I woke up at 2:45 and jumped out of bed. Checked the time and went back to sleep. I woke again at 5:15, same thing, but this time I heard a hair dryer, so I got up myself. I love Kathrine’s place. The view from my room is lovely, even with the dried dirt on the window. I have my own shower and it’s stocked better than a hotel. Time to open the door and see what today brings. I was even able to charge my phone last night! It was down to 37%. It’s then that I find out that my phone didn’t update the time yet, even though it welcomed me to Abu Dhabi. I will turn on location services and be grateful I got up when I did.
Kathrine gave me a ride to the Mina Zayed Port and dropped me off in front of the fruit and veggie market. On the way there she shared a story with me about locking herself out of her car and then finding out the passenger door was unlocked after she asked for help. I walked to Gate 1, through the market, got a free green apple, and ate it on the way to Gate 2. The guard didn’t want me to walk to ‘the navy’ because of the long distance. Caleb finally got a ride from the chiefs at the same time I got a ride from port security.
I met Caleb inside the air-conditioned building that’s between the road and his ship on the other side. Suppo got me two bottles of water. I drank one while we waited the 30 minutes for the tour guy to show up. He would only be taking four of us. Caleb, me, Monsegur (who was still in his rack), and Donaldson. We went by palaces (their meeting houses the size of a large office) on the way to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The tour driver had an abaya, that fit perfectly, and a hijab, that didn’t in the back of the van. I had so much trouble with the light scarf. I tried tossing it over my shoulders, then Caleb tied it in front, the tour guide tied it in back, and then I re-tied it twice.
The mosque is huge and very beautifully detailed with mother-of-pearl. We walk up to the entrance and the guard points at the hijab. I walk up to him and the look of pure mortification on his face was worth it to suggest that he do something about this mess that I’m struggling with in the wind while trying to enjoy what little time I have here. I want to take in the height and width of the floral designs in the walls and on the marbled floors.
We take our shoes off and some stick to the black mat. I prefer the cooler temperature of the decorative floor. I have to pick up my dress and abaya to prevent myself from tripping over them. That bit of heel on my sandals comes in handy. We walk through the large, main prayer room, leaving so much unseen, but seeing the largest hand-tied carpet in the world and chandeliers that cost as much as the entire mosque in Bahrain. That’s quite impressive and worth the cost of the tour alone, but we have other places to see. Shoes back on, more pictures of columns and the courtyard, then take hejab off as soon as I see the parking lot.
We pass by the Aldar Headquarters circular skyscraper, one of many built around the world – Guangzhou Circle, China; Fang Yuan, Shenyang; Radisson Blu, Frankfurt – on our way to Masdar City, a campus living off-grid. After parking in a concrete scene from the future we take a magnetically driven car to a cluster of buildings above us and make our way upstairs to see the wind tunnel and all the solar panels on top of the building and in the distance past the parking lot. I’m glad I didn’t go out by myself, but it’s worth seeing.
My favorite part is the quiet car that runs smoothly and leaves plenty of space between vehicles and walls. I love the idea that no one would ever crash into me again, but I would miss the power of the wheel in my hand. In the main office is a model of the city. There was a business meeting or someone from the royal family surrounding it earlier so we had to wait to see the little people, bright lights, green trees, and solar-panelled roofs. It’s almost a perfect replica except that the streets don’t light up red yet, but leave black marks from tires, magnets, or recycled baby seals.
The tour guide gets the car while we wait inside. I’m the first one out so I can better read the sign about the waterless carwash, but it doesn’t specify what is used instead. I would like to think they use children’s tears or melted gumdrops. We are driven out to Yas Island (bigger than it looks on the map) and by Marina Circuit – Grand Prix venue; Ferrari World – home of the world’s fastest roller coaster; Du Arena – 50,000 spectator concert venue; and Waterworld – where you can find the world’s first rattling waterslide.
We pass Yas Mall, IKEA, and the future sites of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums on our way to the Manarat Al Saadiyat Museum where the galleries are closed, but the architecture, Chairs exhibit, and gift shop remain open. There’s a ‘fat’ Porsche in front of Gallery 2 and I went under the door to have a look around before the curator came in to escort us out. Then I notice the sign for the British Museum “World in 100 Objects” exhibit – including the objects from the book that I read twice – and I’m bummed to have missed it by 25 days.
The two guys with us grab something from the café. It’s 12:40 pm and they are stuck to their military schedule. Donaldson finishes his sandwich as he gets in the van, but I get to listen to Monsegur finish his tuna. Maybe I should’ve volunteered Caleb for the middle seat or we could’ve sat further back on the way to Heritage Village. The tour guide stays in the van and gives us 30 minutes to see the leather, carpenter, glass, metal, pottery, etc. shops (pre-oil UAE) and the museum, but this one is closed too. We got a picture of the Abu Dhabi skyline from the beach and made it back to the car in 20 minutes.
Then we are dropped off in front of Marina Mall with an hour and a half to eat, shop, and meet back at the van. Caleb and I headed straight to the Sky Tower to see the view. You’re allowed up (as long as you buy a drink). There’s plenty of glass, water, and marble to keep those specialties in business; and then there’s the skating rink that might seem normal in New York City, a water park in Florida, or a hotel in San Diego, but here it makes sense to have an extra cold activity to combat the extreme heat. Though if you move your muscles create energy, so you’re better off just laying there.
I thought we would stop at one point, but the elevator kept going until we hit the V floor where Columbiano Cafe is located. Suppo was the first person I saw there with another guy having lunch. I ordered the Fabiano drink (mango and ice cream with passionfruit seeds) and shared a Greek Salad with Caleb. We ate all the veggies off with our fingers and then I had some of the lettuce. The feta was delicious. We decided to go upstairs to the R floor where the formal dining (and the awesome rotating floor) is, but were kindly blocked from walking around and interrupting other people’s meals.
Downstairs we passed by the More Cafe and Caleb had seen cheesecake. I saw them giving out bags and balloons and we sat down to complimentary water and shared a chocolate croissant. The restaurant opened yesterday and they are still celebrating. Their menu comes on sheets of paper nut and bolted to a large piece of hardened cardboard. I had thought we would get the bags without the balloons and since Caleb didn’t feel like giving them to a child he loudly popped them upstairs and threw away the pieces. Inside the bag is two sacks of cookies.
We get lost for a moment, being one hall over from where we entered. Outside, we see the van and get in as the other two approach. We park near the entrance to the Miraj Islāmic Centre where things are handmade from the Muslim world – Egypt, India, Russia. We are shown into a room where a lady shows us a $1,000 rug and then twists it to show that we can be rough with it (for packing and traveling purposes) when we hear one of the gems fall to the floor. We all can’t help but laugh and leave the room. We walk around the other two floors looking at art for sale and then go outside to take a picture of the view.
We’re there 15 minutes and the van is cool upon our return. We visit the WTC Souk, our first one indoors and are told to stick to this level and don’t go outside. We wander around looking at kitty clocks, bags of frankincense, and balls of tea that turn into flowers. There are hair brushes and salt shakers with burkas on; and bits of camel bone artistically carved and shaped into a large horn. Inside Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is a piñata-like camel carrying a load of chocolate. We are given a sample to satisfy our craving.
We finish looking at the mini-rugs for computer mice and cups of tea from the shop with all the samples displaying the leaves and water color. We look at the milk and fruit bread from the small store with plenty of empty shelf space, and the woven pottery near the café. I want to buy lots of things but don’t want to carry them back on the plane, or spend that kind of money – though at first it seems like a lot, I have to remember to divide by three.
We go to the fruit and veggie market by the port, where I got my free apple hours ago, and visit the date section. We each grab a different color (level of ripeness) and we all prefer the more dried ones. The man inside offers us different stuffings, one with a hair stuck in it, and some fig. Yes I pulled the hair out, threw it away, and ate the date – when in Abu Dhabi. I buy a small sample box even though the bulk are better – more freshly prepared.
The driver drops the other two off at the tent in front of the boat and gives us a ride to Le Meridien hotel. I tip him 10 dirham for saving us from a taxi, and then we walk in at 4:50. I give the clerk my confirmation sheet and then he asks for passport and ID from Caleb that produces his military ID. I guess it doesn’t have the info the guy needs so he just makes a copy of it. We are upgraded to room 529. We’re asked if there is a special occasion, but can’t decide on a good time to deliver the birthday cake (that they would probably charge outrageously for) because we don’t plan on being in the room – even if it does come with a mini bar, bathrobe, foot bidet, and recycling bin.
We go across the lobby to the concierge to check on tours of the Falcon Hospital and Mangroves National Park. He calls both places for us and we are set up for a kayak tour of the mangroves tomorrow morning at 7am, and then I will see the falcons on Thursday morning at 10am. I write until Kathrine picks us up at 6pm. She takes us to Kuya Juan, a Filipino restaurant near PJ O’Reilly’s, for dinner. She orders fried pork, shrimp soup (full shrimp – eyes and poo included), and rice. I ordered the milk tea with boba and expected big balls with my fat straw but got tiny ones with gel fruit chunks too.
I had no problem with the pork, even after imagining its bloody corpse in the meat market this morning, but was debating eating the shrimp. Kathrine put two in a bowl with plenty of broth and veggies. I switched with Caleb hoping to get more okra than crustacean, but we were both in for an experience. I saw Kathrine tearing up the shrimp on her plate and decided to do the same. She ate with a fork and spoon easily. Caleb and I struggled, but managed to enjoy the meal with plenty of rice and soy sauce.
We were in no hurry and the meal was down to a meat-covered bone and a plate of rice. I told Caleb to take a picture of me holding it and Kathrine let me know that’s the best part – the eating, not the sharing of images. I made sure no one else wanted some before digging in. Then we split dessert of fried banana in phyllo dough with ice cream drizzled in chocolate. We left there around 8:30pm, and on our way out the door I noticed the tray of cutleries for pork separated from the rest. Kathrine dropped us back at the room. We explore the hotel, walking to see the lights reflect off the water, and then into the gym, pool, spa access area.
I was under the impression that these amenities were free, but the lady at the desk told us they were closed even though we saw guys playing ping-pong and wanted us to pay. I didn’t feel like arguing, but wasn’t ready to go back to the room yet either, so we walked over the highway crosswalk to the shopping centre, and then did rounds of two floors in the Abu Dhabi Mall on the other side of the street. We stopped in at La Cure Gourmande and tried some cookies and olive chocolate before buying some of both.
Caleb is getting tired and remembers that he has to check in with the boat. We head back to the room at 10pm. Caleb is getting ready for bed and presents me with a tub of Moringa Body Butter that he bought for me the day they pulled in. It smells like a delicious morning. Time for me to be done writing so I can brush my teeth, get lotioned up and go to sleep. We have another long day tomorrow.