Abu Dhabi is not too shabby

The rest of my family told me that this blog title was way to cheesy. I used it anyway.
Our second full day in UAE was as full as the first. This day, we went to see the sights of Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE, a one hour drive from Dubai. Both of our flights in and out of UAE were in the Abu Dhabi airport, but it’s too bad that they were late at night and early in the morning, so we had to make a separate trip to see Abu Dhabi.
Our day started with a swim at the pool on the 30th floor of the building. It was cold because, for some reason, there was a lot of wind up there!

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Ok, now do you know what Tim Horton’s is? If you live in Canada, I can pretty much be sure that you do. For those of you that don’t know what it is, Tim Horton’s is a fast-food restaurant/cafe/bakery that is SUPER popular in Canada. In other words, USA has Starbucks and Canada has Tim Horton’s (a.k.a. Timmy’s). Our city of 80 000 people has 11 of them! There are a few in northern USA, and one at the Canadian military base in Afghanistan, but who knew… we found Tim Horton’s in Dubai! Apparently, the city has many of them. We decided that we just had to go have breakfast there.

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Written in English and Arabic. We were laughing at how they have to write "cafe and bake shop" so that people know what it is!

We had our favourite breakfast sandwiches (similar to an egg McMuffin) for breakfast. So good! It really reminded us of home!

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Wow… I never would have guessed to find Timmy’s in Dubai. It is pretty much exactly the same as back home.
Next, Sunil drove us to Abu Dhabi, one hour away. Along the way, we saw these signs:

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Clearly, the UAE has huge plans for theme parks and tourism. The money is just pouring in!
In Abu Dhabi, our first stop was the Masdar City.

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Masdar City is an innovative sustainable neighbourhood and grad school for MIT in Boston. What makes it unique is that it combines primary research, prototype making, mass production and marketing, all in one place! It isn’t finished yet, but when it is, it will also be a neighbourhood for academics and others to live using 100% renewable energy and some cool transportation.

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Here is a model of what the city will look like.

Okay, “cool transportation” is an understatement. It’s so awesome! It is a network of small, driverless, (renewable) electric cars that use magnets in the ground to navigate around. They’re Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). In the original plan for Masdar city, the PRTs would service the entire city, but they ran short of money and changed the plan, so the PRTs only will service a small area.

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In the model as well

So we decided to take a ride in a PRT!

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It felt very futuristic! It drove itself around and parked itself, all without a driver!
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This is what the PRT looks like from the outside.

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They say that the PRT is a way to combine the advantages of a personal car with those of public transit. For example, you get your own private space like a personal car, but with so few emissions, like public transport! If this was in a city, you would not need to own a car, but you would call up a PRT on your mobile phone, and it would show up.
After our ride in the PRTs, we took a tour of Masdar with a guide. It was short though, and unfortunately we didn’t learn as much s we would have liked to.

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The guide showing us the prototype for the city
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The residencies are made to look like sand dunes. Notice the solar panels on the roof.
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This is a display about an airplane (the Solar Impulse) that is currently flying around the world using only the energy it generates from solar panels on its wings.
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This is a wind cooling tower in the central courtyard. UAE is a very hot place, and this is designed to encourage people to spend more time outside. It works by creating by creating mist at the top of the tower. The mist evaporates and cools the air as it drops through the tower.

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During our two days in UAE, we were struck by the huge environmental inconsistency. When we were there, there were two sustainability conferences happening, there is Masdar city, and Dubai just announced plans to invest 3 billion dollars in solar electricity to reach a capacity of 3 gigawatts. This will help UAE to reach its energy goal of 24% renewable by 2021. On the other hand, today it makes almost all of its energy from oil. It is built in a desert, and can’t support the water needs of the fast growing population, so it has to desalinate.

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One of UAE's main oil powered electricity stations.

After the slightly underwhelming tour of Masdar city, we went to the Yas Mall for some yummy Lebanese food. Then, Sunil drove us to the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque. It was built between 1998 and 2007, paid for by Sheik Zayed (king of Abu Dhabi). It is the third biggest one in the world, fitting more than 40 000 people inside! They probably would have built a bigger one, but you can’t build one bigger than Mecca, the head Mosque, because Mecca has to stay the biggest. The Sheik Zayed Mosque is built with materials from all over the world, with the purpose of uniting the Islamic world. It’s a beautiful thing to see.

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To enter the Mosque, you need to be dressed in the right way, so my mom, dad and I rented the traditional clothing for our visit (it isn’t necessary for young boys). For my mom and me, we got the Abaya. It’s a long black dress and headscarf. It was sooo hot, and I don’t understand why they chose black, the colour that absorbs the most heat! My Abaya looked quite nice, but my mom looked too much like the grim reaper. Instead of a headscarf, she had a hood, and her dress was so short that her pants stuck out at the bottom!

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That's the grim reaper on the left

For my dad, he wore a long white robe. I think that’s a lot more practical than what we wore!

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We were all dressed appropriately, so we entered the Mosque. There are way too many photos, so scroll through quickly if you want.

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The chandelier from underneath

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Wow… I don’t like to use these words but I have to say that it was spectacular and exquisite! It’s a beautiful Mosque, and worth the drive from Dubai. It’s hard to believe that two days earlier we were looking at beautiful Buddhist temples in Nepal!
On the way back to Dubai, we saw some interesting things:

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Building the new terminal to the Abu Dhabi airport
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This is a coin-shaped building!
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The coin building from the side
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Twisted tower!
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This is the Burj Al Arab, the only 7 star hotel in the world! It is built to look like a ship's sail, and there is a helipad at the top! You could go for high tea, but it costs $70.

When we got back to Dubai, Sunil drove us straight to Downtown Dubai (Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall and surroundings). We had heard that the fountain show they put on every evening was not to be missed. While waiting for it, we found another Tim Horton’s!

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Then, the show started. It only lasted about five minutes, but it was definitely the best fountain show I’ve ever seen!

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That's Burj Khalifa in the background.

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The Burj Khalifa gets nicely lit up at night.
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The moon looked pretty cool above the fountain show!

We were all pretty tired afterwards, and we used public transport to get back to the apartment. In Dubai, there is a raised train that runs along the main road. Why is it raised? We never figured that out.

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Here's a picture we took earlier in the day of the raised train.
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It was really packed!
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They are driverless trains!

The next morning, Sunil picked us up at the apartment at 5 AM, and we drove to the Abu Dhabi airport for our 8 AM flight to Frankfurt. Having a driver and a very nice apartment sure helped us fit as much as we could into our two day stay in UAE! Thanks, Daniel!
UAE is a very interesting country. I have to say, though, that I wouldn’t want to live there. It’s very barren, dry and sterile. For a girl like me who loves being outdoors, it isn’t exactly paradise! The extreme heat forces you to be in an air conditioned room, and there isn’t much wild nature (except maybe sand dunes).
Having said that, I’m glad that we went there. There is lots to see and do in the area, and we could have easily spent a week! It really is a fascinating place, and two days wasn’t enough.
As our driver Sunil said, “My home country of India has natural beauty. Here, it’s artificial beauty.”
Off to Germany!
Kaia

Sky high in Dubai

Back in July last year, when my parents were booking the flight tickets for this trip, we only had a vague idea of where we wanted to go.  A travel agent was on the phone with my dad, and said: “On your way from Nepal to Germany, the plane stops in Abu Dhabi in the UAE (United Arab Emirates), do you want to stay there for a few days?”  We thought it would be cool to see the UAE, especially the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, but it would be very expensive and hard to find (cheap) accommodation, so we decided to stay for only 2 days.  But as we started looking into stuff to do there, we realized that 2 days is way too short!  And on top of that, my mom’s high school friend Heidi emailed us saying “We’ll have a place for you to stay in Dubai”.  We later found out that she and her husband Daniel, who live in the US, had invested in an apartment there, and let us stay there for our time in the UAE, and even arranged a driver for us.  A driver!  We couldn’t believe it!

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After a 5 hour flight from Kathmandu, we walked out of the Abu Dhabi airport and our driver, Sunil, was there to drive us from Abu Dhabi to Dubai.  Sunil is from Agra, in India (where the Taj Mahal is), but lives with his family in Dubai.  The drive between Abu Dhabi and Dubai was on a big highway in the desert, and it took about an hour and a half to get to the apartment.  It was on the 3rd floor of a 39 story building.  It was beautiful!  We looked around, and found stuff like:
“Look, there’s a nice, big kitchen!”
“Look, there’s beer in the fridge!”
“Look, there’s a second floor!”
“Look, there’s a jacuzzi in the bathroom!”
It was really late, so we went right to bed.  Like I said earlier, 2 days is not enough time in Dubai, so we packed as much stuff as we could into our time there.  This blog entry will be about our first day, and Kaia will cover Day 2.  Here was the plan for Day 1:
-go up the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building
-visit Hema, a friend we met in Bali who lives in Dubai
-go to the Dubai museum
-do the desert safari

We got up early, and Sunil brought us to the bottom of the Burj Khalifa.

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We got our tickets at the bottom, and went through the little museum before going up.  At 829 metres tall, the Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest man-made structure.  It surpasses the 628 metre tall KVLY-TV mast, a communication tower in Blanchard, North Dakota that used to be the world’s tallest man-made structure, the 550 metre tall CN Tower in Toronto (that we’ve been up before), that used to be the world’s tallest freestanding structure (meaning it doesn’t have any wires holding it up), and the Taipei 101 in Taiwan that used to be the world’s tallest building (meaning it has the most floors).  So, the Burj Kalifa beats all 3 of those world records!

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And the Burj Khalifa won’t even hold onto its title for much longer.  They’re already building the Kingdom Tower, a building in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia that will be over 1000 metres tall!

After looking around the museum a bit, we headed for the elevator and went up, up, up…

The Burj Khalifa also breaks the world record for the world’s fastest elevator, at 10 metres per second.  It only took about a minute to go up to the 124th floor, at Observation Deck 1.  Let me tell you, I would not recommend it for people who are afraid of heights!  We were way, way up, and could see all of Dubai.

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This is what the observation deck was like.
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This big pond is where they do the Dubai fountain show.
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This is the Dubai Mall, seen from above.
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This is actually a reflection off the glass on the outside of the building!
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That's a lot of car ramps!
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New skyscrapers are constantly being built in Dubai. Sunil told us over 60% of the world's cranes are in Dubai.

I want make it clear that the reason Dubai has so many tall, expensive buildings is because the country is extremely wealthy, because of its oil reserves.

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Our clothes that day show that we've traveled the world. My mom's shirt and Kaia's pants are from Nepal, and my shirt is from Fiji.
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This building is the Burj al Arab, the world's only 7 star hotel. I wish I could spend a night there!
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The islands off in the distance are man made islands, still being built. They're called the World Islands, because they'll be the shape of the world's continents.
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This is a train for the Dubai transit system. All the trains are driverless, and all the tracks are elevated above the ground. Why? Well, probably because they had enough money to do it! It's a good example of the way of thinking in Dubai: We can build anything we can imagine if we have enough money.
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This is a beautiful mosque!
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One of the men on this billboard (I think the one on the right, but not sure) is Sheik Khalifa, the sheik (king) of the UAE. When the economy tanked in 2008, the company building the Burj Dubai, as it was called back then, didn't have enough money to finish building it. So, Sheik Khalifa gave them money to finish building it, and they named the building after him to thank him.

Dubai is built in a desert, so we were wondering why there’s a big city in such a desolate place, but one of the reasons Dubai became a big city is because half the world’s population is within a 5 hour flight, making it the “business capital of the world”.

After looking around on the observation deck, we walked back inside, where there was, of course, a gift shop, with all those little souvenirs and knickknacks.  There was also one of those green screen photo stands, to make it look like you’re hanging on the building and stuff.

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We were considering doing it, until we found out the price.  90 UAE dirhams, equal to about 30 American dollars.  A bit too much for one picture!

There was also the most ridiculous souvenir ever: a stuffy Burj Khalifa!

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It defeats the whole purpose of stuffed animals. In fact, it isn't a stuffed animal, it's a stuffed glass and metal building!

Then, we went back down, down, down to the bottom, and explored around the Dubai mall.

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This is the Star Atrium. You may have noticed the irregular star shape in the photo of thhe mall taken from the tower.

The mall is huge!  It’s way bigger than the Toronto Eaton Centre.  There are several atriums, and hundreds of stores, but it seemed like most of them sell fancy clothes and cosmetics.  It was hard to believe that all those stores can stay in business!  It’s not even the only mall in Dubai.

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The stores in the mall are pretty fancy!

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There was even a hockey rink in the mall! As Canadians who missed an entire hockey season, we really wanted to get on and skate!

There was also a huge aquarium in the mall, with lots of fish, sharks and rays.  It was beautiful, but nothing compared to the scuba diving we’d done earlier on the trip!

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Then, Sunil picked us up from the mall and brought us to an apartment building where a friend we met in Bali, Hema, lives.  You might remember Kaia’s blog entry about Ubud, in Bali, Indonesia.  We did a bicycle day tour, and met Hema.  She’s from India, but lives in Dubai, since she’s a flight attendant for Emirates airline.  When we told her we were coming to Dubai, she invited us to visit her for lunch.  At her apartment, we met her and her neighbour, Aditi, also an Emirates flight attendant from India.  In fact, all residents in the apartment building are Emirates flight attendants!

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That's Aditi on the left. The red caps and white scarves are part of the outfit for female Emirates flight attendants.
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One of Hema's hobbies is painting, so she had some of her own artwork on the walls of her apartment, like this one of the Buddha.

Lunch was, of course, Indian food!  Nice, soft naan bread with different kinds of curry.  Delicious! 

After lunch, Sunil brought us for a quick visit to the Dubai museum. It was mostly about the life and culture of the Bedouins, the indigenous people of Arabia. It was pretty cool, but we don’t have any photos.

Then, we went on the desert safari, recommended to us by a few people.  The guide/driver (I can’t remember his name), originally from Pakistan, drove us out into the desert outside Dubai.

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In Dubai, it can got so hot in the summer (50 degrees Celsius) that all bus stops are air conditioned!
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The Dubai skyline is so distinct, with the Burj Khalifa rising way above everything else.
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The sand blows onto the road!

We got to a place where tire tracks went off the road and into the dunes, and we followed them.

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Our guide letting air out of the tires. Notice the shadow on the car.

None of us expected what followed.  It turned out that the desert safari included dune bashing, or in other words, driving up, down and all over sand dunes!  This didn’t exactly fit in with our sustainability idea of this trip, but it sure was fun.

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The sand was SO nice, so we got out to play around on a dune for a while.

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Careful, Kaia, your pants will make you blow over!
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Now that's what I call "natural art".

After a while of dune bashing, we got to a setup of huts and a stage, the main part of the desert safari.

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The first thing we did there was ride a camel!

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These are our surprised faces when the camel sat down quite abruptly.

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My dad held a falcon, which I believe is the UAE's national animal.
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My mom got henna art on her hand. When you take the mud off, it leaves an orange mark for several days.

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We watched the sun set over a dune.

After a while, everyone got called in for a buffet dinner.  It was so good!  I filled up my whole plate before even realizing there was a barbecue too.
Once everyone was seated, the show began.  It started with an Arabian man dressed in a hard-to-describe outfit.  He did an amazing dance, where he kept spinning around and around for almost 20 minutes!  We couldn’t believe he didn’t get dizzy!  My dad gets dizzy after only one turn.

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He twirled these plate things while he was spinning.
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It got darker while he was dancing, and he lit up little lights attached to his many skirts.

He spun non-stop for his whole performance.  The second other performance was a woman doing a dance with a cane and a cape.

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After the show, we got driven back to the apartment, and slept soundly that night.  Thank you Daniel for paying for the desert safari!  We really enjoyed it.

We packed in a lot of cool stuff into our day in Dubai, and we still had another one left in Abu Dhabi.

Jake