One Arabian Night

One Arabian Night

 

Rub' al Khali desert dunes One arabian night
Rub’ al Khali desert dunes

One Arabian Night–that was all we had. It really is not enough to even begin to explore the largest area of continuous sand on this planet, which harbors the world’s largest sand dunes, but it had to do. We have escaped the soulless glass cityscape, that is Abu Dhabi, countless times before, but our visit to the Tilal Liwa Hotel was the Middle Eastern experience that I was yearning for.

Tilal Liwa's Infinity Pool One Arabian Night
Tilal Liwa’s Infinity Pool

You really could not contrive a more a quixotic desert retreat if you tried; the arabesque arch reflected in the cool blue infinity pool giving the illusion of an oasis blending into the desert dunes in the distance, the perfect symmetry of the Arabian-inspired crenellations in the roof, the camels rhythmically being led across the road by their nimble riders, the scorching heat of the midday desert sun followed by its lithe setting into the vast, apricot-colored dunes, the rising crescent moon on its heels, the sweltering heat of the day gently giving way to the ever-so-slightly cooler Arabian night. A musician plays music of the Middle East on a Qunan in a lonely corner of the courtyard. The smoky scent of Oud and Shisha pervading the air, and you are transported to a time long ago.

This is all I ever wanted: 1,001 Arabian Nights, but I would have to settle for one. Call me a romantic or a history buff, but the only feeling I have really hoped for since we have lived in the Middle East—one year now—is that feeling of being nowhere else in the world other than here. This sensation is harder and harder to come by in our increasingly globalized world. After all, how many places off hand can you think of where you cannot find a McDonald’s or a Starbucks these days?! Not too many. I was transported this past weekend to the time of desert caravans, Bedouin encampments and camels. I spent One Arabian Night at the Tilal Liwa Hotel.

The Lonely Road to the Tilal Liwa Hotel  One Arabian Night
The Lonely Road to the Tilal Liwa Hotel

Where’s that, you may wonder? It’s not in the second nearest town, Liwa—it’s namesake. It’s closest to Madinat Zayed, which isn’t easily mapped, but I found one. Here’s a link to the map. The Tilal Liwa is at the doorstep of one of the largest deserts in the world. It’s not really in your GPS but, having said that, it’s not hard too find. How many roads can possibly be out there? Check in time is 2pm, but we wanted some time to explore the town of Madinat Zayed and perhaps the dunes before we checked in.

You may remember my post in December about the Camel Beauty Pageant? This is the town in which the Camel festival takes place, so please consider a December visit. It was the highlight of 2013 for me, but then not everyone shares my affection for camels–understatement of the year, thought everyone. As a warning, the further you get away from the cities in the UAE and the nearer you get to the desert, the towns, not too surprisingly, become much more conservative. We left on a Friday, the holy day of Islam, and there wasn’t a whole lot to do in Madinat Zayed because everyone was worshipping somewhere and all the stores and restaurants were closed. It was noon, but we decided to try our luck and see if our room was ready for us. The road to the Tilal Liwa is called Million Street. This was the same road that in December was bustling with Bedouins, herds of camels and their riders, wealthy camel breeders and a few interested tourists. On this day, there was no one. Million Street was desolate. We passed all the structures that exist solely for the Camel Festival: the racetrack, the camel veterinary clinic, the stadium, the police station; they were all covered in sand just waiting to blown clean and prepped.

One Arabian Night_TL approach
Tilal Liwa Front Entrance

We arrived at the Tilal Liwa Hotel. It looks more like a fortress than a hotel from a distance, but once you get closer, you see the palm trees, and the endless dunes. You feel like Lawrence of Arabia might have felt a century ago arriving somewhere so exotic and, yet, at the same time so convivial. We pulled up into the lavish looking receiving area. A valet immediately came to take our bags, open our doors and park our car; another guided us to the reception. A very nice young lady received us at the front desk. Another greeted us with mint lemonade, a traditional drink of the Middle East and so refreshing on a hot, dusty day. Not only did the hotel have a room ready for us, but also they had given us an upgrade after my mentioning, rather casually, in an e-mail that we were celebrating my husband’s birthday. We were so surprised that they took it upon themselves to offer this to us. It was very unexpected and so solicitous. A bellboy led us to our rooms, past the main lobby and the hotel’s restaurant. Our room was not very large, but well appointed and beautifully decorated. It had large French doors that opened up onto the infinity pool and courtyard area, which was exquisite. The kids, of course, darted off the to the pool. There was a lot for the kids to do in the courtyard aside from the infinity pool: there was an enormous chess set, hammocks, a trampoline, a play area, a ping-pong table. There was also entertainment. We initially thought it was Karaoke, but it turned out to be two rather scantily clad young ladies hired to sing pop songs, and kind of dance to them by the pool. That was weird enough but whatever. We spent the afternoon at the pool. It was so relaxing. As I stated in the introduction, an Arabian-inspired arch looms above the infinity pool where you can sit on seats in the pool itself, relax and stare off into the vastness of the desert dunes.

Friendly jockey_Camel Crossing_One Arabian Night
Camel Showman

After all that rest and relaxation, we mustered the energy to take a late afternoon dune walk and desert drive. All morning we wondered if the area were just a ghost town for the other fifty weeks that the Camel Festival was not going on. It turns out there are lots of people there, they just don’t come out until the late afternoon/evening. We encountered bands of camels and their riders. They didn’t seem to mind me taking thousands of photos; they were true showmen, as conformable on the back of a dromedary as they were in front of a camera.

One Arabian Night_TL BBQ night
Tilal Liwa’s Friday BBQ Night

Afternoon faded listlessly into evening, we sipped a glass of wine on our balcony and watched the sky grow purple and crescent moon rise over the desert. Wafts of the Friday evening BBQ buffet blew our way and hunger set in. We drifted down to the dining room only to partake in another feast. The knowledge kitchen staff catered to our every need, and every item we tried met our high standards. Fully sated, we meandered home. Our kids were tired, but we weren’t. Live music was playing in the courtyard and it sounded like a lot of other guests had gathered there to listen, so why shouldn’t we? We tucked the kids in and headed over to the Al Liwan Oasis, a.k.a. “the bar by the pool.” The music this evening was Middle Eastern and drew a decidedly more local clientele. I have to admit I was a bit hesitant to order a beer in the midst of so many Emirati guests, but we went ahead and did it anyway, given there was one other western couple there doing the same. We took in the music, the ambiance, people-watched the other

Tilal Liwa by night One Arabian Night
Tilal Liwa By Night

guests who were smoking shisha, dancing and singing along to the traditional music; they knew all the words and were fully enjoying themselves. We soon found ourselves being invited over for drinks with an Emirati man and few of his friends. They ordered a round of drinks (ours, alcoholic and what was in their very “blue” drinks I may never know). Their English was not quite good enough to have a full conversation, but we all tried very hard often relying on charade-like gestures to Pictionary-esque drawings. They were very excited to be celebrating my husband’s birthday with us, so the drinks kept coming, and a good time was had by all. We informed them that we planned to come visit again for the Camel Festival, and we exchanged numbers and made plans to visit with each other come December.

Part of the appeal of the desert for me, apart from the solitariness, is the wide-open space. Just like the ocean, the desert has its own restless motion; the sea can be as calm as it can be violent in a sand storm.We woke early to hungry children. This should come as no surprise to all the parents out there. No matter how late we stayed out, they wake up at the same time, as usual, hungry. They were dying to hit the breakfast buffet; we were dying to hit the snooze bar. They won. Off we went to the buffet early enough to squeeze in a leisurely breakfast and swim before our noon checkout and our long drive home back to work-school-life reality.

Divine_One Arabian Night Gracious staff at Tilal Liwa
Our server was aptly named Divine.

Breakfast was a wonderful as dinner. We had mostly the same staff as we had had for dinner. They had all been informed that it was my husband’s birthday, and every single staff member he encountered made a point of wishing him happy birthday. How they all knew who he was is beyond me. I want to be sure to mention that each staff member at the Tilal Liwa is extremely good at his/her job. They all have gracious smiles on their faces and seem, at every moment, to be doing far more than their job description requires of them, which is kind of unusual here. We went back to the room and off we went to the pool as per our kids’ plans.

Birthday cake_One Arabian Night
Surprise! Happy Birthday Cake.

After our swim, we returned to our room to pack and get ready to go home. The phone rang. A hotel attendant asked when he could bring the birthday cake. “A birthday cake? Who ordered a birthday cake?” I asked. “No, ma’am. This cake is from the hotel. Can we bring it now?” the voice on the line said. Sure, I responded. It was 11:50 am; we had not eaten lunch. Why not? It would sure be a birthday surprise. And it was. It was brought to our room in moments. The young man that phoned  brought the cake, lit candles, sang happy birthday, and insisted on taking family photos for us—SO many until he got one he was happy with. Now, that’s dedication to your job if I ever saw it. The checkout process was as effortless as the check in. The staff got a few more happy birthdays in and off we went, back on that long, dusty, desert road. Back to reality.

In conclusion, one Arabian night is just not enough to really enjoy the full amenities available to you at the Tilal Liwa Hotel. You need at least three or four in my opinion. I would also recommend you go at a cooler time of the year than we did. There were so many desert tours, outings and sports in which you can partake, but they just were not realistic in July or August.

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Goats to 24 Karat Gold

Goats to 24 Karat Gold
Emirates Palace front view, Abu Dhabi
Emirates Palace front view

Just how do you segue from live goats at a Farmer’s Market to 24 Carat Gold flaked cappuccinos? I don’t know, but I am going to try in this post. Life here in the Middle East certainly presents you with the most peculiar contradictions imaginable, from weather to markets, camels to cars, goats to 24K gold.

While I am not really one for luxury and all the trappings that come with it, it’s not often that a girl gets an invitation to coffee at the Palace with friends—that’s kind of a new and different thing for me, and you might have guessed by now that I LOVE new and different. 

Let me just start by stating the obvious: no trip to Abu Dhabi is complete without a visit to one of the most expensive hotels ever built. The Emirates Palace is the capital’s most iconic structure. It is also Abu Dhabi’s answer to Dubai’s Burj Al Arab (the only other 7-star hotel in the world)‎, which you have to pay an entrance fee just to have a gander. Emirate’s Palace is free to view. This luxurious hotel cost more than 6 billion USD to build. The location is so superb that Sheik of Abu Dhabi, himself, lives right next door. It has classic Arabian architecture with extravagant amenities and services that go far beyond 5-star, which is why people often refer to as “7-star,” though no certified organization gave the palace this distinction.

The Emirates Palace has:

  • 1 km large, from the west wing and east wing
  • 400 rooms and suites, the cheapest are around 965 USD per night
  • 2000 employees (about 5 per room),
  • 1000 Swarovski chandeliers,
  • 8000 palm trees in the gardens and private beach,
  • 3 camels and camel drivers to entertain clients,
  • 33 kitchens

And I’ve saved the best & most ridiculous for last: 20,680 USD per night for the presidential suite.

Lobby Ceiling, Emirate's Palace, Abu Dhabi
Lobby Ceiling, Emirate’s Palace.

 

Emirates' Palace Side Gardens
Emirates’ Palace Side Gardens

My friend, her mother, who is visiting from colder climes, and I descended upon the Palace the other day—I, for their renowned gold-flaked cappuccino and, they, to have a peek inside. We have all passed it from the outside. You cannot miss it! The Emirates’ Palace transforms the cityscape with it vastness and beauty. It is really a sight to behold. It’s very different from palaces in Europe in that it’s new, bright, surrounded by palm trees and all the colors really complement one another; this is a virtue of being new and in a very warm climate.

We entered the lobby, which had a magnificent ceiling, akin to any cathedral in any part of Europe. The colors were glorious. There was a flautist and a piano player playing old–80s music-standards in the lobby—not sure how I feel about that, but let’s move on.

Flautist & Piano Player in the Lobby. Emirates Palace
Flautist & Piano Player in the Lobby.

We were seated in the luxurious café. The menu was not exactly as you might expect in a place like this; it was a little odd. But, there it was: my 24 K Gold Cappuccino on the menu:

Le Café 24 K Gold Cappuccino. Emirates' Palace Abu Dhabi
Le Café 24 K Gold Cappuccino.

24K Gold Fries:

Le Café 24 K Gold Cappuccino. Emirates' Palace Abu Dhabi
Le Café 24 K Gold Fries.

24K Gold Camel Burgers:

Le Café 24 K Gold Camel Burger. Emirates' Palace Abu Dhabi
Le Café 24 K Gold Camel Burger. 

We settled on Cappuccino, Chai and Blue Teayes, it’s a thing from Taiwan–and, fries of course, because they were special and because a gal cannot subsist on 24K gold flakes alone, right?! God knows I’ve tried. Lol! When it was served, it looked like this:

Le Café 24K gold CappuccinoAbu Dhabi, Emirates' Palace
Le Café 24K gold Cappuccino

****WARNING, if you are ridiculously immature and bad in a formal setting: A 24K Flaked Gold Cappuccino may lead, if unmannerly drunk, to a 24K Gold Mustache:

24K Gold Mustache, Emirates Palace Cappuccino, Abu Dhabi
24K Gold Mustache. I must-ache you if there is any gold on my face.

The service was impeccable, of course. The coffee was the best coffee I have had in some time, but then I am still a bit parched in the coffee department, so I am probably not the best person to assess this at this moment in time. The drinks were all served with a perfect macaroon and a date. They were divine.

Macaroons & A Date. Abu Dhabi, Emirates' Palace
Macaroons & A Date.

We wandered the palace aimlessly taking random pictures:

Orchid in a cup, Abu Dhabi, Emirates' Palace
Orchid in a cup

Having fun in our luxurious setting:

Emirate's Palace Couch, Abu Dhabi. Emirates' Palace
Emirates’ Palace Couch

Until a Michael Clarke Duncan‎ looking & sounding security guard dude ended our quest for more and more extravagance—it was inevitable. Guests only were allowed beyond this point. What?! Don’t you know us?! He didn’t. He ushered us back to where the other 99.999999999% are allowed to inhabit, albeit in as kindly a manner as he could–I am sure he does this all day long, poor guy. We let him remain where he was; We remembered the beautiful way back to where we belonged—residual memory guided back towards the café.

If you are ever in Abu Dhabi, please do not miss Emirates’ Palace. You may be like me and think you are not into princesses, palaces, high tea, luxe, et al, but the Emirates Palace is full of grandeur, recent history and a scrumptious cuppa joe, which is surprisingly not too pricey for a palace (12 USD ish). Do it, just to say you did.

Enjoy. Life’s short!! Stick with me…I’ll take you from Goats to 24K Gold as often as I can. I can also teach you how to get the best 24K gold mustache possible. Just ask! It took me a few too many times to get it right.

Location: The Emirates Palace

West Corniche Road

Abu Dhabi, UAE

[lg_slideshow folder=”Emirates Palace Visit/”]