BEFORE we revisit the always alluring Persian Gulf for a few weeks’ columns let’s take an initial swift peek at Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirate’s sparkling capital.
Travel with Dusty Miller
Many Zimbabweans already visit Abu Dhabi, flying Etihad en route to Europe, the Far East or Australasia, and many more will do so if that airline finally gets landing rights in Zimbabwe.
I keep hearing the blue-chip carrier will add Harare to its busy schedule. Then the story is it’s a direct flight from Abu Dhabi to the Victoria Falls; then the Falls with pick-up rights on to and back from Cape Town. Now that would be a winning tourism route! Why don’t we just get on with it, though?
(Currently, a pal of mine always uses Etihad via Jo’burg, when travelling frequently between Dublin, Ireland and Harare. He planned to change to KLM, for their convenient shuttle flights to the Emerald Isle from Schiphol, but we no longer have the Dutch carrier landing here.)
Abu Dhabi is certainly a more compact, and arguably less brash, vulgar and over-the-top version of its better known sister city, Dubai, which it fairly recently had to bail out financially
I first visited this amazing 21st century place on a week-long luxurious Jewels of the Emirates cruise by Royal Caribbean International’s Brilliance of the Seas; that voyage is now carried out by a sister ship Serenade of the Seas.
Several other cruise lines ply this Persian Gulf route in the northern hemisphere winter (the height of our summer). Leaving the ultra bright lights of Dubai harbour just after dark and arriving in Abu Dhabi’s illuminated port just before dawn, after a night of cruising Figure Eight-style under the stars in the black velvet Arabian night sky of the Persian Gulf is the only way to travel if you have the time and money!
Incidentally I cruised the Western Caribbean, from Miami to two Mexican ports and to Belize (formerly British Honduras) on big sister Oasis of the Sea, when she was by far the largest ship in the world. Three recently built sister ships now dwarf her!
As the Jewels cruises start and end at Dubai, it’s sensible to fly there from Harare either on Emirates or Ethiopian. If killing time in Dubai before flying to some other corner of the world, there’s a non-stop, air-conditioned luxury bus shuttle service between there and Abu Dhabi.
Take it, your best camera and be prepared to have minds boggled, gobs smacked by some of the world’s most stunning architecture in a city almost dripping with the wealth of apparently unlimited oil and gas reserves. You can also fly direct to Abu Dhabi via Johannesburg or Nairobi, but look into comparative costings and trip durations.
Shopping in Abu Dhabi is magnificent with modern, gleaming malls offering the world’s top brands at tax-and duty free bargain prices. There’s a huge branch of Carrefour, the French-owned mega-store I have often advised readers to visit first in Dubai and it’s right next to an Ikea superstore.
On one Ethiopian Airways flight from Dubai the plane was filled with mainly mixed race Angolans, each of whom seemed to have spent a fortune on knock-down Swedish blonde wooden furniture kits at Ikea. They then had to spend an even larger fortune in overweight fees to airlift the impedimenta back to Luanda, via the ultra-depressing Bole Airport in Addis Ababa.
Other than sparkling malls with their gleaming well-stocked “soukermarkets”, visit the traditional Gulf souks: especially the carpet and rug specialists and gold and jewel traders, which hark back to the 19th century and be prepared to haggle with Arab traders. (They’d be sad if you didn’t.)
There are 111 hotels—and counting—in Abu Dhabi. Last time I checked, Trip Advisor rated Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara in first place (from US$227 a night); second was Cristal Salam Hotel, a relative cheapie, starting at “just” US$112 p/p/n but, oddly, the extremely opulent Emirates Palace, run by Kempinski and costing more than US$3 billion to build comes in third.
(Rooms north of US$380.)
Swimming and water sports are fabulous and if you do nothing else on a fleeting visit to Abu Dhabi, take your camera and a hat on the upper deck of the splendid open-topped Big Bus (or a taxi) and snap the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque from the roof or alight and walk around the place, gawping unashamedly. (No entry fee; parties of fewer than 10 needn’t book in advance.)
I’ve been travelling on business and pleasure for more than half-a-century and this is one of the most beautiful, tranquil buildings I’ve experienced anywhere.