Monday, 1 July 2013

Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Mosque...well worth a visit

The Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is the third largest in the world and has the world's largest Persian rug.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi has to be seen to be believed.
It's difficult not to spot the mosque as you head along the main highway from Dubai into Abu Dhabi or, indeed, if you're driving around the centre of town. It's a huge and wonderful piece of architecture and well worthy of closer inspection.
I nipped down there this afternoon (Monday July 1st) as I had a bit of free time and I'm really glad I made the effort. Earlier, I found myself thinking why bother, it'll be the same old thing: tour guides and the like; but no, this was fantastic. The best thing about it, outside of its beauty and the generally tranquil environment surrounding the mosque was the fact that it was in Abu Dhabi and not London.
Had it been in London the whole experience would have been ruined by tacky gift shops, a restaurant or café and, dare I say, Brits in football shirts with tatooed calves. Fortunately, it was in Abu Dhabi where, despite the heat, you'd need to go somewhere else if you were gasping for a glass of water, and believe me, the weather is so hot, you WOULD be gasping for water. That was one reason why I left my visit until the late afternoon when the sun loses its heat slightly. It was still sweltering hot and a mild breeze had probably lulled me into a false sense of security, but I found the weather very pleasant.
Mosque manners – don't turn up in shorts or a miniskirt
The idea of a guided tour appealed, but then I figured it would be best not to listen to a tour guide and have to wander around with a load of Japanese tourists and western women in burkas. Women have to cover up if they want to visit the mosque and there's a room set aside for women to don the full burka if they want to, although being suitably covered up is enough, the full burka is there for those who want to wear one... unless the women I saw in full burkas were the genuine article. Actually that's more like it, but if you are a woman and you're in shorts and a sleeveless tee-shirt, expect to be asked to cover up and, as I say, there are things you can wear: headscarves, the whole lot. Men, as long as you're not wearing shorts or are either topless or wearing a sleeveless tee-shirt, you'll be alright.
I decided to wander alone because it was more tranquil that way. Shoes must come off before entering the mosque proper and this I did safe in the knowledge that some scumbag wouldn't steal my shoes – there are no scumbags in Abu Dhabi as far as I can make out. In the UK, I'd think twice about leaving a pair of shoes in a wooden rack outside the building. Here, I didn't think twice about it.
Once inside, I witnessed the largest Persian rug in the world for myself, took a few photographs and then wandered the grounds, listening to the birds in the trees and taking in the general atmosphere. Feeling sufficiently chilled out I sauntered out to find a taxi back to my hotel and here I am now, writing this blog post.
Another view of the mosque showing some of the gardens that surround it.
The Holiday Inn, Abu Dhabi – an excellent hotel
It's my last day here and because of this I feel I must say something about the hotel, The Holiday Inn, Abu Dhabi; it's simply the best in my opinion and has been from the moment I arrived yesterday morning at around 0900hrs (I can't remember exactly what time I arrived). The service has been impeccable, the food unrivalled. The Lemon Tree restaurant served top notch Mediterranean cuisine and the Silk Route Café was out of this world too, serving up a range of cuisines in a self-service, all-you-can-eat fashion, but without the British tackiness implied by the phrase. I will definitely be going back there this evening and I might even take a dip in the hotel pool before dinner. Last night I went for a dip around 7pm, when the sun had cooled down a little bit, any earlier and it would have been unbearable and, worst still, I might have burned myself. Fortunately, these days, I'm sensible. Ten years ago – probably less – I'd have thrown caution to the wind and paid dearly for it.

Mind you, having enjoyed dinner yesterday night and lunch today at the Silk Route Café, perhaps going back there is a mistake and I should visit The Lemon Tree again. Not sure. And I've yet to visit the bar on one of the higher floors (for a nice cool glass of Heineken).

The catering is good, the people are good (especially Kace down in reception, who is arguably the most friendly person in the world). But what about the room? It's fantastic as you might expect it to be; the whole hotel has a wood decor running throughout. The walls in the corridors are wood, there's a pleasant wood finish to the room, a good-sized and comfortable bed and let's not forget free WiFi too, otherwise I'd have to use the business centre on the ground floor to write this post.

Last night, the only one problem I faced was the sound of a man's voice over the intercom saying, "There has been an incident in the hotel. Please evacuate the building and do not use the lifts." This was at gone 0130hrs and it was repeated a few times. I think I heard it first in my sleep and then for real. Quickly putting on some clothes, I left the room and joined other guests walking down the stairs to the ground floor where an apologetic member of staff informed us, "Sorry, it was a false alarm."

We all turned around and went back to our rooms, but what was really impressive was that nobody saw fit to complain. Imagine the same thing happening in the Holiday Inn Birmingham in the UK. There would have been some irate Brit moaning to somebody about how he's got to get up early for a meeting in Rhyl and he'd be seeking some form of compensation. Yawn! No, there was nothing at all. We all simply turned around and got on with our sleep. 

Because I arrived too late on Sunday morning and had to be out of the hotel for 6am this morning, I've yet to sample breakfast, which is a shame. It's in the Silk Route Café and starts at 0615hrs. I'm being picked up tomorrow at 0645hrs so there's time if I'm up really early – I'd like to experience the full service of this excellent hotel.

And, fortunately for me, I'll be returning here in November for a big conference taking place in Abu Dhabi, so I'll be staying at the Abu Dhabi Holiday Inn once more. They can expect a glowing report on Trip Advisor, that's for sure.

Why, I wonder, aren't all Holiday Inns like the Holiday Inn, Abu Dhabi? The sad truth is that they're not.