Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
I love travelling. I enjoy seeing the cultural differences. In the Middle East, Coke cans have Arabic writing on them and you frequently see elegant Arab couples contrastingly dressed: the men in white robes and the women in black.
Abu Dhabi is hot and dusty; the city centre being a broad block of skyscrapers lining the coast, with towering hotel apartments everywhere. In Abu Dhabi they drive on the right, fast, overtaking each other on both sides. Driving between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the hot sun sank into the sand and the mosques started to glow green. We traversed Yas and Saadiyat Islands to get to the hotel apartment, Bin Majid Tower, our home for the week, with a pool on the 18th floor and views across the Arabian Gulf.
The first week was about acclimatising and setting up author visits. We enjoyed two relaxing days visiting my aunt at a five-star hotel, the St Regis Saadiyat Island. I walked along the beach picking up shells while Phoebe played 18 holes of golf. The kids swam and read and we buried my youngest son in the sand. We also got painfully sunburned. Well, me and the boys. The girls were more sensible.
We visited Cranleigh School on the beautiful Saadiyat Island: the two-year-old sister to Cranleigh in England which is 150 years old! Unlike its English counterpart, Abu Dhabi’s Cranleigh is a huge white box, gorgeously interior-designed in bright colours. Inside, the pupils wear school uniforms that would place them comfortably in England. Sadly, the education authority didn’t grant me permission to speak at Cranleigh (we found out towards the end of the book tour). But that’s also part of cultural life in Abu Dhabi: living with the unexpected.
As in much of the UAE, migrant workers tend to be Indians, Pakistanis, Africans and Filipinos. Consequently, supermarkets and restaurants emit the aromas of these cultures. Wandering around downtown Abu Dhabi, we found hidden barber shops, Indian cafes and cheap launderettes. An SFC Plus (like KFC) became a firm favourite with the kids because of its butter rice and super-spicy deep-fried chicken.
Too soon, it was time to move on to Qatar for our next adventure. But more of that next time.
Joshua Raven, novelist. Read about my writing and my life here. And have you discovered 5fingers yet?