Our Middle East Adventures, Part 2

I’m back with Part 2 of our awesome trip! We spent 3 fun days in Dubai, and we planned to spend the next 3 days in Abu Dhabi. But how to get there? Well there’s lots of options – the Etihad shuttle, Big Bus Tour, catching a local bus, hiring a taxi or hiring a private car (like Uber). The bus options are cheap, but you have to get yourself to the bus station and we weren’t interested in lugging all our stuff all over Dubai. We hired a private car which was awesome. We were picked up promptly in a Lexus, and had a smooth drive to Abu Dhabi. True to form, LM fell asleep almost immediately, but I was awake, just checking out the view.

After about 70 minutes, we arrived at our destination, the Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche. This is a hotel that we’d initially booked, and then booked again for a cheaper rate thanks to a Priceline Express deal. Even at the higher rate, this hotel was totally worth it, but it was a steal for what we paid thanks to Priceline. The staff is super attentive and welcoming. We checked in and were given an upgrade to a corner room on the 18th floor with a gorgeous view. Our room also had a nice sitting area and a large bathroom with another large tub. We thoroughly loved the Sofitel, and between the two hotels we stayed in, I preferred the Sofitel. It’s probably the nicest hotel I’ve stayed in.

After we arrived, we rested for a bit, changed clothes, and then headed to the Emirates Palace for high tea. We'd heard from several people that high tea at Emirates Palace was a must do, so we were excited to try it. Tip: book reservations for the high tea in advance. There are several options to choose from - we went with the traditional high tea. I also opted to try the cappuccino with 24k gold flakes, which was delicious.

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The next morning, we took advantage of the hotel shuttle to Yas Island, where we visited Ferrari World. That's right, we went to an amusement park based on a car company. I was a bit skeptical at first, but it was a lot of fun! The complex is huge, with a ton of things to do - roller coasters, simulators, games, exhibits, and even a go-kart track! My husband drooled over the Ferraris on exhibit, and we had a great time on the rides. We spent half the day there and it went by way too fast!

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We also hit a mall in Abu Dhabi, courtesy of the hotel shuttle. It was impressive, but after seeing the malls in Dubai, it was a bit of a letdown. However, this mall did have a Popeye's, but no red beans & rice #bummer.

We used our last day in Abu Dhabi to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It's the largest mosque in the UAE and one of the few open to the public. Before we began our tour, I rented an abaya in the basement of the mosque. Tip: both men and women can rent acceptable dress if they aren't dressed appropriately to enter. Women must have their hair covered, plus arms and legs down to the wrist/ankle. To rent garments, you give them your ID and they give you a claim slip. When you return it, you get your ID back.

I'd seen lots of pics of the Grand Mosque on Instagram, but I was unprepared for its beauty in person. It's breathtaking and gorgeous. There's so much to see and take photos of, it's a bit overwhelming. The mosque is so grand, and so ornate. There were a ton of people while we were there, but everyone was respectful and enjoying the beauty of the mosque.

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One cool thing that we saw was a sign that displayed the prayer times in Arabic & English

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And this artwork inside the mosque, listing some of the 99 Names of Allah.

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We had to cut our visit to the mosque a bit short, because we had a tour at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital at 2pm. Getting there was an adventure - remember how I said none of the buildings have street numbers? That makes describing where things are...interesting. We also went through like 3 cab drivers before we found one who knew where the falcon hospital was. Once we hopped in our cab we thought we were good...until he suddenly pulled off the road to get gas! We were a bit late for our tour, but we made it to our destination!

So the falcon hospital...this was probably my favorite activity on the trip. Falconry is the national sport of the UAE, and this hospital does tours where you can learn about the birds, the history of the sport, and see how they take care of them. I learned a ton, like how falcons are treated like children by their owners and they often have their own rooms in the house. Falcons also have their own passports, so that they travel to other countries where hunting with a falcon is legal (it's not in the UAE).

After our intro, we were ushered into the exam room to meet the birds. The falcons hang out on those benches, and they are super chill because they have hoods on, which prevents them from seeing. It was so nuts to see all those falcons just chilling!

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The staff took us through a normal examination of the birds, and afterwards each of us got to hold a falcon if we wanted. I can't even front, I was a bit nervous - those talons are sharp! But my falcon was chill, and now I can say I've held a falcon on my arm!

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The last demonstration in the exam room was the feeding. Falcons are hunters and they eat meat, so they fed one of the birds a quail. Check out my adventurous husband, who volunteered to feed the falcon.

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The tour continued with a walking tour of the rest of the grounds. The facility also houses a family of owls who live outside. There's also a special room where the falcons can live while they go through their molting season, where they shed their old feathers and grow new ones.

Once our tour was over, we cabbed it back to the hotel where we packed and chilled until it was time to hit the airport. Our flight back to the US left at 3am, so we were at the airport at midnight. The Abu Dhabi airport has an US customs pre-clearance facility, where you go through customs before you even leave the country; when your flight lands in the US, it's as if you just got off a domestic flight. Our flight back was less full than our first flight, so we had a bit more room to spread out. I did my sleeping, eating, and moving watching routine once again.

Since we've been back, I've been asked a lot what I thought of the trip. My answer is always that it was an amazing trip and I'm so glad we went. I never thought I'd ever go to Dubai or the Middle East, and we did it! I enjoyed myself so much and got out of my comfort zone. A destination like Dubai is good for someone who is just getting into world travel, because it's so easy for English-speakers. All the signs are in English, and so many folks speak the language, you can get around easily. I also loved taking an international trip with my husband, that wasn't a honeymoon. We both love to travel and it was cool to see how we would do on a world adventure.

Now that we've (finally!) taken this trip, it's time to plan our next one, for our anniversary in March. Where should we go? Leave your suggestions in the comments!