Anything Under The Sun

Grand Mosque Mystique. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at Night

Anything under the sun.  Well at least that is how I remember or describe Abu Dhabi.  It seems like anything is possible here.  Dubai may be the most popular of all the Emirates in the UAE but Abu Dhabi is still the capital; and it has several reasons for being so.  As one travel guide puts it, Abu Dhabi is not afraid to challenge World Records.  To start, Abu Dhabi has the world’s largest hand-loomed carpet (which is found inside perhaps the grandest mosque in the Arabian peninsula).  You can enjoy the highest high tea in one of the city’s latest observatories.  You can ride the world’s fastest roller coaster here.  With its geographical location under the sun, it is one city championing sustainable energy.  Abu Dhabi also has the world’s most leaning building (Capital Gate Tower which is tilted at 18 degrees; four times more wayward than the leaning tower of Pisa).  And to highlight its cultural ambitions, it is a city with the branch of the famous Louvre outside of Paris.  Among upcoming others (whew).  🙂

Abu Dhabi is a popular day trip destination for people traveling to Dubai (a 2-hour bus ride from Dubai’s bus station in Deira).  A day trip to Abu Dhabi however wouldn’t do it justice.  I was in Dubai last year and stayed there for a week.  I basically resisted the day trip temptation.  I’ve read somewhere that Abu Dhabi is equally beautiful and deserves a proper visit and write-up of its own.  So I made it a point to visit the place while the temperature and the heat is still at its moderate.  This is a late post by the way.  🙂  Below are a few practicalities.

A Mid-summer Night’s Dream. Yas Marina & Yas Viceroy Hotel at the Blue Hour.

  1. Traveling to the UAE is never cheap (for me).  Without a sponsor in the UAE, I have to fly with Etihad Airways (Abu Dhabi’s official airline) and get them to sponsor my online Visa application.
  2. But food and transportation cost in Abu Dhabi felt less expensive for me (compared to Singapore where I am currently based).  🙂
  3. Hotel accommodation costs are high, but plummets during the summer months.  So if you don’t mind staying inside malls, early summer is the best time to book a hotel in this wonderful city.  That’s what I did here.  🙂
  4. There are no trains in Abu Dhabi (as far as I can remember).  While taxis are the most convenient way to get around, you will appreciate the lay of the land better and feel like a local (or save more money) by riding the bus.  Abu Dhabi has reliable and comfortable bus services with air-conditioned bus shelters and stations.  Get a rechargeable green card from the airport.  Cards can be recharged at most bus shelters.  I got my card free from a very kind, tourist-friendly Starbucks barista.  🙂
  5. It is best to book a hotel near the city center or around Abu Dhabi’s central bus terminal (Al Wahda Bus Terminal).  I stayed at Centro Al Manhal by Rotana (along Airport Road) which is conveniently located behind Al Wahda Mall and Al Wahda Bus Terminal.  The hotel facilities and services give you the best value for your money (I am not getting a fee for this recommendation by the way).  Most bus services to major attractions stop infront of the hotel; so you need to remember only a few bus numbers.  In this write-up, I will assume you will book your stay here.  🙂

Needless to say, travellers come here for the desert safari experience.  But I honestly don’t like extreme sports and desert safaris.  Sorry about that.  My boring bias has always been towards architecture (and food) which is the best way for me to understand a new city.  🙂  But there is more to Abu Dhabi than just the desert safari experience.  I share my photos below.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque:  This is Abu Dhabi’s iconic and most recognizable attraction.  I have seen hundreds of photos of this mosque before; all taken from the same angles that it almost already felt like cliche.  But seeing the mosque with your own eyes will leave you in awe.  The architectural detailing is magnificent and the scale of the structure is overwhelmingly amazing.  I am an architect and I believe that the amount of effort and detail you put in the design of a religious facility is directly proportional to your faith in the Supreme Being that you worship.  Like most places of worship however, access is allowed only at certain areas (which explains why we end up with similar photos).  It was a bit smoggy during my visit here so the haze created a different color cast in the twilight sky which gave my photos a different mood despite the familiar shot angle.
(Tips: Admission is free | Take bus 31 from Airport Road | Visitors must wear trousers | Women must have their heads covered before entering the Mosque)

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

Emirates Palace & Etihad Towers:  The ambitious Emirates Palace Hotel feels more like a cultural hub and tourist spot than a luxury hotel.  The expansive hotel grounds dominates the western end of Corniche Road.  You don’t need to check in as a guest to check out this hotel as it is open to the public.  Appropriate attire is a must though (no shorts please). Don’t miss the beautiful atrium ceiling (as well as the coffee sprinkled with gold leaf) and stay a bit longer to see the hotel outside when beautifully illuminated at night.  Across the hotel courtyard is Etihad Towers, a cluster of sexy and modern buildings competing with the hotel for your attention.
(Tips: Admission is free | Smart Casual Attire | Take bus 31 from Airport Road to Al Marina)

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

City Views from Jumeirah at Etihad Towers:  I always bring home a photo of a new city taken from a high vantage point.  Few things can match the exhilaration of standing on top of a city’s tall building.  And if my schedule permits, I will wait for early evening and take a photo of the city at the blue hour.  Enjoy the highest high tea at Observation Deck @ 300, a cafe at the 74th Floor (Tower 2) of Jumeirah at Etihad Towers; a cluster of beautiful and modern buildings punctuating the western end of Corniche Road.  The cafe has breathtaking views of the city and the Corniche shoreline embracing the Persian Gulf.
(Tips: Admission is Dh95 which includes the Dh55 for food | Take bus 31 from Airport Road to Al Marina | Etihad Towers is just across Emirates Palace)

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

Abu Dhabi Louvre:  Few places can match the vision and ambitions of Abu Dhabi which accommodates a branch of the Louvre outside of Paris.  Unlike other museums, the Louvre’s exhibits focus on human commonalities rather than regional differences.  The highlight of this facility is the intricate metal ceiling under the dome which reminds me of the interior of a Bedouin tent used by desert nomads.  Like the Bedouin tent, the thick ceiling mesh brings the interior temperature down; with the mesh creating beautiful specks of light and allowing the hot air to rise and pass through.  This creates a breeze which lowers the interior temperature even more.
(Tips: Admission is Dh63 | Take bus 94 from Al Wahda bus station along Muroor Road across Al Wahda Bus Terminal | Bus 94 terminates at the Louvre | There is a cafe within the museum serving one of the best burgers 🙂 )

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

Abu Dhabi Heritage Village & Breakwater:  The glitz of modern Abu Dhabi will not overshadow its seafaring and nomadic roots.  Abu Dhabi Heritage Village is a microcosm of a desert and nomadic life.  The Village features a museum, a small souq (market), exhibitions of traditional crafts, examples of wooden dhows (boats), and a small desert environment.  A few steps outside the Heritage Village will lead you to the breakwater (marked by the big UAE flag) where you get a panoramic view of Corniche Beach and the city skyline beyond which looks really romantic at night.
(Tips: Admission is free | Take bus 31 from Airport Road to Al Marina | Bring lots of water)

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

World Trade Center Mall & Etihad Sqaure:  World Trade Center Mall is located at the base of the World Trade Center Towers (the city’s tallest building).  The mall atrium with its rich decorative timber latticework is a modern rendition of a traditional atmospheric souq.  Adjacent to the mall is Souq Central Market which shares the same design theme but focuses on local specialties and shopping for souvenirs.  The widest and best selection of dates can be found here.  🙂  Outside the World Trade Center Mall is Etihad Square, a traffic island featuring five concrete street monuments which symbolize traditions of Emirati life and Bedouin hospitality.
(Tips: Take bus 94 from Al Wahda bus station along Muroor Road across Al Wahda Bus Terminal)

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

Ferrari World & Yas Marina (Yas Island):  Ferrari World is a unique amusement park and a celebration of all things fast and furious.  The world’s fastest roller coaster can be found here and is as close as you can get to riding a Formula 1 race car.  I didn’t ride that one but was content in watching other people go through the experience. 🙂  In between the fun rides and thrills are exotic car exhibitions and live shows.  The Ferrari World entrance is inside Yas Mall.  Also within Yas Island is Yas Marina connected to the beautiful Yas Viceroy Hotel.  The best way to experience the Marina is to walk along the promenade in the evening when the yachts and the waters of the marina are illuminated by the beautiful mantle of Yas Viceroy Hotel.
(Tips: Admission to Ferrari World is Dh250 | Take bus 195 from Al Wahda Bus station along Muroor Road across Al Wahda Bus Terminal | Travel time is 1 hour | A looping shuttle service will take you to the different attractions within Yas Island | Warner Brothers Studios is an upcoming attraction in Yas Island)

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

A holiday in a hot desert environment is something unusual, but is always an eye-opener.  It will certainly change your perceptions of the Middle East.  So in this write-up, I am also hoping that Abu Dhabi will no longer be just a day trip destination. 🙂

So there you go.  This is my photographic and written account on this beautiful and peaceful Emirati capital.  I hope I got you inspired and as always, excited.

Thank you for reading.  See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!  🙂

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