Our first full day was a day of site visits. The first stop was Masdar City in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Masdar City is being billed as the first city being purposely built to be environmentally friendly to the tune of zero-carbon emissions and zero-waste. The roofs of the buildings are covered with solar panels. The buildings are close together to maximize shade while walking. Electric transport vehicles move people without a driver. A novel variation on the wind tower is being employed, using automation and new technology to cool wind and blow it into the courtyard, helping to cool the city paths. And the city is zoned for mixed interests – housing is next to commercial and educational buildings to make it an integrated city. At present, only about one city block is complete, but more is under construction. Here are some of the photos I took while there:
It seemed like a neat idea to us, but it is obviously early in the construction phase of the development and has a long way to go. It is also quite far from the center of Abu Dhabi and it seemed unlikely that people would be excited to move out there. We later heard during a panel discussion that the project is really a mess. The cost savings that were supposed to come with the environmental friendliness are not materializing, there are delays, and people are losing interest. Even so, it seems like an interesting idea and it was nice to tour around inside.
From Masdar City we drove into Abu Dhabi for lunch at a Lebanese restaurant called Lebanese Flower. We had some difficulty finding the restaurant, but eventually found it. It was actually very good, but the size of the meal was enormous. No one was able to finish what they ordered – mixed grill kabobs.
Abu Dhabi was different in character from Dubai. It seemed to be less grandiose; less over-the-top. There were lots of 10 to 15 story buildings with shops on the first floor and residences above them, but not nearly as many skyscrapers as Dubai. Our guide and some of the AUS faculty said that Abu Dhabi takes a different approach to development. While Dubai goes all out, tries new things, and even makes major mistakes, Abu Dhabi, which is basically the big brother, watches and waits to see what works in Dubai. What works, it does; what doesn’t it avoids. The lack of skycrapers and artificiality of the city gave Abu Dhabi more of an authentic feel than Dubai. Dubai is a very large city that caters to wealthy tourists; Abu Dhabi felt more local.
After lunch we visited the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. I’ve been to some nice churches over the years, but this mosque was so over the top it is really hard to describe how beautiful it is. It was made out of white marble, with inlaid tiles for decoration in some of the columns and walls. Some of the marble was also carved with vines to make patterns as well. And that was just on the outside. Inside the main area of the mosque was a plush carpet, beautifully decorated walls, and some of the most gorgeous chandeliers I’ve ever seen. They were different and exotic, but absolutely spellbinding. It’s open to the public; you don’t need to be Muslim to enter it, but women need to wear the abaya and cover their hair. We wandered around the mosque for about an hour just in awe. Here are some photos:
In an interesting illustration of the social class structure, I snapped a photo at the entrance of the mosque of two workers. Both were ex-patriots and their job, the entire time we were there, was just to sweep the entry way. I also liked how their job was stamped on their backs: “cleaner.”
After the mosque we drove back to the hotel. With such a big lunch, very few people wanted to dinner. K and I walked down the street to Baskin Robbins and got ice cream; yep, Baskin Robbins, in Dubai. We also stopped at a bigger grocery store to pick up some supplies. While there I saw Old El Paso taco fixings and had to get a picture:
You can’t really see it in this picture, but the sign in the background is in English and Arabic and the labels on the shelf are in both Engish and Arabic. It’s pretty remarkable to think about how globalized our society is. I can fly half way around the world and literally buy the exact same product I buy in my local grocery store. It is a small, small world.
That did it for day 4.