by Sairah Zubair Khan
Mama, Baba….. We are going to be so bored over Easter! What are we going to do?! Thus began our holidays from school. Two weeks of discovering the UAE by road. We had kept it secret from the kids but now was the time for the big reveal!
Mama, you always take us to places for learning…… It’s our holidays, we don’t want to learn! I compromisedknowing full well, museums and outdoor historical places were top of the list. “How about you take the tablet and camera for photographs and note books to record your adventures”? Ok sounds like fun, they chorused uneasily…….
Our journey started bright and early, we hit the dusty road and admired the black camels, the grey camels, the red sand, the caramel sand, the brown camels……. There is a theme here! Luckily the children were occupied with electronics, music, books and some sleep.
A change of border and almost seven and a half hours from leaving Riyadh, we arrived at Qatar. Beautiful flowers greeted us with models of boats. They had markings on the roads! The weary travellers arrived at our hotel near the Corniche. We were welcomed ‘Qatari’ style, beaming grins, steaming coffee shots, dates and chocolates for the kids.
During our four day visit, we had packed in quite an itinerary. The first day of arrival, we strolled at the Corniche in Doha and took a Dow Cruise. The cleanliness of the place and friendliness of the local people really impressed us. Doha is quite a happening place with regular festivals throughout the year. We were in time for the Mother of the Nation Festival at the Corniche but missed the International Food Festival at various sites.
The next day was spent at the MIA (Museum of Islamic Art). The children were awed by the beauty of the Museum and gardens but also by the interior. A World Class facility for generations to come, it has been designed with beauty and care. The exhibits were cleverly shown, the history and artefacts were breath taking. The afternoon was a short stroll away, to Souq Waqif and Fanar. The Souq is a new development in an old setting. It is designed to be a place to sit, watch the world go by and relax in Middle Eastern hospitality. Every half an hour, local guards would pass on horses on the cobbled streets, a tea or coffee seller would attract your attention.
The children saw an animal market with flying squirrels, chicks and kittens. There was a gold souq, art gallery and models of boats to show off a fishing heritage. Fanar in Arabic is a light house. A helter-skelter shaped iconic building which houses the Islamic Cultural Centre.
After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to explore Villagio. This is a mall that is famous for a gondola ride through the middle of it. The ceilings and interior depict Venice and European shop facades. Coming from Riyadh, malls are common place but it was an interesting feature. The children were able to watch a movie. As a family we were very impressed, with an indoor skating rink that doubled as an ice hockey stadium. Every half hour, local children would play in teams. A fun way to keep fit during a weekend. We moved on to Aspire Park for some fresh air after being inside for so long! Public Health notices greet you in this very green and lush park. Outdoor gyms with guidelines for use, exercises and calorie breakdowns available, running tracks, basketball courts…. Clearly citizens and their health is valued here.
On the last day of our stay in Qatar, we explored Katara Cultural Village. This was the setting of the International Food Festival to be held the next day. A small historical setting with shopping huts, beach areas and lovely Middle Eastern cafés and restaurants. In the evening we headed back to the Corniche for The Mother of the Nation Festival. This was based on family activities, painting and crochet with the kids, mini-golf and archery amongst many other things.
Our journey continued, back into KSA and then across to UAE. From Qatar, it took almost five hours including the border crossings. Abu Dhabi was our destination for the next part of the trip. We had a family birthday to celebrate at Yas Island. The water world and Ferrari world were huge hits with the kids. The weather in March also was suitable for outdoor play.
On one of the days, we ventured to the Eastern Mangrove Lagoon National Park. My son was the Captain and he was in charge of a solar powered doughnut boat. We saw local birds and even a huge jumping fish! The mangroves were so tranquil at sunset. A nice alternative to the modern gizmos and gadgets of the day before.
In the evening we ventured to the Corniche for a stroll in the cooler air. Plenty of families and a nice, relaxed atmosphere. It was Easter time and the hotels had provided various activities for the kids. As we dined at Terrace on the Corniche, the kids had fun with face painting, Easter egg hunts and plenty of chocolate animals in many forms!
We decided to visit Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at prayer time. The call to prayer sounded melodious amongst the ethereal coolness of the Mosque.
It is all white from the exterior, leading into cool colours on the painted floral floors. The pillars are marble with inlay of mother of pearl. One of the most stylized but also peaceful places of worship I have ever visited. Outside are gardens, arches and water passageways. A true vision of Paradise on Earth.
From our week in Abu Dhabi, we headed to Dubai. Three short hours later we had arrived! We were due to meet with some family who were flying in from the UK.
The first few days we revisited the fountain show at Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates. Pretty much the same fare, as one would find back in Riyadh. The two new places for us to visit were The Global Village and Miracle Gardens.
From the outside, The Global Village doesn’t really make sense! A bigger version of Janadriah Festival, you might think. As you wander round, it becomes clear as to how to approach each area. We started at 4pm and ended at mid-night with a few things left.
Each country provided us with smiles, warmth and energy. Children were especially welcomed, they were handed food to try, drinks and small gifts! It is culturally and informatively enriching at the ages of 11 and almost 10!
They were with tribal people from Botswana, musicians from Karachi (Pakistan), dancers from Bali, funny ice cream sellers in Istanbul!
The Miracle Gardens were more sedate but a venue for plenty of pictures, looking at wacky floral displays and a relaxing walk. We allowed the kids to wander and find their way back, otherwise boredom started to creep in.
At the start of our trip, we had planned every day for an activity. Unexpectedly we were guided to an Arabian Wildlife Centre in Sharjah. Sometimes it’s good to re-invent the wheel and try something you hadn’t catered for.
Sharjah is about 45 minutes from Dubai. The Centre is a complex, housing a children’s farm and petting zoo, Islamic Botanical Garden and a Natural History Museum. For a minimal cost you can enter all four places with a single entry.
The Wildlife Centre has been designed with flair. The best part of our visit was a 360 degree circular café. Surrounding us were desert animals and birds, feeding and in a ‘live’ setting. It is all indoor, handy to escape the heat of the day. Once you have seen the exhibits, you may not look at the desert in the same way! Obviously the creepy crawlies were a highlight for some members of our family.
On our way back home, we drove from Dubai back towards the UAE-Saudi Border. Just before the border, about an hour away is a Resort called Dannat Jebel Al Dannah Resort. After a weary six hour drive, we were greeted with cool drinks and high tea. The resort is based opposite Bani Yas Island.
There are pools and a beach area to enjoy water sports. We enjoyed a good night’s rest and were refreshed for the drive back into KSA. In Riyadh we are blessed to be able to travel to most places. Sometimes it’s good to venture in your own backyard for a change!