Admittedly, I did not know much about ABu Dhabi before we visited there a couple weeks ago. I knew it was a city with a lot of money, oil money, and I think I thought it was like a less developed Dubai. (Not that I knew a whole lot about Dubai either, for that matter.) But what I found was a city much more diverse. There are a huge number of ex-pats and immigrants living and working there. A majority of the immigrants come from India and Pakistan. And while the class structure there keeps an extremely wide divide between these immigrants and the native Emirates, there is an epic amount of construction happening at all times as the area grows, as well as tons of service jobs in any of the numerous upscale resorts and restaurants in the area. Not unlike the immigrant communities in the US, many of the UAE’s immigrants are sending money home to their families, working tirelessly toward a better future for their children.
Visiting a faraway country when you know someone who lives there offers a huge advantage in that you are able to see how people really live. To be fair, that also means mostly you see how your friend lives, and in this case we had the most exposure to the lives of ex-pats like them. But we were able to experience a much wider view of Abu Dhabi, and learn a bit about the history of Abu Dhabi and its social and political structure. We also were able to simply enjoy the refreshing beauty that it has to offer while we were on vacation. This is just a taste of Abu Dhabi, meant to give you a broad sense of my impression of the place.
people lounging under the shade of public umbrellas at Saadiyat Beach
Abu Dhabi is essentially an island in the Persian Gulf. Interestingly, the beautiful beaches you see all around were man-made using sand shipped in from Japan.
The water is beautiful, bright blue, almost tropical looking, and the beaches are so perfect it feels surreal.
a view of one skyline from the Corniche
The buildings there make you feel like you might be in a sci-fi thriller. The city is very new, only around 45 years old, so each new building uses the very latest in design and technology, and almost seems to try to out-do its predecessors.
a walk on the Corniche
The city seems to make a real effort to create spaces for people to gather, walk, ride bicycles, etc. Since we went at the beginning of summer it was already getting very hot during the days, but in the evenings around sunset you could see all kinds of people taking their evening jog or pushing baby carriages for a stroll as the air began to cool down. Corniche is the word the locals use to describe this boardwalk-like walkway, which stretches pretty far through the city. It’s also the name of this beach area. It seemed like any public space we visited while we were there had workers on standby to clean up any little piece of trash that might fall, so every park and walkway was spotless.
the fruit market in Abu Dhabi
Away from the resorts and sky rises, we visited the markets where plenty of locals go for fresh local fruits and vegetables. There were dozens of stands cascading with tempting produce. So many sellers to chose from, most with the same items for sale as the next guy, so it was tough to chose who to buy from. They try persistently to sell you on their own so you don’t wander off to someone else’s.
sellers at the fruit market in Abu Dhabi
We went toward the end of the day, so it wasn’t very crowded. People mostly seemed to be waiting for the next customer to pop by.
piles of dates covered in plastic to ward off flies
In the same industrial port complex you could find dozens of date salesmen as well. This particular one is a favorite of our friends we were visiting.
We like to call this a sheik date.
These were the best of the dates, housed indoors. Posted above them was a poster featuring Sheik Zayed and his two sons. Sheik Zayed was the much loved leader of Abu Dhabi (the capital of the Emirates) who is responsible for the arrangement regarding oil between the British and the Emirates that lead to the widespread wealth that is so apparent in the city today. No longer living, his older son is the current leader of Abu Dhabi. Photos of Sheik Zayed seem to pepper the city, sometimes in the most unexpected places.
the fish market in Abu Dhabi
My husband, the master chef of our house, was in heaven in the fish market. You’ve never seen such beautiful fresh fish.
colorful fresh fish
The fish in the market were so colorful, and almost seemed to still be swimming.
taking a rest after a long day
Once you pick out the fish you want to take home, you can have it cleaned out at a station like this, although this guy seemed to be done for the day.
delicious prawns, fresh from ocean to oven
Then, you can take that fish to any of the cooks in the market if you’d like. You could walk out of the market eating one of the freshest meals you’ve ever had.
a fisherman takes a rest on his boat after a long day
Just outside of the market, there are probably 100 of these boats docked, ready to go out fishing the next morning.
rusty old fishing boats out of service
And in the parking lot next to the fish market you will find these boats, clearly not fit for use, just resting sleepily. We saw lots of feral kittens living around these, probably waiting for the next little piece of fish to drop.
the infinite pool at the Shangri-La Resort
In contrast, we got a taste of resort living in Abu Dhabi as well. We had a morning of swimming and lounging at the pool, where the service was incredibly luxurious. The service people there make sure you have plenty of water and walk around with cold towels, fruit to munch on, and even clean your sunglasses for you if you’d like.
A view of the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque
The Shangri-La also had this incredible view of the Grand Mosque. It is such an enormous structure, dominating the skyline. After seeing it like this I couldn’t wait to go there and see it up close. (Come back Thursday for more on this spectacular place.)
sunset at the St. Regis
Later that same night we went to the St. Regis for some outdoor yoga at sunset, and the view from my mat was magical.
getting into the first pose of the evening
Our friend we were visiting was the yoga instructor for the class, and I was so pleased to finally be able to take one of her classes! We were incredibly relaxed at the end.
a Muslim couple in traditional dress walk along the beach after dark
I loved catching this little glimpse into another way of life, actually not all that different from my own. Plus the skyline across the water was so bright. Abu Dhabi at night could almost be a completely different city than Abu Dhabi during the day.
one of many stray cats by the beach
Even though I mentioned earlier that the public parks were all spotless, that doesn’t make them immune to cats. We encountered tons of stray cats, surprisingly affectionate but infected with fleas. They all seem to be pretty well fed though.
a view of Emirates Palace from the 58th floor next door
One of the most opulent places we saw while we were there was Emirates Palace. It’s mainly a hotel and houses a variety of wonderful upscale restaurants and cafes. And yes, it is as huge as it looks. We barely scratched the surface when we went there for dinner on our last night in Abu Dhabi.
top left: the most expensive scotch in the world
Emirates Palace is home to a scotch and cigar bar that sells the most expensive scotch in the world, a 57 year old Macallan that sells for over $4,000 per shot. No, we did not try it, but wouldn’t that be a story to tell!
Gold To Go
And yes, the rumors are true, you can indeed buy gold from a vending machine there.
Are you intrigued? What would you most like to see in Abu Dhabi?