It’s an interesting experience returning to the home country after seven years in the desert. Despite being away for so long, the most surprising thing to deal with on the return is the almost complete lack of interest from friends and colleagues in what you’ve been doing and where you’ve been doing it. I generally put it down to cognitive dissonance, the Middle East is too far beyond comprehension to get your head around if you’ve never been there.
So I’m going to go for it here.
What’s Abu Dhabi like? Charming, eclectic, inspirational – it’s my soul country.
It’s an entire emirate, and a capital city
What exactly is Abu Dhabi? It’s an entire emirate, and it’s also the name of the capital city of the United Arab Emirates (made up of seven principalities that decided to band together and form a country in 1971 – Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al-Khaimah, Sharjah & Umm Al-Quwain). Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven emirates, and it comprises three distinct regions: Al Gharbia (the western region), Al Ain (the eastern region), and Abu Dhabi city.
It’s where the desert meets the sea (Western Region)
Most people would be able to imagine its glorious desert dunes, but few would realise that this emirate actually has hundreds of kilometres of coastline and archipelago islands. The spectacular Al Gharbia western region boasts not only the world’s largest uninterrupted desert, the Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter) but also the incredible Desert Islands, a wildlife reserve and resort on Sir Bani Yas Island, and the stunning five-star resort Qasr al Sarab (Palace in the Desert) nestled within the dunes of the Liwa Desert on the edge of the Empty Quarter.
It’s ancient heritage and culture (Eastern Region)
The eastern region of Al Ain is no less enthralling, it’s full of ancient heritage and culture and is the traditional home of the Abu Dhabi ruling family, the Al Nahyan tribe. Al Ain city itself is one of my favourite places on earth, for its roundabouts, flowers and rustic charm. It has a working oasis full of date farms right in the heart of town, and the only surviving camel market on the outskirts.
It’s one of the 21st century’s emerging capital cities
And Abu Dhabi city itself….well, this place has morphed into a destination of distinction in its own right over the last seven years. It has the warmth of a big country town with incredible skyscraping architecture and a five-star lifestyle. It’s full of flowers and trees and fountains and parks and beaches. It has its own F1 track and hosts the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix each year. It has islands – the entertainment destination of Yas and the glorious glorious emerging cultural destination of Saadiyat (Island of Happiness).
It’s the crossroads where the minds and culture of the East meet the West
Saadiyat Island deserves its own paragraph, as this is where the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum is currently emerging from the sand and expected for completion and opening to the public in December 2015. Following hot on its heels will be the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a maritime museum dedicated to the traditional wayfaring and pearl-diving heritage of Abu Dhabi, as well as the Zayed National Museum recording the history and development of this incredible place.
Why on earth did I leave?
At about this point, you’ll probably get that I worked for the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority. All this runs through my veins. Think I’ll have to write a Part II to share stuff about the charm of Emirati culture and its people.
Why did we leave? That’s another story too. We kind of really liked our lifestyle of living here and here, and spending weekends on Saadiyat Island here and going out to the archipelago on this. The UAE is a place of shifting sands and you have to go with the flow of it. I’ve been back three times and each time had a completely different adventure. This time round Paolo’s contract with his company completed and we had two weeks to come up with an alternative plan for us to make a life together before he got shipped back to Italy.
So we picked Australia.