Abu Dhabi on the Big Red Bus

August 3, 2015 - Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Fearful of coming home many kg heavier, I did my usual exercises this morning without the DVD and the relentlessly cheerful Denise Austin. Felt so virtuous that I was able to tuck into the best  breakfast on the planet, the buffet laid out at the Latest Recipe Restaurant at the hotel. It offers everything you could imagine as well as some things you wouldn't recognise. Such as beef bacon which Max had yesterday and wasn't about to add to his Must Have breakfast list. There is also ordinary bacon which lives on a separate table, as we noticed when we were here before. This morning we discovered a lovely lemon and mint juice with a hint of, we think, nutmeg. We have enjoyed the Foul Madamme (sic) which is a kind of bean stew. There are lots of little copper bowls holding spices which we don't quite know what to do with. You can have eggs cooked for you any way you choose, there are bowls of hash browns, grilled veg, roast potato, tomatoes with griled cheese on top, mushrooms, pallid chicken sausages ....  samosas .... yoghurt in glasses with fruit, plates and plates of cold meats, cheeses, bowls of dried fruit, different kinds of bread, cereals, pastries. Etc etc. I wouldn't even think I could remember all there was spread before us.

After breakfast I took my camera around this lovely hotel and its grounds, and eventually we decided to walk along to the Abu Dhabi Mall to get the Big Red Bus. Max found an electronics store and bought the cable he was looking for, and I managed to drop my camera. Mild (?) panic when it appeared to be dead but more worryingly still alive. That is the screen was on but nothing else showed and it would not even turn off. Thankfully Max revived it by taking out its battery and putting it back again which seems to be the equivalent of giving it shock treatment to restart its heart.

We bought a 24 hour ticket on the bus, which we can use again until midday tomorrow. We sat upstairs as usual, and for a while we enjoyed the heat which, once the bus started, flew past us like air from a hair dryer set on high. We could feel our eyeballs frying.

This is an amazing city. Today was very hazy, as it has been since we arrived, possibly due to dust. The tall, sculptured buildings arose out of the haze, and all the colours, of the sea, the sand, the date palms lining the eight-lane roads, were muted by it. As usual we learnt a lot from the commentary - such as the fact that annual rainfall is about 12cm and 97% of their water is desalinated sea water. We caught a glimpse of the huge desalination plant on the trip. There is a lot of new building since we were last here, but the cultural precinct on Saadiyat Island isn't yet complete although we saw the beginnings of the beautiful 'floating' dome of the Abu Dhabi Louvre in the distance.

The Corniche is the usual eight lane road, running beside the 'crystal clear waters and golden sands of the Arabian Gulf', and lined with beautifully tended gardens, footpaths and picnic spots. The beach is divided into a family area, and a male section for unaccompanied men. There didn't look to be anyone on the beach, not surprisingly as I'm sure you couldn't have walked on the sand.

The bus route varies a bit from the one it took in 2013, and the first new building we stopped outside of, for an inordinately long time, was the World Trade Centre Mall and, on the other side of the road, the Grand Souk, built on the site of the original souk, but now 'vertical' which I assume means taking up several storeys. We had intended to stop at the Etihad Towers from which John and Sally said there is a wonderful view - our devoted fans from our last trip will, of course, remember that we went to the Emirates Palace Hotel while they went up the tower, John having been refused entry to the hotel because he was showing his beautiful knees. But our plans to see it this time were thwarted;  before arriving at the Towers the bus stopped for half an hour at the Marina Mall, so we just had to sit beside the enormous fountain at the centre of the mall and wait. I think the brightly coloured tiled floor of the fountain must have been the inspiration for the identically coloured but differently patterned tiled floor of the new Wollongng Mall. We sat together on a wooden seat, but when I got up to take photos, Max had to get up too because it was a seat only for women or families, and once he became an unaccompanied male he was not allowed to stay there. Not such a bad idea, we felt - not because Max is Max, but because men are men.

By the time the bus arrived at the Etihad Towers I was beginning to flag a bit, although I hate to admit it. We decided not to stop, but to go back to the Souk, then walk the four blocks home rather than get the bus around the circuit again. A few minutes later I said 'Let's just go home', which gives you some idea of the extent to which old age (and the 40+ temperature) has debilitated me.

We circumnavigated the beautiful mosque a few times, took a number of photos, and decided we would try to come back for a visit tomorrow. Max is a bit reluctant;  he says we might be disappointed, as we had loved it so much last time. We already have hundreds of photos of it.

The bus diverted through a number of new destinations, such as the Eastern Mangroves, a hotel/residential/ shopping mall/wildlife development which our recorded guide told us was incredibly eco-sensitive, but which appearances suggested was built over the very  mangroves after which it is named. We also drove through a Science and Research Centre, very attractive in a more traditional low-rise style.

After half an hour or so, we went down stairs on the bus and joined a dozen or so other people in various stages of meltdown. Max said I should keep drinking the water which came free in bottles with the bus ticket, but by this time it was the temperature of bath water and I felt it would be more like an emetic than a refreshment.

By the time we arrived back at the Abu Dhabi Mall we had been on the bus for over three hours, had seen a lot of fascinating things, and were just able to stagger home the remaining 600 metres or so. Max kindly wrapped a cold washer around my neck while I looked up the weather report and found that the temperature was 44 degrees C, 113 F. So I have learnt that, contrary to my confident predictions, 44 degrees is a bit warm to be out and about for long.

We had a shower, washed our clothes, had a bit of a read, and eventually decided to go to the Latest Recipe for dinner. It advertised an international buffet with 5 'stations', and turned out to have European, Indian and Arab food, salads, Arabic dips such as hummous and tabouli as well as a section where you could choose your meat or fish to be grilled, and a vast array of desserts. Max ordered a Rosemount Shiraz Cabernet (yes, really!)

I chose Indian food with a lamb chop, curried chicken, rice, a samosa and some naan, and Max had Arab, with chicken curry with rice and extras. We both went back for seconds; I had the selection of dips with some crispy pita bread, and Max had an eggplant curry. We both had hot apple crumble and ice cream, and some Turkish delight which, although nice, wasn't quite up to the one we had last night.

There were very few people in the very large restaurant, and we made friends with our lovely young Indian waiter. He told us that he had an economics degree from a local Indian university, but had come here to work 9 months ago to help support his parents in India. He wants to go back eventually and build himself a career, but can only expect very poor pay. His father began work as an agricultural labourer at the age of 10, and although his brother also has a degree and teaches chemistry back home in India, he (the brother) earns less than our friend. Because he is single our friend earns only about 300 dirhams a week (about $AU100) plus board and food. For that, he works every day in the restaurant from 6.30am until 11.30, then from 6.30 pm until whenever, usually about 11.30.

We also spoke a little to the young Asian waiter who was working with him. At one point Max and I had a discussion about the identity of some orange fluffy looking stuff which was in a glass case kind of decorative bulkhead running around part of the restaurant ceiling. Max thought it looked like dried rose petals, albeit orange, so we asked the Asian waiter. 'It's pome', he told us. He must have noticed our bewilderment so he tried again. 'Styropome.' Ah, got it.

Despite being rather pricey, our dinner experience had been well worth it.


Date palms and beige buildings
The major roads are huge
Summer dust covers cars stored at the docks
Dust in the air
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