It never ceases to amaze and worry me at the same time how dependent we are on natural resources. How the discovery of oil can elevate a good part of a continent from fishermen villages to riches and skyscrapers. But the mindset shaped by religion and tradition still remains. It reminds me of the time I got my paws on inheritance money. I immediately started thinking about all the stupid shit I could spend it on. I did that, without any regard for the future when the money dries out. That’s what Abu Dhabi does. What happens when there is no more oil? Do they capitalize on tourism? Will they save up enough to maintain the infrastructure? Let’s hope they will because the city is nothing short of remarkable. Especially if you consider its humble beginnings. Scientists discovered recently stone wall formations (geo glyphs) visible from space. Located around the deserts southeast of Abu Dhabi they’re supposed to be remains of ancient cities. There are stories about the city of Iram inhabited by all kinds of mythical creatures. The Djinn, the Nephilim giants, even H.P. Lovecraft portrayed it as the birthplace of the Necronomicon and the cult of Cthulhu. There’s a grain of truth in every story. The thing is, all the modern hate towards the Arab world makes us ignore its fascinating origins.
Abu Dhabi stands for “Father Gazelle” and it was established during an actual gazelle hunt. A simple water hole quickly stretched out towards the coast and nearby islands. Those were the times they didn’t know about the oil beneath. People made a living with pearl diving and fishing. You can see how they lived during those years at the Heritage Village. Buy some souvenirs, pet the occasional camel, good stuff. Or hit one of the souks, local markets where people snack on dates (the fruit, not a person) and sip coffee. It was BP that pioneered the oil trade in the region back in the 1930s. Sounds familiar? It’s the same BP that caused one of the most disastrous ecological “accidents” of the modern age. What’s the current Abu Dhabi all about? It’s like playing Theme Park, Sim City, and The Sims. It’s a sandbox (no pun indented) where people threw a bunch of ideas without much thought to it. The royal family went easy on the country’s infamous regulations and it’s much more enjoyable now. You can drink, in some places. You can dress casually, in some places. You’re not restricted in any way, in some places. Homosexuality is still illegal, though.
Before you start exploring all those wet dreams of its man-child architects, make sure you get a few Abu Dhabi essentials in. Start with the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, not only the largest mosque in the UAE but also a monument of them opening up to the western civilization. It’s surprisingly relaxed for a place of worship. Women still need to dress accordingly but a shirt and proper pants will do for men. You can access most of the areas, you can even take photos, which was unexpected for me. The mosque is jaw dropping, it’s the largest building made of marble in the world. It’s also home to the largest carpet in the world and a couple of giant chandeliers made of gold gems. It can fit over 41,000 worshippers at the same time, it really puts things into perspective. Then there’s the museum area with exhibitions showcasing Islamic artefacts and treasures. I highly recommend it. The Emirates Palace is another site that you just need to see for yourself. Hats off, if you can afford a night at this 5* hotel. It opened in 2005 and it’s ridiculous, it cost over $3 billion to build. The main theme is gold and marble, fitting for a place of accommodation for guests of the royal family. There are beautiful beaches and marinas where you can watch the sunset. Many hotels call themselves a palace, but this one is the real deal.
Saadiyat Island is one of the latest development areas in Abu Dhabi, tailored to western tourists. It’s, for the most part, devoted to culture and art. They’re planning on restaurants and shopping areas as well, but museums and art galleries are the focus of this island. They even have their own Louvre and Guggenheim museums; I wasn’t aware that the Louvre is a franchise. I like how Abu Dhabi has an island for every occasion. You got your island with Arabic history; you got an island for arts and culture and an artificial island that doesn’t even know what it will become. Yas Island is a place of more lighthearted entertainment. You can call it an amusement park island. There’s the Ferrari World Abu Dhabi with the world’s fastest roller coaster. Warner Bros World, Waterworld, Sea World, I think they’re only missing Disney World at this point.