Welcome to Abu Dhabi where the time is 04:55 and the temperature is currently 34 degrees, forecast to go up to 44 later in the day! We haven’t experienced this temperature in a while. Wouldn’t it be great if we could store the heat that we were experiencing for slow release while we’re in Iceland in a couple of weeks’ time, I thought to myself a few times…
We stopped in Abu Dhabi to see my sister Diane and her husband Jeremy who arw living there at the moment. I first visited Abu Dhabi in 2005, and visited the region several times over the following couple of years, holding a number of Australian Aboriginal art exhibitions there, so I was doubly excited to be visiting this city again and show Anthony where I had held my Abu Dhabi exhibition. I hadn’t been to Abu Dhabi in about 10 years and it was a strange feeling to be taking what was once a familiar route from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and not recognising where I was. I expected Dubai to have changed lots even since Anthony and I rode there in Sept 2014 as part of our first round the world trip, although we did spot the BMW dealer we used to service Streak and Storm and prepare them for shipment to Dehli. The changes and growth of Abu Dhabi however took me by surprise. I saw the Grand Mosque being built back in 2005-6, it was located a long way out of Abu Dhabi and stood out majestically. No more. It is surrounded by roads, ramps, buildings in the middle of Abu Dhabi suburbs.
The Grand Mosque is certainly impressive. I booked a tour online for 5pm when the sun and lighting are a little gentler. First stop is the cloakroom where I am handed a dusty rose pink thick polyester abaya with built in hood to don – my 3/4 length sleeve top and head shawl were obviously not acceptable. The architecture, which is a mixture of Persian, Mughal, Indo-Islamic and Moorish, immediately reminds me of the Taj Mahal in many ways but it feels very masculine whereas the Taj Mahal felt much more gentle, feminine (am I allowed to say this in today’s gender neutral world ?! I do not want to offend and hope you get what I mean). The Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque was the late leader Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayan’s dream to build the largest mosque in the U.A.E. It was built to impress and it certainly does that. It took 10 years to build, features 4 minarets, 82 domes, the world’s largest (5700 square metres) hand-knotted wool and cotton carpet weighing 37 tones, crafted by 1200 Iranian artisans (after being flown in 2 planes, it took another 8 months for the carpet sections to be woven into a single carpet), massive chandeliers from Germany, the largest of which weighs 12 tons, white marble from Macedonia, semi-precious inlays crafted by Chinese stonemasons. The main hall can take up to 50,000 men. We learned how the lines of praying muslins are always so straight – When shaving the carpet (the final stage of rugmaking), its weavers marked subtle raised lines into its surface to guide worshippers into neat rows during prayer.
After an hour and a half, I couldn’t wait to return the polyester abaya! This heat is stiffling enough as it is without the sweaty material.
Back in 2005, I had seen models of one of Abu Dhabi’s great visions: to develop Saadiyat island into an area dedicated to the arts including a new National Museum, performing arts centre, Guggenheim, Louvre. The world’s greatest architects created fantastic visions of futuristic buildings. Zaha Hadid’s never materialised sadly, but Jean Nouvel’s Louvre did. What a marvel of a building! The centrepiece of the museum is its massive, seemingly floating dome. It is held by 4 pillars only yet weighs a staggering 7,500 tonnes – the same as the Eiffel Tower. The roof is made up of eight layers of geometric stars of different sizes and shapes, reminiscent of then arabic masharabia. As the sun passes above, its light filters through the perforations, creating a slowly moving and changing rain of light. The layout of the museum is interesting too as it has been designed as a micro-city reminiscent of arabian medinas: it consists of 55 detached buildings, 23 of which are devoted to galleries. Whereas I find the Louvre in Paris overwhelming with its long endless walls covered in paintings, I found this museum a lot more relaxing and enjoyable. You feel like you are meandering the streets of an arabian village. It is nearly playful at times. What a treat it was on many levels, not forgetting the great lunch we had there.
Returning to the Cultural Foundation and showing Anthony and my sister where I had held my exhibition 13 years ago was special. Abu Dhabi is proud of its young history and have spent the last 10 years renovating Qasr al Hosn fort – Qasr Al Hosn is the oldest and most significant building in Abu Dhabi, holding the city’s first permanent structure; the watchtower. Built around the 1790’s, the commanding structure overlooked the costal trade routes and protected the growing settlement established on the island.
The sightseeing in the searing heat was regularly interspersed with cold drinks, lunch and dinner and much chatting. It was really special spending time with my sister and seeing her new home. Thank you D&J for your hospitality. We need to get back on the road on the bikes and give our stomachs a rest now! I have had so many last meals with friends since towards the end of my time in Cairns and before leaving home again.
I have to say that it was an interesting time to be in the region – loud construction or unusual plane noises were noticed with some trepidation. 2 years ago, on our way by ferry from South Korea to Vladivostok, we hoped Kim Jong-un wasn’t going to fire any more test nuclear missiles over our heads, now we were hoping no more oil tankers were going to get bombed by Iran or any other country as was claimed last week. It was an uneventful stay in that respect luckily.
Next stop, Heathrow and a visit to see my mum in Canterbury.