Abu Dhabi

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Since we were in Dubai for only a few days, we decided make a day trip out of visiting neighbouring emirate Abu Dhabi. It is an hour and a half by taxi from the Burj Khalifa in Dubai to the largest mosque in the country in Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Like many things in the UAE, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is extremely lavish and extravagant. You can see that every detail was scrutinized and a lot of money was spent on bringing the late UAE president's vision to life. The mosque is meant to be enjoyed by the people, so entrance and an hour-long guided tour are free. 

As it is a mosque, you are expected to wear loose clothing that covers your arms and legs, and women should also cover their hair. Abayas and kandouras are provided in case you don't have anything with you to cover up.

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Louvre Abu Dhabi

The Louvre Abu Dhabi museum had recently opened when we were there. Artwork from around the world are featured, including some important works on loan from its namesake in Paris. The building itself is a work of art; it appears as if it is a large dome floating on water. Light filters through the patterned dome meant to represent sunlight passing through date palm leaves. 

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Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa

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The desert lies just outside the city of Dubai. We got on the highway and less than an hour later we were driving on sand. We arrived at a gate where we gave our names and were allowed to pass. After another ten minutes we finally reached the Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa. 

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The resort consists of a series of suites styled as Bedouin tents, each with a private plunge pool facing the desert. All the suites are large and luxurious. The stay is full-board and you can choose to have any of the three meals per day in your suite or at the restaurant. They also provide snacks in the morning before breakfast and afternoon tea by the reception.

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Al Maha is situated in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve and has private access to these pristine dunes. At times it felt like we had the whole desert to ourselves. Another benefit of staying in the reserve is the close proximity to wildlife. Two of the most common animals we saw roaming on the property were gazelles and the Arabian oryx. They would even go up to our plunge pool for water.

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The stay includes two desert activities per day; usually done in the early morning and late afternoon. We enjoyed the camel trek into the desert for sundowners at sunset. Other activities include falconry, horse riding, dune-bashing, archery, and guided walks. But perhaps what we liked most was just wandering into the desert on our own and getting lost in the dunes. 

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Dubai

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This was our first time in the Middle East and Dubai seemed like a logical place to start. It is one of the more liberal and tolerant places in the area and a lot of expats live there. Dubai is one of seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and occupies a strip of land off the coast of the Persian Gulf. Starting on the northeast end next to the emirate of Sharjah is the old Dubai. The Deira area is full of souks and abras—traditional boats that take you across the Dubai Creek. Across the creek is Bur Dubai and this is where we saw the historical buildings and narrow streets of Al Bastakiya village. Perisan merchants used to live here and it is now a restored and preserved area with boutique shops and cafes. 

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As you head south, you enter new Dubai—beaches, malls, the Palm islands and tall skyscrapers. Burj Khalifa is the tallest one, not just in Dubai but in the world. It has held this title since 2008. We booked tickets to go to the top and went up as soon as we landed in the city.

Another iconic structure is the Burj Al Arab, the "seven-star" hotel, that is shaped like a ship sail. We didn't stay here but we had afternoon tea at the Skyview Bar on the 27th floor. We sat by the window and had an amazing view of Dubai. Having a reservation at one of its restaurants is the only way to see the hotel without staying the night. 

The Dubai that I think most people think of is the new modern Dubai so it was interesting for us to see both the old and the new in the short time that we had. 

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