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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Abu Dhabi

At no point anywhere in planning our trip did we for one moment consider stopping in Abu Dhabi.  The planning began in some form back in January of 2011, and we thought about several places that so far haven't made it on our itinerary.  Japan and Hong Kong didn't make the cut for a variety of reasons.  We pondered Moscow but it's a not really on the way to or from anywhere we wanted to go.  So the capitol city of the United Arab Emirates was something of a last-minute addition to our itinerary.  Istanbul had been in the plans for quite some time because of its location as a gateway from Asia to Europe. Abu Dhabi worked its way into the conversation after Annie got an email from Etihad Airlines offering a special "stop-over" deal going from New Delhi to Istanbul if we spent at least two nights in Abu Dhabi.  That seemed attractive enough for us so we decided to add the Arabian Peninsula to tour ever-growing list of destinations.

There were two main attractions for us in Abu Dhabi.  One was an amusement park called Ferrari World.  Ben is nuts about Ferraris and other exotic cars, so spending some time in a place dedicated to those fabulous machines had a definite appeal.

Ferrari World had all kinds of displays and attractions that were Ferrari-themed, including plenty of vintage and classic models as well as the newest designs.

There are also attractions and rides, one of which was what was billed as the world's fastest roller coaster.  All four of us climbed on board, not exactly sure what to expect other than speed.


I thought that perhaps they would gently ease you into the ride, possibly take you up to 150km or so and then get to the top speed of 242km on a straightaway.  Oh, you hit top speed on a straightaway alright--the first straightaway right when the coaster starts. From a standing start, you reach 242km or about 150 mph in less than five seconds.  After that it's a series of high-speed twists and turns that leave you breathless.  Luckily the ride doesn't last very long, so the terror ends fairly quickly. Annie screamed almost the entire time. Ben and Marley did pretty well with it, and as I said right when I got off the ride:  I'm glad I did it--I wouldn't want to do it again.

One thing I would do again is the racing simulator.  You got strapped into a car seat and competed against other players on a simulation of the nearby Yas Island Marina Circuit road course.  It was a blast, and my enjoyment was increased some by the fact that I was the winner in a race that included a 1-2-3 finish by myself, my son and my wife.  What can I say, I've got mad driving skills!

Even with all the high-tech things to enjoy, the kids had the most fun racing Formula 1 (or for Talledega Nights fans, Formula Un) cars on a slot car track.  We almost literally had to physically remove them from the racing layout when it was time to leave.  

The other allure of Abu Dhabi was golf.  The Etihad Stopover deal included a discounted round of golf at a variety of courses.  I wound up playing the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, having chosen that one that unbeknownst to me was the site of a European Tour event every winter.  The 2012 version was won by Robert Rock, who beat a pretty good field of players, including Tiger Woods.  

I had a solo tee time, but by the second hole had joined up with Mauritio from Northern Italy.  We had an enjoyable round on a very nice course.  Not much in the way of any "oh wow!" holes, but a solid well-conditioned and very playable track. 

It's a beautiful place, but will never be entered in a subtlety competition.  It just reeks of opulence and wealth and makes one wonder what's truly being worshiped.  

In another case of what a tiny little world we are taking a year to circumnavigate, we played through a threesome on the twelfth hole.  They didn't look like locals and when we got up to them on the tee, from their conversation, I could tell they were from the States.  When I asked them where they were from, they said "Cincinnati."  I cleverly replied, "Me too!".  A quick conversation revealed they were somewhat familiar with my work on the radio in Cincinnati.  How cool is that?  They were on a business assignment for a couple of years in Abu Dhabi and taking advantage of a rare day off to hit the links.  It was amazing to meet some guys from my hometown on a golf course more than half-way around the world. Abu Dhabi is also home to a massive mosque that most visitors see on the ride into town from the airport.  The numbers are staggering:  The mosque is large enough to accommodate over 40,000 worshipers with the main prayer hall having a capacity of over 7,000 worshipers.  Plus, there are two smaller prayer halls, with a 1,500 capacity a piece.
To enter the mosque, visitors need to be wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants. For those who show up in short-sleeved shirts and shorts like us, appropriate clothing is provided.  The females are given black shawls that cover pretty much the entire body, including the head.  Males are provided with white robes that go to the floor.  Once we had all the right garb on, I suggested to my family that we go get some pork chops.  The kids didn't get it, and Annie rolled her eyes as we headed inside.

It's a beautiful place, but will never be entered in a subtlety competition.  It just reeks of opulence and wealth and makes one wonder what's truly being worshiped. I know there are plenty of other churches, temples and mosques around the world that cost a lot to build, I've just never seen any like this.

Not being part of the local culture, society or religion, there were plenty of things about Abu Dhabi that I didn't understand.  Like why hotels charged almost a dollar an hour for internet access.  How about taking a small chunk of the $545 million spent on the mosque to create some free wi-fi hot spots.  They didn't even have free wi-fi at the Starbucks at the mall near our hotel.  Uhh, not that we went there, we heard that from, uh, other guests at the hotel, yeah that's where we heard that!

Being a last minute stop over, Abu Dhabi served its purpose.  It gave us a taste of Arabian life and didn't come with the inherent pressure to see and to things that some of our other stops have come with.  We definitely would be ready to see and do things as we eased from Asia to Europe in our next stop:  Istanbul.



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  2. One of the best place to go when you are in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari World. You won't want to miss the chance.

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