As we didn’t have much time in Abu Dhabi we figured that the best way to get an overview of the city was to take one of the tourist bus tours, you know the hop-on, hop-off type visiting all the main attractions of the city.  First up was the Emirates Palace Hotel, visited by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II only the other day (yes she is on a tour of the Emirates at the moment, but I’m not sure if she managed to get the same room upgrade that we did!)   Unlike most new hotels here which are mostly built of steel and glass, the Emirates Palace is a  seven star hotel of true traditional opulence.  Standing in it’s own manicured grounds and with a private beach for guests, the hotel is truly the reserve of the rich and famous.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the largest mosque  in the United Arab Emirates and the eighth largest mosque in the world.   It is named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder and the first President of the UAE who is also buried there. The mosque was opened for worship in December 2007 and looks set to become a modern iconic building … much like the Taj Mahal.  Built on a 10 metre mound, the multi-billion dollar mosque is visible throughout the area.   Upon entry all the women have to wear a traditional black full length gown called an abbaya, to cover all of their clothing, and if you don’t have your own headscarf a black one is provided.

We wandered around the outside of the mosque for a while and then joined one of the very informative free tours.  Our guide Abdullah told us of the thousand marble pillars each decorated with semi-precious stones  such as mother-of-pearl, agate and lapis lazuli, giving the impression of flowers growing up each of the pillars.  There are 82 domes above the mosque along with minarets used to call the faithful to prayer.

After removing our shoes we were allowed inside to view the most magnificent chandeliers – some of the largest in the world, as well as the largest Persian carpet in the world, made by 1200 Iranian women who took 2 years to sew this 47 ton carpet.   Abdullah explained about the Koran, how their worship is conducted and told us about the traditional dress worn by both the men and the women.  It was extremely interesting and we were very glad that we had chosen to visit.  We were left with the impression  that no expense has been spared and then there appears to have been a conscious effort to spend even more money on the most opulent features imaginable.   The Grand Mosque is rather over-the-top yet manages to still be beautiful.

We saw the elegant Corniches running along the waters edge for miles, the yacht marinas filled with the most luxurious boats you could imagine and we visited the Iranian market down by the docks where the traditional dhows bring in their cargo from near and far.  We ended the day up the Sky Tower at the Marina Mall as the sun was setting over the Arabian Gulf.

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