After more than an hour's delay, we finally board EY 203 to Abu Dhabi from Mumbai's swanky new T2 terminal. Feeling comfy in my business class seat, I flick through the in-flight entertainment. Minutes after take-off, I dig into my piping hot meal as Anonymous, the movie, begins. After a heavy dinner, I’m tempted to stretch back and take a nap, but the questions raised in the film about the true authorship of William Shakespeare’s plays kept me glued.
It's past midnight when we land. I’m half asleep, but I can’t help but notice the SUVs and Sedans as soon as we step out onto Abu Dhabi soil. Coming from Mumbai, which is infamous for its choc-a-bloc traffic, I realised that space is a luxury. We zoom past date trees and the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is beautifully lit up in the night; later I regret being too lazy too fish out my camera from my bag. After a 30-minute ride to our hotel, Beach Rotana, we make our way to our spacious rooms and comfortable beds. Next morning, we set out to embrace day one in the city, after a scrumptious breakfast. Once we arrive at Ferrari World, we were advised to finish off Yas Waterworld, before the sun got hot enough to sizzle our brains, in the afternoon.
The attractions at the waterpark are themed after the adventures of the Emirati fabled character, Dana, who went in search of a legendary pearl, that brought prosperity to her village. Building on the legend, you can try pearl diving and learn about the role it played in the UAE’s history. We quickly walk to the changing rooms, past the souvenir shops, which are designed to look like a traditional souk with it's old wooden signboards and lanterns. But, unfortunately thanks to wearing lenses and my failing memory (to carry my lens case and liquid), I cannot try all the rides (as instructed on the signboards). Torn between regret and happiness (I am glad to give the scary rides a miss), I watch the others try surfing and other adrenaline-rushing rides like the Jebel Drop, Liwa Loop and Bandit Bomber. But if you prefer rides that will set your heart racing without you screaming your heart out, you could try Al Raha River (Lazy River) and Yadi Yas among the other non-thrilling, but fun rides. I wander around the park, capturing the excitement on my camera, and then give the wave pool a go. I only wish I had thought of it earlier.
Ferrari World. Image courtesy: Avril-Ann Braganza
We then head to Ferrari World. A walk around the Galleria Ferrari got us up close and personal with the ultimate display of Ferrari cars! We 'ooo' and 'aaahhh' as we walk around the display of cars, from 1947 to the present. It's now time to go on a ride on the Formula Rossa, the world's fastest roller coaster at 240 km/h. We were told that it accelerates to its top speed in approximately five seconds; I am unsure about trying it. But the next thing I know, I find myself handing over my bag, trying on a pair of protective glasses and finally, strapped in and ready to go. Even before we start, I keep chanting “I want to get off. I want to get off.” As we start crawling away from the boarding station to the starting point of the ride, I begin yelling. And I don't stop till its over. I clutch on to the safety handle as we climbed up 52 meters into the sky; my heart, stomach, lungs, liver and every other organ are in my mouth as we rush down and tilted at the sharpest turn at 70º. 2.07 km later, it was over. I stumble out on jelly legs, not believing that I had just survived the fastest roller coaster ride in the world.
On our next much safer ride, 'Viaggio in Italia', our seat rose into the giant dome projection and we flew high over the Italian mountains, villages, cities, forests, and vineyards.
The Grand Mosque. Image courtesy: Avril-Ann Braganza
After lunch, we made our way to the Sheikh Zayed or Grand Mosque. It’s almost sunset as we put on our hijabs and walk around the entrance to the mosque. The ‘grand’ mosque, aptly called, looks magnificent against the purple sky. And as the lights come on, it looks divine. Initiated by the late president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, I am awestruck by its grandeur. We walk beneath chandeliers studded with Swarovski crystals and enter the main prayer hall. Our bare feet touch the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, while my eyes are fixed on the largest chandelier in the mosque, weighing approximately 12 tons. As we exit, I turn back for one last look, amazed by this illuminated splendour.
After dinner, we made our way to Coopers, a traditional British sports bar. We were told that if we want to party, it’s best to check out one of the clubs or bars in the hotel we were staying in or in other hotels, which are generally open till about 2:30 am.
On day two, we make our way to the Etihad training academy, for a detailed tour of the cabin crew's training procedure. From fighting a fire in the aircraft to the service on board the Boeing 777, we also experience a nose gear crash in a safe environment. Buckled in and safe in our seats on the flight simulator, we take off; trees and buildings whizzing by on the window screens. A few minutes later, we knew what it would feel like to be seated in a crashing aircraft; the plane tilted, people were screaming and had it been real, I would have been wailing like a baby.
Next stop, kayaking at the mangroves. After a quick briefing session, we paddle our way out, the sun blazing down on our backs, two per kayak. While the guide made it look so easy, we struggle along, stopping to relax and take in our surroundings. The clear blue skies would have merged with the sparkling water had it not been for the luxurious skyscrapers in between and when we look below, we see fish swimming in the shallow part.
Saadiyat Golf Club. Image courtesy: Avril-Ann Braganza
Exhausted and famished, we stuff our tummies before we drive to Saadiyat Golf Club. A tour around the golf course brought us to the beachfront, where we couldn't help but pose for the camera. And then it's time to play golf. A few instructions from Paul, our Scottish instructor and we are ready to give it a shot. I keep hitting the ball all over the place and not with quite the same grace and poise as Paul. Nevertheless it was a fun experience, laughing at our own ridiculousness, while Paul, was ever ready to help us. It's been a long day, but not enough to keep us from partying the night away. Well, till 1:30 am when Trader Vics Restaurant & Bar shut.
Etihad lounge in Abu Dhabi. Image courtesy: Avril-Ann Braganza
As the sun rose over Abu Dhabi, on our third day it was time to head back home. We check in at the airport a little after noon and settle ourselves in the Etihad lounge. With showers, a Six Senses spa, a family room designed for kids, newspapers and books in the well-stocked library and a business centre with Macs and broadband internet access, fax and printing facilities, they cater to all kinds of customers. We didn't have too much time to try out the Six Senses spa at the lounge, but we did devour some delicious food before we board our flight. Until next time, Hasta la Vista, Abu Dhabi!