Abu Dhabi Weekend

 Abu Dhabi is a One Hit Wonder.

 

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After planning many foreign trips in which I barely crammed in everything to see and do, it was at once surprising and relaxing to realize that the Mosque is THE attraction in Abu Dhabi.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is hard to miss.  Perhaps because it is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates.  The Arabs give new meaning to the word “supersize” and make our Big Gulp look like a mere sip. Gleaming bright white by day and set aglow by spotlights by night, the mosque is always on display.

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Everything here is on a grand scale:  Up to 40,000 people can worship in the main prayer hall, kneeling on the world’s largest carpet (60,570 square feet) beneath one of the world’s largest crystal chandeliers (50′ high and 33′ in diameter).

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The entire complex covers over 30 acres with reflecting pools to lend a sense of even greater scale.

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Half that acreage seems to comprised of gilded marble columns with floral designs made from mother of pearl inlay.  Money seemed to be no object in construction, and the mosque budget must have been as supersized as the structure itself.

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Also to note, everything is new… brand new.  The mosque was completed in 2007.  Throughout the city, metal and glass sculptural buildings pierce the sky with the unusual, undulating edges of modern cityscapes.  No angular ancient castles of crumbing limestone here.  No culture of any kind, really. Unless you consider the Yas Island water theme park and Ferrari World cultural hotspots.

To be fair, there are “souks”, but these are not the culturally significant, ancient structures of Turkey or Morocco where people have been selling their wares for hundreds of years. There is no aggressive badgering as you wander through narrow side streets, lured by promises of fresh brewed mint tea to enter hovel-like structures with glittery treasures. Rather the Abu Dhabi ersatz souks exists within soulless new shopping malls filled with the usual suspects of dates, spices, gold…

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…oh, and that renowned ancient specialty: Starbucks!

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Fortified with a caramel macchiato, I browsed the stalls and discovered a new favorite delight: dates stuffed with candied macadamia nuts.  The whole trip may have worth it simply for finding this new treat!

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Despite the omni-presence of Western materialism, I did feel as though I were in a foreign land.  The shrouded figures of women completely veiled behind black cloth is eerie and seems menacing to me somehow.

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Jackie and I got a glimpse of how cumbersome the abaya is when we were in the ladies bathroom, the signage to which was worth a quick photo:

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We watched three women undress in stages so as to use the toilet.  First the outer headscarf was removed.  Then the longer veil that shrouds the face.  Last, the long black garment that covers the entire body.  All that effort probably makes those ladies think twice before ordering a second Starbucks coffee every morning!

Jackie and I wore abayas over our clothing during our visit to the mosque. It was stifling even for a brief visit to be covered so completely in a dark color that traps the heat within it.

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Speaking of heat, May is the last month that a sane person would consider visiting Abu Dhabi as temperatures soared to nearly 110º F in the afternoon.  The heat was palpable, casting a visible haze over the city.  Sandstorms will follow in the coming months and then the more temperate climate returns in the Fall when golfers flock to this oasis to extend their summer season on the links.

Jackie and I battled the heat and played a round at the Saadiyat Beach golf course, enjoying the breezes from the surrounding sea.  Built on a desert, there is no lack of sand traps on the course.  In fact, some holes looked like we were playing golf in the middle of the Sahara, complete with herds of sand gazelle grazing along the greens.

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The more sensible thing to do was sit by the pool and swim up to the bar for smoothies…and a hit on the hookah pipe.  The smell of the sickly sweet tobacco wafted in the air like a cheap plug-in room freshener.

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People were hooked up to their hookahs in the pool, at the bar, in the restaurants.  They reminded me of the strange caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, perched on his branch and sucking on his pipe!  I did not win Parent of the Year when I suggested to Jackie that we try it…you know the whole “When in Rome” thing.  She wisely declined and gave me one of those teenage eye rolls that she has perfected through the years.

Eye rolls aside, the best part of the trip was the time spent with Jackie, a great travel companion any where in the world!

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 Abu Dhabi definitely was a One Hit Wonder that I will not rush back to visit.

On the list of places I have traveled, this city is a “One and Done”. 

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