International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

UAE Visit – Part 2 (aka Can You Top This?)

After spending the first four of our “Arabian” nights in Dubai (see previous post), it was time to make the approximately 75-minute drive to neighboring Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.  It is a straight shot on on a wide and modern highway from one emirate to the next; one needs to pay attention to even know a different state has been entered.
Clearly there is no question that Dubai is dwarfed in size to Abu Dhabi; the former definitely has the greater population, development, tourism and pretty much everything else.  But there is neither the extensive coastline nor two huge attractions that one finds in Abu Dhabi:  Ferrari World (the largest indoor amusement park in the world),The Grand Mosque (the largest and most revered in the UAE), and Yas Marina, site of the Formula 1 race which was our raison d’etre for the trip to begin with. 
Yas Island:  F1 track; Marina; Ferrari World in rear (red roof).
As is typical with attending any huge event, hotels can dictate unique terms: premium rates, full prepayment with no refunds or steep cancellations, etc. After much research, the Ritz Carlton Grand Canal (pool at right) got the nod to avoid all of the above, plus be situated halfway between the race site and the more central “downtown” area of AD.


The stay got off to an inauspicious start with a lengthy delay for our accommodations, and then rejecting the room due to location (doesn’t Club level mean actually being close to the Club for meals and snacks included with the rate?).  After the hubby got the hotel GM involved, they could not have been more accommodating (the first night gratis and the spa treatment were much appreciated) and the subsequent digs were excellent.


At Cipriani on Yas Island; the hubby hung with the boys until 3a.m. to see rapper 50 Cent perform in the private club upstairs
At Stars & Bars with friendly Saif
We were privy to what life is really like in AD courtesy of Matt Haffner, son of longtime friends from home, who has been living and working in AD for several years.  I asked Matt for his job description, to which he indicated he functions as a go-between for foreign companies wanting to do business in AD (principally of a defense nature). Matt works for one of the leading families in the country (a son and Matt are college buddies).  For a young man in his 20’s to have this opportunity — including travel to many other parts of the globe — is impressive.  He will eventually return to So. Cal, as he considers that “home” and doesn’t foresee that changing.  I know his parents are happy about that! Matt was integral in our decision to visit as we knew there would be unique access.
I felt a bit like the proverbial den mother during dinner at Hakkasan, the highly acclaimed Asian restaurant in the Emirates Palace Hotel (right) where most visiting dignataries stay — John Kerry had been there the day prior.  Matt’s friend and colleague hosted 10 of us, including two of his brothers and various friends from college, NY (literally just off the plane) and Dubai.  I freely admit it was fun taking a short spin in the brother’s new car — just hours in his possession — a Rolls Royce Wraith (another is seen at right). This beast of a car cornered like a sports car and went just as fast — we asked Igor the Ukrainian driver/bodyguard to slow down a bit. The car’s ceiling was lit up with stars plus there is an umbrella hidden in the door in case of rain. We were told that few are impressed by these types of vehicles because so many are present.
We were fortunate to have a driver and (regular) car provided to us for seeing AD.  Our first stop was the Grand Mosque, the largest in the UAE and probably elsewhere.  The main room can accommodate 7,000 worshipers on the world’s largest rug (everything seemed to be described with superlatives), plus the chandelier has the highest number of Swarovski crystals in existence. Many areas are segregated, but genders may co-mingle in various places although the hubby and I were admonished for touching during a photo (PDA is prohibited at the Mosque and other public places such as malls).  The traditional garb is provided for both men and women in order to be fully covered.  I thought my long pants and large scarf would suffice, but not even close; plus I wasn’t even allowed to pose for a photo with the mosque in the background without my head covered. We did as asked in order to follow the country’s customs.  
Views of the Mosque, both outside and in.  The structure is enormous and is visible from quite a distance. Above is a glimpse inside the main room; left is the imposing crystal chandelier.
The F1 itself was a bit anti-climatic, as Lewis Hamilton had already secured 1st place for the year prior to this final Grand Prix.  Unlike Indy, Daytona or the Kentucky Derby for that matter, there is little suspense in the actual event.  Yet it is still quite the spectacle, with the fastest single-seat racing cars on the planet.  An Etihad Airlines A380 jet performed a low flyover (test run shown above) at the start of the race which was pure theatrics, with small trailing planes spewing smoke in the country’s colors.  The most remarkable aspect of this particular race is the how the track proceeds around the Yas Marina, and literally goes under the Yas Viceroy Hotel.  The track is the turquoise line below .. 
As for the “Can You Top This” aspect, that was abundant in the array of yachts, cars, women (Amal Clooney lookalikes/wannabes), jewels and all the other collectibles favored by the crowd … well, at least many that we saw.  As for us, it was a very diverse and most interesting place to visit and talk to people from so many different cultures, but the hubby and I were quite happy coming home to our pretty good life in LA …
Hard to believe those shown above are private vessels (not cruise ships!); Italian sports cars were nearly ubiquitous.
The menu and food at left wasn’t exactly a home-cooked meal, but kudos to our friend’s establishment in the Yas Marina for even knowing it was Thanksgiving, much less attempting to serve all of our creature comforts.  Cost was about $27 USD.