Abu Dhabi

We went to Abu Dhabi for a night over the holiday – it’s only an hour and 1/2 up the road from Dubai.  We had never been (for non-work related purposes) and were looking forward to exploring something new.

In some ways Abu Dhabi seems a lot like Dubai, but I was surprised by the amount of construction.  Dubai seems to steal the scene when it comes to news coverage about new projects underway, but to me, the number of cranes and road detours seemed far greater in Abu Dhabi.  One massive project I am super excited about is the development of Saadiyat Island.  (although who knows if we will be here when it is complete.)  This will be the cultural hub of the UAE where the five commissioned architects, all of whom have won the Pritzker prize,  are building various museums like branches of the Louvre and the Guggenheim, and a performing arts venue.  Here are computer generated images of what the buildings will look like.  Aren’t they amazing? (Images below via http://www.e-architect.co.uk)  update: new estimated completion date for the Louvre is 2015, Guggenheim 2017. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5huLWwGeZPQo-6_rm4xZ0ubaYWbCA?docId=9ffd5f83b81b41f5925f63132cc1ac25

Many artists are protesting the laborers’ poor working conditions by refusing to allow the museums to display their work.  Ostentatious displays of wealth coupled with impossible-to-ignore poverty and mistreatment of workers seems to be a reoccurring issue here in the UAE.  (By the way, there are links to interviews with the architects in the “News from the UAE” tab.)

Saadiyat Island serves as the cultural counterpart to the already-built sports and entertainment focused Yas Island which features Ferrari World (a Ferrari-themed amusement park that is the world’s largest indoor theme park and has the world’s fastest roller coaster), Yas Marina Circuit (venue for Formula One Grand Prix), Yas Marina Hotel (Formula 1 race track actually runs through it!) and Yas Arena where big-name performers like Janet Jackson, Shakira and Usher come to play.

Anyhow, back to our visit…

On Thursday we went to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. (all factual info below regarding mosque via Wikipedia or visitabudhabi.ae.)

Finished in 2007, the Mosque features 82 domes of Moroccan design and are decorated with white marble.  Additionally, it has four minarets standing at almost 285 feet (107 metres) each at the four corners of the Mosque.

Unfortunately we visited on a very hazy day. In the pictures I've seen, the amazing white marble really pops when set against the blue, cloudless sky.

Yes, that’s me in an abaya and shayla! All women have to wear this before entering the mosque and they are handed out near the entrance. I knew about this rule before coming and was actually looking forward to the opportunity of wearing one just to see what it felt like. Phew! I was REALLY hot! Underneath I was wearing  a long-sleeved shirt and pants (both men and women must wear pants or a long skirt). Sweat was streaming down my face – I can’t imagine having to wear this every day while running errands and getting the kids in and out of the car. When I’ve seen other women wear these, they seem to glide or float – it can be quite pretty. I, on the other hand, was a fumbling clumsy mess! A portrait of inelegance! I was constantly tripping and trying to rearrange my headscarf that insisted on falling. I couldn’t run after my children and could barely manage my camera and bag. Now I know why a lot of Emiratis have nannies. Ha ha. Seriously though, wearing this takes practice. (at least for me, anyway!)

The Grand Mosque is unique in that it is open to the public; non-Muslims are generally not allowed to enter mosques.  When we made it to the entrance, we removed our shoes and breathed a big sigh of relief as we felt the cold blast of air conditioning inside.  On my first look around, I was immediately struck by how delicate, feminine and light it felt.  It was really beautiful.  There is a floral motif throughout – on the carpet, in countless mosaics, in the gorgeous glass doors and windows, and in these stunning chandeliers.

This is a detail of the marble flowers that decorate the walls of the room leading to the main prayer hall and that decorate pillars outside and arches inside, as in the picture of the chandelier above.

The main prayer hall features the world’s largest chandelier under the main dome – being 33 feet (10 metres) in diameter, 59 feet (15 metres) in height and weighing over nine tons. The Mosque’s seven gold-coloured chandeliers, from Germany, feature thousands of Swarovski crystals from Austria and some glasswork from Italy, and cost about US$8.2 million

A prayer clock

The main prayer hall features the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet.  The carpet was hand-crafted by 1,200 artisans in Iran and took two years to complete. The artisans were flown to Abu Dhabi to stitch the pieces together for the final fitting. Consisting of 2,268,000 knots, it weighs 35 tons and is made from wool.  It is estimated to be valued at $8.2 million.

The 96 columns in the main prayer hall are round in shape and inlaid with mother of

The Mosque has approximately 1,000 columns in its outer areas which are clad with
more than 20,000 marble panels inlaid with semi-precious stones, including
lapis lazuli, red agate, amethyst, abalone shell and mother of pearl.

I was in awe over all of these mosaics. Too bad my lens kept getting fogged up. Can you feel the humidity?

Last look at the exterior before leaving

I wish we had been able to do the tour where everything is explained, but with our two small children in tow, we were lucky to see as much as we did.  It was amazing and I’m so happy we saw it.

The next day was Friday and in hindsight, we should have known that many things are closed or have altered hours since it’s the holy day.  We tried going to Emirates Palace (a giant, luxurious hotel that is the 2nd most expensive hotel ever built).  This place is all about bling and more bling.  Do you remember hearing about a hotel that displayed a Christmas tree, literally dripping with gold and diamonds, that was worth 11 million dollars?  I remember it was featured in the news in the US where the hotel was criticized for missing the point of the Christmas season.  Same hotel.  (Here’s a link if you missed the story: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1339068/7m-Christmas-tree-Abu-Dhabi-Emirates-Palace-hotel-unveils-fir-draped-diamonds.html)

Despite my guidebook’s insistence that the hotel is open for exploration by anyone and everyone, the guards at the entrance told us that on Fridays it’s only accessible to guests.  And shorts are not allowed.  Who would  have thought there would be a no-shorts dress code in a hotel in the desert! Afterall, it’s not a mosque.  Good to know for our next visit.

We also tried to go to Heritage Village – a replica of a traditional Bedouin oasis village. We arrived around 10 am, but it didn’t open until 3:30 on Fridays.  We knew our kids would be cranky and tired by that point, so we skipped it .

View of Abu Dhabi from the Heritage Village area

View of Abu Dhabi from the Heritage Village area. Again with the fogged up lens!

The Corniche (the long promenade by the water) looked really nice for bike riding and strolling, having an ice cream and exploring the parks nearby.  In 110 heat?  No thanks.  Another thing to put on our list for next time.

I knew it would be tough to do anything in the Middle East during this holiday because of the heat, but I’m still glad we went.  The Mosque was stunning and we learned a bit of the city layout and orientation for our next visit to Abu Dhabi.


About Lynda

Longhorns and Camels is a blog about exploring Dubai from the perspective of an expat from Texas. It features stories about living in Dubai including descriptions of local culture and popular activities in the region. It also includes photography of the UAE and other countries abroad. It has been recommended by several well-known guides for expatriates: InterNations, ExpatWoman and Expat Focus.
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4 Responses to Abu Dhabi

  1. Lasairiona says:

    I’ve informed my hubby that if we’re moving, we have to be there by late October – cause the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is in early November. I was also curious about the abaya, but now, not so much!

    • Yes – the Grand prix would be really cool to go to! We haven’t been. yeah, it’s funny how the whole abaya thing is a big source of curiosity and mystery (for me at least before coming here) and then you move here and it’s a totally normal thing you stop noticing them pretty quickly after moving.

  2. Andy Smart says:

    Those photos are amazing > I didn’t click on the first set of links so what is the first building that looks like clam shells standing on end. Incredible! Haze or not there isnt one photo that isn’t great here. The Christmas tree is hard to come to terms with. I bet security was 200%. You mentioned a abaya and shayla > sorry to be dense but what’s the difference? Cheers for an interesting post

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