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Saturday, February 25, 2017

12/9: World's Most Expensive Hotel & Heritage Festival

Until yesterday, on our first day in Abu Dhabi, we hadn't seen so many intriguing murals painted on highway underpasses. They sure helped to make highway driving far more enjoyable in the capital city of the United Arab Emirates.

We drove for some distance along Abu Dhabi's Corniche or waterfront road as it formed a sweeping curve on the western side of the main Abu Dhabi island. 

The Corniche, which was extended between 2002 and 2003 when land was reclaimed from the sea, included cycle paths, fountains and park areas. We later discovered that parts of the Corniche had significant deposits of sand, with people using the area as a public beach. 
It was a panic seeing what appeared to be Christmas decorations in the devoutly Muslim country! Or were they perhaps. more logically, just 'decorations' using some of the colors of the UAE's flag? I unfortunately will never know because I can't read Arabic but I like my idea that they were celebrating Christmas for the expatriate workers who make up approximately three quarters of the population of the UAE.

Nation Towers, the name of two skyscrapers near the southern end of the Corniche, was just one example of several buildings we saw in Abu Dhabi connected together by a sky bridge. Joined at over 664 feet made it the highest sky bridge in the world.
Our Father Zayed aka Sheikh Zayed was the the emir or ruler of Abu Dhabi and the principal driving force behind the formation of the UAE. He became the country's first President, a post which he held for over 33 years until his death in 2004.
Our goal since leaving the hotel had been to visit the Emirates Palace Hotel, a seven star hotel. I had never known that hotels were ranked that high! Located near the southern end of the Corniche about two miles from the Al Hosn Fort downtown, it was one of the city's most eye-catching landmarks and one of the world's most spectacularly opulent hotels.

Unfortunately we couldn't enter as the guard at the gate told Steven he needed to wear pants, not shorts, to enter the hotel complex. So, after taking a few pictures, we returned to the hotel so he could change and came back later.

This was all we could see of the entrance to the Presidential Palace located at the southern end of the Corniche.
Some of the more architecturally interesting buildings opposite the Corniche on our way back to the hotel in downtown Abu Dhabi:

The Bab Al Qasr Hotel looked pretty fabulous, I thought, with its copper accents.

Some of the stunning skyscrapers common in the newer part of Abu Dhabi included the Etihad Towers, a complex of buildings with five towers. The towers were used as a filming location for the 2015 film Furious 7. In the film, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker stole a very fancy sports car and drove it through three of the towers.
The ADCO building was the headquarters of the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Petroleum Operations which operates onshore and in the shallow coastal waters of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
Hard to miss the enormous UAE flag!
On Lulu Island, a 1,050-acre man-made island across from the Corniche, the Burj Al Marina Office Tower was being built. It also contained a sky bridge. 
The beautiful beach area on the Corniche:
Another view of the Eithad Towers from the car:
Back for a second time at the Emirates Palace Hotel! This was just the entrance gate if you please!! The hotel also appeared in the Fast and Furious 7 film.

The Hotel's Dress Code and Code of Conduct were pretty extensive!
The world's most expensive hotel, located on a mile long stretch of private beach, was built and owned by the Abu Dhabi government. The colors of the building reflected the different shades of the Arabian desert.  

The Emirates Palace Hotel was designed to show the beauty of Arabian culture. Traditional decor was used inside mostly in silver, gold, marble and glass mosaics. I read that the chandeliers were made of Swarovski crystal. 

There were 114 domes (including the Grand Atrium which is higher than the dome of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome!), 200 fountains and the hotel contained 394 residences, 302 of which were rooms and the remainder were suites. 
The penthouse floor had six Rulers' Suites which are reserved exclusively for dignitaries, such as royalty. The hotel's other domes 
were also about 280 feet high! 
I felt like we could have been in any Christian country when I read the letter from Santa's little helpers telling children Santa was in town and was waiting for them to see him daily until December 23rd!
What a fairy tale wonderland for children AND children at heart!

Some of the items available for sale in the hotel gift shop - think they were just a little out of our price range, though!

Anyone care for a spot of afternoon tea?!

In partnership with the Emirates' branch of the Make A Wish Foundation, the hotel had established Golden Hearts "to raise money to create special moments for children in the UAE with life-threatening medical conditions." Guests could donate just $4 on top of purchasing one of the hotel's exclusive selection of desserts to make a wish come true.
Another one of my collection of interesting toilet signs from around the globe!
As visitors we couldn't explore any of the 210 acres of lawns and gardens surrounded the hotel or enjoy the beachfront. Oh well, we had been quite content to stroll around the hotel's massive Grand Atrium instead before finally leaving around 2:30.
This enormous flagpole was visible for miles around. Erected in 2001, it was formerly claimed to be the tallest unsupported flagpole in the world at 404 feet tall. It has since been surpassed by a number of even taller flagpoles elsewhere.

Located some 12 miles from the city center was Yas Island, home to the city's new Formula 1 racetrack, which has staged the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix F1 race since 2010. Also on the island was Ferrari Park, a state-of-the-art  entertainment complex which featured the world's fastest roller-coaster and F1 simulators. We decided to give all that a pass as that sort of thing wasn't really our style.
Yas Marina, situated on Yas Island, is regarded as one of Abu Dhabi’s finest marinas and the premier destination in the Middle East for yachting enthusiasts. The 227-berth marina catered to yachts from 26 feet up to 490 feet in size!
The 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a Formula One motor race held on November 27th, 2016 at the Yas Marina Circuit. The race was the final round of the 2016 season and determined the 2016 World Drivers' Championship.
We were getting more than a tad hungry at this point so we drove across a bridge that led to the Breakwater, an area of reclaimed land which is most famous for the glitzy Marina Mall, one of the city's top shopping destinations.
Seeing the Popeyes restaurant at the mall wasn't glitzy but reminded us of home where we were headed in just six days after being away for four months.
Christmas was obviously also a big reason to celebrate at the mall which seemed like any other mega US mall.
Briton Kevin Dean who designed much of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the focus of the previous post, had also designed for the very popular British Marks&Spencer store.
Zachary: This is for you as you're such a Chili's fan! I was only able to recognize the ad because of its telltale logo at the top!
Where, oh where, is our white car? It was hard to find when there were 12 other white cars in a row!
We headed next to Al Wathba about 30 miles east of Abu Dhabi trying to find the location of the annual Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival located somewhere in the vicinity! After driving around for more than an hour in the desert trying to find the Festival, we came across signs directing us to the Camel Race Track. 

We decided to stop there as the prospect of a trip to the camel races sounded really exciting and meant that we would actually see something after driving for what seemed like forever!  

It turned out we had arrived too late to actually see any camel races but had fun anyway seeing so many camels. I learned that the camels galloped around a specially made track and that these seemingly ungainly creatures can reach such high speeds. Perhaps we'll see camel races some other time - I'd sure like to!

Camel racing in Abu Dhabi must be an exclusively male sport as I don't think there were any other women at the track.
It was well after 7 pm when we left the Camel Race Track hoping to still find the site of the Sheikh Zayed Festival. 
We asked someone at the track to point us in the right direction but he kindly told us to follow him part of the way and then told us where to go next. What a difference he made as we were finally able to find the place close to 8 pm.
It looked like others had had no difficulty finding where one of the largest cultural demonstrations was taking place almost all month long in the UAE!

I don't think I'll soon forget what the UAE flag looks like as they were everywhere!

Named after UAE’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the annual heritage festival celebrates his commitment to preserving the UAE’s rich heritage and history. The festival's theme in 2016 was "The UAE as a crossroads of civilization."

The goal of the Festival was to offer an enriching experience that combined authentic Emirati culture with the diversity of world heritage. 
I almost laughed when I noticed the Lost and Found sign right inside the entrance as all the black abaya-clad women looked identical to me.

In the US and most Western countries, there are pony rides. Th equivalent in the Middle East was camel rides!

There were a large number of displays to highlight authentic Emirati culture. This one showcased the 'Wild Environment,' depicting the Bedouin people who normally live in the desert.
These photos were from an exhibit entitled the 'Mountain Environment' but I didn't figure out what living there entailed!

Sadou is one of the traditional handicrafts that was famous among women living in the desert areas though some still practice it. Women practice it by weaving wool from goats and camels which are widely available in their desert habitat. Sadou has different uses but is mainly used to build tents that were used by Bedouins as a shelter and movable houses. Usually Sadou crafting is dependent on each women's style and her taste so she can express her traditions through a variety of bright colors and shapes which represent different Bedouin symbols. 

Henna is a tall, shrub-like plant that Emirati people used to plant in their homes long ago. The leaves of the plant are ground into a powder which is then made into a paste. The paste, when applied to the hair or skin, leaves a reddish-brown stain which is considered as a symbol for beauty care. Henna tattoos are considered to be an old Arab tradition that is used as a way to mark a celebration, feasts and weddings. Those of us in the West normally think of henna, when mixed with additional components, as being used for hair care and coloring. In our travels throughout much of the Middle East this trip, we have seen so many women with striking henna tattoos on their hands.

We heard the beat of some drums nearby so headed in that direction. In a huge open area, were a large number of men and young boys dancing with each other and each one holding a stick.

One of the most popular traditional dances across the UAE is the Ayyalah. Performed with at least 25 men, and often many more, it is a particularly theatrical dance that depicts victory in battle. The men form two lines and face each other with arms linked. To the beat of drums, they brandish sticks, recite poems and move back and forth.
It was clearly a very orchestrated dance with set moves or dance steps. We didn't hear anyone reciting poems however.

I was mesmerized watching the very ritualized dance and listening to the rhythmic music and would have been very content to stand there for an hour taking it all in. Steven wasn't as enamored as I, so he wandered off for a while to look at some other exhibits.

I loved seeing how each man and boy seemed to be really enjoying themselves throughout the long dance or performance.

There was no discernible break in the music or dancing  - it just continued on with men joining in or leaving when they apparently felt like it. 

There was a large group of people, including Muslim women, watching the 'show' from one side. I think Steven and I were among the very few Westerners present at the Festival. There were some other foreign women but it was evident they were definitely there to take care of their employers' children.

How adorable these little boys were - I wonder if they'll participate in next year's Heritage Festival? Steven finally persuaded me to tear myself away so we could visit some of the many exhibits.
The 2016 festival featured 17 mostly Muslim countries and cultures to present their own heritage, including cuisine, traditional crafts and musical performances.

Inspection of local soldiers prior to a short parade:

We happened on a group of musicians practicing before they too participated in the parade.

What made the Heritage Festival especially appealing was that it wasn't just about Emirati culture. Also included was an array of displays, interactive performances featuring traditional cuisine and heritage showing the daily lives of people in Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, Morocco, Algeria, India, Russia, China, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Serbia and Bosnia/Herzegovina
We walked around the Kingdom of Morocco space first where a musical performance was taking place.

I wondered if this was a gyr falcon. I felt like we should have known after our visit the previous day to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital!

A large number of shops and cafes displaying Moroccan handicrafts and cuisine was on the perimeter of the performance area.
We spent some time admiring the leather items as our hope is to visit Morocco, among other countries of course, in the fall of 2018!

Algeria was the next country we 'visited' at the Festival.

Racine's is the name of a famous restaurant here in Denver.

Anyone feel for camel burgers? You could have had one here!

An ear of organic corn was more Steven's style than camel burgers.

I think this was likely to be the closest we'll ever get to Kazakhstan.

When we were in the Balkan countries at the beginning of our trip, way back in August and September, I had bought small mats just like these. If I had only known, I could have waited to buy them just a few days before we headed home instead of lugging them around for months and months!
We only spent a little time wandering around the Bosnia and Herzegovina exhibits since we'd been already spent time in the country.  

It was getting late and we still had a long drive back to the hotel, even if we didn't get hopelessly lost this time, so we made time just for the camel rodeo. I don't think it was called a camel rodeo but it sure appeared to resemble some of the rodeo events we've been to over the years!

Unlike a 'real' rodeo here in the States that only professional rodeo riders participate in, the announcer in the ring seemed to ask for men willing to sacrifice life and limb by trying to catch and then take down one of the camels by one leg! 

Each participant had to sign a waiver in the ring before attempting to try his luck. There didn't appear to be any shortage of men wanting to try!

It was a hoot watching the wannabe camel riders since that was a first time we'd seen anything quite like that!

The Festival ended with fireworks close to 11 pm. We were both glad that we hadn't given up trying to find where it was held as it had been so much fun. We both really liked the fact that the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival was held for Emiratis and wasn't a tourist show.
As some of you often remind us, we had sure packed in a lot of activities once again in our relatively short stay in Abu Dhabi. The city was one of contrasts for us with its spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, stunning skyscrapers along the Corniche, the over the top Emirates Palace Hotel and the rather gritty and close to ugly downtown area. The next day we were on to Dubai - stay tuned to find out soon about that metropolis!

Posted on February 25th, 2017 from Littleton, Colorado.

1 comment:

  1. I would have tried a camel burger. Lil Red


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