FolkestoneJack's Tracks

One day in Abu Dhabi

Posted in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates by folkestonejack on November 2, 2017

Our travels have brought us to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, for a one day stopover. It was not a destination I had ever planned to visit but proved to be an intriguing place to spend a little time.

The schedule gave us a full day to explore the city between an early morning arrival on an Etihad Airways A380 from London and a late night onward flight on to Bangkok, with a little sleep at a conveniently located airport hotel (Premier Inn). My challenge was to string together a selection of sights that would keep my heat-averse travelling companion satisfied and my sanity intact!

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

My normal instinct is to get around by public transport but after consulting the timetables I realised that our itinerary was only going to work by hopping from sight to sight by taxi. Thankfully, these are plentiful and inexpensive. The first of these took us from the airport to the stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in plenty of time to join the first walk up tour of the day, before the worst of the heat.

Although you can wander around the mosque on your own, the tours organised by the mosque take you to areas off the main walking route and provide some fascinating facts about this modern marvel. Our tour guide, Aisha, helped us appreciate the astonishingly beautiful detail of the building and understand the reasoning behind aspects of the design that would otherwise have passed us by.

The mosque was completed just ten years ago but in a short space of time has become one of the most iconic images of the emirate. The first sight of the 82 domes and 4 minarets is enough to astound, yet that is nothing compared to the beauty of the interior. The first indication of this came on stepping inside the arcades with their 1096 columns, each inlaid with semi-precious stones. Beyond that, through some pretty cool sliding doors, we came to the foyer and prayer hall.

The largest chandelier to be found in a mosque

The main prayer hall is quite simply stunning from floor to ceiling with highlights being the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet and largest chandelier to be found in a mosque. The carpet, which used a considerable quantity of New Zealand wool, was heavier still – it weighed in at 40 tons before it was shaved to create prayer lines. In contrast, the chandelier seems relatively light at around 12 tons and even includes a hidden internal staircase for the cleaners!

Aside from the obvious cultural highlights of the mosque I was fascinated to discover that one of the minarets contains a library. Indeed, the only library to be housed in a minaret. The collection holds some 7,000 titles and uses Library of Congress classification and AACR2. Strange to find something so familiar in such an unexpected setting.

A view of the Emirates Palace from Observation Deck 300

After leaving the mosque we found it easy enough to pick up a taxi from the parking lot (a queue of taxis were ready and waiting). Twenty minutes later we arrived at the Etihad Towers complex for Observation Deck 300, a viewing platform on the 74th floor that offers superb views of Abu Dhabi’s cityscape, startlingly blue waters and surrounding islands. Sights visible from the 360 degree gallery included the Marina Mall (2001), Emirates Palace (2005) and UAE Presidential Palace (2016). Our 85 AED tickets included a 50 AED refreshments voucher which covered a couple of mocktails.

We didn’t have to stray too much further for our lunch, heading to the Rosewater restaurant on the second floor of the complex for a luxury buffet, a bit of a splurge at AED 192 per person when the service charge, municipality fee and tourism fee were added in. However, it was well worth the price – an impressive spread, wonderful flavours and superb quality.

After lunch we took a taxi across town to Qasr Al Hosn, a stone fortress constructed in 1761 that was formerly the royal palace. The historic site is currently undergoing restoration but next door you can visit a rather wonderful exhibition which tells the story of Abu Dhabi and its people. The video captures from the older generation were fascinating, especially the tale of how to treat Scorpion bites by cutting out the affected area and squeezing out the poison. Yikes!

A section from the intimidating gates that led into the fortress

It only took us around half an hour to walk through the museum but in that time we learnt so much. I was particularly taken by a series of photographs tracing the transformation of Abu Dhabi city over the decades, revealing just how recent the towering developments have been. In the 1980s the fortress was relatively un-overlooked whereas now skyscrapers look down from all sides. The final two rooms showcase some clever audio-visuals that bring the history up to date and reveal the plans for the future.

The final stop on our air-conditioned day of sightseeing brought us to Dalma Mall, thirty two minutes away by taxi, for a game of glow in the dark mini-golf which was a fun way to round off the day before heading back to the airport by taxi (easily picked up from the front of the mall).

It was great to get a little taste of the city, so different to anywhere else that I have been. Unfortunately, we were a week too early to see Jean Nouvel’s stunning Louvre Abu Dhabi but it’s good to have something to go back for…

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