Thursday, July 4, 2013

Abu Dhabi - Stuff To Do

I think one of the questions I get asked most often about visiting The Gentleman in Abu Dhabi is "What is there to do there?"

I wrote a lot about things we did during my first visit out there in October last year. This visit was a lot more relaxed; neither of us felt a compelling need to cram a whole lot into the trip given the amount of traveling we've done recently. There was a lot of down time at the rooftop pool in The Gentleman's building, a lot of lying on the beach, and a lot of couch-sitting and scary-movie watching. We didn't go out nearly as much as we did the first time.

That having been said, we certainly didn't sit at home all day every day.

One of the nice parts about this trip was that we now have a group of friends there - all expats, and some of whom I knew previously from Baltimore - and one of the nicer things is that some of these friends live on a beach and have paddle boards.

My first day there, we headed out to visit said friends for an afternoon on the beach and grilling out. I got to try paddle boarding for the first time, which was awesome until someone mentioned that the Gulf is teeming with jelly fish, and then I gave myself over to complete concentration in trying not to fall, because I hate jellyfish. 

Al Raha Beach

Nothing to see here. (Also - apparently, black plastic bags are like the Solo Cups of the  Middle East. It doesn't matter what you have inside, it's obviously a poor attempt at masking liquor in public.

I found a friend on the beach.
There were attempts at head stands on the paddle boards - mainly unsuccessful ones.
Did you have cheese plates at your ragers? We do now.
Because alcohol in bars and restaurants is ridiculously expensive and restricted to establishments in hotels, there are a lot of house parties. Kind of like college, except now everyone knows how to cook and only drinks the good stuff, and you're usually not worried about your house getting trashed or someone stealing your stuff. 

Another thing that's in high demand in the UAE for expats (besides alcohol and uncensored R-rated films) is bacon. Some grocery stores sell it in separate, "Non-Muslim Only" sections, and when you can find it - you buy it, and you use it. Immediately. However you can.

You've heard of beer can chicken, right? Of course you have. Creating it goes a little something like this:

Prepped, rubbed with spices, massaged, and told its a good little chicken. No one likes tough chicken - you have to show it love to soften it up.

Fill with delicious spicy things. 

It kind of looks like Gossamer, no?
I probably don't need to tell you how delicious that thing is when you stick it on the grill for (too long) and then serve it up (hourrrrs later), all browned and charred in all the right places, with the beer and juices all circulating beautifully. 

I don't think I could ever be vegetarian.

We also cooked a lot of pork. A LOT. Apparently someone found a grocery store that sells pork and just went bananas. B-A-N-A-N-Apork.

Another fun past time in the UAE is Vox Gold Cinemas. Films tend to come out there at about the same schedule as the US, maybe a couple of weeks behind. Occasionally, for a big film, it's come out before the US because Dubai holds film premieres, but for the most part the line-up you get in the US is comparable.

The UAE does censor films, however, and pretty much won't show anything that has nudity, excessive sexual scenes, etc. But it's sometimes completely random what they'll censor. They might cut out a gratuitous sex scene, but then leave in a couple making out in a later scene, or vice versa. We saw Iron Man 3 and, to me, it seemed to be pretty flawless but someone told me later that certain scenes were cut. Go figure.

Anyway, no one goes to Vox Gold Cinemas for the films. 

You go for the ridiculousness

Upon entry, you and your theater-going friend sit in a lounge area where you're given a full menu to browse. This isn't popcorn and Swedish fish - this is full-on dinner. The Gentleman and I shared calimari and a hummus platter. And a bag of M&M's. BECAUSE IT'S THE MOVIES.

A server comes to visit your private lounge area and takes your order, and then leads you into the theater where you are assigned your very own La-Z-Boy black leather lounger that fully extends out into a horizontal position. Oh, and you get a delightfully soft, fleecy blanket as well, which is AWESOME because I am always freezing in movie theaters. The Gentleman and I had two loungers next to each other with a cocktail table between us. After lying down and getting all tucked in, the server set the table and brought us our snacks just in time for the film to start. The screen is large, the food is pretty damn good, and when you're all snuggled up in your own lounger with a blanket, you'll watch pretty much anything.

Would you care for some shrimp cocktail during the movie?
The ONE down side to Vox Gold is that it doesn't serve booze. Oh well, can't win 'em all. Besides, if they did, I would probably fall asleep in my delightful lounger. Especially if I was watching a film Swiss cheesed with edits for decency.

One of my favorite things (obviously) is trivia. I have hosted a trivia for over five years in Baltimore, and seek out trivias in other places to enjoy (and snoop for category ideas). When I heard there was a pub quiz in Abu Dhabi, I made sure my flight schedule was arranged so that we would make it.

Heroes is a sports pub in the lower level of the Crowne Plaza hotel in what is basically midtown Abu Dhabi. You walk in from the excessive heat, humidity, sand, palm trees, neon, and chrome of Abu Dhabi into...a dive bar. With an excellent beer list. No joke. While I don't love dive bars, there is something just so familiar and comfortable about being inside one, and being inside one in the middle of the Middle East is about as homesick-defeating as you can get.

We turned out to be the only Americans in the place - it was packed full of Brits, Aussies, the Irish, and a handful of other English-speaking white people from countries I couldn't discern. 
It was pretty damn fun, although we didn't do terribly well...

One of the questions we got correct was, "In which US state was The Blair Witch Project filmed?" MARYLAND, MARYLAND, MARYLAND I KNOW THIS ONE OOOHH OOHH!!

The Gentleman lives on the Corniche, which I thought meant boardwalk until I just Googled it and found out that it actually means a road on the side of a cliff or mountain with the ground rising on one side and falling away on the other; the word comes from the French for "on a ledge."  

Ahhh, well. I'll give that one to you, although it's a little bit of Arab-ish (like Chinglish) because the Corniche is not on a cliff or a mountain, but snuggled right up against the Persian Gulf. It's beautiful, and anywhere else in the world would probably be called a Boardwalk.

Running on the Corniche in the (very early) mornings is a favorite past time of ours, except you have to watch out, because they "wash" the Corniche every morning. This means that a coupl'a government workers come out in jumpsuits and hose down the Corniche turning the stones into a slippery death trap. I'm not entirely sure what they're washing off of the Corniche, but I don't want to think too terribly much about that.

Corniche facing south

Corniche facing north with The Gentleman strolling along. I love those buildings to the left that look like lipsticks. They've been in various stages of construction over the past year, and I hope we can go in them when they're finished.

The Corniche is sprinkled with little stands for ice cream, shisha, smoothies, and beach-side snack shacks (I'll show you the good from one in a later post about food). There are "Family-Friendly" beaches where women and men are allowed, and although you'll certainly see ladies bathing in their full-body swim suits, I've always worn a bikini and been just fine.
Another fun past time is finding Happy Hours. They exist. They're ridiculously expensive, and often times "Ladies Only," but they exist.

"Happy Hour" at Jumeirah Towers - each glass of wine was half price ($8 US), and you get a free tray of olives. Hooray!
One of the things we most wanted to do was go jet skiing, which turned into a bit of an ordeal. All day long, we watched jet skis circle the Gulf right outside of The Gentleman's building. We Googled, we Time Out Abu Dhabi'd, we asked around, and it seemed that all you needed to do was find this one particular guy at this one particular dock who would rent you jet skis for an hour or so. 

The first time we tried to do this, we wound up on a very remote area of the island of Abu Dhabi. We got a scenic tour of the jail, the Automated Slaughter House (which is right across the street from the jail, BTW), and a work camp. But no jet skis. Just a shuddery feeling of being in the wrong neighborhood.

The second attempt, we wound up at the marina and yacht club next to the mall where a very non-English-speaking man accidentally let us onto the docks where peoples' yachts were tied. We found a guy who said he knew a guy, he called the guy he knew, and the guy was somewhere else on the island but could meet us back at the docks "within a couple of hours." There were no jet skis to be seen on the docks, which begged the question: was he bringing the jet skis with him? Or would he expect us to jump in his car and be driven out to said jet skis?

The whole thing seemed sketchy at best and, anyway, we didn't have two hours to wait for him, so we bagged it.

Third time was a charm. A friend gave us a phone number and told us to drive out to the Shangri La hotel and resort and call a guy. (Everyone knows A Guy in Abu Dhabi. A Guy is responsible for finding you a maid, an oil change, a half-priced camel. You know - A Guy. Things don't get done by Google out there. They get done by knowing A Guy.)

So we drove out to the Shangri-La on the last day that I was there, called A Guy, who met us in a sputtering, ancient Nissan and asked us to follow him to this beach:

But: behold! Jet skis!!

This was, by the way, the second week of May and the very last of the nice weather before summer truly sets in. It was in the mid-upper nineties the whole time I was there, until right before I left when it started to creep up:

We finally got to go jet skiing. It was awesome.

After the excitement of jet skiing, it was back home for quick shower and change and then out for the evening to Pearls and Caviar for drinks and one of the best views of the city:

The Grand Mosque
 Finally - when you're doing all of this eating and drinking in hotels, you can also photo stalk incredible furniture and design schemes that I would like in my future home:

The Fairmont

The Fairmont - the lights change color periodically. It's amazing.

View from The Fairmont's beach
 I have several more Abu Dhabi posts to come for you, including: Eats, Epic Brunch, Ski Dubai, Sandance, and A Weekend Out In Dubai.

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