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Abu Dhabi

Not having a work visa / iqama imposes limitations on life in Saudi. Whilst I have already given some examples, the worst is that I cannot get my wife or other family or guests into KSA to visit or stay here. To get us some family time Elaine arranged a weeks holiday in an hotel in Abu Dhabi last week, and I was able to secure a long weekend off work and joined her from Wednesday night until Saturday evening.


View of Abu Dhabi from the hotel

I had a meeting in Dammam on Wednesday so opted to fly from there to Abu Dhabi. On checking prices flights DMM to AUH seemed very expensive so I looked at Bahrain as an option, and found a BAH to AUH flight that was far more reasonable. Now Bahrain is an island country in the Arabian Gulf off the east coast of KSA and the two are joined by a causeway that leaves the Saudi coast south of Dammam city. The causeway is formed of embankments, islands and bridges tall enough to allow shipping underneath. At 25km in length this is half the length of the Channel Tunnel and the only fixed link that Bahrain has with anywhere. There is talk of a causeway to Qatar which is 48km further south of Bahrain, but this is not a live project yet.

To get from Dammam to Bahrain the options are drive or get the bus. The bus is operated by SAPTCO (KSA public transport operator) and costs 60SAR (£12).Thats reasonable, but reading  the small print I saw I needed a valid Bahraini visa to board the bus. This I didn't have, so having "put the word out" in Dammam, I found someone who was returning home to Bahrain after a day working in Dammam. (There are a lot of these international commuters who choose to live in Bahrain which s a much less strict Islamic country). My driver picked me up and explained that I could get a visa on arrival in Bahrain. Halfway across the causeway is a man-made island which is the frontier point. Here you drive through a series of checkpoints - Saudi proof of ownershp of the vehicle, Saudi Customs, Saudi Immigration, Bahraini Immigration and Bahraini Customs. This is in addition to a tollbooth as you enter the causeway at Dammam. At the Bahraini Immigration I bought a transit visa- I had to show proof of flight out within 24 hours. This cost 2 Bahraini Dinars (£4). Like Kuwait, Bahrain has a high value currency. My host dropped me off at a apoint where I could get a taxi to Bahrain airport, and I arrived there in plenty of time for my flight to AUH.  

I took a taxi from the airport at AUH to the hotel which was on the city's "Corniche" or seafront drive. We had three lovely days together in a rather swanky hotel. Elaine had got a good rate as August is out of season for normal tourists, it's too blooming hot for a holiday. We had two lazy days around the hotel and its private beach, and one day out and about. This was mostly spent shopping, firstly in a modern (and expensive) mall where international brands abounded, and later at an indoor souk. This had no age or authenticity at all, but was great for buying souvenirs.  

There are a few places worth seeing in Abu Dhabi - the Grand Mosque looks spectacular and allows tourists in, and there is also the Formula 1 racetrack and Ferrari World on Yas Island. I suspect my brother would have made a beeline there, I hope to have a look if / when we go back.

Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, although in size and commerce it has been overtaken by the city 150km up the coast. Folk in AD take delight in telling visitors that Dubai has overstretched itself and is heavily in debt, and AD bails it out. The favourite tale is the one I previously mentioned about construction of the Burj Khalifa being rescued by AD funds and having to take the name of AD's Emir. Compared to Riyadh, AD is a beautiful clean city with orderly roads and almost courteous drivers. Taxis are metered and all the drivers we used spoke some English. Even if they didn't speak English, their meters did, and at the end of a journey these announced in several languages how much the fare was and urged us to take a receipt. There is a lot of greenery and new shiny, dust free buildings. It was interesting to compare impressions, Elaine was very conscious of the Arabian influences and culture, I thought it was very westernised. It depends where you are coming from!  Culturally we didn't see much of the place and I'd like to go back some time.

There are no passenger railways or metros in AD, and a link to the airport would be useful. Etihad Rail operates 264km of  mineral railway from mine to a seaport, and this will expand in time. There is also a planned Gulf Cooperation Council passenger and freight system that will link all the Gulf States from Oman north to Kuwait, trunking through KSA. Work on this has been halted due to the downturn in oil prices. 




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* Call Alastair Fyfe directly on 07785 370074 (UK) or +966 503095212