After one year in Australia, it was time to leave and head back to the Netherlands, where it all started almost 18 months ago. As a flight from Australia to Europe is too long to do in one go, we chose to make a stopover in the United Arab Emirates to visit Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Ironically, the price of the stopover was one of the least expensive purchases during our stay here. We managed to get a good stopover deal with Etihad, also one of the best carriers around. This meant we had to fly into Abu Dhabi, while we were mostly interested in Dubai. The flight went way more smoothly then our previous experience with Etihad. However, as with most overnight flights, unless you are in the business class, the sleep quality is lacking. Nevertheless, we had a lot of plans for our short stopover, so we got right to it.
After picking up our rental car, we quickly found out that traffic rules were subjective here. Needing to be on constant alert surely took its toll, but it wasn’t anything a couple shots of espresso couldn’t help with. Two big sights in Abu Dhabi worth a visit are the impressive white marble Sheikh Zayed Mosque and the luxurious Ferrari World.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is a must see as it is one of the biggest mosques in the world, displaying in its main prayer room the world’s largest chandelier, 15 meters in height. The white marble, gold decor, detailed floral designs and reflective pools create a majestic surrounding. Women should bring a scarf, as one must cover their heads and dress modestly. Although we did not enter Ferrari World, it was interesting to see the massive structure from the outside.
From Abu Dhabi, it takes roughly 90 minutes by car to reach Dubai. As soon as you are approaching Dubai, you are met with countless skyscrapers decorating the skyline. Our first stop was the Dubai Marina, an artificially constructed canal system with next to it the Dubai Marina Mall, one of many enormous malls in Dubai. After grabbing a quick lunch, we decided to head for our hotel.
We chose to stay at the Four Points by Sheraton, a bit more upscale then our usual pick, however we thought it to be part of the “Dubai experience.” We chose this hotel as it was right in the middle of the main Sheik Zayed Road, included free parking, offers beautiful rooms and a rooftop lounge with amazing views of the Burj Khalifa. After a swift check-in we were pleasantly surprised with a free upgrade to the business suite. We spend our short break exploring the facilities and shortly after were picked up by our driver for a Desert Safari.
Our driver was polite, punctual, and had some serious dune bashing skills. It took about an hour to drive up to the desert near Sharjah, located only 30 minutes from the Oman border. The ride through the dunes was stunning and fun, however after twenty minutes our sleep deprived bodies were ready for a nice meal. We went to a desert settlement in which included various activities such as getting a henna tattoo, going for a short camel ride, free tea and coffee, shisha, a belly dancing show, and barbeque dinner. The camp was massive, with multiple tour companies joining in, which we personally didn’t like as it felt overcrowded and routine. The dinner felt strange as we were basically herded into long lines and served an underwhelming dinner. The free coffee was simply instant coffee, and the diluted tea didn’t come close to Moroccan or other Arab standards. The belly dancing show was also underwhelming as the performers didn’t seem too professional, so all in all we found the dune bashing exciting, however the camp to be underwhelming.
Although we were exhausted, with only one night to spare at the rooftop lounge we decided to grab a quick drink and enjoy the views once we were back in the hotel. After a refreshing nights’ sleep, the next morning we drove to Festival City to see Dubai by helicopter. We felt that, although expensive, this was the best way to see Dubai. Our 22-minute flight started out in Festival City and inched its way to the old city, continuing on passing the famous World Islands, and the Palm Islands with its Atlantis Hotel. Turning back we saw the beachfront, which included the iconic Burj Al Arab, and the Dubai Creek. Passing through downtown the skyline was dominated by the impressive Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure in the world spanning 830 meters high.
After the helicopter tour we decided to take a closer look at the Burj Khalifa by visiting the ridiculously massive Dubai Mall. Luckily, parking was free as we spend almost seven hours (!) exploring the mall. Every known store from everywhere can be found in this mall. After hours of walking (air-conditioned thankfully), we decided to drive back to Abu Dhabi for our flight out.
We, Mark & Herta, are currently backpacking through Europe, and eventually planning to settle in London. Beyond that? The possibilities are endless.Read Mark & Herta’s full story.