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UAE ~ February 2015

This was our most adventurous trip yet.  I'm not sure we would have ever gone if it were not for some good friends that travel there every year.  In addition to seeing all the sights, we celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary, Valentine's day, and my wife's birthday. 

UAE

The UAE (United Arab Emirates) is a federation of seven Emirates, the best-known being Abu Dhabi and Dubai.  According to Wikipedia, the oil reserves are the fourth largest in the world.  (If nothing else, this is a good place to see your gas dollars at work!) 

The first impression of this place is the scale....there is the sense that everything needs to be the biggest or most elaborate of its kind.  The horizon seems to go on forever and—in an absolute monarchy—land is effectively free.  So, expect to travel significant distances to do just about anything.  Good news: Taxis are dirt cheap (or should have I said “sand”?)

Everywhere you look, the place is under construction—the frantic pace of development is motivated by many things, including the very real need to prepare for the day the oil will run out.  One also suspects there is a drive to one-up the rest of the world.  For all the excesses, there is an overall feeling of good taste, elegance, and civility—a refreshing counterpoint to places like Las Vegas. 

Day One

…..is actually 3 days.  Depart Dulles February 4 at 10PM, arrive at Dubai International the next evening, and then a quick drive to Abu Dhabi just in time for a snack before the hotel kitchen closes. Things get started for real the next morning (February 6).  Our hotel is the Shangri-La, part of a chain based in Hong Kong.  The architecture is conservative and tasteful, and the accommodations and service are first rate without being excessive. 

The first full day is devoted to orientation, breakfast, meeting our friends for lunch, a nap, and then dinner.  With everything so spread out, you just about have to take a taxi to the bathroom.  (again, they are cheap.) 

Breakfast is at the excellent hotel buffet, lunch at an unassuming café by the water, and dinner back at the hotel.  To go to a restaurant that serves alcohol, you pretty much have to be on a hotel property.  Even though Muslims are not supposed to consume alcohol, it is not unusual to see them gathered in a hotel bar enjoying themselves.  We did see a restaurant whose website stated that anyone in native dress would not be allowed in the bar area.

Day Two

A quiet day while our friends figure out how to rent a car.  Among other things, we explore the souk at our hotel.  A “souk” is the traditional Arabian marketplace—very often outdoors.  Ours is completely inside and looks like some modern “mini-malls”.

Day Three

February 8 ~ our 18th wedding anniversary.  Lunch is at Cafe Arabia, a charming little restaurant in a residential area.  Then we visit the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque (seen earlier from our hotel room).  The scale of this place is hard to describe.  According to Wikipedia, the buildings cover 30 acres.  Here is the Google Maps satellite view, and the Wikipedia article.

At dinner, we discover a counterpoint to the practice of serving alcohol only on hotel properties.  We selected what seemed like an atmospheric little restaurant at a large hotel, only to discover that the entire property is “dry”.  Nonetheless, the food is good and we just chalk it up to experience.

Day Four

We start at the Emirates Palace Hotel, one of the primary monuments to seemingly unlimited wealth.  Depending on which article you read, the cost of building it was ~ $3 Billion or higher.  Here is the Wikipedia article .  The pictures will tell our story.  As you leave the hotel, you can see the new headquarters of ADNOC, the Abu Dhabi national oil company.  (just in case you forgot who is paying for all this!)

After exploring the hotel and sampling the “Emirates Palace Cappucino”, we split up for the afternoon.  I choose to walk back along the Corniche towards the "downtown" area.  I walked for about 3 hours, but only covered a small speck on the map.  The apparent haze in the pictures is not fog or smog, but rather a sandstorm.  At the end of the day, everything was covered with a fine powder, which everyone was busy trying to clean up. 

Walking from the hotel towards downtown, I see some of the more ordinary aspects of the city.  Keep in mind that there is a large population of non-native workers.  What we are told is that they can stay in the country only if they have a job.

Finally, dinner was at a very nice restaurant, WITH alcohol!!  (We designate this to be our official anniversary dinner.)

Day Five

February 10 ~ almost halfway through the trip.  The highlight today is the Falcon Hospital outside of Abu Dhabi.  In the traditional desert culture, the falcon played a central role—mostly for hunting.  Now, they are primarily used for sport.  Natives who own falcons take them and their health very seriously, and this hospital proves the point.

Day Six

Lunch is at Prego's in the Beach Rotana Hotel indowntown Abu Dhabi.  This is immediately adjacent to the Abu Dhabi Mall.  After lunch, the ladies go shopping, and the gentlemen head for Starbucks, after which I go walking again.

Dinner is at Azzurro, an Italian restaurant back in our hotel complex.

Day Seven

February 12 ~ my wife's birthday.  We head out for a desert resort that's pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  It is called “Qasr El Sarab”, shown here in the Google maps satellite view.

After lunch and a nap, we head for an outdoor dinner on the sand.

Day Eight

We're off to Dubai!!  After driving back from the desert, we get in a hotel car and head for the UAE's largest city.  We had a hint of what it would be like when we first came in from the airport, but approaching in daylight gave a better picture.  Everything is just a bit bigger and more elaborate than in Abu Dhabi—Dubai is the major trading and business center in the UAE, the closest US analog being New York City.  Imagine taking every major NYC landmark and making it twice as big, twice as expensive—or both.

After getting settled in the hotel, the major event is dinner at Thiptara, a Thai restaurant overlooking the Dubai Fountain.  The major attraction for the night is.....The Fountain. 

PS: The food at Thiptara was really good.

Day Nine

At this point, we're just about cooked.  We head for the Dubai Souks, in the area of Port Rashid.  Unlike Abu Dhabi, where everything is new, this area has a past, and the Souks are much more like those in other parts of the Arab world.  Lunch is at a charming little place right on the water, and dinner is back in the hotel.

Day Ten

Our last day in the UAE...

The sole agenda is the Dubai Mall—The world's largest in terms of total area.  The pictures will tell the story.  In the interest of transitioning back to reality, we have lunch at the Cheesecake Factory.  We've arranged for late checkout at the hotel, so we can get cleaned up before heading for the airport for our 11PM flight home.

Epilogue

As I have hinted, the UAE was a real trip...nothing else in the world could possibly prepare you for the scale and overall impact of this place.  It's not hard to relate to the motivations behind it. 

It's all about OIL:

What does it mean for the world to consume oil at close to 100 million barrels / day?  The more obvious answers include pollution, global warming, and -- eventually -- running out of oil.  But one wonders if the real impact is found by following the money.  To see your household and clothing budget at work, watch China.  To see your gas or heating budget, watch the oil-producing countries.  What if there were a computer model where you could enter the day's purchases, and see the effect?

Many people feel that the consumption of energy is our current number one issue.  I would state the concern as management of ALL resources in a global economy.  This includes energy, food, and human resources.  Focussing just on the USA, I think the key issues are conservation and energy-independence.  Obviously, they go together as part of a comprehensive energy policy.  We're in no position to tell the world what to do, but we could certainly start by setting an example.  For starters, why not regulate the price of oil? This does several things: Encourages conservation, helps support US producers, and--when world prices are low--creates a fund for research or crisis response.

The bottom line: This was a fascinating trip, and I highly recommend a visit.