As part of my honeymoon last September, I went (with my box fresh husband) to the UAE - did you know there's seven United Arab Emirates? I didn't until I got there, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are two of them obviously. Anyway. I've always wanted to visit both places and given that I had to stop there on my way to the Maldives, I figured I might as well stay a few days.
We stayed in the Jumeirah Etihad Tower hotel in Abu Dhabi, which has a reception the size of Croke Park and it's own private beach. In terms of cost, it was reasonable enough for the absolute grandeur of the whole place.
We ate twice in BiCe Italian restaurant in our hotel because it was so gorgeous, so I'd recommend that for sure. It's pronounced 'bee-chay' too, I said 'bice' to rhyme with 'ice' the first night and was very embarrassed about the whole thing. When I said 'oh, scarlet for me!', the Emirati man didn't know what I was on about. I looked like a total knob. ANYWAY.
We also visited the Emirates Palace which was nice (and free) but a bit boring. It's incredible to see the scale of it and the luxury, but other than listening to the string quartet that were playing in the foyer, there wasn't a huge amount to do there.
We also went to Yas Island, which seems to be some kind of wonderland of malls, amusement parks and the home of the Ferrari World. It's also the place where the Formula One track is, and had there been a race on, I'm sure we wouldn't have got near the place.
Everything in both cities is about being BIGGER and SHINIER and MORE LUXURIOUS and WOW than the next place, and while it's fascinating to see, there was a staggering amount of utter waste on show and eventually that became tiring and borderline upsetting, particularly when you think of the poorer part of society that see none of the spoils.
THE BEST PART
Abu Dhabi's most striking and incredible feature, I thought, was the Sheihk Zayed Grand Mosque. I was absolutely blown away by it, and the tour taught me so much about Islam and Muslim culture and tradition. It really opened my eyes to things I never knew about Islam, and explained some of the customs that I knew of but didn't understand.
It holds a ridiculous 41,000 people, it was finished in 2007 and features the largest carpet in the world. The carpet alone took two years to make. There is solid gold everywhere, mother of pearl all over the place and Swarovski crystal dripping from every available surface. But the tour, which was given by an Emirati national, was possibly the best and most informative tour of anything I've ever taken.
When you get there, they will provide abayas for you (for free) to wear over your clothes and to cover your hair, and you can't wear shoes on the tour either so you'll be in either bare feet or socks. With clothes on and a robe I was HOT, but thankfully a good bit of the tour was indoors in air conditioning.
If I was ever returning to Abu Dhabi, I'd definitely take the tour again, and will gladly rave about it to anyone who'll listen. I couldn't recommend visiting the mosque more. TOP TIP: We went to the 5pm tour, because we wanted to see it at sunset and hear the call to prayer. Seeing it in that dusky light was breathtaking. Here are some pictures I took of it with my phone.
Because we were throwing money at the situation ("Sure, you only go on honeymoon once!" was our most used phrase, followed always by "Hopefully, wha! HA!" from one or other of us) we decided to get a taxi for the day to Dubai which is about an hour and 15 mins away.
We visited the Dubai Mall which is incredible and HUGE. It has it's own ice rink. And if you think of a chain of restaurants it will have it. No question. It also has spectacular views of the Burj Khalifa, that pointy 163-floor building you see in pictures of Dubai.
Dubai was like the more developed sibling of Abu Dhabi, but I think overall I preferred AD because it was slightly neater, or something. Ridiculous word to describe a city, I know. Great writing there Ais, you should do it for a living.
Things I learned that might be good to know when travelling to the UAE:
- When we were in the hotel, the mall or tourist attractions (obviously apart from the mosque) I wore pretty much whatever I would wear on a normal sunny holiday. The only time I felt self conscious was when our taxi stopped for fuel somewhere slightly remote and I went in to get water. Lots of local people (men and women) were looking at me and so I covered my shoulders just in case.
- My husband and I made a point of not being very touchy-feely in public out of respect for the Emirati locals, just in case. The odd time I'd forget myself and give him a kiss but it was fine.
- I don't drink, so making a public show of ourselves after a heavy night wasn't an issue, but I've heard that that sort of thing is frowned upon. Save it for Coppers.
- I felt completely safe, but I was with my husband at all times, so I don't know how I'd have felt had I been there with a female friend.
- Taxis are cheap, wahey! They are also necessary if, like me, you burn in an instant even with factor 50 on. The Emirates Palace was literally a five minute walk from our hotel, but we got a taxi because it was SO HOT I would've died. I think it was 41 degrees that day and I was reliably informed by my pal Rachel who lives there that that wasn't even that hot.
- I didn't drink the tap water because I'm paranoid about my own tap water at home, nevermind in a different country/continent. And I have a very skewed view of the dangers of Legionnaires disease.
It's true, I do. Ask anyone.