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After a 12-hour flight from Réunion, I landed in Paris and hopped on the train to meet up with my friend Susan at the Westin Paris. Susan flew in earlier that afternoon and will be joining me for the next 2 weeks of RTW #7! No one has ever joined me for this long on one of my RTW trips and I am super excited that Susan is coming along.
After meeting up at the hotel, we headed out for a spectacular dinner at my favorite little restaurant on Ile St. Louis before calling it a night (since we both had spent most of the night before on a plane). The next morning we caught the train back to the airport and headed to Abu Dhabi.
Situated in the southeast of the Arabian peninsula, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) is a federation of seven emirates (similar to principalities) and the capital city is Abu Dhabi. I’d visited one other emirate before – Dubai – on RTW #1 and it was quite an amazing experience.
The UAE is known for oil, opulence and over the top architecture and I wondered if Abu Dhabi would measure up to Dubai.
My entire reason for going to Abu Dhabi was to get to my next destination, the Maldives. It was one of the few cities in the world with reasonably-priced and well-timed flights to the islands. Plus, since I’d never been there and I loved Dubai, I thought it would make a nice stopover.
Turns out, Abu Dhabi is home to more than 200 islands, a great expanse of Arabian desert, some of the world’s most luxurious hotels, one of the world’s largest mosques and a vast array of gleaming skyscrapers.
Since we only had 24 hours in Abu Dhabi and there was far more to do than our time constraints would allow, we narrowed our day down to the city’s top sights.
After arriving late the night before, we slept in a bit before beginning our exploration on Sunday. From our hotel in the center of town, we headed toward the ocean to the beach-lined area of Corniche. Mile after mile of powder-soft white sand beaches line this stretch of sunshine-splashed real estate. The clear blue waters of the Arabian Gulf make these some of the best beaches in the Emirates.
We walked for a few miles out to the island of Kasser al Amouage where the city’s largest mall – Marina Mall – is located. After lunch at the mall, we next headed to Abu Dhabi’s iconic luxury hotel, the Emirates Palace. The distinctively massive Emirates Palace is the hotel alluded to in the movie “Sex & the City 2” even though the movie was actually filmed in Morocco (U.A.E. officials refused to allow filming to take place within the Emirates).
Though the hotel doesn’t allow anyone but guests or those with restaurant reservations to enter, we managed to talk our way in and spent some time walking around the lobby and shops before heading back to our hotel. Our plan for the afternoon was to visit the enormous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
One of the largest and most beautiful mosques in the world, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the only one in Abu Dhabi open to non-Muslims. As long as you visit outside of the daily prayer times, you are free to explore this exquisitely appointed mosque.
Large enough to accommodate 40,000 worshippers, Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque was said to “unite the world” with its design and construction using artisans and materials from all over the world. More than 3,000 workers and 38 different construction firms were involved in the creation of the Moorish and Mughal-inspired design. Natural materials like marble, gold, semi-precious stones and crystals feature prominently in the design.
The courtyard of the mosque is stunning enough in itself but we were completely mesmerized by the beauty of the interior. Gold, gemstones and mosaic tiles blend with brilliantly-colored giant chandeliers and the combined effect is simply overwhelming. I’ve visited a number of mosques in my travels and this one was definitely the most beautiful from a décor perspective. The interior surpassed even the decadent Emirates Palace that we’d visited earlier in the day.
It was a full day of exploration in Abu Dhabi and we discovered a really delightful city with much to see and do. Late that evening, we headed back to Abu Dhabi airport to catch our flight to Malé. Next stop…the long-awaited Maldives!