Middle-East travel: Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi

By Marina Aagaard, MFT.

A visit to the UAE is incomplete without a visit to Abu Dhabi. The 68th most expensive city in the world. That’s not so bad.

It is Tuesday. We borrow our friend’s car. We drive from Dubai southwards to Abu Dhabi. It is not difficult to find the way … (the six-lane highway goes directly from city to city).

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Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the largest of the United Arab Emirates, UAE, 1.5 million inhabitants, and also the capital of the UAE. Abu Dhabi is both government center and a cultural center, though more subdued than Dubai.

The city lies on the coast of the Persian Gulf and has an impressive skyline: Abu Dhabi offers a variety of skyscrapers and more are coming. Many are unusual architectural masterpieces with glass facades that reflect the surroundings.

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Besides the city itself, the capital’s top attractions are: Grand Mosque (the Great Mosque), Emirates Palace and Ferrari World, the amusement center with a dreaded roller coaster … and if you have time and money Yas Marina Formula 1 Circuit.

Yas Island

We cruise into the Viceroy Yas Hotel driveway in an open GranCabrio and therefore are able to hear engine sounds at full volume. That’s cool; someone are driving on the track, even though it’s Tuesday at noon.
Regrettably it is not a Formula 1 race, but a bunch of lucky people with sufficient money in their pockets allowing them to race around the track in Formula 3 cars.

We park the car and take a stroll to see what the facility can offer. Is it ok? I think so.

The architects Rani Hashid and Lisa Anne Couture of Asymptote Architects describes it this way: Yas Hotel, a 500-room, 85,000-square-foot complex, one of the main architectural features of the ambitious 36-billion-dollar Yas Marina area and associated Formula 1 racetrack Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Asymptote envisioned an architectural landmark that integrates several dominant inspirations ranging from the aesthetics and forms associated with speed, movement and design and patterns of ancient Islamic art and craft traditions.

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Design details are ultra cool. Steel strips in the flooring simulates racetrack markings. Even the restrooms are special with distinct lighting effects.

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Time for a light lunch at Amici Restaurant. The menu boasted a special dish with pasta with cauliflower and truffle … and then tiramisu in glass. Yes, please.

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The cameras were out to get it all in. Until a guard appeared and explained: Mobile pics are ok, but photos (with pro-looking equipment/for pro use) must be cleared by the PR department. This rule applies in many places, so be prepared, if you wish to take photos.

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Smiles and thumbs up: Car and hotel both get a ‘yes’ from me; lots of X-factor. From the hotel we drove to the Great Mosque, the Grand Mosque.

Grand Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, the main mosque in the UAE. “Grand” is no exaggeration.Accommodate over 41,000 worshipers. Finished in 2007. Construction spending 4 billion DKK, 545 million USD.  Length: 420 m (1,380 ft). Width: 290 m (950 ft). Height largest dome, 85 m (279 ft); 82 domes in seven different sizes and four minarets with a height of 107 m (351 ft).

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Entrance and mosque manners

First you pass through security. Men and women enter through separate entrances in a container-like building; compared to the mosque the entrance is ‘minimalistic’.

Female entrance piktogram shows traditional clothing (chador) With hair covered but face free. Western clothing is welcome, but you must follow local guidelines:

Women must cover the hair, ears and shoulders, arms and legs. Shorts, skirts or tight clothing like leggings are not allowed.

Men may have bare arms, but no bare shoulders or bare legs; shorts are not allowed.

The clothes must not be too tight, transparent or display offensive words or images (common of many western T-shirts). If you do not wearing proper clothing, one can in the mosque borrow a local cover-all.

Mosque manners:

  • There must be silence.
  • Smoking is prohibited.
  • Mobile phones must be muted.
  • Food and drinks are prohibited.
  • You should not lie on the floor (or sleep).
  • Do not caress or embrace each other.

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After you have gone through security, you walk through the gardens and into the cloisters. Here you take off your shoes and you walk around in stockings or bare feet.

All over the mosque there are guards to ensure that there are no infringements of the rules: Some young tourists took a picture without their hair covered and that led to a reprimand and order of deletion of the image from the camera.

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The guards also keep a close eye on that you do not get too close to or past the barriers: Fully understandable that the landmark is supervised; there can be up to 30,000 visitors a day, 4-5 million tourists and worshipers per year (2012).

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque design “unite the world” with materials from many countries including India, Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, England, New Zealand, Macedonia and the United Arab Emirates (wikipedia).

The Mosque have walls, floors and columns covered with white marble and ceramic. It creates an almost dreamlike, pure and soothing expression.

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More than 3,000 workers and 38 construction companies participated in the construction of the mosque. Some building materials were chosen for design reasons, others for their ‘staying power’; marble, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals, and ceramics (Wikipedia).

On the walls, floors and pillars: Man-made vines; a magical sight.

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The mosque is full of unique items: Among others the carpet of the large prayer hall: The world’s largest carpet (wikipedia). Made by The Iran Carpet Company, designed by Iranian artist Ali Khaliqi and made by 1200-1300 craftsmen. The carpet measures 5,627 sqm. (60,570 sq ft), there are 2.268.000.000 knots and it weighs 35 tonnes. It is predominantly of wool from New Zealand and Iran. It took two years to make the carpet (wikipedia).

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There are seven chandeliers from Faustig in Munich. They consist of millions of Swarovski crystals. The largest of the chandeliers is the world’s third largest and has a diameter of 10 m (33 ft) and a height of 15 m (49 ft).

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The 96 columns in the prayer hall are covered with marble with decorations of mother of pearl. The columns are exceptionally elegant, beautiful without seeming overly decorated.

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The columns around the main square have stylized flowers made of semi-precious stones and mother of pearl. The tops are stylized palm leaves covered with gold leaf.
The columns are reflecting in two large pools.

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The mosque has to be one of the world’s most beautiful buildings. Huge, but elegant and airy. If you have the chance, visit.t should be seen.

Emirates Palace Hotel

Impressive. On the outside as well as the inside. The Emirates Palace is a luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi in marble, gold and other precious materials. There are 114 domes, the highest 80 meters high. There are 394 rooms and suites. On the grounds there is a 1.3 km private beach and 85 acres of gardens and lawns.

The hotel looks magnificent both during the day and in the evening. Am I just too easy to impress? No, the number of tourists from around the world, swarming the street taking photo after photo, suggests that I’m not the only one, who think the hotel is worth seeing.

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Not everything that glitters is gold, but in the Emirates Palace Hotel it (almost) is …

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Even the restroom fittings are elegant and gold-clad.

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In front of the main entrance there is a staircase and waterfall and at base there are several fountains. A most popular selfie location, so you have to be patient.

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The hotel houses the rich, the famous and the well-dressed and there is no access in casual beach clothing. Arms, legs and feet must be suitably covered.
If your clothing is acceptable, however, you are welcome to visit the exclusive hotel, even if you have not booked a suite for the night.

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You can dine in one of the restaurants or enjoy an afternoon tea in the cafe. This day we visited the brasserie, where there was a buffet (a health challenge; for many including yours truly; it’s hard not to overindulge. A la carte is preferable. We took a chance, though, and had a memorable visual and gustatory experience at a reasonable price.

The buffet was the most exclusive, I’ve experienced to date. E.g. an impressive fish buffet with not only ‘standard’ fish, but also fish dishes, oysters, prawns and whole crab claws.

Plus a sushi buffet, a buffet with local dishes, small dishes, fine cheeses with tasty ‘extras’, a wide variety of breads and biscuits, a huge dessert buffet with many exciting desserts and lots of fresh fruit. In addition a chocolate fondue and Arabic delicacies and several kinds of dates.

Local Arabic specialties.

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International specialties. The small plate in the middle contains a salad with quail eggs.

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Semi-healthy dessert. Fresh fruit and several kinds of mousse, panna cotta, cheesecake, cake and a delicious crème brûlée; a favorite.

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A delicious tuna dish.

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In addition to a wide range of hot dishes, there were 3-4 cooks making special dishes on request. A paradise for food lovers.

That was nice.

After this tasty end to the day, we headed back north and were soon back in Dubai.

After a sightseeing-packed day we sleep heavily.

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