Was I crazy for the time I picked to see the UAE? Maybe, but it just worked out like that. I had wanted to see Abu Dhabi and Dubai for a while, and now I was headed eastwards with a couple of days to spare. Cheap flights plus me wanting to spend 2 weeks in Austria with my family before, made me end up in the UAE at the beginning of Ramadan – and in the soaring May heat (think 35-40 degrees, in the shade).
So here I was, landing in Abu Dhabi in the middle of the night! Luckily my Couchsurfing host Anmri had arranged for me to let myself into her apartment, so I fell into bed for a couple of hours. Around midday, we went out for breakfast/lunch (there are restaurants open during Ramadan, they just have to cover the windows and are only allowed to serve non-Muslims) and then Anmri took me for a drive around the city. This turned out to be super lucky for me, since there’s no metro and the bus system is difficult to understand. First, we drove up to the Heritage Village (which was closed for Ramadan) but from where there were nice views of the skyline. We then drove along the Corniche, passing by a couple of cool skyscrapers and to Al Mina, which was not that interesting though. I had expected lively markets – but I guess also due to Ramadan nothing much was going on.
After driving a bit through downtown Abu Dhabi, Anmri dropped me at the recently opened Louvre museum – a branch of the Parisian one. Luckily for me, the Abu Dhabi version of the museum is much smaller and I was able to get a good impression within the next 2 h. I must say though – the exhibits were cool, but the most impressive part for me was the architecture of the museum – especially the courtyard. It’s a photographer’s paradise 🙂
Next day, Anmri had to work, but dropped me off at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque on her way to work. The mosque is what I had always wanted to see in Abu Dhabi – and it delivered. The beautiful architecture of the snow white mosque stood perfectly against the blue sky. I spent about an hour exploring everything, then hopped into a taxi to take me back to the city from where I caught a bus to Dubai. Interesting fact I didn’t know yet: the mosque has recently been renamed into „Mary, Mother of Jesus“ in order to create stronger bonds between different religions. Awesome, right!? Wondering if anyone would ever consider renaming St Paul’s Cathedral into „Mohammed, the Great Prophet“ or so…
The bus ride to Dubai was rather quick (1.5 h) and uneventful. The UAE is not an excitingly pretty country – there was mainly dust and dirt next to the highway and non-photogenic little towns. In Dubai, I arrived at my hostel completely exhausted after a 20 min walk from the metro station with my 19 kg backpack. Still, I decided to head back out – after all, I only had a limited amount of time here and wanted to see a lot. So I took a bus to Burj Al Arab – or rather the beaches nearby, as you cannot get close to, let alone into, the 7-star hotel if you’re not staying there. I had to sneak through the properties of some other fancy hotels to get to the beach from where I had the perfect sunset view of the iconic hotel. Well done, I would say! Haha.
Next day, after not having slept much in the party-hostel, I took the metro all the way to Deira – the old part of Dubai with its famous gold and spices souks. To be honest…I didn’t buy it. Ok, I know the area is actually old, but the souk looked rather newly built and it just didn’t seem as ‚real‘ as other Arabic souks I have seen in Morocco or Jordan for example.
The nicest part was the cheap boat crossing you can do from Deira to Dubai. Boat rides are always a good idea, in my world! 🙂 On the other side, my plan was to walk along the Corniche and visit some of the old heritage museums and places. Unfortunately a lot seemed to be closed for renovations during Ramadan/tourist low season. Makes sense. In the burning midday sun I walked up the Corniche and down past the Dubai Museum to another ‚Al Fahidi historical neighbourhood‘, where I found a little cafe open for tourists and was finally able to have a cold drink and relax a bit in a cooler place.
I then made my way to Dubai Mall, to see the gigantic shopping center and all it’s attractions: from the waterfall to an ice skating ring, to the aquarium, of which you can view a big part without paying entrance. It’s crazy as a diver to see about 10 different species of sharks in one tank, surrounded by rays of all kinds and of course schools of fish.
Outside the mall, there’s Dubai fountain – which is also pretty in daylight, with a bridge connecting to the made-to-look-old souk al Bahar and a view of the Burj Khalifa, the highest building in the world…
…which I had bought a ticket to visit! Unfortunately you can’t go all the way up – only about as high as I had been on the Petronas Towers in KL already. But that’s already something and provides super cool views! There’s two floors open to the standard ticket buyer: an outdoor viewing terrace on the lower level and an indoor one on the upper level. Really nice!
I decided to stay up there until it got dark which took quite a while still and in the end was not really worth it since the reflections on the glass made it almost impossible to take good pictures. Also, there was a loooong wait afterwards to get down by elevator. Once I made it down, I grabbed some food and went to watch the sound & light show at the Dubai fountain which was really quite pretty!!
Next day, I made my way to Dubai Marina and walked around there for a bit. It was cool to see, but I had expected more. Then I went on to see the Mall of the Emirates which again didn’t really wow me after having seen Dubai Mall the day before. I passed by Ski Dubai – and as crazy as it already is, I had also expected something bigger. It was more like a kids fun park. But well.
Then I went on to see Jumeirah Mosque which was a bit complicated to get to by bus, and again…not really worth it. I also went back to Madinat Jumeirah Souk, which I had seen a little on my first evening when I went to take pictures of the Burj Al Arab. This made-to-look-old souk was the best of the lot, and actually looks quite pretty.
On my last half day, I went back to Dubai Museum and paid the museum a visit this time. It was ok, but glorifying Dubai and the UAE a little too much in my opinion. All in all, everything I found cool and interesting in Dubai, I saw during my first day, so could have just done one day in Dubai and left it at that.
I guess one day each for Abu Dhabi and Dubai should be fine unless you’re really into shopping. But maybe not during Ramadan. To be honest, before me visit I didn’t know that drinking and eating publicly during Ramadan is a criminal offense in the UAE. Maybe if I had known, I would have reconsidered my idea of visiting, maybe not. Luckily, my Couchsurfing host in Abu Dhabi told me about it, before I might have gotten a fine! So I actually ended up having to do a sort of mini Ramadan myself, with sometimes long waits for drinking again, until I found the next toilet to hide in. Must be incredibly difficult for Muslims actually following Ramadan in this country, in that heat! Not really healthy too, I suppose…
Since I stayed such a short time in the UAE, and only saw 2 places, there will be no country summary this time. However, here are some more pictures for those who are interested: UAE photo album