Long haul layover: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

18 Jan

Forty-eight hours isn’t enough exposure to a country and culture to go beyond skin deep first impressions but that’s never stopped travel writers before so here goes….

– You don’t need to step around dog shit on the wide, clean pavements (scourge of Spain) because there are no dogs.

– Everyone drives clean, new Asian marque cars except migrant workers who catch buses. Very few people ride bicycles and even fewer walk. Locals exercise in the gymn. Motorcyclists tend to be express delivery men.

– Everyone drives fast, the speed limit in the city is 80k and on higways it’s 140k. Drivers regularly exceed that despite speed cameras all over the place. I counted only two police cars.

– Abu Dhabi does five star hotels and shopping malls brilliantly. The downtown highrise architecture is surprising and they love their building bling. For some reason it is a good idea to put giant golf balls on top of buildings.

– The newish, magnificent Grand Mosque will become one of the wonders of the world. It’s that good.

– Laborers earn 800 dirham a month and spend at least 400 dirham a month on their ‘bed space’, one bed in a dormitory arrangement. National, regional and religious groupings are entrenched. Posters on street lamps are specific, e.g. advertising for a ‘Keralite bachelor’ to share accommodation.

– The UAE men look amazing in their white floor length dresses and white starched head scarves (a blessing for baldies), but don’t they realise what happens when they are walking against the wind?

– Many women are fully covered in black but an equal number of women should have more clothes on. What is it with East European women that their shirts stop at the midriff? The locals were more tolerant than me.

– The faux desert experience offered to tourists: dune bashing in four wheel drives, camel rides, dress ups, henna panting, BBQ, quad biking, belly dancing and shisha smoking in a mock up of a bedouin camp is harmless fun however it didn’t aid my understanding of contemporary desert life and UAE economics. Our guides were only interested in scaring the pants off their guests with their driving manouvres and weren’t keen to provide information or even answer questions. They bore an uncanny resemblance to the Top Gear trio except they were called Ahmed, Abdullah and Mohamad. What would we do without Wikipedia to answer our burning questions?

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