Mecca vs Mamon

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Middle East » United Arab Emirates » Abu Dhabi
October 22nd 2016
Published: October 22nd 2016
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Days 3 - 5 of 165

After the joys of travel to Abu Dhabi we allowed ourselves a small nightcap in the hotel's top floor bar before a good night's sleep.

Well, we say 'bar' but it was more reminiscent of the type of pick up joint we both imagine you get in the back streets of the Philippines. So after a small Fosters and a lemonade - £9! - we turned in.

Abu Dhabi, one of the United Arab Emirates, is a very wealthy place, not surprisingly given the petroleum reserves. AD has 95% of the UAE's oil and 92% of its gas. This has clearly been substantially spent on infrastructure, new skyscrapers, roads etc. The main town is crosshatched by 8 lane highways.

The default language, at least in the presence of non AD's, seems to be set at English, not just spoken but on displays, signs, posters etc too.

The population mix, according to wiki, is 500k natives but 2.6m residents. It came over to us that we hardly interacted with any 'natives' in our dealings with people there. Bus drivers, taxi drivers, wait staff, cleaners, jobbers seen around the city, reception staff etc etc seemed to be from a range of places - Africa, far east, Philippines, India, but hardly any came over as 'native'. Again we guess is closely related to the country's wealth which must be filtering into citizen's hands somehow. Incidentally, income tax is 0% for residents.

Our 2 days in AD split between 'Mecca' and 'Mamon'. On Wednesday we went, eventually, to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest in the USE. A relatively new building it was built between 1996 and 2007 and was a 'gift' from Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who unfortunately died a couple of years before its completion. Opulence doesn't even come close to describing the work and detail in this place. Although our guide gave no cost for the building, Wiki quotes it as around $545m. Gold leaf, finest marbles, Swarovski crystal chandeliers, world's largest hand knotted one piece Persian carpet - 50 tonnes originally, 45 after they had shaved back all but the lines to line up the worshippers.

I said 'eventually' for getting there. We went by public bus. After being kindly linked up with the correct route for free by an Indian bus driver we were on the correct bus for the mosque, about 10 miles from our hotel. As we approached we desparately rang the stop bell only for the bus to not stop until a good 2 miles past the mosque and leave us, in 35 degree heat, next to an 8 lane highway......which after 30 mins walking we found was the wrong side of a river from the mosque. A long long walk, a hitch-hike, a taxi and another walk and we eventually got there.....after 2 hours....

It could be culturally inappropriate to comment too much on the personal behaviour requirements of being within the area of the mosque (that is even beyond the inside). As you can see Pip had to be covered on arms, legs and head. This was checked after we had badly got through the fence. During a toilet break for Pip I, Paul, observed a security guard in the space of 5 minutes tell off - a group who, whilst taking photos (encouraged ) one person had put their arm barely 1/2 way across another's back, the guard had the photos deleted; a lady whose hood on her borrowed gown slipped off her head whilst attending to her child in a pushchair; a lady who put both arms up in the air in a natural reaction to a low flying aircraft. These all occurred outside the actual mosque.

On Thursday we contrasted this with a walk along the Persian Gulf, some very opulent window shopping and some actual high tea - cakes and alcohol free mojitos in late morning and an actual high tea on the 74th floor of the Etihad Towers. There was a slice of star fruit in Pip's mocktail. Pip declared that it was like "tasteless cucumber".

Note the exalted company that Waitrose is keeping amongst the shops in the Etihad Towers mall.

It was very romantic walking back along the Persian Gulf in the sunset. The place, dead in the heat of the afternoon had come alive.

All together now - 'Mad dogs and English men go out in the mid-day sun!'

We write this in Sydney. It's raining!!

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22nd October 2016

"A long long walk, a hitch-hike, a taxi and another walk and we eventually got there.....after 2 hours...." That would've been my favourite bit! Proper travelling :p x
22nd October 2016

Yeh, except that we hadn't planned for that, we had no water as we had expected to get some on route (our bad, won't happen again), it was around mid-day and so 35°+ and the walk was basically alongside a motorway and through building sites. Otherwise, tickety-boo.

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