I woke an hour before my alarm went off. I walked the dogs to the beach when everyone else is up doing the same thing before the sun bakes the bricks. I double-checked everything, washed my dishes from last night, and made a strawberry-banana protein shake for breakfast. I’d like to thank all the people keeping in touch with me and wishing me well on this trip. I’m excited to be flying to another country on my own.
Dad didn’t think I was supposed to leave until tomorrow and Caleb thought I was an hour behind. I put the airport address in my phone and followed it even though I thought I should go to the south side of the airport and this seemed to take me north. I followed it to the end of the route – planes in sight, but directly in front of a police station. I was going to simply make a u-turn, but the officer came out of the shack so I turned wide and rolled my window down.
I asked how to get to airport (hand flying symbol) and he made sure he understood me and that I understood the directions he gave me. Continue down this road, go through two lights, and turn left at the third. Then you will arrive at a (made a circling motion) “roundabout”, yes, and continue through that. You are at the airport. I continued towards Busaiteen and remained calm knowing I had given myself time to get lost.
I was so thrilled when I saw the sign for passenger terminal. I u-turned to try to get in lot B or C, not that much closer really, but they were full. I pulled in to lot D, parked, walked inside the building with washroom and pay station, and a man came in and told me the bus was coming. I opened the door and there it was. Good thing I stepped out when I did too or he would’ve u-turned in front of me and I would’ve had to wait another ten minutes.
We stopped by the B and C lot and I was amazed at the precision of his driving, coming within an inch of all the guard poles to turn the ten seater around. He dropped me off in front of the airport and I made my way inside with a smile wearing my red hat. The sign pointed left to check-in, but that was for first class, so I went back right. Then walked by the security guy into the large area with all the check-in gates and baggage check.
I walked past the line for Etihad Airways and when I asked where it was the guy spoke and pointed behind me. I approached the woman at the counter and she told me they open in five minutes. I waited. She called me up. I handed her the confirmation I printed out along with my tourist passport. She asked if I was going to Abu Dhabi only and if I had any bags to check – yes and no. “Gate 16A. Have a good trip.” I proceeded to the passport check area. I had to check-in with a guard before approaching the guy at the computer. He asked for a military ID and I handed him the official passport that he stamped with today’s date.
Then I got in the security line, threw my bag on the belt with my glasses and phone, and stepped through the x-ray. The guard on the other side asked me to lift my hat and then waved me through. I looked for Gate 16 and found it between 15 and 16C. I would’ve stopped there, but I had to use the washroom which is down by Gate 17, after I took a picture of the wooden art on the wall. There are two stalls with a janitor sitting on the sink basin with a face mask on.
On my way back to my gate I see a sign for Gate 16A. I make my way downstairs, also towards the prayer room, and have to check-in again. The woman tells me this flight leaves for Qatar and I can wait upstairs until my flight is called. I’m making my way back up the stairs when I’m stopped by a man wondering where I’m from. When he hears I come from so far away he asks if I’m on vacation. I tell him I’m living in Bahrain, but going to Abu Dhabi on vacation. He tells me I’m very attractive and that my husband is a lucky man.
I thank him and we split ways – him down the stairs and me up to sit in the chairs across from the door. There are four coffee shops – Caribou, Costa, Starbucks, and Gloria – just in this hallway with a Chili’s that’s already open. I love the service hours here. I saw a mother of five boys walk by. The youngest fell and I heard his head hit the floor. His older brother picked him up and consoled him. The second oldest didn’t want to go any further and after being scolded by mom the oldest brother grabbed him by the wrist and escorted him along. I’ve heard of kids helping, but I’ve never seen it so well in action. The airport is a great place to people watch, but isn’t that always the case.
I should’ve hit the record button. It was great to watch the crowds walk by. Most were modest and then a lady walked by wearing her man’s shirt. They just happened to be on the same flight as me. I noticed the water cooler by the door to downstairs – and a guy adding hot water to his cup to get rid of the icy touch. I filled my bottle, went to the washroom again, and then went downstairs to wait until 9:30 when they decided to tear our boarding passes in half and let us wait another 15 minutes. We were due to depart at 9:45, but I was in no hurry.
They made last call over the speaker and even announced we were ready for take off before the doors opened and all 20 passengers were loaded on the bus for the short ride to the next terminal where the stairs would take us to the cabin of the plane. I had expected a 20-seater plane, but they had just delivered 200 people and this was all that was going back so we got to sit anywhere we wanted (had I only thought of upgrading). I chose 19A, about five seats back in economy, so I could be by the window and everyone got their own row.
The steward offered to take my picture in the empty two-thirds of the plane to make it look like I had it all to myself. At that moment I did as he told the stewardesses to get out of the picture. Back at my seat I noticed the thick stack of magazines and added them to the seat beside me. I wasn’t expecting a snack so I was delighted when the juice, tea, muffin, and yogurt made their way onto my tray table. I switched sides of the plane on descent but missed an overhead shot of Ferrari World. Abu Dhabi is beautiful and very spread out between chunks of sand and green lined roads.
As we are debarking the stewards change the exit door on us and I’m the first to leave through that door. I have no problem finding the passport station. I wait in line under Other Nationals, GCC (Gulf Coast Countries) and UAE being the other choices. I’m asked where I’m coming from and given a 30 day visa. My bag goes through another x-ray, but they aren’t concerned with my hat or phone. From there, I follow the signs to the exit until I see a sign for taxi with a line inside. The guy says, “Miss, second one to the left.”
I try to get half in, but the first seat is in the middle. I ask how much to get me to Corniche and the driver says under 90 dirham. That will work. Online it said to plan on spending 80. It was so neat. I had to remember to put my seatbelt on, but leaned so far forward. His meter kept telling him to slow down as he was going over the speed limit. I didn’t mind as I wanted to be out seeing things, not stuck in the backseat of a cab. I recognised the Grand Mosque as we passed it in the distance.
We reached the beach but had to find parking. I wanted him to u-turn at the light and get me closer to the water, but had him turn at the intersection and park at a bus stop. The total was 82.25 and I told him I didn’t want coins back as I handed him a 100 dirham bill, after asking if he had change. He handed me 15 back and was hesitant, trying to sneak in a tip, but I was going to give one anyways. I smiled and he wished me well on my visit.
I walked down to the fence and then remembered there is a family area and other private beaches. I continued on until I found the public beach and made my way to the water, ignoring the sand that was getting in my sandals and burning my toes. The sand changes from white with black specks (burning) to white with pink specks (spectacular). I took my shoes off, lifted my skirt, and played in the water until I saw a jellyfish. It might’ve been dead, but I wasn’t taking chances. I tried to make it back across the sand so my feet could dry, but I wasn’t chancing blisters either.
I continued walking and almost decided to turn towards the tall buildings, but found refuge in grass and shade, drank some water, and continued on until I saw the sign for Etihad Towers. Inside I admired the Lobby Bar in Tower 2, before paying the 75 dirham to take the elevator to the 74th floor for the view and to redeem 50 of that back in food and beverage. I ordered the Red Velvet drink – peach and strawberry with lemon juice and fruit chunks for 29 dirham and four scones (2 chocolate and 2 plain) with strawberry and
cream cheese butter at 5 dirham a piece after seeing them while making my round.
I eat them while enjoying the view and talking to the couple next to me. I asked if my bill was good and was stopped at the elevator door because it wasn’t. I had to pay six dirham in taxes. I try finding my way across the street to Emirates Palace. A construction worker points towards the parking lot and then the light. The sidewalk I was looking at ends. I walk up to the big sign of what not-to-dos and turn around towards the two guards. I’m given a thumbs up and walk in the large gate.
There is a sidewalk that winds between the entry and exit roads. There are trees, and a breeze, and a large flag that stops blowing when I look at it. There is a large fountain area in front of the large staircase. There are two girls posing for each other on the steps and I turn around to enjoy the view of the city from this angle. I cross the drop-off road/valet area and admire the uniforms, one waist length and one knee length – but that bellhop wouldn’t let me take his picture.
This is supposed to be a seven-star hotel and has been recognised as a 5-star with the plaque outside. You have to pay attention to the details in the walls, ceilings, and floors, and the amenities included in the cost of the room. The doors are tall, the carpets thick, the decorations shiny, the foyer outstanding. There is an ATM that dispenses gold and the white sand beach was imported. There is a beach club on both sides, but what got my attention most, without being a guest, was the live band.
I could hear the music start and quickly made my way to the café area where the piano started, the cello joined, and the flute finished the trio. Past that I admire the details in the staircases, the tapestry on the wall, the art for sale in display cases, the lighting, the shops in the corridor, and the food on offer. Back outside I smell the flowers and watch the gardeners test the fountain in front of the royal entrance.
I text Kathrine when I leave there as to whether I should go to the Marina or City Centre. This guy passes me, honks, and offers a ride. I keep on walking. I decide to use one of the many pedestrian highway underpasses to get me closer to the buildings and farther from the beach. It’s hard to think the city could be considered anything less than five-star when a simple walkway is lined with tiles forming desert scenes. Oil has brought money to this emirate and they don’t mind seeing it shown everywhere.
The guy that honked earlier turned around and parked at a taxi/bus stop. I accept on the way downtown. He wants to know why I like to walk so much when the women from his country want to be dropped off at the air-conditioned door. I don’t have to cover my body in a black robe. He drops me off three blocks later. I was hoping to get further, but this way I can still explore more of the city. He gives me his number and wants to kiss me. I thank him for the ride and get out.
I ask a taxi driver what street I’m on and he tells me Third. When I get to the intersection the sign says differently. How am I supposed to tell Kathrine where I’m at with him giving me the wrong directions and the other guy dropping me off at some unknown building near Pearl Plaza Tower. She says she can pick me up in a couple of hours. Well, I’m not going to wait at this park until then. I walk on.
I come to one of the many family parks in the city – greenery, fountains, swings – and sit on one beside a brother and sister with the boy calling for mom as she talks with her friends on the other side of the playscape and a man pushing his boy on the swing. It felt nice to be off my feet and have a breeze cool off my sweaty bits. Leaving the park I’m followed by a yellow kitty. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but he wanted to rub up on the front of my legs either causing me to kick him gently or almost fall on my face.
I find Qasr Al Hosn and get to see the museum for free, though the actual fort is only open for ten days out of the year for the festival. Inside are exhibits showing the history of this building that link directly to the stories of the city and surrounding area. Many rulers called this place home and it was used for other governmental purposes – meetings, as a watchtower, and a protective fort from land and sea advances. It shows the way the fort grew and how it went from being surrounded by sand to being hidden among tall buildings, bright lights, and construction sites. The other main exhibit is, “Lest We Forget.” A project taken on by Michele Bambling to collect family photos from 1950 – 99 to remember where Abu Dhabi got its start.
The pictures are set on coffee tables and inside desk drawers so you can recall what it’s like to go through your family history and uncover these gems. A sign on the wall says to read the stories written on the back and I would share with you how one touched my heart if I was able to read any Arabic. I thank the staff on my way out and make it to the corner light before Kathrine texts me. I tell her I will be at Qasr Al Hosn. While waiting at the bus stop near the entrance a guy walks by and offers me some of his Haldirams Namkeen-similar snack and keeps on walking.
Kathrine picks me up at 6pm, so we can go to PJ O’Reilly’s by 7pm. She is vibrant and friendly. We park in front of a hotel and walk down an alley just far enough to keep it hidden from the tourist eye. Inside we meet with seven other coushsurfers – all guys and Firas invites us to his boat tomorrow and Kathrine invites me to eat fried pork. Kathrine shows me her ‘liquor’ license that gives her the right to purchase booze based on her income for at home consumption. We have three Heineken and plenty of popcorn before calling it a night. There was a live band, Sweet Chilli Jam, and happy hour, all night on Mondays, is 21 dirham per beer.
Kathrine’s house is awesome – living room furniture, Cannondale bike by the door, running numbers framed on the wall, and a view of the city. And I have my own room with washroom. I set the alarm early so I can shower and be ready to go in the morning. She’s going to drop me off at Mina Zayed Port so I can meet up with Caleb for the City Tour. I had an amazing time and look forward to traveling with these people and coming back just to hang out with them. It’s only 10:15, feels early, but I know my feet could use the break. I feel that I will have blisters and sunburns to deal with tomorrow.