On our second day in the United Arab Emirates, we decided to take the bus to Abu Dhabi, the richer neighboring emirate state. Like Dubai, Abu Dhabi was created in the 1970s from what was essentially before that a sandpit next to the ocean. Still struggling to find the main attraction in what is essentially a man-made concrete mass, I was at least curious to visit the famed grand Mosque and also to stay in the new Jumeirah Etihah Towers Hotel – a luxury Matt and I had decided to splash out on because at $250 a night, it was only a fraction of the cost of a similar hotel in Dubai.
The bus journey went without a hitch… and I remembered how fondly I feel about taking public transport somewhere foreign. It brought me closer to the day-to-day experiences of the people living in the country. On arrival however, we took a cab to the hotel and entered the lobby — and I felt as if I had arrived at Starfleet Academy, 200 years into the future, shimmering marble, ornate, futuristic light fixtures, and glass as far as the eye could see providing a horizon view of shimmering blue water and a private lagoon beach.
Matt and I took an expensive and immaculate lunch on the veranda of the seafood restaurant overlooking the beach. The view was surreal: and again I found myself imagining that I was somewhere years into the future, perhaps on a different planet. The architecture of the towers themselves reminded me a little bit of the cinematography that I had seen in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. This being our second day of fighting our bodies’ need to sleep at different times than what the sun was dictating, first we made the decision to lay by the pool and take our afternoon nap, and head out to the grand Mosque in the evening when the temperature might be a little more forgiving and we a little more rested.
Our room was almost as impressive as the hotel’s lobby – situated on the 43rd floor, it had floor to ceiling glass windows looking out over Eastern Abu Dhabi, all the skyscrapers, sand and sea of it. It was very impressive, as was the opulence of the furnishings and details that went into them.
I honestly didn’t have very high expectations for the grand Mosque, and I was experiencing some trepidation about how women were expected to dress: loose clothing covering essentially all parts of the visible skin as well as the head. I had yoga pants that seem to fit the bill as well as a long-sleeved hooded shirt that should do the trick, but it’s not like I had ever planned on combining that as an overall outfit.
Fashion sense was not the point here.
Matt and I got in a somewhat heated conversation in the taxi on the way over, I’m not even sure I remember what it was about. What I do remember was both of us stopping mid-sentence as we caught a glimpse of the Mosque for the first time.
It was magnificent.
We happily spent the next two hours or so wandering around the mosque’s grounds, inner courtyard, and equally astounding interior. This place had such scale, and though only built within the last 20 years, we agreed that it was equally as beautiful and impressive as the Taj Mahal — a comparison I do not take lightly. This place was also a photographer’s dream: the colors as well as the people gliding along the marble floor, heads bowed in respect creating postcard-worthy shots at every turn.
Inside is one of the world’s largest hand-woven carpets, and enough bling in the numerous chandeliers and wall coverings to invoke dropped jaws as we wandered through. It was definitely the right decision to come around sunset, because as the night came, the colors in the sky magically created a gorgeous framing for the white of the buildings pillars and domes.
Afterwards we took a cab to the Emirates Palace Hotel which was another “site” we’d been told was worth visiting, however, the only noteworthy feature besides looking to me like another big Las Vegas resort was the Gold vending machine. That was pretty unique.
So, in a land that saw hardly any pedestrians, we crossed the busy highway out front and walked back to our hotel for a delicious and now all too familiar expensive French dinner before we crashed heavily in our well-appointed room.