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Embedded Photos: 1.Iftar at Hatam in Deira City Center 2.Ramadan Greeting, lit. Have a Generous Ramadan 3.Dubai Gold Souk4.Sheikh Zayed Billboard in Abu Dhabi5.Abu Dhabi Skyline from Breakwater6.New Hotel in Abu Dhabi7.Ramadan Tenting
Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Paje, Zanzibar, Tanzania
DUBAI I: Oct 15-17 II: Oct 15-17 I: Oct 18-19 II: Oct 18-19

AL AIN Oct 20 Buraimi (Oman) Oct 21


ABU DHABI Oct 23-24
Coffee Pot Round About, Al Ain, UAE, October 2004


October 20. DUBAI TO AL AIN The taxi showed up early in the morning, as scheduled.  We checked out and loaded our bags into the trunk. This was the first time we had rented a Iftarcar during our entire trip and it was pretty exciting.  On our way out we stopped at a supermarket in a nearby mall for some drinks and snacks then we proceeded through Dubai and across the creek.  Opting for the scenic route we cut over to the coast and retraced our steps from the night before, passing the Burj Al Arab, and then continued south to the growing area of hotels and condos in the Dubai Marina, and the nearby tech center called Media City.  From there we jumped on the highway and headed towards Abu Dhabi.  The guidebook warned about speed cameras and Budget made sure they had a deposit to insure against any that we made get.  On one of the expat radio stations we heard the DJ comment on how it has been a good month for him because he hadn't been sent a speeding ticket.  So we decided to take the speed limit very seriously.  The funny thing was that while we stayed just at or under the speed limit there was no shortage of cars zipping past us a warp speed.  At times it felt like we were standing still in a river, like a rock catching water.  The traffic was rather sparse so we didn't see all that many cars but every so often a few would go flying past and make us feel like we were standing still.  As we motored along we started to feel them coming up behind us, sports cars or a black Mercedes with dark windows.  We suspected they were the Emiratis with friends or relatives in the DOT.  It was one place where "go with the flow" wStarbucks, Dubaias not the best advice.  We stayed carefully around the speed limit. 

Abu Dhabi was not actually very far from Dubai, being neighboring Emirates.  It didn't take us much more than an hour to reach the city from the last cluster of hotels, a typical commute distance back home.  All along the way we found the freeway in pristine condition.  It looked quite new and was lined down the center with green foliage that was hooked up to a watering system or hand watered where it wasn't.  The rest of the landscape was flat open desert.  Lights were positioned on either side of the highway, the extra long runway that I thought I had seen when we landed.  Between the two cities there was hardly any other signs of life. 

Rob was driving and I tried to navigate. As we entered the outskirts of the city I looked for the best route to tour Abu Dhabi in the least amount of time.   We were planning to get all of the way across to Al Ain, still in the Abu Dhabi Emirate but over on the border with Oman.  Abu Dhabi was by far the largest Emirate, from the map it looked twice as big as all of the rest of the Emirates put together.  It touched Oman in the north then ran south along its border with Saudi Arabia until it touched Qatar.  We came in on the highway that skirted alongGold Souk, Dubai the city from the north, eventually dumping us into the streets of Abu Dhabi.   The city actually stood out on a small peninsula with the downtown area concentrated on the far end along the Arabia Gulf.  We approached via the Eastern Ring Road and then cut across the Corniche Road.  The city definitely looked more established than Dubai with streets neatly laid out in a grid-like pattern and rows of tall buildings throughout the downtown area.  Dubai had taller and newer buildings but Abu Dhabi was definitely the UAE's more stately and distinguished city versus Dubai's more modern and cosmopolitan city.  They had entirely different personalities which reflected their position with the hierarchy of the UAE.  Abu Dhabi is the richest Emirate in the federation and the Supreme Council, representing all Emirates, consistently re-elects Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nayan of Abu Dhabi as the UAE's President.  Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum of Dubai is the UAE's vice president and prime minister.  Since the UAE was founded in 1971 the issue of how much power is ceded to the federal government by each Emirate has been a debated issue.  To date, Dubai and Ras al-Khaimah maintain separate legal systems from the federal judiciary.  Also, Abu Dhabi is a member of OPEC but Dubai is not.  Sheikh Zayed has been the only president the UAE has ever had since UAE foundation in 1971.  He was born in 1918.  (Sheikh Zayed passed away in December of 2004 and has been succeeded by his son, Sheikh Khalifa.)

At the end of the waterfront we turned onto a breakwater that led to one of Abu Dhabi's largest malls, the Marina Mall.  At the intersection we encountered a massive portrait of Sheikh Zayed towering over the roadway, in case there was any doubt over who ruled the Emirate.  The mall looked older than Dubai's Deira Center but was still a modern building equipped with a similar assortment of shops.  There we were hoping to find a post office where we could drop our postcards, like they had in Deira City Center.  But we didn't find anything.  The mall was dead and all of the shops looked Abu Dhabiclosed except for the large Carrefour supermarket on the bottom floor.  We went there to grab some food for lunch.  They had a section of prepared foods where I grabbed a salad and picked up some pizza for Rob.  When I ordered the pizza the woman asked me if I wanted it warmed up.  She asked so I sheepishly said "yes".  I am sure she knew that were planning to eat it soon.  It must be an awfully tough job to have to sell food at midday during Ramadan.  In the paper Rob saw an article about locals complaining of foreigners eating in public during Ramadan.  If caught we were officially subject to a fine.  The nice thing about driving in the car was that we could occasionally dip drinks and snack as long as no one else was around.  With our food in hand we returned to the car, moved it to the far side of the parking lot, near a tree, and I hung my scarf across the window that faced the road.  Huddled in the front seat we scarfed our lunch.  

The area around the breakwater offered nice views back towards Abu Dhabi and over towards a large island that dominated the harbor,  barren except for its small sand dunes.  After lunch we drove around to fine a post office where we could drop our postcards, proof that we had been to Abu Dhabi.  It took some searching but we eventually found it.  From there we took a major road back out of the city on the south side, in parallel to the road we had come in on, until we spotted signs for Al Ain.  We passed a large parade grounds that lined up right along side the freeway.  The traffic on the freeway would literally have to stop in order for the parade ground to come to life.  A huge area of tiered seating provided shelter for onlookers.  

The quality of the roadways remained good all of the way to Al Ain and we encountered very few cars.  The border town stood directly east of Abu Dhabi and seamless commingled with the Omani border town of Buraimi.  It was late afternoon when we arrived, greeted by another face of Sheihk Zayed.  The cheaper lodging options were on the Omani side of the border but our car rental insurance didn't extend to Oman so we first looked into options at the Al Ain hotels.  I was skeptical but Rob stopped us at the Intercontinental and went to check the rate.  It was just $60, a Ramadan special.  That was almost twice the hotel rates in Buraimi but only $20 more than our hostel in Dubai and still less than the Holiday Inn!  Had we known that we might have gotten our act together andAbu Dhabi come out to Al Ain sooner.  The sun was beginning to set and the weather was drier than the coast.  It felt like a great place to relax, worlds away from the metropolises of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  We didn't have much trouble convincing ourselves to stay at the Intercontinental.  Our budget was getting abused quite badly in the UAE but it wasn't really a budget destination so we decided to make the most of our experience.  When we walked into our room it was like a big breath of fresh air.  We had hardly been "roughing it" in the UAE but this was by far the plushest room we'd seen since the Marriott in Jordan, which felt like a lifetime ago.  It has a nice little row of snazzy shampoos and goodies in the bathroom, fancier than the freebies at the Holiday Inn.  All of the small things that I took for granted during my business trips in Asia were all new and exciting again.  The bed was big and so soft!  We really felt like we were treating ourselves. 

For dinner the hotel offered a Ramadan tent experience out by the pool.  We got cleaned up and headed down just as it was getting under way.  It wasn't entirely under a tent but there was a tent area.  Mostly it was tables and chairs neatly spread out across the lawn with a shwarma stand set up in the middle and an entertainment area set up along the side.  We chose seats on big comfortable cushions with low tables under a circular canopy.  Behind us was a small "souk" but it was looking rather empty with just a toy booth keeping busy.  Our waitress was a young Chinese woman who had come to work at the hotel's Chinese restaurant.  Her previous stint had been at Oman's Intercontinental, a truly world class hotel, and she found this one rather too remote and boring for her taste.  Unlike the vast majority of expats that come to the UAE she wasn't a Muslim.  She was very attentive and we enjoyed chatting with her during the evening.  We ordered a plate of dAbu Dhabiips, a shwarma, and a dessert.  When we couldn't finish it all we commented on being too full.  She replied that the local people really ate too much and many were fat.  It really made us laugh.  From our experience in the far east it was quite common for people to comment frankly on someone else's weight, even directly to their face.  That sort of candor wasn't as appreciated by people back home and I had to wonder how it would be received by people in this culture.  It is true that many Middle Eastern people have fuller figures, or at least more on average than you find in the far east where statures are smaller and people are generally thin.  When we were in Egypt one of the hotel owners commented that my husband needed to fatten me up.  From that I gathered that the fuller figure was considered more desirable and, I was told, reflects well on a husband who can afford to have a full figured wife.  If we spent much more time in the UAE during Ramadan I have no doubt hat I would have had a fuller figure.  The iftar buffets were great but we weren't fasting during the day like the local Muslims. For them the fasting and feasting schedule probably balanced out buAl Ain Intercont we still were eating during the day so I was already beginning to feel the waist on my pants tighten.  

After lounging around on the cushions for a while, watching the TV that was set up across from us, we finally decided it was time to head to our room and enjoy the comfort we had waiting for us there.  We had finished eating and more local people we arriving, glancing at our cushioned canopy area but never joining us. It was time to let someone else stretch out.  We enjoyed just lounging on the bed and watching TV by ourselves.  Ahhhh.