our Arabian adventure started in Atlanta.
we immediately ran into trouble after arriving at the airport, when the airline we were flying (Air Canada – more on our experience with them later…) informed us that our carry-on bags had to be 21.5 x 15.5 x 9 inches, including wheels and handle, which is actually significantly smaller than most standard carry-on bags. we had packed meticulously so that we could carry everything on and not check any bags (ahead of us were three flights with two layovers, and we didn’t want to risk the off-chance that our luggage would get lost in a foreign country). after a little re-arranging, my suitcase just barely fit into the metal-barred slot they use to confirm your carry-on is compact enough. Seth’s suitcase just barely didn’t fit on the wheel/handle ends. so what does he do? he proceeds to dismantle his $3 Goodwill suitcase piece by piece, while the airline employees look on horrified. the handles came off easier than expected, but when we tried to squeeze the amputated suitcase into the test slot, it still wouldn’t fit. so he turned to the wheels, but those were stubborn. after a minute of tugging and tearing, we realized ripping the wheels out would just result in ruining the structural integrity of the suitcase itself. so after long last, we had to admit checking the damn thing was the only option.
by this point, Seth was sweating and cursing, but our luck was about to turn around. we headed to the airport lounge and were able to use one of Seth’s fancy credit cards to gain access to the VIP area. I’d never had the pleasure or fortune of being in an airport lounge, but this place was like stumbling into airport heaven. free food and a free open bar. the snack options were plentiful, including but not limited to hummus, veggies, cheese, crackers, sandwiches, soup, chips, popcorn, even gummy bears. and this shit was stocked constantly by the attendants. the bar was no joke, either. so naturally I drank champagne and ate all day while Seth worked and we waited for our flight. I felt like we didn’t belong in this holy place, but I was thoroughly enjoying it. I’m spoiled now because a normal airport experience will never again suffice. the rest of our 19-hour travel day went along fairly smooth with a few minor hiccoughs here and there.
after arriving in Abu Dhabi, and an expedient experience at customs, we were relieved that Seth’s handle-less bag had made the Toronto/London connections with us. it was 2am local time, and mom and dad were kind enough to drive to the airport to come get us. there was no time to rest, though, because after swinging by their apartment to drop off our bags and pick up Eli, we were on our way to watch the Super Bowl at the only American sports bar in town: Stars & Bars, baby. I won’t go into the well-known details of the game, but the bottom-line was that our team didn’t win, which was a big bummer. the outcome, however, was not going to hinder our good time. we polished off a few buckets of Anchor Steam and a bottle of wine for good measure, and left the bar in broad daylight around 7am to go home and crash.
after what I’ll call an extended nap, we got up to start sight-seeing. our first stop was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. this place was nothing short of majestic. before going in, though, mom and I were told that our long-sleeves and maxi-dresses were still considered inappropriate, so we were forced to wear the “abayas” they supplied for visitors who violated the strict dress code. we wanted to be respectful, so we didn’t put up a fight. plus, twinning. we were required to take our shoes off before entering the mosque’s perimeter, too. the whole thing was built in white marble, including the ground, which was cold on my bare feet. I can’t say enough about how stunning this religious monument is. the architecture of the building consists mainly of massive domes staccato-ed by these tall, piercing spires (can you tell I’m an architectural expert?).
as we walked around the large marble courtyard, every angle was a new, equally beautiful, view. we were surrounded by white columns decorated with ornate, intricate floral designs and pure gold detailing throughout. once inside, the mosque boasts the largest carpet in the world, 60,570 square feet in total, weighing 35 tons, and every inch of it was colorful and complexly designed. in the main halls, there hung giant chandeliers, each made with hundreds of glistening Swarovski crystals. we’d hit the mosque at just the right time, too – leading up to sunset. so, as the light waned, it revealed even more stunning views of the large looming spires and domes. once the sun had fully disappeared, a series of lights came on to flood the building in purple and gold tones. it was almost like seeing two completely different, but structurally-identical buildings, it was such a stark difference from the white shining marble to the midnight-blue hues. I was truly mesmerized. because I won’t even pretend that my words do the mosque’s magic any justice, here are some pictures:
and finally, the #moneyshot:
even the pictures don’t do it justice.
we practically had to pry ourselves away from the sight of the mosque, but our stomachs were aching. in between the mosque and dinner, we stopped at the Emirates Palace, where Sheikh Zayed and his family lived during his reign. compared to the mosque, it was equally extravagant. I was starting to gather that extravagance was a common theme in this country. even in the short time we’d been there, I had seen the same face on sides of numerous buildings and billboards, and learned that this famous face belonged to Sheikh Zayed himself. I had to do a little research to understand what a Sheikh was and who Zayed was, but now I know that he was essentially the UAE’s first president and ruled from 1971 to his death in 2004. he is beloved by all, and is credited with ushering in the 21st century for the citizens of the UAE. he was very progressive and is responsible for the young country’s success and rise to prominence. here is the only good picture we got at the palace, and it happens to be with his highness himself:
pretty handsome, if you ask me. but I’m partial to beards.
after our short visit and a quick drink at the palace, we left to get food. we went to a Lebanese restaurant and gorged ourselves on a feast of hummus, tabbouleh, pita, shish tawook chicken, eggplant fattoush, and other various shared dishes. stuffed, we made our way home and went to bed early.