Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Playing Tourist with Shawna: Abu Dhabi

With Adam off to work, Shawna and I took the time to actually explore Abu Dhabi. Though I have lived here for 3 months now (how is this possible!??!!?), we have held off seeing the "tourist" things in even our own city...except for the Grand Mosque. I am obsessed with the grandeur and beauty of the Mosque, I will come here with everyone!
One place that you will notice to be missing from this day is the Gold Souk. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it was not what we got. When you tell me "gold souk", I imagine bars of gold laid out on oriental carpets, lavish brocades of gold, all in an open air market with many vendors. Nope. Not even close. A retail mall with dozens of modern jewelry stores selling gold rings/bracelets/necklaces/whatever. It was so....disappointing. I was upset that we even wasted the $0.50 it cost to park. I don't know if the one in Dubai is any better, but the one in Abu Dhabi is definitely worth missing. Adam wasn't surprised I hated it, as I am not a jewelry person (hello, the ONLY jewelry I wear is my wedding and engagement bands), so maybe if you are really into gold jewelry you would appreciate it. It just wasn't to any of our tastes.

Emirates Palace

Emirates Palace

Emirates Palace

Emirates Palace

Emirates Palace

Emirates Palace: Gold ATM

Emirates Palace: Gold ATM

We had only ever been to the Grand Mosque once, during the day, and everyone kept telling us that it was more spectacular at night. With that in mind, we decided to go around sunset, to watch the changing of the light play off of the magnificent building. It did not disappoint! The entire mosque changes as the sun leaves the sky and various illuminations transform the building. If you come to visit, the most should be enjoyed by daylight, by dusk, and at night. It is spectacular!

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

I LOVED how the intricate art within the walls were lit as the sun disappeared.

Yeah, the abayas are a bit "oversized"

Loved the light off of the palms in this picture!

So that brings Shawna's visit to a close and we were so sad to see here go, as we had such a fantastic time! Sooo....visitors, these are some of the things that you have to look forward to!
Next visitor on the calendar:
She just booked her plane ticket yesterday and I CANNOT WAIT. Already dying of anticipation.

Playing Tourist with Shawna: Desert Adventure!

So what do you think about when you hear: "Middle East"? Conflicts aside, everyone typically thinks about heat and desert. So, of course, there had to be some desert adventures planned into our outings....so on an adventure we went! Our final destination was Qasr Al Sarab, but there was plenty to see on the way.
One of our first stops was the Emirates National Auto Museum, which is a very large and VERY ECLECTIC collection of cars in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Obviously, we had to stop. First off, the museum is shaped like a pyramid, it houses the "World's Largest Truck", a Mercedes "monster truck!?!?!?!, and many many more sights. It is just really interesting and leaves you shaking your head quite a few time, all while being equally impressed with the collection of 200+ cars that seem like many have never been driven and just collected....including Lamborghinis and Ferraris.
1:1 million scale replica of the Earth on wheels, because WHY NOT? Can you even see us!??!

Full house on wheels...garages includes. It takes 2 semis side-by-side to move it

Mercedes "monster truck". BUT WHY!?!?!?

Can you see why it the museum is owned by the "Rainbow Sheikh"?

1908 Ford Model T, first majorly produced automobile

World's Largest Truck...it actually drives. And has a functional apt. inside

What collection is complete without a NYC taxi and CHiP cruiser?

The Mercedes Benz Rainbow Collection

Each car is completely its rainbow color: Seats, dashboard, steering wheel, wheels, windshield wipers...

The paint job look terrible...nope, it is the cloud at the end of the rainbow

After our amusement walking around the museum we continued our journey out towards Liwa, to the resort. I was REALLY excited when we came across camels....it was my first time seeing them in person here! Luckily for Shawna and I, Adam got out of the car and took pictures for us....it was 49 degrees Celcius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) out and the sun was intense.

Road to the resort...lots of desert

The dunes are actually quite captivating!

Qasr al Sarab is an INCREDIBLE resort in the absolute middle of no where. Directions? Leave Abu Dhabi, drive an hour through the vast desert, turn left, drive another hour through nothing. Don't get me wrong, it was a lovely drive, truly seeing what "nothing" and "desert" means. Due to it being so incredibly hot out, we checked in, got settled, and immediately headed to the pool to cool down and enjoy the drink specials. It was a marvelous way to spend an afternoon.

Qasr al Sarab Resort

Qasr al Sarab Resort

Qasr al Sarab Resort

Qasr al Sarab Resort: Who needs a swan napkin? I give you: Towel elephant!

Qasr al Sarab Resort: View from our room (NOTE: How blue the pool water is, you will need this later)

Qasr al Sarab Resort: Libations in the pool

Qasr al Sarab Resort: Loving the pool bar

The sun started setting, so we thought it was about time to get out of the pool to dry off (that and our pruning skin was crying for it by this point), to head in and clean up for the evening. We all laid out on a chaise lounges to allow the heat to do its job....90 minutes later we wake up. We are hot and sweaty and thirsty. Shawna and I immediately hit the pool and grab another drink, Adam continues with the unexpected nap.

Just as we finish up our drinks and start towel off all hell breaks loose. We experienced our first sand storm.... I didn't know what to expect when I heard of them, but it surely wasn't what we had. The sky was already at twilight, but it went BLACK. The wind went from nothing to gale force. In a instant. And then there was the sand. Powdery fine to the touch but still stung when it is being pelted at you. We had to put back on our sunglasses to protect our eyes, covered our heads in our towels, and made a run for it. As soon as we stood, our chair cushions blew away, along with our room key. Fantastic. While Adam headed for the front desk, we headed to the room. It was incredible. Needless to say we did not venture from the room that evening. The storm kept up all night, thunder and lightening crashed through, it poured down rain, and you could hear the sand pelting the glass. I didn't think that the desert could have such temperature swings to support such a storm! It was fascinating! It took almost a week of showers to get all of the fine sand out of my hair!

Note the color of the pool....several inches of sand at the bottom of it.

The next morning the storm was slowly clearing, we went and surveyed the damage. There were workers EVERYWHERE cleaning/sweeping up the sand. Our patio had an inch of sand on it. We went to breakfast and prepared for our desert safari.

I love the lanterns here. I will be bringing this style back to the US!

Letting the air out of the tires so we didn't get stuck on the dunes
I really appreciated that there were two vehicles. We were in the first one and the second one just had the driver, as our "back up" just in case something happened to ours so we didn't get stranded.

The fence...I don't think you have to worry about territorial boundaries out here

Mayer Love

So vast and so beautiful, really, quite captivating!

Our safari/dune bashing adventure lasted about two hours and was absolutely awesome. Everyone who visits MUST experience this! As plain as it may seem, the desert was so incredibly beautiful. The different colors in sand, the random plants that manage to sprout, the sheer size of the due... LOVED IT!