BY GAIL GOLD
During my recent voyage to the Middle East, our group found it quite easy to settle into Dubai and its luxuries. But today, we decided to leave our comfort zone and head to its rival city, Abu Dhabi, only 1.5 hours away by car.
After the end of oil in Dubai, government heads wanted a wow factor for the 10 million tourists the city hosts every year. They replaced oil with solar energy, lighting up the hundreds of soaring sky scrapers like Las Vegas. While Dubai has mega-company Emaar constructing its towering structures, Abu Dhabi is home to Al Deera.
Emirates Airlines is headquartered in Dubai, while the lesser-known Etihad is based in Abu Dhabi.
Dubai has the iconic sail shaped Burj Al Arab Jumeirah and Abu Dhabi has the fourth largest mosque in the world, Sheikh Zayed Mosque.
It is not hard to understand the inherent competition between these cities taking these elements into account.
But comparisons also abound. Spending time in either city, you’ll find there is no graffiti, no homelessness, and no trash anywhere. There are no beggars, no bribes (but there are also no elections), nor tolls on the roads. But there are fines for speeding in the car, crossing against the stoplight, and chewing gum on the street—these fines make up the second largest income of the UAE. It is a tight, controlled, secure place to live.
Small businesses and global companies here are both huge—the financial district is seriously important. Tech, service, building, and entrepreneurial endeavors are booming with foreign investors from all over the world.
While finance dominates, it is faith and religion that truly governs. Our guide prepared us the day before for our visit to the aforementioned Grand Mosque. We were informed we must be completely covered, dressed in our abayas and dishdashis: no wrists or ankles showing, nothing sheer, and heads swathed in scarves.
Visitors are accepted or rejected at the mercy of 2 scanning machines: one of personal possessions, the other of the eyes. We walked quite a distance to enter, gazing at the 80 real gold domes, 4 huge minarets, Swarowski crystal chandeliers, the largest Iranian carpet ever made in the world for prayers, 96 marble clad columns inlaid with mother of pearl and precious jewels, separate prayer and ablution rooms for women, mosaic pools of water, and the tomb of the former ruler and revered Sheikh Zayed. It is grand, huge, and simply gorgeous.
While the newer buildings are quite a marvel to behold, the shopping malls and pillars of big business, it was this place of reverence that truly left us breathless.