Our flight landed at 3:30am, but luckily there was a 24 hour city bus that went to the airport. We were clueless as to which stop we should get off at or how to walk to our hotel, but everyone was very helpful and guided us to the right places. The wide city boulevards were bordered by towering skyscrapers and luxury cars. Our hotel was easy to find and we were immediately amazed by the level of luxury. We picked one of the cheaper hotels in order to save money, but this one was still top notch. Unfortunately they didn’t have any rooms available at the ungodly hour of 4:30am, so we sat on their plush couches in the lobby and prayed something would open up soon. I think they realized the sight of two backpackers napping and looking quite disheveled was not a good image for the hotel, so eventually they shuffled us over to the breakfast cafe and offered tea and coffee to keep us occupied. A few hours later a room opened up and we ecstatically went up to the eighteenth floor, dropped our bags on the ground and napped until early evening.
Abu Dhabi is fully modernized and very westernized, so we had a huge selection when it came time for dinner. We also were shocked by the price of restaurant food–similar to the U.S., but radically more than our previous Indian standards. We settled for Pop Eyes in the mall food court and it tasted deliciously American.
We were still too tired to do any sightseeing in the evening, but the hotel’s rooftop pool and hot tub kept us occupied.
The hotel had a beautiful gym overlooking the city, and I had felt a little guilty for pigging out on the fried chicken, so I woke up early for a nice run on their treadmill. The song “On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons came on and I quite literally felt on top of the world looking down at the luxury hotels and beaches from the twenty-fourth floor.
We walked along the broad boulevards to the public beach after having breakfast at the Chowking Chinese restaurant. Our journey there involved at least six Indians trying to sell us fake iPhone 6s on the street, women in burkas driving Ferraris, and hundreds of business men and women running around on their lunch break.
The beach was nearly empty, so we enjoyed the crystal clear blue water to ourselves, the temperature a perfect mix between refreshing and comfortable without a single wave. The tops of the Etihad Towers peaked out in the distance while sand dunes spanned the island directly in front of us. We laid out for hours reading and enjoying our surrounds until our skin started to hurt. We had been using sunscreen we bought in India the entire time, with Ayurvedic ingredients for an all natural experience. In typical Indian fashion, the product didn’t work whatsoever and was a scam. My lobster red back painfully regretted trusting an all natural Indian product.
Too sore to go out, we relaxed in the hotel room watching Storage Wars and eating Dominoes for dinner. It almost felt like home.
The main tourist attractions of Abu Dhabi are spread out over 50km away, and taxis are pretty steep here. Instead, we rented a cute little Toyota Yaris for only $30 for the day. I failed my navigator duties and led us in the opposite direction and missed a few turns, but we ended up on Yas Island, home of shopping malls, beaches, yacht marinas, a Formula One race track, and Ferrari World. The odometer kept ticking up and up and soon it looked like we were about to reach our daily kilometer allowance, so we pulled into the mall and prayed they would have a public telephone so we could adjust our plan for more kilometers. The turbaned man at the info desk was extremely helpful and the rental agency said they would get back to us.
Of all places to be stuck at, this mall was perfect. The wifi was strong and all the stores were western brands, like Victoria’s Secret, H&M, and even Cheesecake Factory! It felt so much like strolling around a (much fancier) mall at home. The only difference was that this mall was attached to the flashy Ferrari World entrance. We couldn’t justify spending $70 on the theme park admission, but we still snapped some pics in front of their cherry red display model. Only in the UAE would they have such a thing.
We always hear such great things about Shake Shack back home, and with one in the mall, it was time to see what the hype was about. I’ll admit that the burger was delicious, especially after not having beef in India, but I’d say it was just a good as a Five Guys burger. Luckily we got in touch with the rental agency and they granted us unlimited kilometers for the day, freeing us to explore the city.
The Grand Mosque was far grander than the one in Oman, in size and in the exquisite decoration. The sign outside the entrance dictated that tight clothing was not to be worn, no ankles or wrists should be showing, and women’s heads had to be covered at all times. We went back to the car for a quick outfit change and soon I was sporting every scarf and modest piece of clothing I had in the backpack, no matter how ridiculous I looked. After walking through the elaborate mosque, I realized that other tourists had rented burkas from the organization so as to avoid looking as I did.
After our fill of Muslim wealth, we drove to Etihad Towers to gawk at the shiny buildings and marble floors. Across the street was the Emirates Palace, a seven star hotel with rooms starting at $850. We wandered around the marble halls in awe of the magnificent architecture and the level of wealth it must have taken to build this. They even had a vending machine that dispensed solid gold bricks. We resourcefully enjoyed their free wifi in the lounge area while listening to live cello music.
We humbly left the palace and dined on hot dogs from a street truck near Marina Mall before returning the car.
Originally we though we could walk to the bus station to take us to Dubai, but after hauling all of our luggage to the wrong bus station a few blocks away, we were informed that we were no where near the right bus station. Luckily we took another bus to the proper bus station, hopped on the Dubai bus, and were navigating the Dubai metro two hours later. The walk from the metro station to our hotel seemed to last forever with the straps of my backpack digging in with every step. Finally we saw the sign and were relieved, even if our hotel resembled a smoky, dingy casino.