The weekend just gone marked the end of Ramadan, celebrated by a joyous three-day celebration called Eid al–Fitr, or simply Eid. The Farjam Foundation was thereby closed on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, which gave me the chance to enjoy a longer weekend, which turned out to be a mixture between rest and adventures.
Friday was supposed to be my well-deserved lie-in day after a week’s hard work, but the loud family in the apartment next to mine ensured I didn’t lose my good habits and woke me up at 8am. What I did enjoy was a relaxed breakfast over some classical music and a quiet morning. The rest of the day was also very restful, and included shopping for more local stuff (falafel, paprika, turmeric powder, and some mysterious legumes I genuinely can’t remember the name of) and trying the sauna and the steam room on the top floor, which unexpectedly made me feel full of energy for the entire day. In the evening, I decided to go to the Mall of the Emirates (the second biggest in Dubai). As I walked around, I was on the verge of getting bored of malls, but Dubai had still a few aces up its sleeve to surprise me, including Sky Dubai (with penguins!), a Looney Tunes live-show in the main atrium, and a traditional performance of Arabic music and dance topped with some Arabic coffee and date jelly.
I made Saturday my ”Day Tripper” day and ventured to the near emirate of Abu Dhabi. A 6.30am réveil, once again kindly offered by the aforementioned loud family, meant that I managed to get my series of metro-bus-taxi on time, and could get to my first sight, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (13km south of Abu Dhabi) in time for the 11am guided tour. The mosque was possibly the most astonishing and memorable sight I’ve seen in the UAE so far: a huge building in white Greek marble, 82 domes, hundreds of gold-gilded spires, thousands of flowers of the most colourful precious stones on walls and floors, Murano-glass (!) chandeliers, the biggest carpet in the world, and so on. I was in awe. The thing is, in here they’re pretty used to breaking world records and to lavish displays of opulence, but the Grand Mosque is the proof that all this can be done in the most exquisite of ways. Plus, our guide, a 1.95 metre tall guy called Abdallah, was the funniest and friendliest person ever, managing to be informative and entertaining at once. Even though the mosque was probably worth the whole trip, the city offered a few more gems: Lebanese Flower, a restaurant recommended by my guide, refreshed me with a delicious Hummus B’lhame, and the waiter was amused when I asked to take away the Lebanese bread I hadn’t eaten (for my Italian friends, imagine I’d asked to take away some grissini from a restaurant…); the Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi’s own ”seven star” hotel , reminded me of the luxurious vocation of the city; the Corniche gave me a pleasant walk along the beach at sunset, the best time of the day. The trip was also sprinkled with a few epic fails, among which failing to get to the Cultural District (where the work-in-progress dépandances of Louvre and Guggenheim were supposed to be), as all the taxi drivers I asked had no idea of what I was talking about, and my clumsy attempts to wear a swimming costume in an open beach with no beach huts nor towels, with a number of Arabic men quizzically staring at me… And a fully-furnished Family beach was just a few hundred metres away! The day ended with me taking three hours to reach the bus station, while I suspect that could have done in fewer time. I can only say that my geography is generally acknowledged to be very bad, my map was not particularly good, and the streets’ names all looked the same, with the words Sheikh, Sultan, Zayed, Khalifa, Bin, Al Arab confusingly combined in every possible way. At any rate, at 11.30pm I finally got home, as sweaty as I’d never been in my entire life, and after a midnight’s shower, I collapsed on my bed, tired, very tired, but overall happy.
Compared to Saturday, Sunday was very quiet again: a chilled morning, an inspiring mass at 12 noon, a simple lunch, and then getting ready to meet my mum’s colleague, who was in Dubai with her family for 5 days and had suggested doing something together. We went and see Dubai Museum together, which I hadn’t been able to see due to Ramadan opening times, and then they invited me to join them on a cruise on the Creek with dinner on the boat. We used an abra (water taxi is a bit over-translating really, it’s more like a sloop) to get from Bur Dubai to Deira, and at 8pm sharp we were (sweaty and) ready to board Falcon Oasis. The evening reminded me of a kitsch-er version of New College Boat Party, but the boat was air-conditioned, the buffet dinner was very good, and the Italian company made the rest. It was fantastic to spend time with some Italians, sharing experiences and anecdotes about this crazy city. The evening was also spiced up by a couple of very peculiar performances, one of a spinning men in multiple and luminescent skirts (!), the other of two people dressed up as a giant camel and going around poking and tickling people. Not entirely sure which culture that was supposed to be typical of, but it was entertaining all the same. And it was a bit like my Eid: perhaps atypical, perhaps too stereotypical, but putting a smile on your face nevertheless.