24 hours in Abu Dhabi: Pt. 1

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This is a rant. I’m just gonna put that out there first. The TripAdvisor review will come later. I’m hot and stinky and really really tired, so this is what you get right now.

We begin our journey landing in Abu Dhabi Airport at 2:30AM. We left Narita Airport at 9PM, so I really don’t know what time my body thought it was by the time we landed. I didn’t sleep well, but the boy remarked that he “slept like a baby”. So I was already irked.

We landed 2 hours ahead of schedule, therefore we had to wait for the Good Samaritan we solicited to wake up and come get us. No biggie. We just enjoyed the wonderful sights and smells of the airport arrivals area until our electronics died. 

Oh, the smells…they were a-plenty!

I have to also mention that we are in the UAE during Ramadan. For those of you who don’t know, Ramadan is the month in which Muslims around the world fast from dawn until sunset, which can be up to 15 hours. This observance is in accordance to the five pillars of Islam and it is a time of spiritual reflection, improvement, and increased devotion and worship. Muslims are required to refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids (including WATER), and having sexual relations.  Most begin fasting as soon as they reach puberty, so long as they are healthy, without disabilities, and aren’t pregnant or in old age.

Breaking fast, which occurs around 7PM, is Iftar and all who care to can join in and break bread in a communal way that encourages connection and celebration. All over the city there were tents set up, providing a free meal for all those who wanted to take part. We were told that tens of thousands come to take part in Iftar in each of the many tents the government sets up.

For those of you who don’t know, we are not Muslim. But we are in a Muslim country that requires not only it’s citizens to observe Ramadan, but it is also law that any visiting non-muslim has to observe as well. This means, no eating, drinking, smoking, or whatever in public. Seriously, I saw someone get chased down for walking down the street with a bottle of water. They don’t play.

But I knew this ahead of time so to prepare I checked out websites and blogs that offered suggestions to get through the holy month as a tourist. You can eat at the airport, they said. Everything is okay as long as you don’t exit the building, they said. But they didn’t know that my flight would get in before anything really opened. Whatever. We waited.

We’re picked up and headed to a friend’s house. She was amazing and picked up some water and fruit to get us through the day. I ate that and the boy had waffles. This was around 6am. We relax in her house until it’s time for us to get dropped off for our first tour at 8:30. We have about an hour before we are picked up, so we check out the Starbucks she told us was open to serve us. At this point in the morning, the heat was already coming in at about 38 degrees (100.4 F) and we walked as fast as we could to get to the Starbucks.

We arrive and set to order our drinks and the boy’s donut. We’re all happy to be in the air conditioning and the guy making the drinks says something to me in Arabic. I look confused like “What did he just say?” The cashier goes “Oh, you can’t sit down”. 

Come again?

He goes on to explain that we can order, but we have to leave to eat it. So I ask, “How am I supposed to eat it outside of here without getting arrested?” He says “Oh.” Really. He just says “oh.” like he didn’t think about that part of the equation. He eventually says that we can hide in a corner of the place and eat and drink quickly so they don’t get in trouble. So I change my order to cold drinks for quicker consumption and we hide in our corner and scarf down everything. Even hide the evidence, making sure we aren’t still chewing when we leave.

Back to the heat.

We are picked up for our tour and see the amazing Grand Mosque and date market and heritage market where we saw how Emirates lived back in the day and all that. In the heat. At this point it was up to 45 (114 F). 114 fuckin degrees!!! 

For real. 

I’m not sure at what point things spontaneously combust, but I’m sure we almost got to that point. For the second half of the tour, the boy elected to stay in the van. He was like “I’m seriously over this shit”. He didn’t say shit, people. But his body language did. I was pissed because I brought an outfit to change into to be more modest and get into the Mosque, and was told that I was still showing too much clavicle and had to wear an abaya on top of the long dress and long sleeved shirt I was wearing. I was sweating in ways I could have never imagined.


Anyway, after all that we are dropped off at 2pm to find food. We were hot, sweaty and irritable at this point. Mind you, we hadn’t eaten ANYTHING since 6am. Both of us were so over this day and regretting any life decisions that had brought us to the UAE in the middle of all this heat and fasting.

Walking to find the mall (that we were told we could find lunch) the boy is complaining and I told him that we might need to get the Subway that someone told us was open. He breaks into a tantrum about how he doesn’t want Subway and that he wants pizza or something.

I honestly don’t really remember what he said because once the tantrum started and I heard “I don’t want…” I snapped. Like seriously was about to grip him up and all I remember was shouting “LISTEN! I had to sneak and drink water in a bathroom stall, you really think we have options on where to eat right now?!?”

No, seriously. I had to sneak and drink water in the bathroom stall. Not the open bathroom, but in the stall. Same place where I, and many other folk, pee and other things. Among bacteria and other thoughts I don’t even want to entertain. I was NOT about to woof down a chicken leg standing over a toilet. 

I’m not above doing a lot of things, but that was one of them.

That was one of many arguments we had that day. We generally have a good relationship, but heat that intense makes it hard for anyone to be a reasonable human being.

Needless to say, we were not able to get food at that mall. So we ended up meeting up with another helpful friend who lived in a more “western” part of town and he took us to a restaurant that allowed us to sit and eat like the civilized people we are. However, we had to be sneaky. This place was covered in drapes and dining areas were behind the partitions. This place looked like you needed to knock three times with a password like it was Hernando’s Hideaway.

But. That burger was everything. Literally gave us life and the boy and I emerged better people after that meal.

Beyond that, everything was great. I bought some clothes to change into because I was sweating in places I shouldn’t have been. We were picked up again for our next tour and went on a dune safari and rode a camel. The boy attempted to dune surf and I laughed at him.

We ate BBQ and I smoked shisha for the first time. I’m still trying to figure out what it really is. The boy thought I was getting high. Look at his judgmental face:


Overall, the day was amazing. There were some frustrating points and we were exhausted at the end of it all. Without thinking about it, we were up for 24+ hours from the time we arrived at the airport to the time we left at 2:45. We fell asleep as soon as we got on the plane and even slept through the food service. Insane!

This small stint in Abu Dhabi taught us a lot about ourselves and our relationship. We have bonded over the fact that we both hate summer officially now. 

We also have redefined what hangry means, have a new respect for anyone enduring this fasting month in or outside of the UAE, and an increased appreciation for the Muslim faith.