Love letter to Abu Dhabi

Dear Abu Dhabi,
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For quite a long time I have felt the strong desire to write you a letter – a LOVE letter, to be precise.

You might ask yourself why I felt the need to do so. A love letter? To a city?
Well, the thing is, you are not just a city to me…
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Your International Airport is the door opener to a whole different world. It all starts at the “warm welcome” in immigration, led by the well-groomed officers in their white, perfectly-ironed Kandooras.
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Somehow, a heavy burden falls immediately off your shoulders (and no, I don’t mean the 30kg luggage which is carried by the lovely porters) once you breathe the UAE spirit in.
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The way from the airport (either by car or black, luxurious yet still “standard” taxi) to your centre makes one realize that you are the perfect combination of tradition and modernism.
You provide an incredible variety of attractions; activities; beauties; services and people.
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To be honest, I do not even know where to start my long list of praise!..

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Yes, you have a great waterpark; a stunning Formula1 race track; the fastest roller-coaster; the most palatial of all hotels; the stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the biggest shopping malls but hey, this is definitely not all!

First and foremost you are the host of “happiness” – why?

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No, not just because there is actually a “Ministry of Happiness”, but because you were built according to people’s needs.
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..You make us feel at home, away from home!..
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Everyone who is here finds their own kind of happiness by, for example, earning enough money to feed their families; strolling around shopping malls to get the latest fashion or simply to relax on the beach during the weekend.
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Your streets enable camels in pick-ups and blondies in VW Polos to meet the biggest SUVs as well as the fastest Lamborghinis.

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..marvellous Saadiyat Beach..

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Endless beachfront; well-tempered, baby-blue and clean sea; balanced amount of algas and fish; delicate natural sand; jovial dolphin families; super amiable Bake-staff; delicious ice cream and comfortable sun beds.

Just one day over here makes up anything bad one might have experienced throughout the 55-hour work week!

I appreciate the lifestyle you provide!
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..Boredom? Not-at-all-ever! Beach? Desert? Sun?..
You really have it all: from the jet-ski session behind Lulu Island; yoga in the park; relaxing deep tissue massages; late night basketball sessions with the dudes, to the exhausting bootcamps at 5h30 with Haddins.
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The happy hours & ladies nights in the different rooftop bars; shisha-bars with a view; countless pool & island-party options; 180° bars near the waterfront are the perfect closing of the various international, gourmet or traditional, local dinner options.
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Thanks to your incredibly huge variety of nationalities, you spoil us with the finest cuisine in all possible variations – from Indian, to French, over to Chinese and Moroccan which ensures that literally EVERYONE will find something suitable. Even for the “conscious eaters” you established many Organic Cafes in addition to cute waterfront coffee shops.

I love you because you make me feel warm, loved, respected and safe at all times.

 

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Leaving bags unattended while grabbing some more food at the buffet; asking the waiter to charge the phone and getting a “tag” in return; dancing on my own in the club without getting harassed and revealing the debit card pin towards the petrol attendant make you stand out in comparison to any other city!
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..with you everything seems so relaxed and easy…
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The spontaneous off-road parking; the drive-through ATM on the way home; the affordable taxi drives; the natural rounding off at the cashier due to the lack of change; the delivery of McDonalds; pick-up of the dry-cleaning laundry at 23h00 or the helpful Baqala attendant who gets me the missing onion while I can continue chopping the meat.
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You are the stable bridge between a “low-key” and a “high-level” lifestyle.
Not all of us earn a huge amount of money over here – yet from time to time we are able to pamper ourselves with an exclusive high-tea on the 70th floor; the much-needed mani-pedi or a quick getaway to the fancy desert hotel nearby.
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You make me literally feel like a Princess whenever you spoil me with the sumptuous places; worryless lonely walks during night time; preferential treatment in queues, public transportation as well as waiting areas; stunning views supplemented by the services (like valet parking; butler service; shopping packer  etc.) with the greatest attitude instead of awaiting to be tipped.
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You make me happy with your stunning sunsets; the pleasant outside temperatures at night-time while dancing to the best songs; the dips in the warm sea and the people you connected me with. 
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You surprise me with your forward-thinking, conveyed by SMS from the Ministry of Interior; the instant print out of the drivers license; the chilled bus station; the free wi-fi connections in the most rural corners; the convenient E-Gate at the airport; the instant messaging & transfers by the bank; which clash with the missing mail addresses; illogical approach in many areas and the common “lack of common sense”.
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..You are the link between all of us..
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nationalities
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The leading example for a tolerant, peaceful co-existence between over 80 nationalities.
You taught me so much about people and awoke my interest in different cultures as well as religions.
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You and your cosmopolitan attitude deserve recognition. Contrary to the wide spread rumours you tolerate other dresscodes; merge highly diverse groups of people; provide everyone with the basic needs and make us residents but also tourists feel welcome.

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Because of you I have learned to appreciate every single given moment – I have learned not to take anything for granted; to be thankful for what I have.

 

..Love isn’t always pure and baby-rosa – of course there are days that I “hate” you..
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Sometimes it’s simply too hot, too sticky, too humid. The daily struggle at work or even in private life due to the multicultural environment is very real!
The high cost for a small, average-quality smoothie or the 15min delay due to the taxi drivers’ poor language and orientation skills can be depressing.
The lack of information and communication in the shopping mall or via call centres gets on ones nerves.  The promised-but-still-pending call backs; the wide-spread “no problem!” (which clearly prepares one for a bigger problem) and the “well-equipped” but often clueless maintenance guys make me go CRAZY.
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But like in every good relationship, one has to learn how to deal with and make the best out of it (even if your inner anger screams to be let out 🙂 )
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I really want you to know how proud I am for what you’ve achieved within a rather small time frame and especially what you did for me in the past 3 years.
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I thank you for from the bottom of my heart for connecting me with the people I now call “friends” and for deepening the relationship with my better half.
love you abu dhabi

You’ve provided and contributed to countless happy moments; unbelievable situations; unforgettable stories; stunning pictures; deeply felt gratitude as well as LOVE.
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Thank you, Abu Dhabi, for being simply you.
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Yours,
Jennylicious

Good to know

…Top 5+!
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Abu Dhabi and Dubai are becoming more and more popular as a destination, especially during Europe’s winter months – sure, where else can you get a nice tan in March?
To answer the most frequent, clichéd questions, I’ve put together the
“Top 5+ Good to know” (click on the links to get even more Information!).

1. Moving around
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The most common way to move around is definitely by taxi. Contrary to the popular belief that taxi rides are bound to exorbitant prices, in the UAE it is more than affordable.
Everyone moves around by taxi: from the Expat to the Tourist.
It’s fast, clean, registered and safe (beside their slight crazy driving styles from time to time).
Unlike in other Arabic countries you cannot bargain your taxi price in the UAE.
It is a fixed taxi meter which starts from AED 3,50 and increases in 25fils increments.
If the meter is not running properly, the ride is free of charge. 😉
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At the airport some random drivers will try to convince you to join them – but watch out, it’s not legal.
Take the black (yes, they look very fancy) taxis with professional driver which start from AED 25.-.
Since a year those are the only legal taxis for an airport-city one way-trip – those taxis have to leave the city empty and return to their starting point: the airport.
The other taxis (greyish) will take you TO but not FROM the airport.
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I would not book an expensive shuttle organized by the hotel since it’s a common and safe way to move around with the taxi.
In Dubai the taxi drivers are not as knowledgeable as Abu Dhabi drivers… you better know roughly where you want to go.

…“ok, ok no problem” is the typical reaction but watch out that he takes you to Burj Khalifa Dubai instead of Eiffel Tower Paris…

Also keep in mind that all taxis are only payable by cash, never by credit card. By cash I mean AED 20 to MAX AED 50 notes otherwise those poor guys will not have change for you.
As mentioned, the taxis are clean, drivers wear uniforms and some cars are even equipped with screens and wi-fi!

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Alternatively you can rent a car since it is more than affordable! More or less EUR 20.- per day plus fuel AED 15.-. It only gets cheaper in Oman…

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Fun fact: there are no addresses like in any other country.. you guide yourself and the taxi driver through “landmarks” (“Hamdan Str. Corner Najda, near National Cinema Building”).

2. Tip & Service Charge
In Abu Dhabi´s Bars & Restaurants you will find prices including or excluding “10% service charge”. Either way, in the end, it will be included in your bill.
The service charge is fairly distributed among all team members with the monthly cheque – not only the waiters but also the cleaners, cooks etc. therefore there is no need to add additional tip onto your final check.
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Actually there are many proofs out there that it is not “healthy” to “overfeed” waiters etc. during your vacation.
Sure, it is your vacation and you are in a good mood but those people work there every day – the more you give, the more they expect from other travellers.
In the end they do literally expect you to tip them higher.
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..don’t spoil them..
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Eg. Algarve, Portugal – many years ago the Portuguese waiters were just kind, cheerful and loved their job – in the end, they got the “20cent” which were left behind in the small espresso saucer and it was fine.
Nowadays they stand partly next to you while settling up and expect you to tip them high. Sometimes you even here comments like “You a Swiss, you have money anyways” or “you Germans, you have more than us here”.
Why? Among others, it’s def. due to the traveller’s overacted behaviour!
One last thing, for Butler, Pool boys and Valets applies the same – obviously, you are always welcome to tip a bit but in general all those “luxurious” services are included in the UAE…
It´s not Europe where every single nice gesture is accompanied by a check 😉

3. Dress code

Typical rumour topic! 😉
Everyone hesitates before packing their bags for Abu Dhabi…

What’s the dress code? “I heard…”
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Generally Abu Dhabi became very open and is the perfect place where tradition meets modernism.
Feel free to wear skirts, t-shirts, tops & dresses. If you use your common sense when talking about “length” – it will be more than fine.

Even short pants are alright – just do not overdo this.
Bikinis are welcome on the beach or pools – no need to buy a “swimsuit” for your UAE trip!
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For males the dress code is even easier BUT for the evening it has to be any kind of shirt and closed shoes. Restaurants, Bars & Clubs will deny you the access if you appear in your Bermudas and flip flops.
During the hot months you will be more than grateful to be able to wear light and short clothes!
During the chilly months, don’t forget your cardigan – for the shopping malls you will also need your light pullover in order to withstand the strong AC winds.
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For two occasions you will have to wear long-sleeves and cover yourself a bit more.
During the holy month of Ramadan and if you want to visit a mosque from the inside.
This should be respected and it will not harm you at all to adapt in these few cases.
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4. Eat and Drink?
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All restaurants, bars and clubs are located in hotels due to the expensive “drinking license” which they have to obtain before being able to pour out drinks.
Don´t worry – prices are not exorbitant – it is simply normal to go to the normally “posh” hotels.
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In Europe you only step into 5* for Granny’s Brunch or Graduation Ball.
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Referring to Brunch… Friday Brunch is very popular but not comparable to the classy European Brunch..
Check the offers of the posh hotels and you will be blown away where their focus is on…
..oh yes it´s ladies night..
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Something which also no one believes: every night you will find a range of nice “ladies nights” in the city where ladies drink totally for free for certain hours or even throughout the whole night.. yes, in Abu Dhabi and in Dubai – unbelievable… 😉

In Abu Dhabi you do only have 2 locations which serve alcoholic beverages and are NOT situated in a hotel (Club MAD and Restaurant Pacifico Tikki).
Nevertheless you will be able to find an affordable local, nice restaurant where you can enjoy a full rice platter and some juicy chicken for little money! Enjoy it…
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5. Desert Safari Bookings?
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Travel agencies in your home country will try to sell expensive excursions; rather inform yourself upon arrival and go with a local partner – your hotel concierge will be able to help you out!

Continue reading

Doha, Qatar

..great!

One of my first trips within the “Middle East” was a trip to Doha, Qatar.
Beforehand I heard several comments like “why? It’s boring” and “stay in Abu Dhabi, Doha is not worth a visit” – comments by whom? Of course, people who did not even go themselves – the REAL experts! 😉

As usual, these comments did change my mind and so I booked a flight from Abu Dhabi to Doha.

Distance: less than 1h by plane (AUH-DOH)
Ideal stay: weekend trip
Temperature: depending on season, between 14ºC and 42ºC

..Doha is..if your flight from Abu Dhabi lasts 30min and you queue 1h at Immigration..

The flight timings with Etihad are just perfect for a weekend getaway. You fly to Doha on Thursday after work (17h55 or 21h40) and fly back to Abu Dhabi Saturday evening (22h45).

Upon arrival you will have to be a little patient while queuing at Immigration as well as pay QAR 100.- for your tourist visa (payment by credit card is more than fine!).
The easiest way to explore Doha is definitely by car since blue taxis are quite rare (=our experience + stressed by locals). Another convenient way to move around is UBER.

We’ve stayed at the “fancy” W-Doha but I believe the Kempinski Marsa Malaz, the Sheraton and the Intercontinental would do, too (depending on your budget!).

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After the hotel check-in we just relaxed and had a quick bite via room service. Club sandwich is definitely one of the BEST choices of every hotel’s room service menu.

Day 1
The next day we decided to take a walk to the nearby mall and ended up at the Corniche with our “breakfast to go” by Carrefour.

Kindly keep in mind that Friday is a weekly holiday therefore you might have difficulties in finding open shops during morning time. The city comes to life from 18h onwards!

The best way to “cross” the bay from “new town” to “old town” is by traditional dhow. You can simply approach one of the providers at the port and enjoy the amazing view over Doha’s skyline.

Never book tours, services and rental cars in advance – go with the local provider & bargain

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On “the other side” you will find the amazing Museum of Islamic Art which will keep you busy for a few hours. Did you know that almost all museums in the Middle East are free of charge because as per the Governmental’s perception, culture should be accessible by everyone? Great approach!

Once you are done (or at least physically exhausted) you can walk over to the famous and gorgeous Souq Waqif.
Here you will be able to find everything you might be looking for..from the handcrafted traditional art pieces, souvenirs, fresh juice, foreign (but also local) people, up to an enchanting, unique place to eat.

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For dinner I do highly recommend Parisa which serves Persian Cuisine and glows with its incredible atmosphere.
Afterwards you could either stroll around the Souq or enjoy a drink in Sky View. Great outdoor seating with splendid view!

Day 2
On the second day you either continue to explore the cities’ museums (National Museum of Qatar and MATHAF – Arab Museum of Modern Art) or you start your journey on THE PEARL with a delicious breakfast at Eggspectation.

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The Pearl consists of different cosy coffee shops, a long promenade, various shops and a “Venetian village” – go and explore it!

Once you are done take a walk through Katara Cultural Village. Online you will be able to see what kind of events or shows are on! I was lucky to see the traditional Dhow Festival.

Yes, there I am..the Blondie in the middle of the scenario! And guess what, no one cared – no one came too close or tried to annoy me. Why? Because as I told you the Middle Eastern world is different to other Arabic countries. Here Women rate high in society and especially foreigners are treated with the utmost respect.

We were looking for a particular restaurant and encountered a very friendly, helpful Local who gave us a great personal recommendation for Lunch – Mamig (Authentic Armanian Lebanese Cuisine) with a spectacular outdoor seating:

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If you feel like spending some money on your next wardrobe item I would recommend you to go to Villagio (yes, again Venetian-style). We helped ourselves with a Frozen Yoghurt and walked over to The Torch. It’s a stunning, iconic hotel which reaches 300m high and offers a 360ºC city view (football fans can enjoy the view over the newly built football stadium).
The Torch is surrounded by the Aspire park. The park offers some food stalls, fake birds’ twittering and a relaxing lake view from the hills.

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This is actually how our trip ended. We sat there, enjoyed our last Doha-breaths and went straight to the airport.

As said, next time I would rather rent a car or take UBER instead of having the taxi struggle but other than that I would re-do our trip just the way it was!

Bear in mind that Qatar is slightly more traditional than Abu Dhabi in regards to dress code and street behavior. I felt super safe, comfortable at all times and do highly recommend you to visit this lovely country soon 🙂