Monday, June 3, 2013

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates,

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Asia

By A.T.H. Webber

When we were first asked to move to Abu Dhabi, I don’t think I could have pointed to it on a map, all I knew what that it was somewhere near Dubai.

My first surprise was in finding out that Abu Dhabi is actually the capital of the UAE, and is just one of seven emirates that combined in 1971 to from what is now known as the United Arab Emirates.

Even though I still find myself having to revert to “it’s near Dubai” when describing to people where I live.  I kind of like that it isn’t Dubai. Not that there is anything wrong with the emirate next door, it’s just that Abu Dhabi has a charm and a subtlety that Dubai doesn’t.


It’s hard to put my finger on, other than to say I just prefer the pace of life in Abu Dhabi.

There isn’t any. Obviously it pays to be diligent when travelling, but this is not the kind of place that is big on muggings, or fraudulent behaviour, only a little bit of street smarts is all you need. And you barely need that.

Cheap. Really cheap. The drivers do work hard though, and while it isn’t expected – tipping is gratefully accepted.

There are a heap of busses that cover the island and out into the greater emirate of Abu Dhabi, and they are so cheap it makes one wonder how they can afford to stay on the road. BUT they don’t often go where you want them too, and the drivers don’t often have the gift of great English. They are friendly enough, but often embarrassed by their lack of knowledge, so are likely to answer yes to any question.

Everywhere. There are literally hotels all over the place, but it’s hard to find a cheap and cheerful one if you are on a tight budget. They are around though, and worth checking booking sites for the best deals around. At the upper end of the scale, there’s Emirates Palace (7 star hotel, coffee served with a dusting of gold leaf – I am not kidding), but also consider the other end of the island for places like the Shangri-La or Fairmont bab al Bahr. The Rotana group also have hotels dotted about the place. Be aware that some of them are non-alcohol (or “dry”) so check at the time of booking.

You name it, and it is probably here. I’ll mention a couple of favourites later, but you can get just about every cuisine on the planet. Just pick a country, and there’s a restaurant dedicated to it.

So you want to hire a car? Be the master of your own day? Go right ahead, but be aware that the roads here are dangerous, and the drivers can be quite aggressive. The one thing you must never do is decide to educate the guy who just drove across 3 lanes of traffic to drive
slowly in front of you. If the guy involved is having a bad day, he can call the police an claim that you have insulted him, and it never ends well. Every year there is at least one westerner who finds themselves in prison for flipping someone the bird, or simply intimating that the maniac that just tried to drive in them might be crazy. In the strictest sense of the law it is actually illegal to “have a look of disdain”, so interpret that how you will.

Cultural considerations:
Abu Dhabi (and the UAE in general) is a Muslim country, and entirely under Sharia Law. So it is
expected that everyone behave respectfully in public. No hand holding, certainly no kissing, and conservative clothing is appreciated. That doesn’t mean that my wife lives in a constant state of fear about showing too much elbow – it just means that people need to be thoughtful when in public.

Of course if you are going out to a bar and your lady friend wants to wear a strapless top – no issue, the smart money is for her to wear a shawl while in transit to the bar, then do the big reveal once inside.

I know that sounds odd, but while alcohol is served here in a ton of bars, it is illegal for Muslims to drink it, so “theoretically” there shouldn’t be any locals at the bar to be offended.

More on food:
I recommend avoiding the obvious restaurants in the major hotels (unless you are hell bent on drinking wine with dinner) and venturing into the back streets for a bit of a look around.
I’ve been to Indian restaurants where I have left stuffed full to the brim with fresh made curries and assorted oddments and not paid more than the equivalent of $5US. The same goes for Ethopian food, and Afghan food, and Filipino restaurants. The traveller who looks past the fact that the establishment they are about to walk into appears... well... dodgy, will be rewarded with some of the best food they will ever stick in their mouth.

The best bit? These little eateries are EVERYWHERE, you just have to see them. Or ask a cab driver where he eats, or would recommend.

Things to see:
Any Google search will tell you about the main attractions, but here’s a couple of lesser known ones:
Tuesday nights - Go to the F1 track, the gates open at 6 pm and we all arrive in droves to walk/run/cycle on the track itself. Entry is free. So is the water. Bikes can be hired if you have a mind.

The biggest secret is an hour’s drive out of town. It is hilarious, and if you have the time and the inclination I implore you to go to “The Rainbow Sheikh’s Car Museum”. It’s way out in the desert, but you can’t miss it. Because it is a huge, iron pyramid. With a plane parked next to it. And a giant Land Rover out front.  The museum houses the weirdest car collection you’ll ever see. Not just for the exotic ones, but for the odd ball things he has decided to display. There is a little juice shop there as well if you feel like a quick cool drink before heading back to town. Entry is 50 aed (about $12 US) and a cab will take you out there for about 125 AED each way.
In short, it is totally worth considering a stopover in Abu Dhabi, particularly for those long-hauling it from one place to another. The Airport is about a thirty minute (and $15 US cab ride) from the middle of town, so why struggle on? Take a break even if it’s only for a day. You’ll be really glad you did.

Just don’t flip the bird at anyone.

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