Cityscapes in Abu Dhabi, UAE

September 30, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I was fortunate to spend a week or so in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) back in April 2013. My brother (currently) lives in Abu Dhabi with his missus and so I headed out for a well-earned break to visit them. While not my first time in the Middle East, it was my first time in the UAE. I spent the vast majority of my time in Abu Dhabi and a day's visit to Dubai. As this will be a photo-heavy post, I will do one post on Abu Dhabi and the other on Dubai. 

I flew into Abu Dhabi in the middle of a sand storm (see above) and the biggest thunder and lightening storm the region has seen in a long time. I woke up to a sand-covered and sand-enshrouded Abu Dhabi the following morning but thankfully that only lasted 24 hours. The pandemonium caused by the rain signified how one becomes accustomed to certain things in life, such as lack of rain. The earthquake on the 3rd day was the icing on the cake for the trip. I had brought armageddon or armageddon had followed me.

I found Abu Dhabi to be a more relaxed and friendlier city than Dubai. The buildings are less garish and pompous than those in Dubai but they were still incredible. The shopping malls and wealth within them was hard to take or comprehend at times. I was surprised (at least it was unexpected) at the relaxed and quite "liberal" mood within society there. This is comparing the country to my experiences in Egypt (Cairo, Luxor) and Sinai in the early 2000's. 

Abu DhabiAbu Dhabi

A view of the marina and largest flag in the world when looking in the direction of downtown Abu Dhabi from the largest mall in Abu Dhabi, the Marina Mall. 

Part of the beachfront of Abu Dhabi (above) along the fantastic Corniche. 

The wealth is quite obvious looking at the cars, boats, types of shops selling high end wares etc. but there was the regular shops as well selling wares for folk not benefitting directly from the oil wealth. Those folk are the non-nationals brought in to work in the service industry, construction, etc. They also work the taxis, which are a crucial way of getting about the city, particularly in the heat of day for an unclimatised Corkman. The taxis are cheap and equivalent to a bus fare here in Irish cities when getting from A to B. The taxi fares in Abu Dhabi are cheaper than the LUAS fares in Dublin for equivalent distances and longer! With fuel at 10c/litre, it is not surprising that cars are cheap to run and hence taxi fares are comparatively very very low. 

Abu DhabiAbu Dhabi

Construction is still ongoing in the city with new buildings popping up here and there. Here are a new set of buildings across from the Emirates Palace Hotel. The hotel is a 7-Star hotel and situated on over 100 hectares of landscaped gardens, and has 1.3 km of private beach (see below and spot the bird if you can). The designs of the new buildings are right out the imaginations of a film set designer. 

The modes of transport in Abu Dhabi range from the humble bicycle to buses bringing cheap labour into the city for the day to top end sports cars. With no road tax to pay and insurance quite cheap (relative to rip-off and litigious Ireland), the cost of fuel at 10c/litre, a lot of big, fast and thirsty cars are affordable to run...if one can afford to buy one of those big, fast and thirsty cars in the first place :)

The person who has put all this in place is the founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who died in 2004. He put a huge emphasis on educating his people and so set up numerous schools, universities and places of research. While the money is there to set this up now, the oil and the revenue that brings won't last for ever. Education and educating the local people is seen as the key to the future of the Emirates. 
The Grand Mosque Centre (below - was built to honour the "noble deeds and contributions to humanity, and to commemorate the legacy" of the founding father Sheikh; and it is a most magnificent sight. The cost to build this complex would have quite easily covered the bail-out money "we "(the Irish people) "agreed" to take on board. 

Abu DhabiAbu Dhabi
Oh, by the by, the carpet inside the Grand Mosque (above) is the biggest single-piece carpet in the world (5,700 square meters) and the chandelier in the background weights 12 tons and contains Swarovski crystals. Madness!
Out near the Mosque is the Yas Marina circuit where the Formula 1 Grand Prix takes place. We popped out on a Tuesday night to check it out as the venue is open to the general public to walk, run or cycle around the track. And it was FREE!!! All one had to do was sign a waiver form absolving the track owners of any responsibility for an accident to your person. A lot of cyclists and triathletes were out training when we there, with pelotons speeding by in formation. My brother was telling me that the triathlon and ultra-running has become popular among the ex-pat population here. It was cool to see a grand prix circuit and there was a good atmosphere there. Mad place. 
The buildings in Abu Dhabi are varied in their age and appearance. A lot of the windows are covered with coloured sun filters which allow light in but not the glare of the sun. It adds to the character of buildings and used to emphasis shape and structure throughout the city. 

Abu DhabiAbu Dhabi

Of course, the desert climate is harsh and construction materials suffer from the cold and hot cycles of the desert environment. Some buildings, such as the apartment complex below, are ravaged by this environment and crumble over time. This building is probably 20-30 years old and has now been abandoned and was due to be pulled down over the summer. 

Abu DhabiAbu Dhabi

Even the positioning of the small mosques around the city can be dwarfed and somewhat lost among the upwelling of buildings. 

Certain projects just don't get off the ground at all. This is, literally, a road and, what has now been named, a "Bridge to Nowhere". It is on the outskirts of the city, officially called the Hodariyat Bridge, and is used by folk to run and cycle on. It is (currently) the largest cable-stay bridge in the UAE and links the western coastline of Abu Dhabi to Hodariyat island (1.3km long and 29m vertical clearance of the channel). It was very surreal walking over this fantastic bridge with a perfect tarmac surface across the six lanes and ending on a desert island with little on it but sand and hardy plants. 


I wonder how long it will be before the ravages of the desert environment take its toll (pardon the pun) on the bridge and it crumbles into the Persian (Arabian) Gulf? The island is marked for development under the Abu Dhabi 2030 plan where Emirati housing will be built initially on Hodariyat island. We walked across it in 40degC heat which was a tad unpleasant :)

It was a great week spent with my bro and his missus. I had a blast and would love to return to the country again for longer and head south for some birding so as to give the bro a bit of peace! 

A classic tourist photograph of the bro and I by the gold dispensing ATM situated in the Emirates Palace Hotel. "GOLD to go"...different world. 

All photographs were taken with the Canon PowerShot G12, Samsung Galaxy SIII or iPhone 4. I used the G12 at either auto ISO or auto aperture with the ND filter constantly on. I found that I got mixed results and went fully manual at times. The zoom lens was handy for getting nice and close but to be honest, the quality of the images were not what I had hoped for. The lack of image quality prompted me to look into getting a different "point-and-shoot" camera. More on that in a later posting. 


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