The grandeur of Abu Dhabi and the UAE


A couple weekends ago the Diploman and a took advantage of President’s Day Weekend to visit some fellow foreign service friends in Abu Dhabi. A direct flight to Dubai was scheduled to take less than six-hours from Dar. We couldn’t NOT splurge on the chance to visit the Middle East–for the first time!


We flew into Dubai on Emirates (which is definitely up to its hype, if you get an opportunity to fly Emirates do it!) and arrived into the city close to midnight. Going straight to the hotel it’s always hard to justify throwing down one night’s worth of money  for a hotel room when you didn’t even get to see any of the city during the day. But that concern is always fleeting for me–waking up the day after arriving late is one of my favorite things to do in a new city. It happened when I arrived in China for the first time, and it happened when I arrived in Dar for the first time, too. It’s like waking up on Christmas Day, sort of knowing what you might find but still so pleasantly and totally suprised!

For some reason, a city is never the same during the day as it is at night.

Waking up to Dubai the next morning and looking out of our 14th-floor window made me gasp. The image of the city itself is a perfect example of what the culture represents. It’s a culture of contrasts–shiny new buildings suddenly spurting out of nothing, women in age-old abayas (the head to toe black garments) carrying the newest seasons’ Louis Vuitton purses– and a city that is obsessed with all things new and bright. You might have heard of a little wonder called the Burj Khalifa, which is truly as much an architectural marvel as all the books and magazines make it out to be.

Breaking records is the ‘thing’ to do in the UAE, such as attempting to break the world’s record for most nails done in a day (as pictured above in the Dubai Mall concourse).

Our friend met us in Dubai and we roamed the city (the mall) for a day, then set off on the hour-ish drive to Abu Dhabi. We passed desert landscapes, huge airports, and were soon greeted with yet another cluster of gleaming skyscrapers–Abu Dhabi!

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. A blindingly white structure that might have the feel of a 15th century mosque, but was in fact built in the late-nineties. Nineteen-nineties, to clarify.


As our tour guide explained, there was marble and glass imported from Italy, gold from Egypt, clocks from London. There was the world’s biggest chandelier (until very recently) and the largest continuous rug in the world, carried in pieces from Iran and hand-stitched together inside the mosque by hundreds of Iranian ladies. I’m telling you, an obsession with the best and the brightest and the most and the greatest.

_MG_0013 _MG_0027

The UAE is also home to a number of seven-star hotels, which I had never even known existed. Just for fun, we visited the Emirates Palace hotel, where there was a private helipad outside and ATMs that dispensed gold trinkets within.

_MG_0040 _MG_0047 _MG_0060

Instead of seeking out unique cuisines and canvassing every inch of the city on foot as I am typically prone to do on vacations, we spent much of our vacation catching up and laughing with friends. We went to an amazing brunch at the Intercontinental Hotel (a brunch that lasted 3 hours) and spent one night in, ordering pizza from Dominos and playing our version of the Newlywed Game (champions right here, duh).


We also took a trip to the desert on another day, which you of course have to do while in ‘the Dhabs’, as we were calling it by the end of the trip. I had imagined some sort of trek involving camels, but I have since realized that in Abu Dhabi, one would never just ride a camel. Instead, we rode SUVs across the desert in what is known as ‘Dune Bashing’.

Have you heard of this? It’s basically extreme SUV-driving, up and down and sideways and slideways around sanddunes!

_MG_0096 _MG_0100

Overall it was a great trip. I got my nails painted for free, I visited a mosque, I got drunk with friends, I got to see camels and surf on sand, ate lots of hummus and tabbouleh, and smoked hookah under the great big black sky of the Arabian Desert.