In the realm of pomp
Abu Dhabi | United Arab Emirates
Traveling from Prague to Abu Dhabi through Poland and Ukraine now seems almost unimaginable over time and especially the events. In addition, this travel maneuver took us an incredible 24 hours. Traveling during covid was sometimes a little absurdly complicated.
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Welcome to the real scorcher
We are leaving the airport on a cold night. Well, as a Central European, I have a slightly different idea of cold nights. Therefore beautiful 35°C (95°F) in complete windlessness is quite a slap in the face. Moreover all your limbs start to sweat by themselves because you have them. Obviously man takes some time to get used. Surprisingly, even such a banal thing as breathing is problematic from the beginning. Therefore it is not surprising that even public transport stops are closed air-conditioned booths. Well, to us more like refrigerators. In the Emirates, they generally like air conditioning whenever and wherever. However, they push this quite logical obsession to absolute extremes. Hence the temperature differences sometimes reach up to 27°C (80.6°F), which can cause many shocks.
1 327 shapes, 1 110 ropes, 3 angles and one face
In the morning, we set off toward the big city. The application reports an unrelenting perceived temperature of 49°C (120.2°F). Streets are deserted. The covid is partly to blame, but the city usually only comes alive after sunset. Abu Dhabi differs in almost everything from its better-known and more visited neighbor. Moreover the city’s average height is dramatically lower than Dubai, as is the level of ostentatiousness, consumerism, and ubiquitous advertising. Fewer tourists come, and locals are friendlier and more gallant, which sometimes turns into unpleasant obligingness. The moment when I was washing my hands in the toilets of a large mosque was the perfect illustration of it. Out of the blue, the ‘toilet custodian’ came out of nowhere to escort me to the towels with a mischievous smile. As if I couldn’t manage this tough task without his help.
Every means of transport and stops here has special seats or whole sections reserved for women. What seems to look like discrimination at first glance is an expression of deep respect and assurance that women will always be able to sit. Of course, a woman can also travel alongside men in shared parts of the transport.
Our first stop is the monumental work of art, The Constellation, by American artist sculptor Ralph Helmick. The 30-meter-high, three-sided prism is also a three-dimensional portrait of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE. Thanks to 1 327 geometric bodies suspended on 1 110 ropes, you can see his face from three angles. We are all alone in the park. That is, except for a few Indians furiously scrubbing the already polished floor. Even so, we had to prove ourselves with a PCR test while entering. After all, we had to do so on every step
The Founder's Memorial in Abu Dhabi
You can find the monument in the northwestern part of Abu Dhabi at 24.463194, 54.322495. right after the entrance to the Marina island. Consequently, It is best accessible from the King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud St or King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud St bus stops.
Admission: Free | Memorial website
Ethereal impression and prosperity status
Qasr Al Watan is more than just an imposing representative presidential palace. What’s more, this building is a significant status of the prosperity and culture of the United Arab Emirates. All the visitors the bus brought into the complex with us rush immediately through the shaded archway straight into the interiors. It was incomprehensible to them why we went in front of the palace in the midday heat of the sun. We had the whole square to ourselves. The colossal building from the white granite and limestone looked almost ethereal against the azure blue sky.
Qasr Al Watan
The visitor center, which serves as the entrance gate to the palace, can be found at 24.456670, 54.311716, roughly 9 minutes of ride from The Founder’s Memorial. Any of the buses 9, 34, and 69 will take you to the Qasr Al Watan stop of the same name.
Admission: adults 65 AED (~ 16.6€ / 17.7$) / up to 17 years 30 AED(~ 7.7€ / 8.2$) | Web pages of the palace
A thousand pillars and one night
Indubitably, the most significant landmark of Abu Dhabi is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Unfortunately it is located on the other side of the city. From palace, by public transport it takes two hours to get there. Thereafter we arrived, it was dark. Smaller egg-shaped glass structures at the entrance we mistaken for toilets at first. Soon, however, the escalators inside surprisingly are taking us right to the middle of the shopping center hidden under the mosque grounds. An even bigger surprise is that the only entrance is directly from there.
Thus, after successful registration and assuming that your clothing meets the criteria, you still have to walk approximately 500 meters through the underground tunnel. Of course, it wouldn’t be Abu Dhabi if they didn’t make it easy here and offer at least two alternatives. You can choose from the moving walkway, or one of the many drivers can happily take you there by golf trolley
The building that breathes with the moon
Visiting the Grand Mosque is an experience you should indulge in twice. Both during the day and at night, it offers absolutely unique atmosphere. In addition, the lighting design of the entire mosque is conceived to match the lunar cycle. In brief this mean that every two days luminosity of the lighting will change to a cooler-white if the moon is approaching full or to a darker blue if it is waning. Either way walking through the arches made of white Macedonian marble and gold is dreamlike experience.
Carpet larger than
The construction of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque took place from 1994 to 2007, and over 3,000 builders participated in its construction. With an area of 290×420 meters and the capacity to hold up to 41,000 worshipers at once, it is the nineteenth-largest mosque in the world. Besides that, inside we can find the largest carpet in the world. Measuring stunning 5 627 square meters and weighing over 35 tons, which around 1 300 weavers are said to have worked on.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi
Labyrinth of art
Our next steps lead us for culture, towards the Louvre Abu Dhabi gallery, to an island aptly named Saadiyyat island (In Arabic, happy island). The locals decided to tear the island from the clutches of the desert and turtles to create the largest intellectual and cultural powerhouse in the Middle East. Evidence of that is many ambitious projects, such as the Zayed National Museum and countless others currently under construction and often growing out of the complete wasteland. On the way here, we pass dozens of buses of private companies filled with foreign workers of mainly Indian and Pakistani nationality. They come to the Emirates to earn more than they can afford or to provide for their families. In most cases, they live in vast joint labor camps.
Unfortunately, we manage to pass the destination stop, which only means one thing, an unplanned march under the unrelenting sun. A few minutes and several sweaty t-shirts later, we enter the adjacent gallery gardens through the back gate. In a blink of an eye, a friendly-looking golf cart driver pulls up and laughingly insists on giving us a free ride in front of an entrance. He did as he said and drops us off less than a hundred meters in front, saying it’s been a long drive. The Louvre is another magnificent piece of architecture. The geometric blocks that protrude like an iceberg from the bowels of the seabed hidden under a massive leaky structure strikingly resemble a labyrinth.