A Visit to Abu Dhabi & Dubai
By Arlene Larsen
The next time the dreary winter weather seems to be getting you down, ignore your tendency toward the familiar and think more creatively about a change of venue. While Miami, Bermuda and Palm Springs conjure up visions of warmth, sunshine and resorts ready to cater to your every whim, consider instead some place further afield; the United Arab Emirates. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are two of the most powerful and richest of the seven city-states that make up the UAE. Believe it or not, Europeans and Asians flock to this part of the world, renowned as a tourist destination, to be pampered at luxurious resorts and hotels. They run the gamut from modest, to some of most lavish, fit for kings and sheiks.
Because a popular tour company that we had used before was running a ‘special’, our frugal mind-set could not resist a bargain, we signed up for a trip in November. Needless to say one should avoid this area from June through August due to excessive heat. November provided sunny days, with temperatures in the 70’s and low 80’s, and the Persian Gulf swept in pleasant breezes. Besides enjoying the beaches and golf courses, shopping in their amazing, over-sized malls is the main diversion for tourists and locals as well.
The shopping malls we saw were constructed and decorated like palaces, with different colored marbles, stained glass and crystal chandeliers. Some have waterfalls, mosaics, sculptures, mobiles and other art works. Some malls provide play lands with gigantic amusement rides for children. One has a professional size ice ring (we even had an ice ring in our hotel). Another mall has a large aquarium where you can scuba-dive with the fish. One even has an indoor ski slope with a chair lift so the kids can get in a few runs while parents shop. The dizzying array of shops and restaurants can keep you entertained for days. There are food shops from all over the world; Asian, Italian, French, Indian and even American fast-food. The stores run the economic gamut; Tiffany, DeBeers, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, H&M, American Eagle, etc. Any shop in New York, Paris and London is available here with no tax added.
Upon arrival at the airport, the first thing that strikes you about the country is the jaw-dropping architecture. This area of the world has to employ more of the world’s top architects than anywhere else. Any trip to the UAE is all about the sky line, as you ride down the streets, marveling at their gravity-defying unique designs one after another. What makes Dubai and Abu Dhabi so impressive is that almost all buildings you see are fairly new. While people have lived here since the bronze age, the area had been poor, with farming and pearl diving as main occupations until the 1960’s. With the development of the oil industry, and utilizing their advantageous location for commerce and free ports, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have exploded in growth. They import many workers and construction companies to build these beautiful skyscrapers and luxurious residences. Due to the diversity of immigrants living here, and the UAE’s desire to have a significant international role, English is the main language. Although Abu Dhabi is a Muslim nation, it provides freedom of religion to their residents.
On our first full day in Abu Dhabi we were taken to the massive and recently completed Sheik Zayed Mosque. It accommodates 40,000 worshipers and is the largest mosque in the UAE. With seven enormous crystal chandeliers, ninety-six columns inlaid with marble and mother-of-pearl, and 35 tons of Iranian custom carpet, it provide a stunning visual experience.
As you ride along the Corniche overlooking the Persian Gulf, you notice a large island with two buildings in the harbor. One building is the royal palace which belongs to the Sheikh, the other is the Emirates Palace Hotel. Since the Sheikh did not invite us for tea, we did the next best thing, and went to ‘high tea’ at the Emirates Palace (with its Swarovski crystal chandeliers and gold-lined walls).
One of the most interesting aspects of our visit was to experience the unique Muslim culture. The people are very wealthy and well-educated. Women are given considerably more freedom than in other Muslim countries. Women wear beautiful designer shoes, lots of gold and diamonds, and drive luxury cars such as Mercedes- Benz and BMW. However, the burqa is their main fashion accessory.
The weather was perfect, the food was diverse and excellent, their culture was unique and the people were very friendly.