Al Ain Sunset
A. Al Ain. Al Ain is a small city/desert outpost in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. It is also known as the “Oasis city,” It borders the Rub’ Al Khali desert (aka the “Empty Quarter”) and Oman. It’s climate is much hotter and drier than Abu Dhabi, and it boasts the nation’s highest elevation: Jebel Hafeet. Al Ain is also home to a very respectable zoo, the only extreme sports’ water park that I am aware of in the world and a traditional camel market. The drive there from either Abu Dhabi or Dubai will not disappoint you, if you are seeking a true desert experience; it is full of camels, camels in the back of pick up trucks and dunes.
Yes, the Burj Khalifa is, for now, the highest building in the world. It is in Dubai and, trust me, you can’t miss it! This is me in front of it, and this is the view from above. The view serves as a reminder that, yes, the UAE is very much a desert nation though you would never know it when you ski, après-ski with a meander down a palm-lined, Rodeo drive-esque street.
My family at Burj Khalifa
The View from the Top
C. Corniche The Corniche is a lovely stretch of city beach along Abu Dhabi’s western coast line. There is generally lots of parking, and it is free to visit. I am always blogging about all the amazing free things there are to do here and the Corniche is another, little free gem if you like to go to the beach.
Yes, that’s yours truly on a camel.
D. Al Dhafra Camel Festival Every December, thousands of camel beauty queens descend upon a small town, called Al Dhafra, to compete for millions of dirhams in prizes and the crown, of course, at the Annual Camel Beauty Pageant. Many of you, who read my blog, know that I am a camel-lover; I just love the beasts. No one can convince me that they are dirty, smelly, spitting creatures because I have seen the prettiest camels in the world, and these camels are real ladies. They are dignified and very affectionate creatures. You have to see it to believe it, like anything. This was by far my favorite UAE experience yet. Most of the time you can live here and not feel as though you live smack dab in the middle of the Middle East. The Camel Beauty Pageant will superimpose you into a world of Middle East tradition: camels, falcons, incense, tents, dates, tea and bedouins. For more information about the Camel Festival, visit the Tourism website.
E. Eid There are two Eids on the Islamic calendar. The first: Eid Al-Fitr celebrates the breaking of the fast following Ramadan. Eid al-Adha celebrates the sacrifice that Ibrahim made in the Old Testament and also celebrates the end of the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, which draws 1.5 million Muslims every year.
Yas Viceroy Marina
F. Formula 1 / Friday Brunch Formula 1 or Friday Brunch? Which best defines represents “F” for the UAE? Let’s go with both! Yas Island boasts an amazing and accessible F1 track, which lures the greatest drivers in the world and millions of spectators every November for the Yas Marina Circuit F1. It is also host to some awesome post race events all of the F1 week. Last year, Jay-Z, Muse, Depeche Mode and others headlined the post race concert series. I will admit that I know little to nothing about F1, but it’s exciting to live across from it, I can say, especially since I can sit on my balcony and hear all the concerts.
Friday brunches are just what expats do here in the UAE. There are thousands to choose from featuring all levels of prestige, every cuisine known to man and usually, but not always, unlimited libations. Here is a definitive list of Friday brunches (prices, locations and reviews) in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Family at the Grand Mosque
G. Grand Mosque No trip to the UAE is complete without a visit to the Grand Mosque. It is a glorious feat of architecture. Did I mention that it’s free to visit? Here are some fast, intriguing fasts about the Grand Mosque:
The mosque can accommodate over 40,000 worshipers.
It features 82 white marble domes of Moroccan design.
The Mosque has more than 1,000 columns in the outer areas, with inlaid marble panels and decorated in a floral design with semi-precious stones, and 96 columns in the main prayer hall, each inlaid with mother of pearl.
It displays the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, designed by Iranian artist Ali Khaliqi and hand crafted by 1,300 artisans.
It showcases the word’s largest chandelier, made in Germany with thousands of Swarovski crystals from Austria and glasswork from Italy.
The design and construction include materials such as marble, stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics.
The mosque uses a very special lighting system in evening hours that follows the phases of the moon – they gradually become lighter as the moon becomes full.
The Grand mosque is the final resting place of the late visionary president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who was buried in the courtyard of the Mosque.
Check the visiting times before you visit and be sure to behave and dress “modestly” as you would in any house of worship.The definition of “modest” is really just common sense, but there is a description (with illustrations) for those challenged by the concept. Ahem, Rihanna.
H. Hummus Ah, hummus. Who doesn’t love the creamy, dippy chickpea concoction? I am going to go out on a limb and call hummus a “Middle Eastern” dish, just knowing I am opening myself up to all kinds of arguments. Apparently, there is a great debate over who owns the rights to hummus. Who knew?! I say let’s just let bygones be bygones with regard to hummus. We all love the stuff. Who cares who invented it and just thank the deity of your choice that someone did in the first place. Let’s just all get along.
I. Islam / Iftar I just couldn’t decide for “I.” After all, Islam is the official state religion of the region, and Iftar is the traditional meal to break the fast during Ramadan; both seemed important. You cannot have a serious, or not so serious, discussion about the region without knowing just a little bit about Islam. The Old Testament of the Bible and the Quran have dictated most of the regions’ social mores, laws and past, present and future in the same manner Christianity has the west. Muslims believe that the verses of the Quran are the revelation of God verbally revealed through the Prophet Muhammad. On a side, but related, note, Muhammad is a VERY common name here, indeed the most common in the world.
The Road to Jebel Hafeet
J. Jebel Hafeet Jebel Hafeet is the highest point in the UAE. At the top is a hotel called the Mercure Jebel Hafeet. The mountain rises 1,249 metres (4,098 ft) and offers impressive view over the city. The drive up is hair-raising and is classified as one of the must-do drives for people who love to drive.
K. Kandura (dishdash) A Kandura is the traditional men’s dress here in the UAE. Women wear Abayas and the Shayla (loose scarf around head). Almost no women here wear the Burqa. Lots of people ask me what the westerners wear here in the UAE, and the answer is simple. Use discretion. If you are in a Mosque, dress as though you were in a church. If you are in an area or location frequented mostly by westerners, anything goes really.
L. Liwa dates Liwa dates are yummy. I would say they are the best in the world, but what do I really know about dates?! Not much. I don’t even know if they are fruits or nuts. I can tell you that they are big business here. Date palms are one of the very few native plants that can survive the oppressive heat in this region and therefore revered. We went to a date competition in December, and it was amazing. There was another date festival here in the UAE recently. Who knew there were so many kinds of dates?!
Musandam Dhow Cruising
M. Musandam Dhow Cruise This is another UAE must-visit place. All right, it’s Oman, but it’s just so close, and definitely shouldn’t miss it if you are in the UAE. Now, I have not yet been here, but we are going this fall for the next Eid. Musandam is just a few hours’ drive north of Dubai and apparently well worth the trip. The drive alone is full of gorgeous sites, like Ajman Beach, the rocky coast and narrow mountain roads that bring you into the city and its desolate beaches. What’s there to do in Musandam? Take a Dhow cruise to Khor as Sham, a majestic rocky fjord that some regards as ‘the Norway of Arabia’. You recline on cushions and Persian carpets on deck to savor the views or spot some dolphins, stopping to dive into the cobalt sea for swimming or snorkeling. There is also an overnight option, which includes camping on a secluded beach.
N-Z are on their way. Give me a few days.