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    Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi – One of the most beautiful buildings in the world

    As we turned the last motorway corner, I almost lifted out
    of my seat. Against the cloudless blue sky, curving white domes rose to meet
    us, towers stretched along the pavement, and gilded columns lined reflective
    pools.

    “It’s….beautiful…” I breathed.

    Must to Abu Dhabi: Visit the opulent and etheral Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque

    Must to Abu Dhabi: Visit the opulent and etheral Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque

    Our cab driver had nodded knowingly when we got into his car. “Ahh, you are off to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque are you? It is so very beautiful.” Having moved to Abu Dhabi himself 15 years ago himself, he gave us a mini-tour on route pointing out several of the hotels that lined the route, swung along the highway turnoffs and sped towards the minarets we had spied in the distance.

    Honestly, the best way to read this post is to left click the photos & open them in full view – don’t worry about reading the blather until later – there are so many beautiful angles of this incredible building and I broke my own 12 photos per post rule but it’s worth it.

    Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque: Visit the opulent and etheral architectural marvel

    Must to Abu Dhabi: Visit the opulent and etheral Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque

    Once we poured out of the car and I had borrowed a black gown to cover my jeans, we walked into the glory of white marble that is the Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

    Amazing Architecture Adu Dhabi Grand Mosque

    Amazing Architecture Adu Dhabi Grand Mosque

    Before visiting I had worried that the Grand Mosque was going to be one of those places that is photoshopped beyond belief, only to disappoint in real life, but I’m fairly certain it is impossible to take bad photos of this opulent temple.

    Must to Abu Dhabi: Visit the opulent and etheral Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque

    Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque: Visit the opulent and etheral architectural marvel

    His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan
    had wanted to establish a structure which unites the cultural diversity
    of Islamic world, the historical and modern values of architecture and
    art. The building complex measures approximately 290 m (960 ft) by 420 m
    (1,380 ft), covering an area of more than 12 hectares (30 acres),
    exclusive of exterior landscaping and vehicle parking.

    The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’s design and construction “unites the
    world”, using artisans and materials from many countries including India, Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Republic of Macedonia and United Arab Emirates. Credit.

    Must to Abu Dhabi: Visit the opulent and etheral Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque

    Must to Abu Dhabi: Visit the opulent and etheral Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque

    The Mosque features four minarets and eighty-two domes representing different
    Islamic styles, in support of Islamic cultural values, and to
    express its genuine religious concepts and values. The mosque
    accommodates more than 40,000 worshippers; 10,000 in the internal areas
    and 30,000 in the external areas.

    Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque: Visit the opulent and etheral architectural marvel

    Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque: Visit the opulent and etheral architectural marvel

    My cousin had tipped us off, advising that we visit around sunset,
    taking in one of the free guided tours, and it was the best piece of
    travel advice we’ve ever had. Unfortunately it meant that instead of 300
    photos we took 600 – not bad work for 4 hours.

    Our guides took us through some of the history of the building, before asking us to remove our shoes and moving quietly into the main prayer hall. So as to not disturb the worshipers we wore headsets through which our guide jovially told us about the 7 Swarovski chandeliers (that his own Mum didn’t believe him about until he brought her), the worlds largest hand-knotted carpet and the stunningly illuminated The 99 names (qualities or attributes) of God (Allah) featured on the Qibla wall in traditional Kufic calligraphy, designed by the prominent UAE calligrapher — Mohammed Mandi Al Tamimi.

    Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque: Visit the opulent and etheral architectural marvel

    When in Abu Dhabi visit the Grand Mosque

    The Mosque was a hushed, respectful place, but as the sun began to dip below the horizon, the Muezzin began a haunting adhan, a call to prayer, that stopped every person in their tracks. It sent a shiver down my spine (and the thought of it now still does.) 

    When in Abu Dhabi visit the Grand Mosque

    When in Abu Dhabi visit the Grand Mosque

    The unique lightning system was designed to reflect the phases of the
    moon. Soft undulating clouds of a bluish gray colour are projected onto
    the white marble external surfaces of the mosque including the façade
    and domes.
    Each day appears a little different from the next as the
    lighting cycle commences with darker clouds when the month is in its
    early stages and the moon is a small crescent. 

    When in Abu Dhabi visit the Grand Mosque

     

    When in Abu Dhabi visit the Grand Mosque

    As the moon progresses
    through its cycle and becomes full, so does the lightning effect become
    more brilliant.  There are twenty-two light towers consisting of an
    efficient number of light projectors to achieve this creative effect. Credit

    When in Abu Dhabi visit the Grand Mosque

    Blogger visit to the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque: An opulent and etheral architectural marvel (free entry)

    We hadn’t thought it could get any more beautiful, but it did.

    Blogger visit to the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque: An opulent and etheral architectural marvel (free entry)

    Blogger visit to the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque: An opulent and etheral architectural marvel (free entry)

    Unfortunately the lights dimming didn’t stop the onslaught of tourist selfies, but what can you do? On our visit to Dubai this was the most beautiful building we saw. In fact, I’m going to call it and say it is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.

    Blogger visit to the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque: An opulent and etheral architectural marvel (free entry)

    Blogger visit to the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque: An opulent and etheral architectural marvel (free entry)

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    36 hours in Abu Dhabi

    Dubai and Abu Dhabi are man-made constructions of steel towering over sand and manufactured coastline, but there is definitely beauty to be found in the desert cities. Whilst on our protracted stopover, there were 4 things we had wanted to do whilst in the UAE; sleep in the desert, meet up with my cousin, cuddle my friend’s new baby and explore the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Anything more was a bonus.

    Abu Dhabi Corniche Jumeriah at Etihad Hotels

    Whilst you could easily pop over from Dubai to Abu Dhabi as a day trip (the cities are only an hour or so drive from each other), we overnighted in Abu Dhabi in where we crashed a house party (I say crashed, we brought NZ chocolate as my cousin’s guests of honor, apparently invited to help drink the cupboard dry of NZ vodka which we did with nationalistic fervour), ate cake with expat friends and just kinda hung out admiring the city.

    Expat life in Abu Dhabi

    The Grand Mosque deserves a separate post (goodness knows we took enough photos) as the beauty there kept us enthralled for four hours around sunset – but before we visited, we did get a small, teeny, tiny taste of expat life in the tax-free haven of Abu Dhabi.

    Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque

     
    We wandered through Waitrose(!?) where camel milk is stocked alongside Weetabix, peeped into the passport requiring Pork fridge and admired the views from the private beach our friend has on her doorstep.

    Because the first rainfall of Winter had washed away all of the Summer dust and sand, so decided to trip up to the Corniche and admired the 74th floor breath-taking views over Abu Dhabi from the Luxury Jumeriah Hotel at Etihad Towers.

     Abu Dhabi Corniche Jumeriah at Etihad Hotels

    Abu Dhabi Corniche Jumeriah at Etihad Hotels

     
    We also enjoyed a rather cracking sandwich (you pay a nominal fee to go up the Tower which goes towards your tea – if we had been more organised or hungry I would have arranged afternoon tea, but that’s the problem with winging it) and mocktails to toast the day. Who needs an actual reason, am I right?

    Abu Dhabi Corniche Jumeriah at Etihad Hotels

    Abu Dhabi Corniche Jumeriah at Etihad Hotels

    Mr Kiwi adored the modernity of Dubai (much to my surprise)
    whereas I loved the vibe of Abu Dhabi more, and many of our (newly
    made) expat friends prefer the slightly more luxurious, less frenetic
    pace of Abu Dhabi. In fact I felt so at home, in true antipodean style
    and started to call them Dubs & Dhabs to the bemusement of everyone.

    Abu Dhabi Corniche Jumeriah at Etihad Hotels

    Waking up the next morning to a freshly brewed cup of coffee and the view from my cousin’s balcony on one of the man made islands was rather special, so we simply sat in the winter sunshine until the coffee ran out.

    The best view in Abu Dhabi

    Sometimes you just have to be in the moment.

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    A night in Dubai desert luxury

    Nestled on a cocoon of cushions, one hand tucked under my head, the other idly running cool sand through my fingers, the camp settled down. Lights blinked off one by one, leaving only the soft crackle of the fire.

    Our hosts for the night quietly left the Bedouin camp, one or two slipping into in a nearby tent for company, leaving us to the silence of the desert. The quiet deepened* as our camp mates drifted off to sleep and the stars began to shimmer.

    What to do in Dubai desert safari

    Snuggling further into my scarf my eyes began to adjust to the glorious canopy overhead. Billions of stars, some shining with fervour, others more shy and quietly glimmering. The few constellations I know began to appear (and the itch to retrieve my slowly flattening phone and download a stargazing app strengthened despite a lack of electrical sockets and wifi connectivity) and the silence grew further.

    I simply lay there and fell into an almost meditative trance. The feel of a light breeze whispering across my face became something I wanted to treasure forever, the hard romance of an unforgiving clime so different from my own green island home.

    What to do in Dubai - A luxury desert safari

    What to do in Dubai desert safari

    As the cool began to dew on my skin I knew that I could either dash into our tent and fish a duvet from our bed to sleep under the stars, or simply clamber into the warmer bed where my sleepy husband giggled at my stargazing antics.

     What to do in Dubai desert safari

    Our humble boudoir lit with a torch was swathed in richly decorated tapestry walls, thick carpets and a scattering of sand brought in with our shoes. Slipping into fleecy pyjamas more often seen on our London couch, I sensibly wriggled into bed, but not before setting a pre-dawn alarm clock.

     What to do in Dubai desert safari

    We seemed to wake 3 minutes afterwards (in reality we had managed 5 hours of sleep) and shrugged on fleeces and shoes before grabbing water bottles and staggering out of the camp, and up a few nearby dunes in the dusky light.

    I can’t tell you in words how beautiful that sunrise was. Deep indigo turned slowly to inky blue, soft lavender, russet red. Then, as the sun began to peek over the horizon intense ochres turned to soft peaches and rich yellows.

    What to do in Dubai desert safari

    What to do in Dubai desert safari

    Sometimes the simplest things in the world just remind you how insignificant many of our day to day niggles are. And this was one of them.

    We looked back over our camp as the skies became pastel. The other couple staying in the camp had peeked out from their covers by now, and were standing quietly on an adjacent dune. The smell of coffee and breakfast wafted slowly over interrupting our adoration of the horizon.

    What to do in Dubai desert safari

    And the day was only just beginning…

    What to do in Dubai desert safari

    Nearly everyone I spoke to about going to Dubai insisted that we take in a desert activity or two, and I am so very glad we did.

    What to do in Dubai - A luxury desert safari

    *Always wanted a situation I could genuinely use that phrase

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    Dubai – where desert sands reflect onto skyscraper silhouettes

    Dubai, the up & coming city-state in a constant state of engineering flux, where petrol is so cheap locals barely bother to walk, where the Uber options include helicopters and the desert sands reflect onto towering skyscraper silhouettes.

    I have to be completely honest insofar as for a variety of silly reasons Dubai never popped up on our wanderlust lists. If it wasn’t for several transits on our way to New Zealand, my European history adoring self wouldn’t have found my interest piqued, and my America adoring husband may not have considered it, preferring a Los Angeles visit instead.

    What to do in Dubai Adventures of a London Kiwi

    What to do in Dubai Adventures of a London Kiwi

    This was dumb.

    What to do in Dubai Adventures of a London Kiwi

    We didn’t really have many expectations, and apart from a touch of research on Pinterest (and a few Twitter recommendations –
    check out My Custard Pie and FoodieDiaries who are veritable fountains of knowledge) we entered the country hoping to have a drink in the worlds tallest building, pop out to the desert dunes and skip over to nearby Abu Dhabi for a night to catch up with friends and family living expat life. Anything else was a bonus.

    What to do in Dubai Adventures of a London Kiwi

    All I knew from friends (and my dentist of all people – I am paying that man far too much) is that Dubai has emerged as a hotspot for luxury, shopping and decadence, so as a bonus 5-day stop on the way home from our New Zealand Christmas this year, we thought it would be an interesting way to ease ourselves over jetlag and enjoy a last touch of sunshine before returning to London rain.

    What to do in Dubai Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Must do Dubai Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Spoiler: we rather enjoyed it (especially Mr Kiwi to my utter surprise).

    We stayed in a nice hotel close-ish to the airport, enjoyed a touch of the suite life, managed a few laps in the pool and explored as much as we could fit in.

    Must do Dubai Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Must do Dubai Adventures of a London Kiwi

    We wandered through the enormous Dubai Mall – so big it has two waterfalls, discovered a few secrets and a lot of history on a private tour, enjoyed an evening in the desert, became entranced by dancing fountains, pottered through the souks and managed to get the only cab driver in the United Emirates to miss the world’s tallest building.

    Must do Dubai Adventures of a London Kiwi

    But those are stories for another telling…

    Must do Dubai Adventures of a London Kiwi

    I feel like we’ve ‘done’ Dubai now, though I would love to spend a little more time in Abu Dhabi (an overnight trip wasn’t enough), pop into Doha and would love to visit Oman – I hear that it’s like Narnia. One thing is clear about Dubai is that money runs this city – but with a playful side that intrigued me.

    Must do Dubai Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Is Dubai on your wanderlust list?

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