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Summer 2014 Mini-Break in the Emirates
How well do you know the UAE?
Think you know the UAE? Expats might look for a trip abroad for cultural adventure, forgetting what’s available just a car ride away. While neighbouring cities Dubai and Abu Dhabi are alike in wealth and grandeur, the two cities have much more to offer than tall buildings and extravagant hotels.
Why not connect with your local expat community and city swap for the weekend? At just an hour and a half away, it’s not only an easy trip for families but also easily doable for younger travellers without access to a car.
Mini-Break in Dubai
In Dubai, locals refer to the Mall of the Emirates as the “MOE,” a convenient acronym that could easily be used to sum up the whole of Dubai: More Of Everything. With its sweepingly tall buildings, fairy-tale islands and record-breaking everything, the desert city of Dubai is the picture of excess in the unlikeliest of places.
Despite being the UAE’s most expensive city for expats, according to a recent survey, Dubai has much to offer the out-of-towners in the way of affordable entertainment. After all, one need only open one’s eyes to enjoy the splendour of Dubai.
Distance from Abu Dhabi: The Emirates Express bus departs for Dubai 24 times per day and takes about 2 hours, a half hour longer that the journey would take by car. Busses are large and comfortable, and depart from morning to evening, making even a day trip feasible.
What not to miss: There’s more to Dubai than shopping. While the city may appear gaudy and overbearing at first glance, remember you can’t judge a book by its cover. A walk through Bastakiya - easily Dubai’s most interesting neighbourhood - takes visitors down memory lane, with its restored merchant houses, cafes and galleries. Enjoy a cultural breakfast at the impressive Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, where you’ll learn local heritage and traditions. Don’t miss their impressive view of the rooftops of Bastakiya.
The Arab weekend begins on Friday. Start the weekend off right with a champagne brunch, where the bubbly flows like water and comes accompanied with a decadent buffet. Alcohol is technically off limits in the Muslim world, but it flows freely at hotels, where all rules go by the wayside.
Though its difficult to imagine visitors could find themselves wondering what to do in action-packed Dubai, there’s always the Dubai Ski Centre, Burj Al Arab, or Palm Jumeirah, home to the 11 million litre aquarium of exotic fish, Atlantis. When the bank balance gets low, visit Karama or Satwa for a tasty and authentic curry or thali provided by Dubai’s ever-growing population of Indians and Pakistanis.
Mini-Break in Abu Dhabi
As the richest city in the world and capital of the Emirates, Abu Dhabi has all the wealth and power of Dubai, minus the glitz and glamour. But the city is doing its very best to catch up, as evidenced by the dust and sand kicked up on construction zones around the city and its surrounding islands.
The next few years will see an explosion of five star hotels, oversized marinas and shopping malls comparable to those of Dubai. But all things considered, Abu Dhabi isn’t yet a major tourist hub the likes of New York or London -- visitors can see most of its major attractions in a day.
Distance from Dubai: See above. Busses to Abu Dhabi depart from IBN Battuta bus station in Dubai.
What not to miss: Saadiyat, or “island of happiness,” is an easy bus or taxi ride from The Corniche -- the heart of Abu Dhabi. Saadiyat is the future home of three proposed super museums currently under construction -- the Guggenheim, the Louvre and the Zayed National Museum, all three of which are seemingly in competition for most extravagant architectural design in museum history. Guggenheim curators have been busy collecting pieces for the new museum, 16 of which will be on display at Manarat Al Saadiyat’s exhibition Seeing Through Light: Selections From the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Collection. The exhibition gives visitors a first-hand look at things to come.
If you only do one thing, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Grand Mosque should be it. With its 80 marble domes and minarets, fields of Persian carpets and nine Swarovski crystal chandeliers, this impressive shrine to Islam was built at a cost of $500 million. Perhaps the only thing in Abu Dhabi more decadent is the aptly-named Emirates Palace, which, even from the outside, defends its title as the most extravagant hotel in the world.
For a lazy weekend mini-break, visitors can hang around The Corniche, the main drag that curves around the shoreline and during the summer months has a quiet, beachside town-feel that makes visitors forget they’re in the heart of a bustling city.
Sometimes the best vacation is a staycation. Expats can save travel time and hotel costs by exploring the undiscovered corners of their own cities. Crash a construction site in the evening or hotel pool by day. Don your best walking shoes and hunt down a frothy cappuccino in an unknown neighbourhood. A mini-break at home forces you to take a look at the magic of you own city, show gratitude for places and people sometimes taken for granted, and charge the soul battery for days to come.
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