It is with great shame I admit that I was a tad concerned that Abu Dhabi and I would not be compatible.
As an outspoken feminist who loves a wine or two, I believed I would find the culture confining and confronting.
What a silly woman I was. And what a fantastic experience I would have missed should my ignorance had held me back. Because discovering the United Arab Emirates has been one of the most exciting and eye-opening experiences of my travelling life.
The culture, the food, the environment, the architecture, the wildlife, the desert, the people, the climate… modern Arabia is intoxicating and exciting. And I could not have felt more welcome.
Having explored the magnificent metropolis that is Dubai last year and loving every second of it, I was keen to get to the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, the largest of the seven states, and so contacted Creative Holidays to work an itinerary for me as a stopover on my way back from Europe.
As someone who loves to travel, I have to admit I am not a good flyer – at all. I get lagged and lethargic even looking at a plane and so, on a long haul, usually lose several precious days of holiday in a dozy daze. But the beauty is that the UAE is a stopover destination for many airlines, meaning Australians can have a second holiday destination for free by simply getting off the plane and having a break between flights. What resulted was a three-day escapade doing things I never imagined possible with my limited knowledge of the region – pearl diving, fishing, kayaking, swimming, snorkelling…. And, oh yes, shopping and eating. There was a lot of that.
Basically, the UAE caters to those to whom money is no object, so the hotels are out of this world glamorous and the restaurants superlative. Like New York City, you can literally eat whatever you want in the UAE. (OK, so pork products aren’t everywhere as an entirely separate kitchen must be built to handle them – but turkey bacon is a revelation!)
During my stay I managed to veer away – finally – from the incredible stuffed dates, vine leaves, fresh dips and other incredible Arab specialties to eat Moroccan, Japanese (best ever outside of Japan), Chinese, Indian and seafood to die for. Oh, and sweets. You have never seen Willy Wonka worthy dessert spreads like you do in Abu Dhabi’s hotels (the Emirates Palace and Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri are worth checking out for the dazzling spectacle of their sweet offerings alone).
Then again, spectacles are commonplace in Abu Dhabi. From the natural beauty of the vast, sandy dessert (explore it with Arabian Adventures, they have the best packages) to the flocks of wading pink flamingos in the labyrinth mangroves (stay at the exceptional Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa by Anantara and the vast bird life is at your front door) and sparkling, inviting coastline waters.
Then there are the manmade wonders – the incredible skyscrapers that are more like giant sculptures than buildings and the mind-blowingly spectacular Grand Mosque (I don’t know what I love more – the intricate marble inlays or the incredible carpet the size of several football fields) and let’s not forget shopping malls the size of suburbs (just the thought of Marina Mall sends my heart rate soaring).