After beginning Monday with a rather stressful visit to the Chinese Consulate in Dubai – the usefulness of which will be dependent on whether I get a seat on the plane to China on Saturday – Matt and I got on the public bus to Abu Dhabi. After about two hours, and only being run off the highway once, we arrived at the delightfully green Abu Dhabi central bus station. We then grabbed a cab through to our hotel, the Jumeirah Etihad Towers. As our room wasn’t quite ready, we went straight upstairs to Observation Deck 300 for a great view out over the Emirates Palace and the Abu Dhabi Presidential Palace. We also ate some delicious but hideously overpriced cake.
The hotel itself was lovely. The quality levels of a five star hotel in New Zealand and a five star hotel in the Middle East are very different. The $190NZD or so Matt kindly spent on our hotel for the night wouldn’t get much back home in central Auckland, but we had a lovely room overlooking the water, and the service at the hotel was fantastic. We spent most of the day lounging on the private beach and reading, with the serenity occasionally broken up by the sound of the nearest Mosque. We had a nice dinner at one of the hotel restaurants, and then probably spent a good twenty minutes playing with the remote controlled curtain rail and watching the Mecca channel, which was as scintillating as can be expected.
In the morning, on Suzettes advice, we got up early and drove straight to the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Taxis are cheap in Abu Dhabi – much cheaper than Dubai – and a 40 minute cab ride cost about $12NZD. I had forgotten to bring a head scarf, so dutifully lined up to obtain a brown polyester sack to wear in the Mosque. I had mistakenly assumed that the abayas would be made of the same black silk-like material I had seen others wearing. After helping a little Taiwanese lady into her own brown polyester sack, we went into the Mosque grounds, and it was pretty cool. Going early was a great idea, as we managed to beat the Chinese tour groups and had it to ourselves most of the time. The Mosque was actually only built in 2007, and its a bizarre mix of beautiful Islamic art and design, and strange plastic chandeliers. It also has a snazzy clock inside that tells you when to pray.
We spent about an hour wandering around the site, which was starting to get busier by the time we left. We grabbed a cab back toward the hotel, and visited the Emirates Palace, the fanciest hotel in Abu Dhabi. After our disappointment at not being able to locate the gold vending machine, we decided to have tea and cake at one of its cafes – although we did pass on the gold flake camelcinos and the $1,100 cake on offer. I also consumed the most expensive tea I will ever drink.
One thing I really like about most places we visit in the Middle East is the fact that everyone assumes you are rich. We are not rich. But you get treated as if you are anyway. When we were waiting to check in at our hotel, someone bought us over lemon mint drinks and hot towels to refresh ourselves. Although this did make me wonder how bad I looked after a two hour bus journey, I had to appreciate the gesture. People in hospitality generally treat you very well – and its a nice touch, something you don’t tend to find at home.
We lounged on the beach for a few more hours after checking out, and then it was back on the bus (25AED each way!) to Dubai, and the metro back to our apartment. It was a nice little break away, and we hope to be able to visit another Emirate soon.