Speed Tourism and Arabian Nights

Published: May 4th 2016
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R: My flight from Brisbane to Abu Dhabi went as well as could be expected - 14 hours 10 minutes. The guy in the seat next to me got up and left so I had a double seat (I'm not actually sure where he went). We arrived at 6am, a bit bleary eyed and began the fun of finding a ATM that accepted MasterCard, which was right next to the taxi stand, and I only found this out, after finding another one in a different terminal and coming back. Being a single man, I got selected for extra special screening, which meant taking everything out of my backpack onto a counter and it being prodded a few times. Having seen what other people in the line of single men had, my backpack must have been pretty unexciting to them. Its a 40 minute ride into town and you could see the haze across the desert as we drove in.

I wasn't sure what to expect from AD, thats partly why I wanted to come here. Its got all the usual big shiny, glass and concrete big-city structures, but also with a huge numbers of mosques and ornate, older buildings dotted throughout, still present right in the city centre, but in less quantity. Even the standard residential housing stock has arched windows and look like the stereotype of Arabic buildings you might have in your mind, so from this perspective it met my expectations. I had a cheeky 4* hotel right in the centre (that cost me £5 on reward points!) and my room was available when I arrived at 8am. So there was time for a shower to cleanse the 14 hour flight (plus flight down from Proserpine) before heading out.

It was down one end of Corniche Road, the main stretch of waterfront that runs 6km along the front of the city (but there is another island further out). It has been done out as a wide cycle path with pretty, aromatic bushes, nice sea views and fountains throughout. I walked for about 1/3 of it, and then decided to cut into the city. I went towards the world trade centre, the main building of which is a 92 story monster! Underneath is the central market and souk, which I found, had been recently renovated and the mall section looked like anything that would have been built anywhere in the world in the 2000s and the central souk had also been rebuilt. This was interesting as, although modernised with plush wooden cladding and electric displays on the walls, there were still spices and handicrafts for sale, as well as carpets and traditional items. It was completely empty at that time in the morning, and the hawkers couldn't even really be bothered to call out to me. One tried, and I politely declined his selection of jewel encrusted elephants.

Next I headed over to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque which was a huge and beautiful building set in gardens with water features. There is a huge collonade around the outside of it joined by archways throughout. Inside its a huge space with beautiful calligraphy, stone work and chandeliers. You have to follow the prescribed path around it with all the other hoards of tourists but it was still peaceful in a way. As I was stood there looking at the clock on the wall that showed the days' prayer times, the call to prayer sounded which was quite atmospheric.

Next I headed to Marina Mall, site of the Sky Tower which was supposedly free and gave views back over the bay. It was free, as long as you bought an expensive lunch or bus ticket. Neither of which I had time for so I made the most of the journey by heading up and down in the lift a few times to get the view. After a meatball and hummus based lunch from Carrefour, I headed back along the breakwater to the Emirates Palace, past the largest flagpole in the country! You couldn't actually get access to the Emirates palace, but it is huge, taking up a huge area of land just east of the Corniche. As you walked around, you could see it had its own beach and the driveway was pretty ostentatious. Needless to say, there was quite a lot of security stopping tourists from getting there.

After a quick catch up with Cate on skype, I was picked up in a Toyota Land Cruiser from my hotel and whisked to the desert. We went for a dune safari, which I was told was not "dune bashing" as this can be bad for the environment, though it clearly was... but it was quite fun! The 4x4s nipped up and down a track in the dunes some of them pretty steep and pretty fast. I was quite thankful for the roll bars in the vehicle. We stopped at a camel farm, where they are bread for racing, meat and furs. It was all pretty free range: they put food outside and the camels come to them. They're quite huge when you get up close to them and they don't really care where the tourists are - they just barge you out of the way if you get in their's. After this we got taken to a bedouin style camp which was a bit of a tourist trap, but we got to watch the sun set over the dunes which was nice. There was also sandboarding (as I had a long flight the next day I decided not to get everything covered in sand like in NZ), camel rides, henna painting if you wanted it.

After the sun set, they provided a BBQ dinner, served on low tables and cusions. I got talking to my fellow car-buddies, who were from Austria and the Netherlands, so even got to speak a little German. The conversation turned quickly to the Brexit - they were very interested to get a Brit's take on it. I wish I could have been more positive. The dinner was great - lots of hummus, babaganoush, salads and BBQ meat, plus a honey rice pudding thing for desert. All pretty tasty - but had definitely had my fill of hummus that day!

After dinner, we were invited to a sheesha area where we could try the traditional water pipes - It had been a long time since I had used one, but seemed to still have the hang of it. I got an apple flavoured one - I think that's what I had last time I used one too. Next was a short belly dancing demonstration, which was a bit weird, as it was just one girl dancing in the centre. They then asked everyone to come up and join, and not a single person dared....

Finally, they turned all the lights off so you could enjoy the stars. Sadly, I'm not sure there was a lot of point as Abu Dhabi kicks out a fare amount of light pollution. I could think of many better places to see stars that we had been to on our trip, but it was still fun. The chinese tourists didn't quite understand what was going on, they spent most of this time taking flash photography of something in the camp...

We drove back through the city, seeing it all lit up, including the old mosques, and after arriving back at 11pm, it was time to get up at 5am for my flight back to London.

And so that was the end for me.

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