All About Abu Dhabi

Woke up several times in the night, still slightly out of sync with the new time zone.  At 5:45am the wailing of the imam from a nearby mosque, reading verses from the Qu’ran, woke me up, so I got up briefly to close the balcony door (which we’d left ajar during the night for some fresh air, as I hate the drying effects of air conditioning).

At seven o’clock we got up and went out onto the balcony for a look at the new day, in which a blood-red sun hung low in the sky and cut through the early-morning haze.

Abu Dhabi is the capital and the second most populous city of the United Arab Emirates (the most populous being Dubai), and also capital of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the largest of the UAE’s seven emirates. Abu Dhabi lies on a T-shaped island jutting into the Persian Gulf from the central western coast. The city proper has a population of 1.5 million.

Abu Dhabi houses federal government offices, is the seat of the United Arab Emirates Government, home to the Abu Dhabi Emiri Family and the President of the UAE, who is from this family. Abu Dhabi’s rapid development and urbanisation, coupled with the relatively high average income of its population, has transformed the city into a large and advanced metropolis. Today the city is the country’s centre of political and industrial activities, and a major cultural and commercial centre, due to its position as the capital. Abu Dhabi accounts for about two-thirds of the roughly $400-billion United Arab Emirates economy.  We were looking forward to exploring this new port of call for us.

We went along to the self-service restaurant where I enjoyed a platter of smoked salmon, marinated herring, fresh fruits and a croissant, all washed down with strong hot coffee.  Then it was time to make our way to the Celebrity Theatre to book ourselves in for our half-day tour of the city and the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE and one of the largest in the world.

We were allocated bus number 5, and we disembarked the Constellation into the warm morning air.  It was not too hot, and a haze hung over everything, but soon the sun peeped out tentatively between the clouds and eventually the sky cleared to a brilliant blue.

We had previously been advised as to the dress code for visiting the mosque, so I wore a maxi-length dress with three-quarter length sleeves, thong sandals and an embellished wrap which would double as a headscarf.  Anyone who didn’t have the correct attire would either have to borrow an abaya, the long hooded robe worn by Muslim women, or would be refused admission to the mosque.

Our bus made its way through the busy traffic on the wide highways, passing many impressive skyscrapers, hotels and manicured parks.  We saw several mosques with their distinctive minarets and onion domes, and opulent dwellings occupied by millionaires.  The whole place gave the impression of a bustling, affluent metropolis.  Our guide was called Tusun and was actually from Turkey, but he had lived in Abu Dhabi 11 years, so he knew the place very well.  He was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide, who laughed a lot or looked as if he was about to laugh.  😊

We arrived at the mosque which was an extremely large and impressive building. Atop the four minarets was a gold ball, each one of which Tusun explained weighed 500kg, or half a tonne, and was made of pure gold.  That means there was two tonnes of gold on the minarets alone!  In fact, Tusun told us that it took 11 years and one billion dollars to build the mosque.  Wow!

We had to leave our shoes on shelves outside the mosque, and the marble flooring was cool beneath my feet.  The décor was absolutely opulent and there were several impressive and ornate chandeliers made with a total of 40 million Swarovski crystals.  Amazing.

Ornate Swarovski crystal chandeliers

We had about an hour in the mosque and its grounds, before making our way back to the bus, where I was thankfully able to remove my headscarf.  Then we continued our city tour, alighting from the bus for a photo stop at the distinctive and impressive Etihad Towers, which consists of four tall towers designed and built with curves and parallel lines; it is the symbol of Abu Dhabi and I would imagine, from the name, is the headquarters for Etihad airline.

Over the road from Etihad Towers was the VIP gate for one of the most expensive hotels in the UAE, the Emirates Palace.  There were also other modern and striking buildings containing banks, hotels and other companies; we were amused to see a Marks & Spencer with the familiar sign also written in Arabic characters!  😊

Emirates Palace

Around 12.15pm we returned to the cruise terminal, where I purchased some postcards and a fridge magnet for Nicola, a girl we know who collects them.  Then we had to be quickly back on board as the Constellation was due to sail at 13:00 hours and lifeboat drill was at 12:30.  In fact, we were barely up the gangplank when we were told to make our way to our muster station, which in our case was C1.

Muster station C1 turned out to be the casino, so it was certainly an unusual lifeboat drill; I have never had to watch the safety demonstration sitting at a fruit machine before!  The first part of the drill was conducted in English, then it was repeated in other languages, so I took the opportunity to write out some of the postcards.  Once the drill was over, we returned to our cabin, dumped our bags then decided to go up to the pool deck for some lunch and a freezing cold beer each.

Trevor enjoyed a burger and chips, but I wasn’t hungry, so I just joined him for a bottle of Budweiser.  Just after 1.00pm the Constellation gave three blasts of her foghorn to signal the start of our voyage, as she slowly moved away from the quayside and sailed off into the Arabian Gulf.

We sat on the edge of the pool in the sun and enjoyed our beers as we people-watched.  There were quite a few children on the ship and they were making the most of the swimming pool and Jacuzzis, but were well-behaved and not too intrusive.

We sat out at the pool for quite a while, enjoying another two beers each, before returning to cabin 6098 where I did some of this blog, had a short nap to get rid of the last of the jet-lag, then took a refreshing shower and blow-dried my hair.

We decided to go to dinner earlier tonight as we hoped that the service would be quicker and we wanted to be ready to go to the Officers’ Soirée, which is the Celebrity equivalent of the usual Captain’s Cocktail Party and one where you can dress up a little smarter if you wanted.  I therefore wore a silver-grey beaded dress with a fluted lace hemline along with some crystal-adorned sandals and a black sequinned wrap which my Auntie had bought me for Christmas.

We went to dinner at about 6.15pm, and shared our table with two other couples and a Scottish lady who was a solo traveller.  Once again, the service was slower than that which we’re accustomed to; at one time we sat with empty plates, water glasses and wine glasses.  Usually the waiters and busboys are constantly topping up your water glass, but we had to ask for more, and there was a wait of nearly 40 minutes between the starter and main course.  The food, when it did eventually arrive, was delicious however.

At ten to eight we made our excuses to the others on our table, and went to the Grand Foyer where the Officers’ Soirée was.  I was pleased I’d dressed up a little because there were quite a few people there in full formal dress; men with their DJs and bow-ties on, and ladies in sequins and satin, ruffles and frills.

We spent some time talking to Rafaele Bernardin, the Hotel Director, and were introduced to Captain Vittorio Cantu, who is from Venice.  Then we went along to the theatre and got some good seats near the front for tonight’s show.

The show was called iHollywood!  (I don’t know the reason for the “i” as it’s not an Apple product!) and was tremendous.  It consisted of songs from the big movies, including the inevitable James Bond, accompanied by the fabulous ship’s orchestra, as well as lots of high-energy dancing.  The costumes were stunning and it was a very good show, very professionally done.

Afterwards we made our way up to Deck 11, to the observatory bar called Reflections, where they were holding a sing-a-long-a Abba show.  Inside, we met up with the Portsmouth couple again, Dave and Alison, and joined their table.  We got up and danced a few times and sang along with the words of the songs, which appeared on a big screen, karaoke-style.  We also enjoyed a couple more drinks, and we noticed that they were serving cocktails named after Zodiac signs, so Trevor and I each ordered one after our sign – Leo for him and Aquarius for me.  We were astonished when Dave and Alison said they were Leo and Aquarius as well – what a coincidence!

My cocktail contained tequila, orange liqueur and rose essence; it was pleasant but a bit sweet for my tastes.  Trevor’s contained Johnny Walker whisky as well as triple sec; I enjoyed his better than mine.  Dave also decided to try a “Leo”.

Afterwards Dave and Alison said their goodnights and left, whereas Trevor and I stayed for the disco, and I got up and danced a couple of times.  Then we had a night-cap and returned to our cabin, shortly after midnight.  Once again we slept very well, lulled by the gentle movement of the Constellation on the waves.

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