Abu Dhabi: United Arab Emirates – 21st – 23rd February 2019   Leave a comment

Margaret asked me if I was interested in a trip to Abu Dhabi and Dubai with a travel company called RSD. We had been to Turkey with this company before and I had mixed feelings about the way they operate their tours, but agreed anyway as I was quite keen to visit the United Arab Emirates and see the famous cities for myself.

Although direct flights to Abu Dhabi with Etihad are easy enough to find, this trip used a Turkish Airlines flight from Gatwick with a stopover at Istanbul. As check-in was quite early we opted to stay overnight in a hotel nearby. At check-in we were told that the 1030 Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul was delayed by two hours which would mean that we miss our connection to Abu Dhabi. We were instructed to get a taxi to Terminal 2 at Heathrow and then submit a claim to Turkish Airways for the fare. On arrival at Heathrow there was a further problem as the woman on the help desk had no idea why we had been redirected. It transpired that Gatwick sent us all to Heathrow without checking first whether the Heathrow flight was on time or not. As it happened it was delayed and we eventually got airborne about 1300, later than the estimated take-off time of the delayed flight from Gatwick!

We arrived at Istanbul at 1830 unsure if we would make the connecting flight or not. Although we were told on disembarking that the last call for that flight had been called, after rushing to the gate we found out that that flight had also been delayed (a Turkish Airlines hat-trick) so both us and our luggage eventually made it to Abu Dhabi at around 0230 on 22nd. By the time we had been allocated a coach and taken to the hotel it was 0430. We only had four hours sleep before it was time for breakfast! Not the best of starts to the trip.

Although tired from the journey and lack of sleep we were eager to start exploring Abu Dhabi. The Emirate Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven Emirates and Abu Dhabi City is the capital of all of UAE, although Dubai has a larger population. Unfortunately the rest of the morning was taken up with a ‘briefing’ which was really just a chance for the tour guide to hard-sell us tours over and above those that were included in the package. I was glad we were able to fill our time with extra trips but the combined cost was high, almost as much as the price of the tour, we had little chance to discuss it between ourselves before deciding (of course we had to pay by card as we didn’t bring enough £s with us, so incurring extra charges). I felt that these ‘add-ons’ should be advertised at the time of booking, not thrust upon you once there. The first tour was to the area around Abu Dhabi’s famous Formula 1 race track …


… from where we saw a number of the buildings for which the city is famous such as this circular office block, the Aldar Headquarters.


We took a short boat trip supposedly to be able to see the F1 circuit better (which we didn’t – but it was a pleasant enough outing).


I must point out that our boat was neither the mega private yacht shown here nor this tradditional dhow seen above – just an ordinary ferry.


Here is Ferrari’s famous roof that covers part of the F1 circuit.


The circuit actually goes through this hotel, imagining watching an F1 race from the comfort of your hotel room.


Another view of the mega-roof.


The access road crosses the F1 track and the driver poised briefly to let us take a photo(through the blue perspex).


Although racing cars were using the circuit it was clearly a practice run as no-one was in the stands.


Nearby was an amusement park with what appeared to be very scary rides.


On the way back we passed close to the Aldar HQ, the world’s first vertically circular building. It claims to catch the sun in the morning and evening but present the narrow aspect at midday thus saving on both heating and air-conditioning.


Al Bahar Towers have large covers over the windows which can be moved to allow the light in or protect the occupants from the glare and heat of midday.


Our next destination was the stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in Abu Dhabi and indeed in all of the UAE.


Of course this wasn’t a birding trip but I took the chance to look at the local avifauna whenever time allowed. This is a Middle Eastern speciality – White-cheeked Bulbul.


There were small groups of Grey Francolins in the grounds of the mosque but they quickly moved away when I tried to photograph them.


Entrance to the mosque is via a dome, an escalator and an long underground passage. The dome has a wonderfully decorative roof.


Quotes from Wikipedia are in italics: The Grand Mosque was constructed between 1996 and 2007. The design has been inspired by Persian, Mughal, and the Alexandrian Mosque of Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque in Egypt, also the Indo-Islamic mosque architecture, particularly the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan being direct influences. The dome layout and floor plan of the mosque was inspired by the Badshahi Mosque. Its archways are quintessentially Moorish, and its minarets classically Arab.


Named after the late Sheik Zayed, the mosque is the largest in Abu Dhabi and the largest in the UAE and the third largest in the world.


The building complex measures approximately 290 by 420 m, covering an area of more than 12 hectares ), excluding exterior landscaping and vehicle parking.


The central courtyard is flanked by decorative colonnades.


The mosque is constructed from a dazzling white marble, so finely polished that it reflects the light as if it was covered by water.


It appears that the columns are embellished with gold leaf (although I’ve not been able to confirm that).


Wonderfully ornate carvings decorate the ceiling …


… above the ornate light fittings.


The mosque is surrounded by pools of still water …


… providing the perfect medium to reflect the beautiful pillars and arches.


One more view of the pools surrounding the colonnade …


… and one more look at the exquisite colonnade itself.


I’ve seen some pretty amazing buildings in my time but the Sheik Zayed Mosque is right up there with the best of them.


That evening we had dinner on board a traditional dhow …


… whilst we sailed past Abu Dhabi’s illuminated skyscrapers.


We also saw other great buildings such as the Etihad Towers as we drove round by bus but nighttime photography from a moving bus doesn’t produce great results. Amazing as this appeared it was just a foretaste of the wonders we were to see in Dubai.


We stopped by the arch that leads to the Emirates Palace Hotel in order to photograph the ever changing colours …


… both in the arch itself and the accompanying fountains.


The following morning we moved on to Dubai. More about that in the next post.

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