Abu Dhabi is a modern metropolis with inspiring architecture that creates stunning skyline. The capital city of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is stepping up its game as a major tourist destination and now rivals itself with its more brash and better well known neighbour, Dubai. With some amazing sites, such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi Louvre, Qasr Hosn and the newly opened Qasr Al Watan, what it lacks in glitz and glam, it makes up for in style and class.
Our home for the past seven months, we were fortunate to lead an extremely different lifestyle from that we previously had at home in New Zealand and along the way have made some lifelong friendships. It is worthwhile expanding on the true ex-pat experience, with all its trials and tribulations, but that’ll have to wait for another day. Suffice to say, that we have made more memories and have more stories from living in this fascinating Emirate in the past seven months, than we probably made in the past seven years!
With one chapter of our life closed, we’re now embarking on a six month journey. I like to call it the Great Georgian, Middle Medi, Eastern European Odyssey. Veronica (my wife), says I’m a dick and has renamed it the Sowerby Holiday, or SH for short. She’s a simple woman, my wife. So, with our two kids in two, Emily (aged 7) and Annabelle (aged 10), we intend dragging them through more museums, churches, mosques and castles than they ever thought it existed, all in the name of providing them with an alternative education. Or simply because we’re now both unemployed and have nothing else better to do.
Our last day in Abu Dhabi was supposed to be a revisit to the Emirates Palace, principally known as a luxury hotel. Along with the Grand Mosque, this is one of the landmark symbols of the city. I’d forgotten that a no shorts, no jandals policy existed, which prevented me from entering. So instead the girls and one of their best friends descended upon this majestic place, which receives day visitors but also typically charges $1,000 per nite for hotel guests.
Without “handbrake Dad”, the girls lived it up and had a great time, wandering the extensive palace gardens in the humidity and heat. Summer definitely had come early in Abu Dhabi with temperatures in the mid-30’s.
Better was yet to come as they also got to chose between camel milk ice cream, gold cappuccino (who said you shouldn’t feed caffeine to kids?!) or the divine looking “Ice Gold”. A perfect treat following a lovely walk, these desserts have 23-Karat gold sprinkled through them.
Priced at 60dhs EACH (c. $25), these over-the-top soft serves, definitely don’t come cheap. General consensus was that the ice cream was nice except for the gold flaky bits which tasted a bit like cardboard - there’s certainly no pleasing some people!
And that pretty much wrapped up our last day in our soon to be ex-desert home. Reflecting on some of the cool things we did while we lived in Abu Dhabi, we compiled our top five list of sights in the city known in Arabic as “Father of the Gazelle”.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The mosque for us, was one of the most beautiful sights, not just in the UAE, but anywhere in the world that we’ve ever seen. One of the best things is that we also got to see it regularly when out and about driving, so it constantly reminded us of its beguiling charm. Completed in 2007, the Grand Mosque proves that beautiful structures can still be built in modern times to rival anything constructed in antiquity.
Qasr Al Watan
To my shame, I didn’t get to see Abu Dhabi’s Presidential Palace, which only opened in the last couple of weeks that we were living there. This one gets there on Veronica’s recommendation, who said it was stunning. If you merge the interior of Qasr Al Watan, with the exterior of the Grand Mosque, you’d surely have one of the best architectural sights imaginable.
Qasr Al Hosn
Part museum, part historical site, Qasr Al Hosn was a great day out for the whole family. As the oldest building in Abu Dhabi, the White Fort provided us with one of the few glimpses back into the city’s past. Dating back to the late 18th century, Qasr Al Hosn is a really cool spot to while away a few hours in the centre of the city and a must visit for anyone coming here.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Yes, you have read it correctly. I did manage to get some proper culture and make it to the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Signed as part of a 30-year agreement with the Louvre, naming rights alone set the city back in excess of US$500 million.
I haven’t visited the Louvre in Paris, but if the largest art museum in the Arabian Peninsula is anything to go by, I’ve certainly been missing out. To me, this was a bit like the London Museum, with its cool antiquities and the National Gallery all rolled into one. With twice as much bang for your dirham and discounts for teachers to boot, its easy to see why this one was a massive hit for us.
Abu Dhabi Heritage Village
In all honesty this was more of a hit with the kids than us, but the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village at the Breakwater, situated just round the corner from the Corniche, still provides good entertainment for a couple of hours. And with free entry, in what is a relatively expensive city, it was also guaranteed to have a place near to my heart!
As a reconstructed “typical” oasis village from a bygone era, it always is going to be battling for authenticity, but still, there’s enough there of interest to flame the imagination in addition to providing some great views back to the city.
So there we have it, Abu Dhabi in a nutshell. From here we’re off to Dubai for a last hurrah before jetting off for the Middle Eastern part of the GGMMEEO. OK, nobody says the acronym was in order, nor made any sense, or was easy to remember. Maybe I should just call it the Sh after all……..