Monday, October 30, 2006

Abu Dhabi trip, Part 2

My cold's feeling a lot better this morning, and it feels much better to have got all that about King Khalid Airport off my chest, so now I feel able to finish the story.

The living room in our suite: Swanky!

There's actually not a great deal to tell about our time in Abu Dhabi itself, as we spent most of the time relaxing by the pool and the beach, and shopping and eating: two of my favourite pursuits. The hotel had a small beach on a man-made lagoon, and in the middle of this small lake of calm water was a floating platform made up of air-filled plastic blocks fastened together, with swimming-pool-style steps providing access. The water felt warm as we stepped in on the beach and we could see small fish swimming around our legs before reaching the deeper water and swimming out to the platform. Abigail dived into the sea for the first time. We got out after a while and I walked over to the fresh water shower on the beach, to read a sign there warning that there might be Jellyfish about! Good job we hadn't read that earlier, as it would almost certainly have deterred us from going in the water.

Karen getting a henna tattoo

The pool area was very nice; not a very big pool but it had the two most important ingredients in a holiday pool: a water slide and a pool bar. We spent a good few hours here, reading on sun-loungers and propping up the pool bar with our Martinis.

You gotta love pool bars!

...although it is possible to love them too much.

Abu Dhabi is actually the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but you wouldn't know if for all the upstaging Dubai does. Dubai is like its younger, better-looking, more rebellious sister; the older has more experience and should be taken more seriously, but it's the attractive, flamboyant younger one that visitors are interested in. Like Dubai, there's development going on here but at a much lower scale, as the city is already pretty well-developed, with shopping malls and restaurants to rival those of the young upstart.

Still growing...

We'd bought one of those tiny pocket-sized guidebooks, and one night I was flicking through it trying to find a nice restaurant for dinner. This was Eid after all, and I quickly found that many restaurants were fully booked until late in the evening, so it was that we ended up reserving a table at Jade -- a "Chinese/Japanese fusion" restaurant, according to the guidebook. This prompted mixed feelings -- Karen and Abigail are not big fans of this kind of food, but Elliot and I love it. We had already seen another Japanese restaurant called Wasabi just down the road from our hotel and had dismissed in precisely on these grounds, but as I said, beggars can't be choosers during Eid. We got in a taxi from the hotel and I told the driver to take us to, "Jade restaurant. It's in the Al Dair Mina Hotel."
"Al Mina?"
"Yes, Al Mina" (reading from the guidebook).
He still looks like he doesn't understand but he's starting to drive off anyway, which is making Karen nervous (remember the 'Samboon Dee' incident in Bangkok!). I end up calling the restaurant so that they can give him directions in Arabic, and after about 30 seconds of gabbling and head-shaking he hands the phone back to me and sweeps into U-turn, looking a bit put-out.
"Very close to hotel!" he says. "Next time no taxi..." and then he slaps his thigh to indicate that where we want to go is so close to where we started from that next time we should walk. I feel incensed by this: after all, this is our first time, we don't know the city; how the hell are we supposed to know where it is? I'm about to pull him up on this but quickly realise the futility of it, given the language barrier, and just sit there fuming instead and putting his tip money back in my wallet.
Guess where the taxi pulls up? Yes, outside Wasabi -- the Japanese restaurant we had poo-pooed earlier in the day. It turns out Jade had changed its name to Wasabi at some point in the past (no-one could tell us when), but when I phoned to make a reservation and opened with, "Hello, is that Jade?" they said, "Yes"! Had they told me the name had changed we could have avoided all this. Still, we were there by now and had a table reserved, so in we went. It turned out to be very nice indeed and we had a lovely meal. My favourite part was the Sake. They had a "Sake List" in the same way as other restaurants have a wine list. I ordered the Sampler 5, which as the name suggests is five glasses of different Sake's for you to try. Up until now I had always believed that Sake should be drunk hot, or at least warm, but according to Wasabi the majority of Sake's are best enjoyed chilled, like white wine, and it is only certain types that benefit from warming up. My Sampler 5 arrived: a cylindrical clear plastic bowl (bit like an ice bucket) containing five long, clear cylindrical glasses of Sake resting on a bed of crushed ice -- lovely! Although each was unmistakably Sake, it was surprising how much they differed in flavour.


It quickly became a Sampler 4 though, as the cocktail Karen had ordered was in need of "spicing up" a bit, so one of my test tubes was sacrificed for the greater good.

The short holiday over, time to brave Gulf Air once again. We arrive at Abu Dhabi Airport at 11am to check in for our 13.25 flight to Bahrain, to be told by the (female!) check-in agent that the flight is delayed by two hours. Not again! We explain that this would cause us to miss our connection to Riyadh (again), so she offers us seats on an Etihad flight later in the day, direct to Riyadh. This sounds great until we hear that departure is at 19.50 that evening: nine hours from now. We accept -- no alternative -- and she points me to the ticket desk at the end of the hall where I need to get the tickets changed, then -- waving a pointing finger in Karen's direction --, "It's OK, just you {me] need to go. Mummy can take seat." The look on Karen's face says it all: Mummy?... Mummy???
I gently lead her and the children to a row of seats before she bites the agent's head off, and then stride down to the ticket desk, where I am informed that there is no room in Business Class (we had Business Class tickets to Bahrain) and that we will have to go Economy and then claim a partial refund later. Again, not much option but to accept grudgingly, although I do insist on an invitation to the Business Class Lounge: if we're going to be hanging around here for nine hours we may as well do it in comfort.

I return to where the others are waiting to find they are surrounded by a group of Arabs taking their falcons on holiday -- at least that's what it looks like. Probably going to the all-Arab-peninsula Falconing Championships or something.

Karen and the children are somewhere behind this lot

"This is the ONLY way to fly!"

That's pretty much it. You can read about our nine hours in the lounge here if you really want to. A nice break away sandwiched between two nightmare journeys. We have decided never to depend on a connecting flight in the Middle East again.

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