After 36h spent in Oman, I am now sitting on a terrace on the 50th floor of my friend P’s flat in downtown Abu Dhabi, watching the incredible skyline of ultramodern high-rises over the Persian Gulf coastline. It’s 2AM, 34C, in November, miles away from the first wave of cold that is hitting Europe and miles away from my life in London.
We haven’t seen each other for the past 3 years. We chat about our job, our love lives, our plans for the future, sipping French red wine that P has sourced at a clandestine local wine club. You can take the French out of France but you can’t take away their love of wine, not even in the middle of the Arabian desert. Completely oblivious of the time, we see the sun rising. It’s 8AM, a good time to get some sleep however I am not so lucky, my jet lag kicks in two hours later.
At 10.30AM, I give up and head down to Starbucks desperate for a latte and head back up on the rooftop to snooze away by the pool. P joins me and after a few refreshing dips it’s finally time for food.
We simply cross the road to Jones the Grocer, his local brunch spot and Abu Dhabi foodie central, a very casual Australian deli and bakery.
After brunch, we part ways. I spend the early part of the afternoon at the Corniche, a two kilometre public beach full of beach bars, concert stages and children play grounds. A slightly surreal multicultural experience there are local teenagers swimming in full abaya alongside western girls sunbathing in tiny bikinis.
I lose myself in my book, dipping into the sea every now and again. At sunset, I force myself to go home for a quick shower and head to the Grand Mosque. Sheikh Zayed Mosque is the largest in the United Arab Emirates and the eighth largest mosque in the world. It is named after the founder and first President of the United Arab Emirates, who is also buried there.
It’s dark and as my taxi is approaching I can see the mosque from the distance, an incredible structure of white domes and minarets. One of the most amazing buildings I have ever seen. This is not only a place of worship, but a flamboyant celebration of Abu Dhabi recently gaining petrol power, a city that up to 80 years ago, was simply a fort with a fishing village.
At the entrance I am provided with a black abaya, a long caftan that covers my whole body except my feet and hands. I take a walk in the gardens and in the many interconnected prayer rooms. I sit down by one of the big pools, listening to the monotonous Quran chanting and I feel completely surrounded by peace. Whether you are religious or not, visiting this mosque is an amazing spiritual experience.
My next stop is slightly more mundane, Yas Marina circuit, home to Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, on Yas Island, about 30 minutes by car from downtown Abu Dhabi. Here I join P and T, who have kicked off Saturday night wild celebrations at the Y bar with rounds of cocktails and burgers. Being the weekend of the Grand Prix, the island is at its full capacity with Jay Z and Depeche Mode performing.
At 2 in the morning I give up, and call it a night, almost. It’s time for me to go back to Dubai. We head back to P’s place, collect my luggage and find a taxi. The journey should take a couple of hours. One hour into my journey, driving onto the desert motorway, I notice that my driver is falling asleep. I give him a subtle hint of putting the radio on and making the air conditioning colder. It doesn’t work. I start talking to him. I can see his head falling every few seconds. It’s one of those moments when the only thought that crosses your mind is, what am I doing here?
Then in the distance I see a petrol station, and I almost force him to stop. It’s 4AM and this is the 14th hour of his shift. I buy him a coffee, and a sandwich while the meter keeps running. He wakes up, finally.
One hour later, I am back in Dubai, under my duvet, safe and sound. I switch off the light. My life is all but boring.