Arriving at Abu Dhabi airport at around 11.30 pm we found the smooth process through customs so easy as there was no paperwork to fill in. And with only five passengers at the carousel collecting their bags, we were outside to meet our transfer. Our four-night stay was booked at the Le Meridan Hotel.
Abu Dhabi is often overlooked as a stopover for travellers.
The drive to the hotel was half an hour, passing by the Grand Mosque, the seventh-largest mosque in the world.
Arriving at the Le Meridan Hotel, our check-in was quick, and it wasn’t long before we were snuggled up in our large room and oh-so-soft bed, It felt like we were sleeping on feathers.
Surviving Ramadan and 40 Deg Celcius
We arrived in Ramadan with signs saying joy and harmony to families.
So, we learn there is no eating or drinking in public between sunrise and sunset.
We are in a freakin desert; it’s 40degC, and no drinking during the day?
No public displays of affection, Terry. And Maura, you need to cover up, even though it’s 40 degrees. Perhaps it’s payback for Maura choosing this destination after watching the movie “Sex in the City 2.”
Time to Check out the Shopping
A short distance from Le Meridan Hotel is the mall. However, as it was Friday (a family day like our Sunday), we weren’t sure what would be open as most places were shut today, including a visit to the Grand Mosque.
If you own a cafe or a food franchise, Ramadan is your month off.
It was weird not to see any food outlets open. We wandered around the mall and came across a KMart-type store with a supermarket. An opportunity to buy some items for lunch and non-alcoholic beer (do not buy, yuk.)
Back to the hotel with the only option to swim in the Gulf or the hotel swimming pool. The sea was warm and the pool a little cooler.
Make sure to Book a Desert Dinner Safari
The highlight of our stay in Abu Dhabi and one of our best experiences was booking a Desert Dinner Safari.
Our driver, along with an Aussie couple (Jo and Jack), arrived at our hotel at 4 pm for the 1.5-hour drive out to the desert dunes.
First, a stop at a camel farm, where we could pat and admire the camels while the driver reduced the tyre pressure in the 4-wheel drive from 35 to 15. And we soon found out why.
Jo and I chatted away until the rise of the sand dune disappeared vertically as we headed into the gully.
A few screams later; we were driving up, down and along the dunes at varying speeds, creating a slide on some of the dunes.
A stop to recover and take some photos before we headed off to find a spot to watch the sun go down, and we weren’t disappointed.
Riding a Camel is a different experience
After enjoying an exquisite sunset, it was a short drive to the camp set ready for the BBQ.
But first, we had to take the camel for a ride.
We only got our bums in the saddle when we were told to hold tight and lean back. No 1,2,3 go). This camel was ready to move and got up in two stages. Luckily for us, we both remained in the saddle.
Enjoying Fabulous Flavours of Dinner in the Desert
Time to chill out in the warmth of the evening with a small black coffee (not at all bitter) and some yummy warm fresh dates (unlike the hard-crusted dates packaged in New Zealand.)
When we were called to dinner, we were pleasantly surprised at having warm plates and cutlery.
Doh! We only realised later in the evening the 42 deg temperature was the reason.
The meal was delicious, with skewers of chicken and lamb, sausages and tender beef steak. A big change from the small, tough pieces in Asia. Complemented with salads, creamy hummus and olives. Delicious.
Now to Smoke the Shisha
Now to smoke some Shisha. Terry is keen, and Maura not sure if it is a good idea with his recovery from the chest infection.
The apple and smoke mixture creates some coughing and a very happy look. And we both had turns trying to get the most smoke pumping from our Shisha.
An enjoyable evening and even the driver mentioned the small group was a lot of fun.
Sightseeing in Abu Dhabi
Today Saturday is a weekend for the local people of Abu Dhabi, who only make up 20% of the population. The rest of the local population are immigrants from the Philippines, India, Pakistan and England.
As it will reach 42degC today, we decide to take a taxi to the Old Souk market. Unfortunately, the market is modernised and resembles a mall rather than an old market. We wander outside into the heat and walk a few blocks to find an old fort, but alas, it is covered for renovation.
As the heat is oppressive, we take another taxi to visit the Emirates Palace Hotel, a palatial hotel built for the Sheiks. Unfortunately, we are refused entry as Terry is wearing shorts. So, we take photos between the gated fence and head back down the street. Well, it’s more an eight-lane street in the city, just to catch a local bus.
We have heard the Corniche, a seaside promenade is worthwhile, but alas, once exiting the bus, it is a little disappointing.
Travelling by Bus in Abu Dhabi
The bus was interesting.
We first sat down near the front of the bus only to look up and see a sign for ladies. Terry moved to a seat past the back door while Maura once again tried to pay the driver cash for the trip. The driver shook his head as only cash cards were used.
Maura then decided to sit with Terry.
Probably the wrong thing to do; as two other couples entered the bus, the woman sat up front, and the man stood in the middle of the bus.
Feeling a little uncomfortable, we get out at the next stop.
Why are we Walking in 42 DegC Heat?
Terry decides as it is only a couple of kms back to the hotel, and Maura, practising being the dutiful wife, joins her husband in the 42-degree heat back to the hotel.
As they say, “Only mad dogs and Englishman go out in the midday sun!”
Well, that was us today.
Taking reprieve in a mall or two en route to find a toilet and swig some water (because you can’t be seen drinking in public in a desert during Ramadan) and because we desperately needed some AC to cool down.
With the hotel finally in sight, a cold shower is essential. But first, say “hi” to the camel!
The incredible architecture of Abu Dhabi
Despite the heat, today gave us a chance to see some amazing variations in architecture, reminding us of Singapore and Shanghai skylines.
Exhaustive from the heat, dinner this evening, we chose the hotel grounds as there are a few western-style restaurants like the Sports Cafe to watch Ireland beat South Africa in rugby.
Due to Ramadan, no alcohol would be available until 7.30 pm when a Guinness was poured in a victory for Ireland.
The Best Option for a Day Trip to Dubai
Sunday today and a work day here in UAE.
We worked out that if we hired a car and driver, it would be only a 1.5-hour trip to Dubai to see the sights of this fast-paced city.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi used to have their own Presidents, but in recent years a move to a centralised UAE now has the President residing in Abu Dhabi and the Vice President in Dubai.
Everywhere we looked, there was construction. With labour camps nearby the building projects to house immigrant workers, it was disappointing to see these men being driven in buses in the heat of 40deg without air-conditioning.
What to See in Dubai if you only have One Day
The first stop is Palm Jumeirah Island (still under construction). This is a group of artificial islands in the shape of a palm tree.
It has many hotels and private residences, all with their own beaches. The opulence is incredible, just like their buildings and malls.
Burj Al Arab Hotel
Next was the Burj Al Arab hotel, an iconic building of Dubai, the most luxurious hotel in the world, and the initial building project by NZ Fletcher Construction.
As we travelled along Jumeirah, the driver indicated residences of the President, ex-President, their brother, their sister; it all seemed endless.
Burj Khalifa Tower
Burj Khalifa Tower was a must as it is the tallest building in the world.
We chose the 124 floors with its open observation deck to view the city below and with views of the Arabian Gulf.
The concrete used to build the structure had sand imported from Australia. So, it’s true; you can sell sand to the Arabs.
The elevator was super fast, taking less than a second per floor to reach our destination.
Stepping outside onto the observation deck, we were greeted by 40degC temps. Of course, we didn’t stay out there too long, just enough time to get some photos and a sweat.
The floor-to-ceiling glass walls back inside provided great viewing with the benefit of air conditioning. We were able to take our time looking down on the smaller skyscrapers.
Terry seems to have gotten over his concern with heights and was quite relaxed. Perhaps the climb up China’s Heavens Ladder made having the floor under your feet a comforting factor.
Returning to earth, the mall attached to the Burj Khalifa Tower has an indoor aquarium, a waterfall and a skating rink.
Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world with over 1500 shops; even Desigual had Maura’s attention.
Needing to eat, we located a small supermarket and bought a couple of items to eat secretly in the car as we drove to the next place of interest, the Gold and Spice Souk’s (markets).
The traffic was heavy again due to Ramadan as employers let their workers off at 1.30 pm for the rest of the day.
This time of day is the busiest, and also during the evening from 7.30 pm, after sunset when people can eat.
Gold and Spice Souk’s of Dubai
The gold and spice markets were a highlight; the smells radiating from bags of spices were overwhelming, and viewing chunks of frankincense stone (burnt for the smell) were not seen by us before.
Of course, the gold market had plenty of hawkers.
We ventured into one shop, and while browsing (if that’s at all possible) an Arab woman walked in saying, “gold ring, diamonds!”
The shop assistants couldn’t move quickly enough.
We also opted for a water ride with the locals on a Dhow across the water for DEM1 to see more markets.
On the trip back to Abu Dhabi, the wind rose a few times, creating small sandstorms. The heat from outside was apparent when touching the car windows, so the wind, like yesterday, was hot and dry.
Back in Abu Dhabi, we had asked the driver to take us via the Grand Mosque and The Grand Palace Hotel.
As our booking was for 10 hours, we had plenty of time to squeeze in a couple more sights, and we made sure Terry zipped on his long pants to his shorts, so all set.
The Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi is a Must See
A great day and an interesting stay in Abu Dhabi.
Our next flight is to Paris tomorrow to commence the first of our housesit in Fontenoy-Le-Chateau.
How’s the French Maura? “Est-ce que tu es prêt ?”