This blog was originally posted in February 2012
Despite the fact that Abu Dhabi is one of the hottest places in the world it is surprising how green and lush the city and surrounding areas are. This is in no doubt due to the extensive system of pipes and sprinklers that spray recycled or desalinated water on the verges and gardens. The gardens along the Corniche area of Abu Dhabu, especially in the area in front of the Sheraton Khalidiya are especially lovely with their manicured lawns and fountains. It is perhaps for this reason that weekends in the ‘spring’ see many families enjoying a picnic on the grass. I say spring because the temperatures are a nice low to mid 20 degree C rather than the fierce and humid 45 degree C last summer.
The last two days have seen gale force winds howling around the buildings of Abu Dhabi creating a cacophony of strange whistles and shrieks. At one point I was convinced that there was a hovercraft moored outside my hotel for a full morning before I realised it was the wind bouncing off the tall buildings. As the day went on visibility dropped and the skyscrapers in the distance vanished in a haze of dust and sand. The cars were covered in sand and there was grit in the air. The gale continued for a second day and as I travel to the garden city of Al Ain the sand from the dunes is blowing across the road and gathering in piles on one side much the way that snow does. Visibility is down to less than a mile and the car is being buffeted from side to side as an especially strong gust broadsides us.
The desert along the side of the road consists of small scrub bushes for about 200 metres and then there are dunes of sand that stretch on for miles. On the right a line of pylons and electricity cables stretch into the distance following the line of the road and the contour of the land. Service stations appear every so often many with a Mosque at the side to enable the people to pray as they travel. I cannot recall ever seeing a church at a service station in the UK. About 53 kilometres from Al Ain the geography changes as trees line the side of the highway and palm trees grow in the central reservation fed by kilometres of thin plastic tubing.
Al Ain itself bears little comparison to Abu Dhabi despite its proximity. It is an hour and a half drive through the desert on a straight four-lane highway. The city itself has the odd oasis and is also quite a lush area. It has a mountain on one side that has a track up the side, but the rest is fairly flat. It has the usual mix of malls, shops and hotels, but the pace of life does seem to be a bit sower and it is definitely a little cooler and fresher. There are fewer taxis on the road and one driver told me that the lack of tourists meant that they made less money. Al Ain is not what you would call a typical tourist destination, but it does have a character of itself and seems to be growing up to match its reputation.
The majority of the people that I have spoken to speak of a fondness for Al Ain and they are complimentary of the policing here. Having recently visited Towaya Park, an area that last year was covered in graffiti, broken seats and an unguarded fountain, I found a lovely park that was extremely clean and tidy. No graffiti. No broken seats and a nice fence around the fountain.
I can see why people like it here. There is serenity, even in the shopping malls! It is an area that I look forward to visiting again soon.