Living luxuriously in Abu Dhabi and Dubai

Known as the “Las Vegas of the Middle East,” the UAE is a tourist-friendly destination

Photo: Pixabay
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the country’s center of worship, is a modern paragon of traditional Islamic style. Like much in Dubai, it’s oversized—it can accomodate 40,000 worshippers, boasts the world’s largest carpet, and one of its many crystal chandeliers is the third largest in the world.

Arlene & Thor Larsen
Fishkill, N.Y.

The next time you’re dreaming of sunnier skies, ignore your tendency toward the familiar and think more creatively about a change of venue. While Miami, Bermuda, and Palm Springs conjure up visions of warmth, sunshine, and resorts ready to cater to your every whim, consider instead someplace further afield: the United Arab Emirates.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are two of the richest and most powerful of the seven emirates that make up the UAE. Europeans and Asians flock to this part of the world, renown as a tourist destination, to be pampered at luxurious resorts and hotels that run the gamut from modest to lavish enough for kings and sheikhs.

Because a popular tour company that we had used before was running a special and our frugal mind-set could not resist a bargain, we signed up for a trip in November. Needless to say, one should avoid this area from June through August due to excessive heat. November provided sunny days with temperatures in the 70s and low 80s, and the Persian Gulf swept in pleasant breezes.

Upon leaving the airport, the first thing that strikes you about the country is the jaw-dropping architecture. The trip to the UAE is all about the skyline as you ride down the streets marveling at the gravity-defying unique designs, one after another. What makes Dubai and Abu Dhabi so impressive is the fact that almost all buildings you see are fairly new. While people have lived here since the Bronze Age, the area had been poor with farming and pearl diving being the main occupations until the discovery of oil around the 1960s. With the development of the oil industry and the advantageous location for commerce and free ports, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have exploded in growth, importing many workers and construction companies to build these beautiful skyscrapers and luxurious residences.

Photo: Sam valadi / Flickr
The UAE is known for its massive construction projects, like the Burj Al Arab, a luxury hotel that sits on its own constructed island. It is the third-tallest hotel in the world (if you include the non-occupiable space above its helipad).

Besides the beaches and golf courses, shopping in the amazing oversized malls is the main diversion for tourists and locals alike. The shopping malls we saw were constructed and decorated like palaces with different colored marbles, stained glass, and crystal chandeliers. Some even had waterfalls, mosaics, sculptures, mobiles, and other art works. Play lands with gigantic amusement rides for children were provided at some malls, and one had a professional-sized ice rink. Another mall had a large aquarium where you could scuba-dive with the fish, and one even had an indoor ski slope with a chair lift so the kids could get in a few runs while parents shop. The dizzying array of shops and restaurants could keep you entertained for days. There are restaurants from all over the world: Asian, Italian, French, Indian, and even American fast food. The stores ran the economic gamut from Tiffany, De Beers, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton to H&M and American Eagle. Any shop in New York, Paris, or London is available here with no tax added.

On our first full day in Abu Dhabi, we were taken to the massive and recently completed Sheikh Zayed Mosque, which accommodates 40,000 worshipers and is the largest mosque in UAE. The seven enormous crystal chandeliers, the 96 columns in-laid with marble and mother-of-pearl, and the 35 tons of Iranian custom carpet provide a stunning visual experience.

As you ride along the Corniche, overlooking the Persian Gulf, you view a large island with two buildings in the harbor. One building is the royal palace that belongs to the sheikh and the other is the Emirates Palace hotel. Since the sheikh did not invite us for tea, we did the next best thing: we went to high tea at the Emirates Palace with its Swarovski crystal chandeliers and gold-lined walls.

Due to the diverse immigrants living here and the country’s desire to have a significant international role, English is the main language. The constitution provides for freedom of religion although the UAE is officially a Muslim nation.

One of the most interesting aspects of our visit was experiencing the unique Muslim culture here. The people are very wealthy and well educated, and women have considerably more freedom than in some Muslim countries. Women typically accessorize their modest clothing with beautiful designer shoes and lots of gold and diamonds and drive luxury cars such as Mercedes and BMWs.

The weather was perfect, the food was diverse and excellent, the culture was unique, and the people were very friendly and accommodating.

This article originally appeared in the May 19, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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