Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be moving to a foreign country to live, let alone a country in the Middle East. Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, my husband Roger and I discussed what we wanted the next part of our life to be like. He thought that before retiring, he would like to do one more airport project but only if he could find something very interesting. I half-jokingly agreed that would be fine but could he try for an exotic location? As usual, Roger came through and soon we were headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This blog is a recap of our "leap-of- faith" wanderings around the Middle East and beyond. We joyfully share these expat experiences.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Surviving Our Move from Dubai to Abu Dhabi . . . First Impressions

Abu Dhabi Corniche skyline
photo courtesy of 
When Roger and I announce our intention to move from Dubai to Abu Dhabi many of our friends expressed grave concerns.

“It’s so much slower than Dubai.”

“Do they have any really good restaurants?”

“It is much more traditional than Dubai, it may be hard to make friends.”

“Oh, so sorry to hear you have to move there. Everyone says it isn't as much fun as Dubai.”

Oh dear  . . . . listen up my Dubai friends, this joint is jumping – literally!

Sunset view from our apartment on
Amaya Towers on Al Reem Island
Our move to Abu Dhabi has been exceptionally eventful. In the space of our first 10 days of living here, on our first night, we watch a stunning sunset from our balcony as we enjoy the warm Arabian Gulf breezes. The next 3-days we are captivated by a blinding sand storm.

Arriving in Abu Dhabi on Easter weekend, we are inspired at the evening Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral as we listen to the singing of Easter hymns enriched and blended with the Imam’s evening call to prayer from the mosque next door.

As we wait for the leasing paper work to be completed, we take a 3-day breather enjoying the Park Rotana in Abu Dhabi. Big find at the hotel is at Coopers restaurant they have the most amazing French Onion Soup. And lucky us! One night at the hotel we find ourselves in the middle of a wedding celebration.

Thanks to the American Women’s Network (AWN) I quickly collect a good handful of nice friends while Roger accomplishes the impossible by finding and successfully navigating “electronic street” in search of our missing TV power cord. Roger and I find not one but two exceptional Italian restaurants - Pregos in the Beach Rotana and Italianissimo in the Boutik Mall at the Sun & Sky Towers.

But nothing tops the exhilarating experience of surviving our first earthquake tremors.

I have a feeling that the city of Abu Dhabi is going to be every bit as stimulating as Dubai!

Roger’s decision to renew his contract for two more years prompts our relocation. After three years, it is time to eliminate the treacherous daily commute from Dubai to Abu Dhabi.  Notwithstanding the sore backs, aching muscles and stress headaches, our move is proving to be a great idea. 

Dubai traffic.
photo courtesy of
Here’s my best example of the difference between living in the two cities.

In Dubai I get lost at 120km and take up to 30 minutes to make the correcting turn. In Abu Dhabi, I get lost at 40km and only have to go around the block to make the correction.

Yes, the pace of life is a bit slower in Abu Dhabi but I know that I will fall in love with this beautiful city just as I did with Dubai.

Our Arabian experience has just been enriched two fold.

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and is located about one hour south of Dubai. It is home to 1.3 million people. The city is actually a collection of several islands with Abu Dhabi being the main island. We live on Al Reem Island that sits between Abu Dhabi Island and Saadiyat Island.

Rendering of Guggenheim Museum (top right), the
Louvre (top left) and the Sheikh Zayed
National Museum (center front).
photo courtesy of
Like Dubai, the city is a virtual construction site with cranes and construction everywhere.  Among the most interesting projects are Saadiyat Island’s Cultural District that will include a Louvre Museum, scheduled to open in 2015and a Guggenheim Museum, scheduled to open in 2017. At the heart of the Saadiyat Cultural District will be the Zayed National Museum scheduled to be open in 2016. 

With the high value placed on education in the UAE, it is no surprise that renowned institutions of higher education such as the Paris-Sorbonne and New York University (NYU) have campuses in the city. Each of these universities offer stimulating programs we can attend.  The UAE National Symphony adds another layer of cultural enjoyment to investigate.

Ferrari World and Yas Formula 1 track
photo courtesy of
On earlier trips we enjoyed  Yas Island attending Formula 1 RacesFerrari World and the Paul McCarthy concert. On Saadiyat Island we took a relaxing weekend retreat at the Park Hyatt Resort and enjoyed some of the cultural offerings.

Still to be explored are the Desert Islands on the western coast. This is a cluster of eight islands full of history and natural beauty.  

photo courtesy of The National
At the top of the “to go” list is Bani Yas Island,  site of one of Arabia’s largest wildlife reserves, home to more than 10,000 free roaming animals. Can’t wait to see the Arabian Oryx, gazelles and giraffes – yes, you read that right, giraffes. I have heard that this giraffe herd is the result of two giraffes that were a gift many years ago from Ethiopia to Sheikh Zayed.

Then there is Marawah Island home to seasonal fishermen and the Gulf’s oldest known human-made structures that predate the earliest Egyptian pharaohs.  

Exploring this part of the UAE is going to be great.

Postscripts . . . .
Recommended reading . . . From Rags to Riches, A Story About Abu Dhabi by Mohammed A. J. Al Fahim . . . This is a vivid eye witness account of the growth of Abu Dhabi. It is hard to image that just a short 30 years ago this thriving modern city was an impoverished undeveloped coastal desert territory where the only means of travel was by camel. If you are interested in learning about how life was “pre-oil,” then you will enjoy this personal memoir.    

Thanks to good friends . . . one of the best parts of expat living is the generosity of those who came before you. Thank you Cheryl Keown for help in located an outstanding moving company, Writer Relocation, and helping me find some good real estate agents. And thanks to Kristi Regan and her group of AWN friends who generously shared their experiences in various apartments around the city. Need curtains? No problem an email brings a couple of suggestions. The first response, from Gigi Cowan, has the curtain maker at my door within hours and curtains hung three days later! And the “Reem Ladies” (residents of Al Reem Island) welcome me with open arms at their gathering in Bianca Verhoeff Rodriguez's relaxing terrace apartment. No matter where in the world you live, the expat community is there for each other. 

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