Category Archives: United Arab Emirates

1001 Nights

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One cannot help but think of Princess Scheherazade’s fantasy tales of 1001 Nights when gliding into the frankincense dusted world of the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi. Sprawling along the pearl white Arabian Sea shore, this magnificent structure featuring shimmering blue mosaic domes, arched facades and cooling fountains looks like a transplant from Arabia’s Golden days against a futuristic skyline of polished glass towers rising beyond manicured lawns and lush tree crowns. Taking in this stark architectural contrast, Bob and I past through the security manned entrance gate after presenting the two uniformed guards with a smile and satisfying reason (go for a coffee) to enter. And so, happy and excited, we rode up the palm lined driveway past marble fountains, eyes on the colossal sandstone palace. A stunning 3 billion dollar masterpiece blending traditional Arabian architecture and modern design into perfect symmetry. No wonder the Arabian capital shines with pride claiming to house one of the world’s most expensive and prestigious hotels, popular for the rich and famous. Contemplating the marvelous splendor of this Abu Dhabi government owned 7 star beauty, I ambled next to my husband further into Scheherazade’s world. Under the Grand Atrium Dome, bigger than the Saint Peter Basilica Dome in Rome I was told, my gaze began to wander. Lost in the grandeur of this vast structure, I admired gold-leafed ceilings and elaborate silver, gold and glass mosaics gleaming in the golden glow of three tiered crystal chandeliers. And as my feet glided across marble floors and over gold trimmed stairs I reveled in the incredible luxury and glitzy beauty of Abu Dhabi’s crowning glory.
In the shadow of the Emirates Palace Hotel another Arabic treasure sits hidden away on the banks of the Mina (port in Arabic) on the opposite end of the Corniche. The Al Arish. I had never heard of the restaurant till that morning when my sister, her daughter and I stumbled upon it heeding an urgent call of nature while our men ran around the nearby fish market looking for the best catch of the day. Past the unpromising façade, which looks more like a left over from long gone fishermen and Bedouin days, we shuffled down a sticky hallway before we set foot into an air conditioned lavishness that caused our jaws to go south. The glittering grotto with gold enhanced everything looked more like Aladdin’s cave than a dining venue. Exquisite décor and novelty items (glass-topped tables with exotic fish swimming beneath) blended well with the glitzy table settings. As I glanced at the scrumptious buffet, silver plates dripping with mouth watering dishes, I could only fathom how much it would cost to dine like the white robed sheikhs.

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Yasalam

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Yasalam translates to the English equivalent of “Awesome,” which describes best the current beat and spirit of Abu Dhabi. Preceding the Formula 1 race this weekend, the city has brought in multicultural music acts heating up the crowds frequenting the gardens and sidewalks along the gorgeous corniche. But even without the Formula 1 race, Abu Dhabi is a pretty yasalam. Whether you bargain with the vendors at the fruit and vegetable market, feel sorry for the men who push fruit and vegetable loaded wheel barrels, get almost blinded by the masses of yellow gold gleaming from lit up windows in the Gold Souk, indulge in scrumptious Arabic sweets and mezzah, admire mosaic artworks in the many pedestrian underpasses or chill under fancy beach umbrellas on powder white sand beaches. Life in Abu Dhabi is just yasalam.

Arabian Pearl

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It has been fifteen years since I have called this lustrous Arabian Pearl my home. Feeling the soft powder white sand between my toes again after so many years, I looked at the brand new skyline of this desert metropolis skirting the blue Arabian Gulf. Glass buildings that dominated a modern skyline back then are dwarfed by futuristic skyscrapers. Some areas of the city are unrecognizable except for street names. Every major intersection and street corner has undergone a major facelift and new buildings have risen out of the ground like mushrooms. All this has been possible  thanks to the black gold that has been flowing like water since it was discovered in the sands of Abu Dhabi  in 1958. Before that most of the livelihood of this former fishing village depended on the bare hands of brave men who dove for pearls into the deep waters off the coast.  While the Emirate of Dubai bustled with trade and goods, enjoying a reputation as the regional commercial hub, the Abu Dhabi Emirate was a sleepy stretch of dried mud houses skirting a crescent shaped bay. But ever since the first oil tanker left those sleepy shores for Europe in 1962, Abu Dhabi has transformed in a dramatic way unlike any other place in the world. From the camel to the posh Mercedes, from the Bedouin tent to modern high rises, the changes that have swept across this desert land are unimaginable. From shiny glass towers and sprawling gardens along the palm lined corniche to fancy shopping malls and five star resorts gleaming against the azure blue waters of the Gulf, Abu Dhabi has become a modern metropolis where cutting edge technology and daring architectural designs dominate an ever changing skyline. Today, the bustling capital city of the United Arab Emirates stands like a shining beacon to lead the country and the entire Gulf Region into an exciting future.