Today cruise#1 came to and end when all but 300 passengers disembarked. After getting our new room keys/boarding passes, we were off the ship and ready to take a tour. We booked a private one, because Celebrity had nothing for us back-to-back passengers until a few days ago when they finally came through with a city tour. Oh, well.
We joined another couple for the first part of our extraordinarily disjointed tour. The man who picked us up muttered under his breath that he was scheduled to conduct a desert safari today and they stuck him with us last minute, because the guide from Dubai was running late. He said we were going to Ferrari World. We had never heard of it and knew nothing about it, but off we went. About half an hour’s drive out of town we came to Yaz Island.
Perhaps I should stop to explain a few things about Abu Dhabi. The lifetime of the UAE is about as long as our own lifetimes. When I was a child folks here were living in tents, riding camels, and being blown to bits by the hot desert winds. When oil was discovered, the Bedouin and other neighboring tribes had riches beyond their wildest dreams. The seven emirates joined together to form the UAE and Abu Dhabi was the conservative capital, while Dubai was the fun-loving, Las Vegas-y sibling. In Dubai the ruler felt that the oil would not last forever and he built a city bigger and better than any other according to his wildest imaginings . He wanted Dubai to become a tourist mecca and kept building new, ever more dazzling attractions. The city has been an unmitigated success and in the last few years the residents of Abu Dhabi have concluded that they also need to follow this course of action.
Back to Yaz Island. First we saw mile after mile of building foundations and construction cranes. Then we came to the part of the island that is completed. Imagine the biggest mall you have ever been to - Mall of America perhaps, joined to the Daytona Speedway joined to Disney World. That will give you some idea of the scope and ambition of the place. When you start with an empty piece of desert and have more money than you can ever hope to spend, you come up with Yaz Island. We never did go inside Ferrari World which boasts the largest roller coaster in the world, but saw the race track where major car races of world-wide interest are held. A few of the stores are finished. An IKEA and a Ace Hardware each as large as a normal sized mall caught our eye. On the perimeter a collection of huge hotels are popping up like mushrooms. Our guide waved vaguely into the distance where he said a new airport is being built. If we come back in a few years, Yaz Island will be where it’s at. Amidst this construction blitz, we saw very few people besides construction workers. We wondered if this was a case of, if we build it they will come.
Then we drove to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the biggest and grandest buildings of worship in the world. There our first guide dumped us on another guide who had brought a group here from Dubai. Some of them only spoke French and he toggled back and forth between the two languages. Sheikh Zayed, the George Washington of Abu Dhabi, came up with the idea of the mosque in 1996. Construction began in 2004 and in seven years this masterpiece was finished. The guide handed out black robes and veils to those of us of the female persuasion. Just what I wanted to wear in the blasting heat. We went through security, men on one side women on the other. Although the mosque accommodates 40,000 worshippers, the size of the grounds was diminished by the massive crowds there to see it. After removing our shoes, the guide hustled us inside and gave us time to ooh and aah. It was hard to take photos. So many tourists were taking selfies and my veil kept falling into my eyes. We walked on the largest carpet in the world and looked up at the largest chandeliers in the world. Texans would love it here. Most of the decoration was inlaid stone, a technique also used on the Taj Mahal. Even though I was hot and irritable in my black sweaty robe (who knew whether it was laundered after the hot, sweaty woman before me wore it) I was very impressed.
Then we went to the Gold Palace, which is really more of a kazillion star hotel, than a palace. Rooms start at about $2,000/night.. Two of the folks on our tour had booked lunch there, which allowed us all to go inside. The guide said if it looks like gold, it is gold, The ATM machine spits out gold bars instead of cash. It was beautiful and magnificent, but way over the top for us. It made me feel like the UAE is in their adolescent stage: no self control, it I want it I get it, no consideration for all the poor people in the world, especially those they share a religion with. Certainly all the kings of Europe went through this stage, trying to outdo one another with the size and magnificence of their castles. With age, comes maturity. In this area we saw some magnificent chrome and glass office buildings that would be a credit to any architect.
Then our second guide dumped us at the Heritage Village and left us on our own to explore this recreation of what life used to be like, before the UAE formed. As in Dubai, it appeared that this nostalgic look back was an afterthought, and mostly an excuse to sell souvenirs. We were oh so glad, when our third guide of the day tracked us down and whisked us to the date market. I don’t generally like dates, but the ones covered with chocolate and filled with almonds, were mighty fine. I had no idea that there were so many kinds of dates. Nearby another produce market, selling the fruits and vegetables imported from India that we had just admired on site a few days ago.
I’m sure if we came back her again in a few years, we wouldn’t recognize the place, but Dubai will still be eons ahead of this wanna-be city. Maybe they should stick to politics and religion and leave the flash to Dubai.