A day in Abu Dhabi

The camel and the rollercoaster

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Whilst it shares many of the headlines with Dubai, its neighbour down the coastline, Abu Dhabi is the political hub of the Emirates and the home of the President. Each Emirate has a role to play in the unified country, but it’s Abu Dhabi’s past ruler that is credited with bringing them together.

Sheikh Zayed Grand MosqueOur guided panoramic tour of this Emirate gave us the opportunity to see some of the very best in the world that man can create, given space and sufficient funds (provided largely  by black gold as Jed Clampett used to call it). An all too brief stop at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque showed us what 1.4bn Euros can be turned into and set up on a hill its 80 white marble domes shone like beacons in the sunlight. Housing the world’s largest loomed carpet (yes Abu Dhabi has the bragging rights over plenty of things) there is a seemingly endless array of amazing things for the 40,000 (capacity) worshippers to marvel at.

The main island is surrounded by some 200 islands and the most significant of these are connected by bridges. That makes for a lot of ground to cover if you are exploring Abu Dhabi and you’ll need to choose an appropriate mode of transport for your exploration. We chose to do a ship’s excursion which gave us maximum information in a short time but many others selected the Big Bus tour. Big Bus responded well to having 2 largish cruise ships docking within minutes of each other by having 7 double deckers at the port ready and waiting.

Abu Dhabi LouvreGoing back to the islands, Yas Island is the home to the Yas Marina Circuit which hosts drag racing each weekend (Friday and Saturday here) but really roars into life when it hosts the Formula 1 Grand Prix in November. It also claims the fastest roller coaster in the world at Ferrari World but whilst my face could benefit from the temporary face lift the G Forces would give it, we decide to leave that to another visit.

Culture is not forgotten and workers were putting the finishing touches to Abu Dhabi Louvre on Saadiyat Island, which looks like a jazzed up version of London’s O2 and lights up beautifully at night. It is promised to have an outstanding art collection and later this year the 5th Guggenheim will join the list of impressive names to open there.

Capital GateWhilst they have lost the bragging rights to the world’s tallest building to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, they have the most leaningest (is that a real word) in the Capital Gate.  Its 35 floors earns a place in the Guinness Book of Records by leaning 18 degrees westward, which is over 4 times more than its more famous counterpart in Pisa. They call the high rise skyline the Manhattan of Arabia (which I’m sure Dubai may have something to say about) but it’s nice to hear that each of the bragging rights rivals have called their tallest building after each other’s leader. The one here, Burj Mohammed Bin Rashid is no slouch at 92 floors and 382 meters and also has an indoor garden on the 90th floor. With its slightly smaller twin it forms part of the World Trade Centre and an impressive landmark on the skyline.

Manhattan of Arabia?Our guide told us that the rulers here are extremely popular and they have just appointed a Minister of Happiness. She went on to say that, when married, Abu Dhabi nationals are given a house by the state, so the minister may have a pretty easy job. Camels are bred in large numbers, mainly for racing, meat and milk.  Premium ice cream is also made from camel’s milk, just specify if you want one hump or two. The falcon is a much loved pet and falconry a popular desert sport, so much so that they have built a dedicated hospital just for them. Around 11,000 birds per year are seen at this exclusive facility. The Saluki is also a popular pet and our guide said this dog is like a Dalmatian without the spots – that would be white then!

A day in Abu Dhabi can only touch on all the wonders that are just begging to be explored, so I’d love to come back and stay longer to delve deeper into its riches.

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Steve Aldridge

Award-winning travel writer

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