Week after week of temperatures in the region of -30’C take their toll on a person’s happiness and well-being. The inability to go for a walk without spending as long getting ready as you would spend outside can become somewhat demoralising for even the most optimistic soul. Thankfully, one of the perks of being a teacher in a British school is that you receive holiday on a regular basis, and we have one week off in February. Time for some fun in the Emirati sun.
The United Arab Emirates consist of seven small mini-states, each run by a different Sheikh. You may have heard of two of the three that we will visit in the next week. People often confuse them with actual countries. We left Astana – relatively mild for this time of year, at around -24’C – and landed in Abu Dhabi, the federal capital of the U.A.E. Temperature? At 11pm? A balmy 18’C. A swing of over 40’C in one flight, and a feeling of warmth both inside and outside our group.
There are five of us in our travelling group. Some would say that the chance to travel with four young ladies would be their idea of travelling heaven. Others may suggest that the chance to travel with four young ladies would be their idea of travelling hell. I’ll let you know how I get on, though as we all work together I’m sure there won’t be any issues. Aside from who needs the hairdryer the most, of course…
Four of us – myself, plus the three girls I live with – were together in Abu Dhabi, a city that is built purely on petrodollars. It is hard to compare it with any other place I have been. My first impression was that it has aspects of Shanghai’s skyline and Astana’s futuristic ideas, but in reality I hadn’t really seen anywhere like this before. This is an entirely new region of the world for me to explore and savour, and it would be wrong to associate the Abu Dhabi with any other city I have visited.
That’s not to say that the largest Emirate hasn’t been influenced by other regions of the world. Far from it. Abu Dhabi is an international city, and an increasingly influential global city at that. Part of the joy of this for us was that we could access and enjoy simple things that we have missed in the harsh Kazakh winter – ranging from wearing flip-flops to eating a decent burger.
Whilst embracing many aspects of international culture, Abu Dhabi is still dominated by a more conservative outlook. We were unable to visit the beautiful President’s Palace complex or the Emirates Palace. The former is strictly off-limits, which is understandable if Sheikh Zayed lives there. The latter is a hotel, but you need to make a reservation to visit. When we enquired about this, we asked about going for breakfast so we could explore the interior. We declined when informed that it would cost 219AED – almost £40 – for that privilege. The beauty of the gardens suggests it would be very pleasing on the eye inside, but we’ll save that for a time when we have money. I don’t want to know how much a room is…
The sunshine was most welcome to us when we were walking along the Corniche, Abu Dhabi’s serene seaside strip. I was surprised by how quiet and clean the city seemed to be, though that could be explained by the fact that it was a Monday and people were working. The constant construction is unfortunate in that it overshadows an otherwise pleasant skyline, but is probably seen as necessary for the long-term development of Abu Dhabi.
Though temperatures were greatly appreciated during the daytime, they dipped sharply once the sun began to fall. We spent our afternoon and early evening at the cricket, watching England play Pakistan. The stadium is currently in the middle of nowhere, which partly explains the low crowd. However, there is a large Pakistani community here, so the turnout was healthy enough for the time of day.
We had some great banter with the Pakistani fans that surrounded us. One man insisted on doing an aeroplane celebration whenever Pakistan took a wicket. England took a wicket in their third over, so I responded in kind. Not the cleverest thing to do when there are no other English supporters on the entire grassy bank, but everything we did – and they did – was taken in great humour. One man also offered me his jacket, which I reluctantly accepted when I was visibly shivering.
24 hours in Abu Dhabi, and we have enjoyed every one of them. Not to mention every ray of sunshine…
Love you all