Saturday, April 7, 2012

Visitor Adventures: Trip to Al Ain

On Friday (the first day of our weekend here) we rented a van and took the group to Al Ain, a neighboring city in the Abu Dhabi Emirate and about a 90-minute drive. The trip was great with lots of sand dunes and a few camels to see.

As it was Friday (Muslim holy day) we had to plan our time to coincide with the museum openings, which were later in the day. So, we started off our adventures by driving through the Al Ain Oasis. The Oasis is a lush green area in the desert (actually the middle of town, but this whole place is a desert, remember) with thousands of date palms. The area is broken up into plots which are owned by local farmers and each plot uses the traditional irrigation system you'll see in the photos below. It was gorgeous and so interesting to find this in the middle of the city. Here are a few photos.
This is the road through the whole Oasis, which was a fairly large area. You just wind around and get a little lost and eventually come out the other end. You can see a gate on the left, which is the entrance to one of the plots.
This photo is taken through the gate of one of the plots. The cement trough in the middle is the irrigation system. This particular plot had a lot of grass and open space, some of the others were packed with trees.

After the Oasis, we climbed the Jebel Hafeet "mountain". No, it's not very tall, but in the land of flat sand, it's pretty impressive. At the top, we stopped at the Mercure hotel and had a nice buffet lunch outside with a wonderful view of Al Ain.
The winding road to the top. Unfortunately, it was really hazy that day with sand so the views weren't too great.
 The group at the top.
This was taken INSIDE the Mercure hotel. A whole wall of living vines hanging down from the ceiling. Wonder how they keep them watered and looking so nice?

After lunch, we headed back down the mountain and stopped at the Al Jahili fort and visited the small museum there. Then, we stopped in at the National Museum, which was really nice. Definitely the nicest museum I've seen so far in UAE. I guess it stands to reason that a country only 40 years old hasn't invested heavily yet in museums. ;)

One of the amazing photographs in the Jahili Fort exhibit that chronicles the travels across the desert of Wilfred Thesiger before oil was discovered. A really interesting and informative exhibit.

Also an interesting cultural experience. We arrived at 4:40 and the fort was scheduled to close at 5:00. When we walked in, the guard alerted us to this fact - okay fine. Then, he proceeded to follow us through the photography exhibit and continued to remind us about every 2 minutes (okay, I exaggerate a little, but only a little). When he did it again at 4:45, I said, "we have 15 minutes right?" "Yes, madam" and he stopped ... for about 5 minutes. The guard was an expat.

After the photos, we walked around a bit and then went into the other side of the fort where we were warmly greeted by 3 Emirati women (the guard was still following us to make sure we didn't overstay our welcome). It was now 5:00 and we were getting ready to leave. The Emirati woman asked if we had seen the exhibit about one of the former UAE rulers, and we said no. She said we must go see it and were welcome to do so. I shot a look at the guard and told her, "but it's late, I think we need to leave." She replied, "no problem. I wait for you. Please go and see." We did, and the exhibit was great and we learned another lesson about the hospitality of the UAE culture. Never would an Emirati rush a guest or shoo them out before they were ready.
 The two guards who were late for dinner because of us.
 One of the nice exhibits in the National museum.
Another exhibit of a traditional Emirati Majlis. Think of it as the guest living room in a traditional home. They had one set up as an example.

At by then it was after 6 and time to head home. A great day and some interesting sights.

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