A week in Abu Dhabi

In mid May, we spent a week in Abu Dhabi as a stopover on our trip from China to Spain. I have to be very honest and confess that the United Arab Emirates was not a place we chose because it was in our bucket list, but merely because my Chinese husband didn’t need a visa to enter the country. I don’t know why, but I had never thought of visiting, maybe because it’s quite far from our usual areas (about 8-9 hours flight both from Spain and China). But now I’m very glad we visited as it was a place and a culture very different from the ones we live in.

The United Arab Emirates are a union of seven emirates with a total population of about 10 million. Of this, only 10% are Emiratis, the remaining 90% being foreign workers. Abu Dhabi is the capital albeit not the most famous place, which is undoubtedly Dubai. We stayed within the city the whole week; we’ll explore more next time when there’s no compulsory PCR test to go everywhere and we are not carrying a mountain of luggage…

Abu Dhabi is a very modern city (barely 50 years old!), with wide roads, skyscrapers, parks and beaches. And malls! So many malls! The outside temperature can be very hot (it was already almost unbearable in the middle of May), so malls are were people go during the day… or the night, as most closed at 12 or 1 am.

Even with the fiery sun and the heat, we were able to visit many interesting spots. One advantage of travelling during covid times is that touristic places are almost empty! We only had to share the space with a handful of other visitors when we went to places like Qasr Al Watan (the Presidential Palace) and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Qasr Al Watan or “the so shiny that you need sunglasses” Presidential Palace.
Artwork made of Arabic words inside the Presidential Palace.

When we visited the Grand Mosque, I of course had to wear long sleeves and cover my hair. What we didn’t know was that tattoos cannot be visible either (ooops!), but luckily I had brought a light jacket and my husband could wear it to cover his arms. If you ever visit this mosque, opt for the free tour, which is very informative and allows you to enter inside (I noticed that visitors without a guide couldn’t enter the big prayer room and had to peep inside from the door). As there was basically no one, we had a free private tour with a very nice and humorous local lady who gladly answered all of our questions (including mine of “How did they install this humongously huge carpet in here?”).

The Grand Mosque is very pretty, our pictures don’t do it justice.
Here you can see that the carpet is really huge. And the chandelier, too.

We didn’t go to the beach in Abu Dhabi, but we dipped our toes in this park and then needed an ice cream. Note to self: When it’s very hot, don’t buy an ice cream cone for a toddler, get a tub instead.

Lovely park with food trucks. Unfortunately, the playground was closed due to anti-covid measures.

We visited the oldest building in Abu Dhabi (it wasn’t really very old, but well, it’s a young city) and witnessed a group of local men doing some kind of traditional performance by its walls. Regarding local men, as they all wear the same outfit, my son thought it was always the same man chasing us everywhere!

This was during the Eid festivities, right after Ramadan.

Did you know the Louvre museum has a branch in Abu Dhabi? I didn’t! Now I’ve been to the one in Paris and to the one in Abu Dhabi! This one is of course way smaller but interesting nonetheless, and the building itself is pretty.

The Abu Dhabi Louvre Museum.

And, of course, we also spent a lot of time inside malls when it was too hot to stay outside. Did I mention that there are a lot of malls in this city? I think I did.

Ramadan decorations inside a mall.
Picture taken by our not-yet-three-year-old on the rooftop of a mall.
And there were so many things to entertain children!

We even made friends there! My husband contacted someone working in his industry in Abu Dhabi and we met him and his girlfriend for dinner one day. They were in their early thirties or late twenties, he was an Algerian who had lived in Abu Dhabi for most of his life; she was from Palestine and had been in Abu Dhabi for only a couple of years.

So this was our week in Abu Dhabi! A few days well spent.