We’d booked two clear weeks’ leave and were travelling on Tuesday, so we had Monday clear to get things straight at home. Ella – one of Ali’s work colleagues – would be house and cat-sitting.
Linda (Tom’s widow) had kindly agreed to take us to Wickford Station and dropped us at the station at 9:50, just in time for a London-bound train. The journey to Heathrow went well, with good connections, there was no queue for the bag drop, and we were heading to airport security within two hours of catching the train.
We enjoyed a couple of pre-flight Bloody Marys at an airport bar, it’s a tradition I am happy to continue whenever I can.
Then boarded our flight; it was about half full – or is that half empty? – so we switched seats and blagged a middle block of three seats between us. Service on the flight was good, and we arrived in Abu Dhabi at around twelve thirty AM. We navigated passport control and baggage collection and grabbed a cab; we were at the hotel within an hour of the aircraft touching down.
Check-in was swift and efficient, we had been upgraded to a very nice suite (621) for our stay, featuring a huge lounge, bedroom and bathroom with views over the Yas Marina race track (and purple-lit ‘W’ hotel, formerly the Viceroy) in one direction.
And the hotel bar gardens in the other, we could see the links golf course and mangroves in the distance.
We were four hours ahead of GMT, so we slept fitfully, but woke on Wednesday to a warm hazy morning.
We’d been credited with complimentary breakfasts, so wandered down and enjoyed a mixture of Asian and Indian dishes, then strolled down to the pool where we enjoyed a couple of hours in the sun and dipping in the cooling waters of the pool.
At lunchtime we adjourned to the ‘Sundowner’ pool bar for a couple of drinks before returning to our room to get changed.
Gaz arrived at about three thirty, we exchanged pork-based products for a stash of booze for our room (around ten pounds a pint focuses your drinking habits) then he drove us to his apartment. We caught up with Jennifer while Gaz showered and changed and they showed us the view from his apartment block’s pool while we waited for a cab into town.
I’d visited ‘The Captain’s Arms’ pub – attached to Le Meridian hotel – several times in the past, but it has enjoyed a significant makeover. The whole complex was celebrating Octoberfest with waiters and waitresses somewhat incongruously dressed in faux Bavarian costumes. We enjoyed dinner and a few beers before taking a manic cab ride back to our hotel; a night-cap in the ‘Stills’ bar and then bed.
We returned to the pool on Thursday morning, there were about half a dozen people about, so we enjoyed a peaceful couple of hours, interrupted by the occasional aircraft approaching the nearby airport.
We’d arranged to meet Gaz and Jennifer in a bar downtown so took a taxi to the Madinat Zayed mall, a few blocks from the Holiday Inn downtown. It’s a pretty rundown mall, but is host to a gold souk, I was hoping to find a birthday present for Ali but the jewellery was far too garish for western tastes.
We did enjoy an exceptional lunchtime Biryani in the food court at the to of the curved escalators. The waiters brought a brass bowl and a jug of warm water for us to wash our hands before and after the meal, which was both tasty and plentiful, accompanied by a large glass of avocado juice each.
This memorable feast cost the equivalent of about a tenner each, but left us both blasted. We met Gaz and Jennifer in ‘Little Soho’ near the ‘Le Meridian’ hotel and while the drinks were cheap – you have to seek out the happy hours – we headed back to our hotel early.
There was a boxing tournament scheduled for Saturday evening and several of the boxers had chosen the Crowne Plaza as their base, as a consequence there were many tattooed bodies around the pool on Friday morning.
We took a taxi to the nearby Yas Mall in the afternoon and spent a couple of hours mooching around, it’s very chic and stylish, and still has a branch of Debenhams – as well as M&S and Waitrose. For lunch, mindful of the previous day’s Biryani experience, we had a smallish portion of sticky, spicy, chicken from “Mister Kimchi” in the food court.
From the Yas Mall we took a taxi to the World Trade Centre and met up with Gaz and Jennifer in the “Irish Vickers” bar.
Despite our light lunch, we skipped dinner.
Taxis are still cheap here, the journey from Yas Island to central Abu Dhabi takes about half an hour and costs around twenty pounds. In a land where beer is around ten pounds a pint that’s a bargain. That said, many taxi drivers rely on their smart phones for navigation – this particular driver gave me his phone and asked me to type in our destination – and several have claimed it to be their first day.
Saturday, Ali’s birthday and our first anniversary, dawned cloudy but still pleasantly warm. Most of the clouds burned off during our, now customary couple of hours by the pool.
At lunchtime we took a taxi to the Ritz Carlton for brunch (Gap’s treat). The weekly Saturday brunches (they used to be held on Fridays) are a big thing in the Emirates – particularly among the ex-pat community – and the Ritz Carlton’s brunch is renowned as one of the best. Four hours of very fine dining served at probably twenty different buffet stations ranging from Oysters and Seafood, through Asian, Italian, Tex-Mex to a leg of roast ‘Wagyu’ beef.
The selection was perhaps a little more subdued than my last visit, four years ago, but we enjoyed an excellent lunch, and the hotel presented two celebration cakes for Ali’s birthday and our anniversary.
Back home to our suite for a quiet evening.
Sunday dawned bright and sunny, we could make out the city centre buildings across the mangroves, where usually they’re veiled in haze; breakfast is served until eleven at weekends, so we were in less of a hurry. The pool area filled up, mainly by – we suspect – Asian families with ‘day tickets’ but was still not ‘busy’.
Gaz and Jennifer came over at lunchtime and we showed them round our suite, which is probably larger than his apartment. We spent an hour or so chatting before heading down to ‘Stills’ for dinner. They left early as Gaz starts work at 6am each morning.
We had plans for Monday, our last full day in Abu Dhabi, but instead decided to spend the day chilling by the pool.
We joined Gaz and Jennifer at ‘Coopers’, about midway between our hotel and Gaz’s apartment, for farewell drinks. It’s a pleasant enough bar in the Park Rotana hotel but we skipped dinner again, all the bars seem to have a standard ‘expat’ menu of burgers, chicken wings and so on. We were back at the Crowne Plaza before nine and packed our cases for the morning.
We enjoyed a light breakfast before checking out of the hotel at about ten thirty.
The breakfast selection at the hotel had been exceptional, with a full range of pastries, ‘traditional’ western breakfast items – although the ‘bacon’ was made from turkey and the sausages from chicken or beef – along with Arabic, oriental and South Indian dishes. It made for eclectic breakfasts.
I digress, the taxi to the airport took ten minutes and we then faced a complicated automated bag drop. From there the passport and security checks were straightforward and adjourned upstairs for my traditional pre-flight Bloody Marys.
The flight left on time, but was almost completely full, no opportunity to switch seats. Unfortunately we enjoyed the attention of three young children seated in the row behind us, a two year old behind Ali spent most of the flight pummelling the back of Ali’s seat.
We did, however, catch a glimpse of our hotel as the plane left Abu Dhabi.
We had no complaints about the food or the service on the flight, there were even a few new movies compared to our flight out. The aircraft landed at Heathrow slightly ahead of schedule. Passport control and baggage reclaim were straightforward and we headed down to the newly opened ‘Elizabeth Line’ that promised a direct journey to Liverpool Street in just forty five minutes.
All in all a great week, in an amazing room in an excellent hotel. We enjoyed wonderful weather, some excellent food, and gained an insight into Gaz’s expat lifestyle.