A dazzling place I never knew
That's really the best description of our first full day in Abu Dhabi. Despite the cheesiness, our day's activities really are best summarized through the classic magic carpet ride song from Aladdin. Plus, given that a lot of what we did today was rather touristy, I figured using a Disney song from a movie centered in this region of the world was fitting.
So the day started off with a guided tour of several parts of Abu Dhabi. We started the morning at the world's third largest mosque, the Shiekh Zayed. To give you an idea of how large it is, the mosque can hold 40,000 people for prayer and is larger than 5 soccer pitches. Not only is it impressive in sheer size, but the architecture and ornateness of the structure is incredible. It's just one of those buildings you look at and the little piece of you that wants to be an architect just starts to yearn.
After the breathtaking tour of the mosque, we moved on to Heritage Village, a small recreation of what life was like in Abu Dhabi prior to the discovery of oil. There were several replications of traditional Emirate houses, constructed either of palm leaves or stone, depending on the region where they were located. Walking around through the small dwellings, it's mind boggling to realize that this was what life was like in Abu Dhabi just over 50 years ago. The transformation the region went through following the sudden wealth oil brought to the area is insane. It's unthinkable that within a lifetime the area went from small, modest hand-built dwellings to the metropolitan metropolis it is today.
Next stop on the trip: Emirates Palace Hotel. It's hard to even describe this hotel, other than the epitome of luxury. Everything was grand and beautiful. The walls were painted with gold (yes, 24 karat gold) and the immense attention to detail, from the way you were greeted at the door to the yearly importation of sand for the private beach, was striking. While gorgeous, such ostentatious extravagance also made me question our materialistic tendencies.
Inside the hotel, we also visited an exposition on the 5 new cultural centers being built in Abu Dhabi in the upcoming years. In an effort to turn the city into a culture hub, Abu Dhabi is constructing several museums, theaters, and cultural centers, designed by architects from around the globe.
Boarding, tumbling, dune bashing
Through an endless desert sky
Alright, so I modified the lyrics just a touch, but now they fully capture the incredible evening we spent on a safari in the middle of the desert. After our day of touring, we headed off to the middle of nowhere where we had an amazing night connecting with our inner 5 year olds. We had the chance to go dune bashing (essentially four wheeling in the desert), ride camels, and attempt to belly dance. My personal favorite was running, rolling, sliding, and sand boarding around in the sand dunes. I mean, what could be better. It was basically just a sand box only bigger and with no confinements. The whole evening, was incredible. Sitting on top of a sand dune, watching the sun set across the rolling mounds of beige and lying around as the evening sky emerged with twinkling stars is how I wish I could end every day. It's about as close as I'll get to a real magic carpet ride.