The United Arab Emirates has created an extravagant oasis in the desert. It's a memorable place that embraces innovation, and prides itself on producing both the biggest and the best. In Dubai, the sky's the limit!
The UAE has built the world's tallest building, the world's first seven star hotel, the world's biggest mosque outside Saudi Arabia, the world's first indoor ski field, the world's longest zip line; and the now the world's first Louvre Museum outside of Paris.
I'm using Dubai as my travel 'hub' on this trip for many practical reasons. Dubai has one of the world's busiest international airports and is well connected to the Middle East and Africa. I can get a free visa on arrival. I can then use ATMs, exchange currencies, catch up on laundry, use reliable wifi, and charge meals and expenses to my credit card.
The most important consideration is financial. I'm travelling through countries where either there are no ATMs or local ATMs do not accept foreign cards or where businesses do not accept credit cards. In these countries 'cash is king'. So passing regularly through the UAE means that I don't have to carry quite so much money on me.
Dubai is a dynamic city, constantly re-inventing itself and evolving. There's always something interesting to see or do. It doesn't matter how many times you've been there before, it keeps drawing you back.
When I'm in Dubai I like to stay at the Rove Hotel chain. They've built a very successful hotel brand centred around the concept of a Hotel 'pit-stop' for modern adventure travellers 'roving without borders'. It's the UAE version of a comfortable 'backpackers' for the young at heart. Dubai itself is pitched as the ultimate adventure capital.
The decor is young and hip. Street art and funky decals decorate the walls. Huge art installations and travel bric-a-brac grace the large reception areas. It's the decor I'd choose for my home, just with more maps (I love maps)
The amenities are perfectly pitched: comfy rooms with TV, bar fridge and complimentary tea, coffee and water, a small supermarket, self-serve laundry, luggage lockers, Apple Mac computers, table tennis, pool, gym, The Daily Restaurant. The locations are central with good access to public transport: City Centre, Healthcare, Downtown, Trade Centre and Dubai Marina. And the price is reasonable, by Dubai standards.
There's plenty to do in Dubai, and I'd love to have just chilled at the Rove, dissecting the decor, but instead I decided to spend the day in the capital, Abu Dhabi. I can fit both the Grand Mosque and the Louvre Abu Dhabi into a day trip. There are a number of tour companies offering the same itinerary, but I booked through Viator, which I have used in the past.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the world's largest, able to accomodate over 40,000 Muslim worshippers.
The building features over 100,000 tons of marble. It's most striking architectural feature are the gold palm motifs incorporated into the archways that line the passageways between the main entry hall and the large prayer hall. Although the gold topping the columns are paint, in other parts of the Mosque no expense has been spared. The main prayer hall features a huge chandelier weighing nine tonnes and a 6,000m2 handmade wool carpet with Persian floral designs. Both are reputed to be the largest of their kind in the world.
The Grand Mosque is open every day, 9am-10pm Saturday to Thursday, 4:30pm-10pm on Fridays. Times vary during the Holy Month of Ramadan. Entry is free.
Tourists are welcome to visit but must observe a strict dress code. Women must wear a headscarf, long sleeves and ankle-length trousers or skirts. Hooded abayas can be borrowed for free. Men must wear long pants.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the result of a 30 year deal struck between the French Government and the City of Abu Dhabi. Under this agreement the French agreed to allow the use of the name 'Louvre' and to loan artworks from French collections.
It is not a carbon copy of the Louvre in Paris. That was never its intention. It is an original interpretation of 'a universal museum', bringing together different cultures to 'shine fresh light on the shared story of humanity'.
Just as interesting as the collection is the building, which was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. It's most recognisable feature is a decorative metal dome covering two thirds of the Museum. The dome is not solid. It consists of eight overlapping layers, four external and four internal, of perforated geometric star shapes. During the day this elaborate metal 'shade cloth' throws a lovely, filtered light into the public walkways.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is open 10am-8pm Saturday to Wednesday and 10am-10pm on Thursday and Fridays. The Museum is closed on Mondays. Regular admission is 60AED. It will host four temporary exhibitions a year.
Where on earth....