"From above, the whole city felt like it was ripped from the desert;
a jewel shining at night surrounded by miles of silent nothingness."

 

 
 

November 2015, on my way to New Delhi, India.

When I booked the flight to New Delhi, the schedule allowed for an extended 15 hours layover in Abu Dhabi – While the city never really reached my bucket list, I knew I'd have to seize the opportunity... Who knows when I'd be back to that side of the world?

I remember that the night was dark, that there was nothing outside. No clouds to reflect the lights, nothing on the ground to grasp the attention.

Then the city. Buildings, rows of trees and bushes, roads, light posts... Everything perfectly structured and organized around the main highways, quickly fading to dust and darkness as you'd get away from the central lines.

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The plane lands, first contact with a group of young emirati officers, playing and laughing. At the tourist information, several "tours" are proposed ranging from a 3hrs trip downtown to a 9hrs excursion to the nearby Dubai; 15 hours should be plenty of time to reach the main attractions...

That was without accounting for the insanely long delay to get into the city by bus – including waiting time, misinformation and the sheer distance to cover).

Two hours later we reach downtown, the heat is real. We rush to the nearest shopping mall and grab a meal...

Let the exploration begin!

 

Ripped from the desert, the city widely spreads in a precise urban grid. As we're going through, I can't help but feel that we're on a movie set, where everything around is laid out as a decor to impress yet you're still able to see the less glamorous background when looking further away.

The architecture is a fascinating mix of ultramodern western style and the vernacular arabic's. Brand new buildings juxtaposed with tumbledown's. Glorious main roads with grubby alleys. Local emirati living along the working Indians and Pakistanis – in what appears to be a very structured society.

Unfortunately without a car to get by, the day goes pretty fast and as the departure time gets closer we have to head back to the airport. But not without a final stop to see the newly build Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque!

As a first experience outside the western world, "fascinating" is the word that sticks in mind