Monday, February 28, 2011

Ten Things I Love about Abu Dhabi

We've been in Abu Dhabi 45 days now, long enough to compile a ten best things list, I think. Here goes:

1. Safe & friendly city
I've been all over the place walking, taking the city bus, taxis ... and haven't had a single problem. Bus drivers, store clerks and even random passers by have been extremely helpful and kind. The toughest challenge is understanding someone's accent, but almost everyone speaks a little English. For such a large city with so many people from so many different cultures, it's pretty amazing how well everyone just gets along. About the only time I see frustration is on the roads where the idea of a blinker and organized merging don't really exist.

2. A true melting pot
You haven't seen diversity until you've lived in UAE. Multiple cultures, religions, languages, dress ... One HR Director I interviewed with told me in their company of a couple of thousand employees, there were 89 religions represented! (I didn't even know there were that many religions!) For a culture enthusiast like me, this is a dream and one of the fun parts of riding the bus. In a single trip, I'll see Asian business women traveling to and from work, Iranian & Pakistani kids coming home from school, Emirati women heading to the mall, Indian men going to work and a whole host of others from who knows where. The mix of languages is just amazing (and I still can't distinguish any of them except English and French!)

3. Arab culture and dress

Sometimes it's like being in the middle of an Arabian nights film with the colors and smells and sounds. I’ve come to really enjoy the call to prayer 5 times per day (of course, I don’t have a Mosque too close so I’m not woken up before dawn either). It’s surreal at times and sounds so exotic. There is also something very regal about the women’s Abaya and Shayla and the men’s Kundura – they always look so polished and professional. And, this is going to sound weird, but the Emirati women smell wonderful! Always! It can be 85 degrees outside and they’ve been standing outside waiting for the bus and one will step on, sit next to me and smell … fantastic! How do they do that? And it’s not some sweet overpowering Britney Spears perfume either, it’s a rich, exotic, musky incense like smell that’s really nice and again seems so regal.

4. Lebanese food
I've talked about this in other posts, but I LOVE the Lebanese food here. Humous, garlicky lamb, crispy bread, mmmmmm. The desserts haven't been as great, but the main course food is excellent!

5. The birds in our apartment complex
As I'm sitting here typing this entry, I'm listening to all the birds outside our patio doors (and I don't even have the doors open this morning). They sound so fabulous and help me deal with living in a huge city. Our little villa feels a bit like a vacation timeshare place and is much nicer than a high rise apartment building would have been, and the bird song throughout the day helps.

6. Fruits & juices
I'm guessing it's because Abu Dhabi is a major port city that we have an abundance of fruits, almost all of which they make into really yummy juices. I found pomegranate seeds yesterday for a little over $2 - the same container in the states would have been at least $5. Everything is really fresh and once I get a bit more adventurous there are a number of new fruits to try. Juice is a big thing here and it's all freshly squeezed or blended. And there is everything, orange, lemon-mint, watermelon, pineapple, avocado (haven't been brave enough to try that one yet), guava, strawberry ...

7. Architecture
As you've seen from some of the photos, Abu Dhabi (and Dubai) have a wide variety of interesting architecture. Some of the buildings defy the laws of physics! They lean, tilt, twist, whatever it takes to make an interesting landmark, I guess.

8. Public transportation
The cheap, reliable and clean buses and taxis have been a god send to me. Had I been trapped at home the last 6 weeks, I would be writing completely different blog posts. It has sometimes been challenging to find the exact location I'm looking for, but the bus routes have been fairly straightforward and relatively easy to figure out. Word had it they are considering a high speed rail to connect the Emirates, which would be awesome (and will probably finish just as we're getting ready to head back to the states).

9. Big city variety
Like most big cities, there is plenty to do in Abu Dhabi. Whether it's shopping, cinema, dining, beach, arts, music, sports, AD has got it. And they do a pretty good job of getting the word out. There's a weekly publication called Abu Dhabi Weekly that provides information on the events of that week, which has been helpful and there are a couple other publication and websites as well. With a small time investment, you can easily find out what's happening.

10. Malls
I'm not sure how much I've talked about the malls in Abu Dhabi (and Dubai) but they are everywhere and they are nice! Most of you know I'm a huge shopper, so what better place for me to live than the city of Malls! :) And they are insane with Ice rinks, ski slopes, aquariums where you can scuba dive, giant fountains, trains ... and they just keep coming. Abu Dhabi is currently working on 2 new malls that will be bigger, brighter and crazier than those already in the city. What I can't figure out is how the city can support that many stores??

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