It is the capital and the second largest city of the United Arab Emirates (Dubai is the first). Our plane has landed in Abu Dhabi early in the morning, just at the crack of dawn.
Intuition tells me that, being located somewhere in the desert on the Arabian peninsula, this must be an unusual city. Often new places bring associations in which the imagination plays the main role. Will we see anything else besides camels, desert, skyscrapers, rich Arabs in white robes, as well as wage workers from all over the world looking for happiness here? What else is waiting for a traveler visiting Abu Dhabi?
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world, happens to be the first sight to visit. At the moment it is in the eighth place, but knowing the passion of other Muslim countries for breaking the records, this position may not be retained for too long. This the construction of the mosque took 11 years of work of 3500 builders to be finished. The cost is estimated at half a billion dollars. Do oil reserves and worship have anything in common?
How to get there? The bus line A1 is very easy to find and it is going directly from the airport to the mosque. It is however quite difficult to buy a ticket for the bus. For the first time traveler to the Arab world this means missing the next 2-3 buses that leave every 15 minutes. I am not going to reveal any details – treat it as a game called “Escape room from the airport”.
On the spot we walk around the mosque to find an entrance. This is level 2 of the escape room. Unfortunately, we cross into a forbidden zone and we are intercepted by guards, who take us to the entry point by a small electric car. We must wait with the visit until nine o’clock. It’s getting hot, but we relief in an air-conditioned cafeteria by the mosque.
When 9 o’clock strikes, Ela gets an elegant black suit, called here abaya and we are ready to visit.
The mosque has incredible capacity. Approximately 40,000 believers can pray at the same time. Each of the four minarets is 107 meters high and the courtyard is covered with the world’s largest mosaic – 17,000 square meters! In the inner part there is the largest carpet in the world. There are certainly a few more records! Could Catholics, perhaps, start making carpets?
We reach the Al Marina shopping center. I know, it sounds boring and not my style, but this time there are two missions to accomplish. First, find relief from the heat. Second, perform a small repair in my camera lens. In fact, the planned small task of unscrewing a few parts and replacing one of them becomes a very stressful and completely out of control. Not as initially planed. Thanks to befriended staff of a fancy watch store, I can use very precise screwdriver. Seeing these loose tiny parts falling on the floor does not sound any good. I lost hope. However, the additional determination comes up and with a bit of extra luck I manage to put everything together and what’s even more interesting – the lens work. We are ready to leave the shopping center. First impression: Has anyone switched on the oven for top-frying?
We stroll around watching the marina full of expensive with the panorama of the city in the background. In this part of the wharf, we will see a luxurious sailing club, stylish restaurants and Heritage Village, a traditional Arab village. We watch Bedouin tents from canvas, stone cottages with thatched roofs, camels and examples of handicraft. In this way, the Arabs want to show how they have lived here in the past. I do not mean the Middle Ages, but the times before the discovery of oil and the arrival of petrodollars, that is 30-50 years ago.
We take walking outside in the heat as a tourist attraction. Nowadays no one walks here. Maybe only the immigrants and tourists, but they are more likely to use air-conditioned buses.
We come to the Emirates Palace It is allegedly the most luxurious hotel in the world. Due to the level of luxury, he was given 7 stars informally, as it does not fit into a 5-star scale. It does not deserve the name ‘Hotel’, hence it was more properly called the ‘Palace’. The Emirates Palace has approximately 2000 staff. The reception, allegedly, is able to serves guests in 50 different languages.
The cost of building the hotel is a whooping 3 billion US dollars. I assume that with such a budget it is possible to prepare appropriate facilities to ensure that even the most demanding guests will find what they are looking for. The price range per night is from a few hundred to over ten thousand dollars. It is a pity that we do not have time to stay here….
Evening is coming. A walk towards the La Corniche promenade becomes quite pleasant. Here we enjoy our semi-legal beer. We meet the first cyclist, there are two longboarders and several runners. In the evening, people come out of hiding, and the ghost-promenade starts to fill with life.
After so many hours in long trousers, with a plus of 50 degrees and without the possibility of drinking cold beer, I admit that it has been a tough day. We stop for a pita with lamb at one of the local bistros and try to find our way back to the airport. We make it just in time on the plane. Now that we are leaving Abu Dhabi, it is Singapore that appears in my mind. Apparently there is an even more expensive hotel…