The final destination…Here at last. It was definitely bittersweet. I loved all the traveling we did and could have absolutely gone for more. On the other hand, I was dying to see our dogs. Also, being home and sleeping in our own bed was very appealing as well. Alyce was definitely ready to head home.
Our last stop was almost like a semi-transition to being home. I had ran into my friend from high school, Tommy, at wedding party for another friend not too long back. I told him about our trip – including a planned stop in the UAE.
Tommy, his wife (Mallory, who was in Alyce’s high school class), and his two daughters live in Abu Dhabi, while he works there in the oil field. We said we’d need to meet up when we were there and left it at that for the time being.
I had booked us a room in Dubai at the Grand Hyatt and planned to stay there while in the UAE. However, Tommy and Mallory reached out to us early on in our trip and graciously invited us to stay with them. We made sure they really didn’t mind having us (and weren’t just being nice) and accepted their kind offer.
We arrived in Abu Dhabi on March 23; Tommy/Mallory would be the first people we saw that we knew since we departed for the trip on January 9. Needless to say, we were looking forward to seeing some familiar faces.
The UAE itself is a federation of 7 Emirates (kind of like states, but more independent); the two best know emirates are Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
The UAE is a very wealthy country, with the wealth mostly coming from the oil industry. Abu Dhabi has the largest oil reserves by a good margin. Dubai has done more to diversify its economy by investing in the tourism and finance industries.
The local Emirati population is not that large, so the wealth is not split too thin. Many locals are either directly involved in the oil industry (mostly through laws that require foreign companies to have locals on the payroll) or are in very high paying government jobs only available to locals.
On the other hand, many foreigners are brought in to the country (voluntarily) from Pakistan and the Philippines (among other places). They work for minimal wages – roughly $400 a month – and live a life at the opposite end of the spectrum from the local Emiratis.
The other main group in the UAE is the expat workers, coming from many different areas to work in the oil industry (or some other sector like finance).
UAE weather is notoriously hot and muggy. We were there in March, when it was just hot (the highs were probably upper 80’s/low 90’s) – certainly nothing unbearable. Tommy explained that over the summer, the temperatures regularly exceed 110 degrees. Even worse; it is very humid as well. Tommy showed me the stains on his home where the concrete walls literally sweat.
It sounded miserable, and apparently it is. As such, it’s pretty common for the wives/children of the expat workers to head home during the summer. This may be the only circumstance where people come to New Orleans in July to escape the heat.
Communicating in Abu Dhabi/Dubai was not overly difficult in our experience. English, while not the native language, is pretty widely spoken. That said, we didn’t have to do too much communicating, as we spent a lot of time with our English speaking friends who also lived there. That could make things appear simpler than they were.
Taxis are probably the best way for getting around the UAE. They are all over and are pretty inexpensive; a 90 minute taxi ride from Dubai to Abu Dhabi cost about $60 US. That said, Dubai has a very efficient subway once you are on its route.
The UAE is a country under Muslim law. But, it is not as strict as some of the other nearby countries when it comes to enforcement. Women will be fine as long as they don’t wear/do anything too over the top.
EVERYONE should be on their best behavior while in the UAE. Apparently, the legal system is extremely harsh to all non-local offenders, but is pretty lenient on locals.
Alcohol can be sold at all hotels and restaurants attached to hotels. This is why nearly all restaurants are located in hotels. Foreigners can also apply for a license to buy liquor from stores, but the locals are not supposed to buy any alcohol.
The only other peculiar thing relates to government buildings/employees/etc. You are not allowed to take pictures of official government buildings – something I had no idea about until Tommy informed us. If caught doing this, you can be arrested and held indefinitely.
As a result of the strict enforcement of the laws and the economic situation, the UAE is a very safe place. The locals have no need to steal because they are very well off, and the foreign workers would be punished extremely harshly if caught (and they would no longer be able to work to send money to their home). All violent crimes apparently also carry extremely harsh penalties, including death.
All that said, don’t be an ass and you’ll likely be fine in the UAE. The local Emiratis were surprisingly helpful. One or two went out of their way to help us out when we first got to Dubai and were trying to find our bearings. Be aware and respectful of where you are and there shouldn’t be any problems.
Our flight from Male to Abu Dhabi did not leave until late (about 8:00 p.m.), so that left us with plenty of time in the morning. We slept in and ate our last breakfast at a pretty leisurely pace, including being sure to get an extra plate of mangosteen.
We wrapped up the little bit of packing that was left to do and hung out in our room until 12:00 when we had to vacate it for check out as the hotel was at 100% capacity.
Our boat transfer was scheduled for 3:00, which left us three hours to hang out. We spent it mostly in the dhoni lounge. Alyce did some blogging and watched some TV shows; I completed some responses required for a paper I wrote over the summer…adding insult to the injury of having to leave paradise.
Finally, it was our time to go. The manager and a couple of staff waived us off as we took off for Kooddoo Island for our flight to Male. At the airport, the Hyatt staff member made sure we were checked in with no issues. After a brief wait, we boarded the plane and took off.
The flight on the way back was stopped in Kaadehdhoo, which wasn’t a big deal since we weren’t in any kind of rush…It was just a tad bit warm on the plane.
Our luggage was on the carousel shortly after we arrived, and we were making our way over to the international terminal of MLE. Checking in with Etihad was nice and easy as a business class customer.
All we had to do was walk in to the check in area – yep, not a desk. The airline employees took our bags and passports (which still makes me a little nervous) and had us sit in the lounge area while they did everything. In a couple minutes, they were back with our passports, baggage receipts, lounge passes, and boarding passes.
We had a couple hours to kill in the lounge. It was a nice lounge with a decent food selection, but nothing spectacular. Basically, better than most domestic lounges but not as good as many of the international lounges. Either way, it was far superior to waiting in the terminal.
Our flight was on a narrow body aircraft (A320), so I wasn’t expecting too much of the business class seat. But, I ended up pretty impressed by it. The chair actually reclined a pretty good bit and had a nice footrest. Service on the plane was very good and the meal wasn’t bad.
The flight took about 4 hours, and it was about 10:30 when we touched down. As business class passengers, we got a card that allowed us to use the quick lane to get through immigrations; this looked to have saved us a good bit of time based on the length of the general lines. Another observation was that the vast majority of passengers were just transiting to some other final destination.
All Etihad business class flights include chauffeur service to anywhere in the UAE from the Abu Dhabi airport. We gladly took advantage of this and caught a ride to Tommy and Mallory’s place. It took us a ride or two through the neighborhood to find it…Tommy later explained that no one there is a big fan of addresses or street names, they prefer to just give drections by landmark – and are apparently pretty bad at doing it.
But we made it. Mallory and the girls were (unsurprisingly) asleep when we arrived – we felt bad about the late arrival. Tommy stayed up and welcomed us. Alyce was pretty worn out so she was pretty quick to head to bed; I stayed up and drank a beer with Tommy. It was definitely nice to hang out and talk with someone I knew.
It was late though, and we had to head to bed before too long. Tommy had taken the following day off to show us around Abu Dhabi.
We slept in…probably a little later than we should have. Oh well, we were worn out. Tommy was up downstairs and had some coffee made. Tommy’s youngest, Keira, was also out and about. She was pretty unsure of us at first, but we had soon made a friend. She was determined to share every toy she owned with us and was a lot of fun to play with.
After we had finished our coffee, Tommy took us over to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. When we first arrived, we benefited from a rare cloudy early afternoon allowing us to stay cool and take some pictures without the harsh midday sun.
Alyce had to go get the traditional robe and headgear (called an abaya) before we could go in. I also think she had to enter through a separate entrance. We met up inside the church.
The Grand Mosque itself was unbelievable. It was huge, and everywhere you looked there was 24 karat gold. The chandeliers inside were gigantic; I can’t imagine how much each one must have cost.
The entire mosque cost 550 Million USD to build and was funded by the Abu Dhabi government. That seems really expensive for a church – and it is. But we certainly have no room to judge…There have been several places of worship built by local governments here that are only open a handful of Sundays a year and cost twice what the Grand Mosque cost…Football Stadiums.
We picked up some sandwiches at a nice little grocery/butcher type shop nearby Tommy and Mallory’s place and brought it home to eat. We had lunch and hung out for a little while and were back out on the road to the UAE Heritage Village.
The Heritage Village is an area set up with all sorts of traditional desert living demonstrations. We saw camels, a falconer, and an example of a traditional desert house with a ventilation system supposed to help cool it down – amongst other things. There was also a spot where you could see a nice view of downtown Abu Dhabi.
Next up was the Emirates Palace Hotel. This is Abu Dhabi’s 7 star hotel; their answer to the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. It was as over the top as you’d expect., complete with a shopping area for you to pick up any ancient Egyptian or Greek artifacts you may want to buy. Visitors aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the hotel except in a small entrance area, but we got a couple there.
We made our way back to the house. Tommy took me up to his roof to show me the massive amount of AC units it takes to keep the place cool in the summer. He also pointed out all the satellites that were on top of the house when they moved in. Some Russian spies must have lived there at some point.
That night we went out and had a nice meal with Tommy and Mallory. It was definitely nice to be out with some friends for the first time in a long time.
We got up and went downstairs to hang out with our new friend Keira while drinking some coffee and planning out the day’s activities. She was watching old DuckTales episodes, which we quite enjoyed. Tommy had to return to work this day, and Mallory was out running errands – so were on our own.
The plan was to catch the bus to Dubai and explore that area. I had considered renting a car and driving but am glad Tommy talked me out of that idea. He said the drivers around there were crazy, and they absolutely were.
We caught a cab to the bus station and bought a ticket for the Dubai bus; it was pretty inexpensive…something like $6 a ticket for the 90 minute or so ride. It was an uneventful bus ride. We mostly watched TV shows on our phones and looked out the windows.
The bus let us out at the Dubai bus station; we had to find the metro from there. I had a little trouble getting my bearing on where to go. It must have been obvious, as a nice local guy noticed that we were having trouble and pointed us in the right direction.
The Dubai Metro system was pretty new and very nice. Like all things in the area, no expense was spared. We bought our tickets at a machine and spent the extra $1 a person for “Gold Class” tickets. This meant that you got to ride in the front car with nicer chairs. It was worth it, as the rest of the cars looked extremely crowded. We were at our destination, the Dubai mall, in no time.
The Dubai mall is the largest mall in the world by total area. It had tons of every kind of store you could imagine, as well as an aquarium right in the middle. It was neat, but it is still a mall at the end of the day. With more time to plan (and more energy) we definitely would have done more in our day in Dubai, but we had a good day just taking it easy in the mall area.
After seeing most of what we wanted to see in the mall, we wanted to eat something. The food court was giant, but we ended up at Dean and Deluca. Alyce had a salad and I had a burger; the food was decent.
Just outside the mall is the world’s tallest building, along with a giant fountain lake. We walked out and watched the fountain show, which was surprisingly quick. We also did not go up to the top of the Burj Khalifa, as it was very expensive for non-advance tickets, which had been sold out for a couple weeks. Still, it was pretty cool to see in person.
The mall had a taxi line, and it was pretty long when we got to it. But, the line moved along quickly, and we were soon on our way back to Abu Dhabi. The taxi took about 70-80 minutes, and only cost $60-$70…not a bad deal.
Back at Tommy and Mallory’s, we started to pack. This time, there was no need to worry about staying organized or being able to quickly repack for the next trip…We just had to get everything in the bag…Home was near.
Before going to bed, I went back downstairs and hung out with Tommy some more. We talked some nerd photography stuff, amongst other things. Tommy has the same DSLR camera that I do. Though, he also has the patience to use a medium format film camera. Seeing him fool with that reminded me of how easy it is to use a modern DSLR…but when everything works with his film camera, it takes some unbelievable pictures.
Anyway, I went to bed not too late because we had a pretty early start to the next day.
UAE Concluding Thoughts
Abu Dhabi and Dubai were interesting places. There is no doubt that these places have tons of money and like to spend it – both the locals and government. Around here, I might see a Ferrari/Lamborghini type car every couple of years. There, they were all over the place.
Seeing all of the sights was cool. Though, it is kind of like you see it and then think to yourself “that is a huge building”…and then move on. In other words, it’s neat to see the stuff, but there is no a ton of depth to it.
As such, I’m happy to have been there but won’t be going out of my way to get back. I’ll gladly spend a couple more days in a transit stop; but I won’t plan a trip to the area.
Probably our favorite part of this stop was getting to hang out with some friends. Tommy and Mallory were very nice to invite us in there home, and we were very happy to spend some time with them. That’s probably what we’ll remember most about this stop.