This is one serious fish market. We stopped here after our Dhow cruise to pick up prawns for dinner. The men were friendly and helpful, laughing with us as we posed for photos. They will clean and even cook the fish for you at the market if you desire.
Gold Souk - I was on a mission to find ear rings and was overwhelmed with the possibilities. The jewelry designs were unique and stunning and not like anything I would typically find in America. If you decide to shop for jewelry, give yourself some time because the options seem endless.
Spa treatments are the choice of many citizens with endless time and money to pamper themselves. After several weeks of budget travel it was nice to surrender myself to have a much overdue pedicure and manicure while also enjoying a conditioning treatment for overly abused hair. How can you not leave feeling refreshed and ready to face the perfect world of Abu Dhabi?
If there are not enough malls in Abu Dhabi, then you can take a short trip to Dubai to experience the Dubai mall and also take a ride to the top of the Buri Khalifa. In the end, the Dubai mall is the ultimate in opulence but it is still a mall.
Burj Khalifa - A short trip to Dubai will give you a chance to see the world’s tallest building at 2716.5 feet (828 metres). Remember, a mile is 5280 feet. Entry was a mere 125 AED if you had purchased a ticket well in advance versus a ticket for immediate entry at 400 AED (about $100). I declined. Even the woman working the ticket desk seemed to think the $100 entry fee was a bit crazy to go to the top of a building. I could pass on this visit.
Transport to Dubai: I took the bus from Abu Dhabi and it was about a two hour ride. No one seemed to be able to offer me much information on the bus and the best place to get off if going to the mall. However, the bus did make one stop before the main bus station. I think you can get off at the first stop and then take a taxi or the 29 bus to the Dubai mall. It should save you time versus going to the main bus station and backtracking to the mall.
Also, check to see if you can buy a round-trip ticket on the Express bus. Otherwise, you may get trapped into wasting money to buy a special ticket for the return trip. This happened to me. I had to buy some sort of Dubai only ticket in addition to the bus ticket. It seemed to be a bit of a scam, as I could not use the ticket anywhere but Dubai and I was not returning. I ended up giving it to someone else on the bus so it wouldn’t be wasted.