When my significant other told me to pack a suitcase yet again for a surprise trip, my mind started working faster then ever. After all how in the world I’m supposed to pack when I have not the faintest clue as to where we are going, what temperature I am supposed to pack for; should I be packing a pair of bikinis or ski boots? Men don’t get these “life threatening” questions. All the spying behind his back and unsuccessful attempts in hacking into his mail account, calling the airline and coming up with a very convincing story about why I had forgotten which was my destination in my upcoming flight (!) – which the airline personnel strangely didn’t find as convincing as I did- ended up being fruitless efforts.
So the day has arrived and I finally found out about our top secret vacation destination only at the airport. We were going to Abu Dhabi. New rising star of UAE after Dubai.
My first thought were mentally checking the contents of my suitcase to see if I had packed decently for our destination. I was quite certain that no one would be chasing after me because I wore sleeveless shirts but one can never be too sure until one gets to see the real place. It turned out that we had packed decently enough as we haven’t encountered any unpleasant experiences. We were even surprised to see that foreign residents were pretty much left alone in terms of dress code. Public beaches were no different then any seaside town. But at this point I have to mention that ever since my surprise trip, things might have changed a little with the 2012 approval of a new dress code that started with a twitter campaign and became official this summer.
In order to help visitors Abu Dhabi Tourism Police have apparently compiled the dos-and-don’t in a booklet that would be available at the airport and hotels. The officials stated that “The pamphlet was prepared to educate tourists on rules of public behavior and It includes trends and behavior which are uncivilized and would make them subject to prosecution.”
At the time of the debate, officials insisted that the new guidelines and the federal dress code wouldn’t have a negative affect on tourism because it would only be in effect in public places like streets and malls. Locations like the beach wouldn’t be affected, so tourists can continue to wear swimsuits. They can also wear shorts in places where they are unlikely to mix with local families who might take offense.
Which brings us to think how it is possible not to mix with locals when you visit and try to discover a new city. When you visit shiny, luxurious shopping malls -which are not YET in the folie de grandeur as they are in Dubai-, as their AC is in full power you’ll need to cover yourself up as much as possible, but when you dine in restaurants which serve yummy food from all over the world or simply when you pass through your hotel lobby within a few minutes, you’ll mix with local women wearing dark abayas which leave only their eyes to be seen (and expensive watches and foot wear) and finely groomed men in their traditional taubs. I guess when you decide to visit Abu Dhabi, you’ll have to lend an ear to your common sense to guide you.
I wanted very much to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi which was standing right across our hotel and apparently is large enough to accommodate 40.000 worshippers, has the world’s largest carpet at 7,119 square meters and world’s largest chandelier made from one million crystals. But we were told by hotel concierge that i was expected to wear an abaya which i refused to do, as it was 40 degrees outside! Only after we returned home we found out that loose and long clothes and a simple headscarf would do it, but no need to mention it was too late.
Another bad planning led us to skip visiting traditional market, souk. Being happily on vacation and cutting all our ties with calendars and watches, we decided to visit the market, forgetting that it was Friday, and the time of holy Friday prayers! Much to our disappointment, the market was closed as all the shop owners crowded around mosques.
It seems like I only tell you about all the things I couldn’t get around to doing but hey we learn from each other’s mistakes now, don’t we? We had no idea that we needed to have a reservation for a 5 o’clock tea in the famous Emirates Palace and consequently we were not even let in at the main entrance. It might have been a mistake to take a regular cab and not a fancy limousine or a Ferrari which can be seen everywhere on the streets. So my advice is, either get a real cool car or book your tea time in advance.
As a last word, would I travel back to do all the stuff i couldn’t do, well probably once was enough for me. Do I appreciate surprise trips? Despite the stomach cramps due to suitcase packing, I definitely do! Should men prepare surprise trips for their wives? Without hesitation, yes!