Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Jordan–Day 2

Dead Sea mud treatment, Jordan River baptism site, and Petra at Night

20141112_094735Early in the morning, with the sun yet to climb above the mountains to the east, Donnette and I were down on the shore of the Dead Sea slathering black mud onto each other. Dead Sea mud, and the highly concentrated salts and minerals in the sea water, are said to help relieve arthritis and allergic skin conditions, as well as slow the effects of aging by reducing wrinkling and cellulite.





The mud was cool, and very slippery and slimy; it was a little weird to be spreading it all over ourselves – but also fun, and sensual. Here we were, outdoors in the sunlight, coating ourselves with mud.  The sun was still weak, but we knew the water was warm, having tested it the night before.







When we tested the water, we also did a taste test. The water looked so clean and clear, we wanted to compare it to the Arabian Gulf, which seems very salty, especially in hot weather when there is a lot of evaporation. Knowing this was probably a mistake, Donnette and I both took the tiniest of tongue tips to our fingers and … YECCCHHH! SPIT! It burned and tasted awful!

The salt content of the Dead Sea is 33.7%, compared to 3.5% average in the ocean and 4% to 5% in the Arabian Gulf – although with the desalinization plants releasing brine, Gulf salinity is increasing. The Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA, ranges from 5% to 27% depending on location and lake level.


As we waited for the mud to dry, we walked up and down the little private beach belonging to the Marriott. On either side, the shoreline was lined with glistening, salt-coated rocks. How did the Dead Sea get so salty? I knew there was no outlet – we have similar bodies of water in Nevada, called terminal lakes, where water evaporates and leaves behind minerals. The Great Salt Lake is a remnant of ancient Lake Bonneville, which covers part of Nevada. .

Dead Sea geology plate map


But those were freshwater lakes, remnants of the ice age. The Dead Sea is different, in that it was formed by tectonic forces – the moving plates of Earth’s crust. As I understand it, the Dead Sea is part of a greater rift formed by the African and Arabian plates moving apart. Almost 4 million years ago, the rift was flooded with Mediterranean Sea water. For the next 2 million years, similar floods came and went until, through tectonic forces, the surrounding land was uplifted enough to prevent further inundation by the Mediterranean.



Now the Dead Sea continues to sink as the rift grows and the surrounding plates rise, making it the lowest place on Earth. Because there are few water sources (the Jordan River being the main one,) very little rainfall, and no outlet other than evaporation, the salt and minerals in the Dead Sea are concentrated and the water level continues to drop.





We were running out of interesting rocks to look at, the mud began to crack and itch, and we couldn’t stand it any more. It was time to rinse off in the sea. Donnette reminded me not to get any of the water in my eyes, but the first thing that happened was I accidentally splashed a drop – just one drop – into one of my eyes. Oh, the pain! Unable to stop myself, I tried to wipe it out, getting water into the other eye as well. Thus, I was blinded until Donnette came to rescue me with a towel wetted with fresh water.Then I remembered that I’d brought two pairs of swim goggles. Better late than never.




The Dead Sea is famous for being so salty that you float effortlessly. If you can relax, and not worry about getting water in your eyes or mouth, it’s like floating on an inflatable mattress.




DSC01287As we floated, we noticed a woman on the shore, methodically spreading mud from the pot onto herself . Donnette tried to strike up a conversation, but she wasn’t interested. Either she didn’t speak English, or she was too focused on the business at hand – probably both. She covered herself with mud and then proceeded to scrub, and scrub, and scrub. It looked like this was something she did on a regular basis. I wonder how many hundreds of generations of local women have used this beauty treatment, a favorite of Cleopatra, over the millennia?




A couple of hours later, we checked out of the hotel and headed north. Petra was south, but we were taking a last-minute detour to the site on the Jordan River where Jesus Christ was baptized by John the Baptist. I was raised Catholic, which means that I don’t remember my baptism because I was a baby. But Donnette, being Southern Baptist, clearly remembers her baptism at the age of 15, and going there would have a special meaning for her.


It did for me, too. Neither of us, a few years ago, imagined visiting the Holy Land. Sometimes, visiting a place is as much an internal pilgrimage as it is a sightseeing tour. As a Catholic, I think about what I learned and remember from the stories of the Bible. What meaning did I take from them? What did they teach me? How did they help to form my character?

DSC01307 Stitch


These days, my thoughts and feelings about faith, religion, and spirituality are something that I don’t like to talk about. For me, it’s private and personal. Live and let live – and believe. But with or without an abiding faith, whether it’s Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, just being there, visiting the places where events in the Bible happened, had a profound effect – one that I can’t articulate.




20141112_132552The authenticated baptism site was identified by comparing its description in the Bible and other ancient records with features on the ground; it has been recognized by all major Christian churches. During the first several hundred years AD (or CE), churches were built near the site to memorialize the event, and believers made and recorded pilgrimages. Over the centuries, it was forgotten.



St. George Greek Orthodox Churcxh

The discovery in 1897 of the Madaba map depicting the Holy Land led to a renewed interest in its location, but conflicts throughout the 20th century – two World Wars and the fall of the Ottoman Empire – prevented archaeological activity until after the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel. A very good synopsis of the history and rediscovery is at this link on the Baptism Site of Jesus Christ website.



Jesus baptism site

The actual baptism site is on a dry floodplain several meters away from the river. The sinuous Jordan was long ago dammed upstream, so it’s no mystery that the floodplain is dry.


This place is, really, out in the middle of nowhere. From the Visitor Center, which is just a small, plain building which serves as an office, a shuttle bus drove us out onto the floodplain, past an armed guard station, to a plateau where we viewed new memorial churches that were built on distant ridges after the rediscovery, and the place where Pope John Paul II said Catholic mass in 2000.

DSC01302Our first view of the storied river was unimpressive; it was just a muddy looking creek, not even as wide as the Carson River, in Nevada. The Jordan River forms the border between Jordan and Israel; it was hard to believe that this was it - we could literally have crossed over in just a few steps!






From the baptism site, we walked along a path which took us to St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church. Here the river was wider, and flowing, and we could see people on the Israeli side.






Our attention was caught by a couple across the river, dressed in white shifts, who were getting ready to enter the water. They were with a guide, who was giving them information and instructions while an armed guard hovered nearby. It was an odd scene. As they waded in, the woman began to gasp at the cold water and then she seemed to lose her footing and almost floated off downstream.




She regained her foothold and composure and, after a couple of minutes, she and her partner climbed out of the river, crossing themselves several times. As they emerged we realized that, of course, they were wearing nothing under their thin cotton shifts, which were now clinging wetly to their skin! Thinking of the modesty that we are now used to in the Middle East, it was a bit of a shock.




The Baptism Site only took a couple of hours from our day, and then we were on our way to Petra. We decided to take the Dead Sea Highway – which Mark’s Jordanian colleague, Muhammad Alshawakfeh, had counseled against – too mountainous. Too mountainous!? There is no such thing!


But first, we needed fuel. We had just under a half tank and  I didn’t know what the prospects were for gas on the road ahead. So now …

The Parable of Petrol Pricing.

Two lovely, intelligent, experienced American women rented a car in a foreign country and didn’t do their homework regarding the price of fuel or the size of their vehicle’s fuel tank. They pulled into a lonely petrol station near the Dead Sea, where the Attendant directed them, indicating that they should pull forward, and yet more forward, until they could no longer see the display on the pump. The Driver, who sometimes doesn’t think things through until later, requested: “Fill, with regular.” The Attendant started the pump, which stopped within a few seconds, and then he came to the window saying, “15JD (Jordanian dinar, about $21 US.) Driver handed over the money but, when she started the engine she saw that the tank was not full. So the Attendant put in more, until the tank was full. Then he returned to the window, requesting another 25JD ($35.) The Navigator, who was wise, said “No! That’s too much!” They were, after all, in the Middle East where they were used to gas prices that were cheaper than in the US. But they didn’t exactly know what the price should be, and the Attendant knew this because they were obviously tourists, and rich. After some haggling and accusation, head shaking, and arguing in two incompatible languages, another 10JD was accepted by the Attendant and they drove off.

We were sure that we’d been cheated, but we didn’t know just how much. (Muhammad has since told Mark that the gas stations in Jordan are all run by Egyptians – and they, unlike Jordanians, are cheats.) Moral of the story: Know the price of fuel, how much your vehicle holds, and specify how much money’s worth to put in – not just “fill.” Also – be sure you can see the pump.


Shake it off! It was time to hit the road, and we were feeling like Thelma and Louise (only older, and with more money.) Donnette had brought the music and we sang along to the Eagles (have I mentioned that we both graduated from high school in 1975?) driving along the Dead Sea until we made a left-hand turn into the mountains. But not before stopping for pics of the receding shoreline.




It was supposed to be a drive of about 3-1/2 hours, and we went up, up, up, to dizzyingly beautiful heights. Donnette was a little freaked out, I could tell, but I was reminded of so many other drives: California, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Oman, Sri Lanka … mountains, villages, black Bedouin tents, curvy roads, up and down. The hardest part was that Carmen, the Garmin, didn’t know the latest road changes and once or twice she led us down a rabbit hole.

I was really glad we’d stopped for gas, cheated or not. The sun was getting low, there wasn’t a good place to pull over for photos, and there was no place to stop and pee. We were on a mission to find our hotel, and soon!!



We reached the Marriott in Petra just as the sun set, around 5:30 p.m., in time to check in and grab dinner before heading out to Petra at Night. Our hotel was way at the top of the ridge above Petra, with great views of the mountains we had just crossed on one side and the town below on the other. They brought us a bottle of wine – again, the Marriott Gold advantage – but with no time to drink it, we were on our way back downhill to the Visitor Center. We had two nights and wanted to do Petra at Night first, and then a full next day exploring.







We arrived at the Petra visitor center at 8:00 p.m. and joined the procession along the path to the legendary Siq, or entrance to Petra. The Siq is a passageway to Petra through impossibly high rock faces, carved by thousands of years of flash flooding.








The entire pathway, which which begins well before the entrance to the Siq, was much longer than I thought it would be and was lit by hundreds of luminerias– paper bags containing lit candles. All along the path were lit caves and carved “djinn blocks,” which the Nabataeans believed were the homes of invisible, human-like beings – essentially, genies.


The Nabataeans were an incredibly gifted and skilled people from the Arabian peninsula who established their capital in Petra some 2200 years ago. They were successful traders who lived in caves and drew upon Greek, Hashemite and Roman traditions to develop their own architectural style, carving unbelievably complex facades into the stone cliffs, most of which are thought to be tombs.


And then suddenly, magically, there it was, and there we were, looking at the Treasury, which was never a treasury at all, but was given the name, like all the other misleading names in Petra, by archaeologists.




Petra at Night is not a nighttime tour of the city, but just a walk through the Siq to the Treasury to hear a program, and then the long trek back out. We sat on the ground in rows with all of the other guests, were served the traditional Bedouin sweet tea …





… listened to traditional Bedouin music played on a rebab, then and poetic singing …









Then we heard taped sounds of donkeys braying, horses galloping and carriages clattering while the Treasury fa├žade lit up in colors. I had my camera set up on a tripod and was able to get some night shots including one “selfie” of Donnette and me.


Afterwards, as we were getting ready to make the trek out, a young man stopped us and asked how we liked the program. I said the taped sounds seemed too loud to me – little did I know that, in the Siq, they really are that loud as they bounce off of the walls! – and I was surprised at the light show because I’d read reviews that said the Treasury was not well lit. He told us that they had just started the light show about two weeks before, and they were working to add more elements to the program.


I enjoyed the walk out as much as anything that night. Donnette  was very patient while I kept stopping and trying shots.

Next: a very full day in Petra.

Thanks for reading!


Selected sources:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

4 Days in Jordan–Day One

Donnette and I set out from Abu Dhabi to cut a swath across Jordan.
Mark was too busy working to go to Petra. We had a holiday coming up, but for that he wanted to go to a non-Arab country, Cyprus. Without Mark along, I decided I needed to do a mid-week girls’ trip.
So I put out the word on “The real housewives of Shangri La” Facebook page: “Petra is on my bucket list. Who wants to go with me?” I was sure I would get some takers. The unanimous response was, “You have to go there!” But everyone had already been except Donnette and her husband Ray, and he said, “Well, I’d like to go too.” Awkward. I coaxed Donnette with, “You can go with me first, scout it out, and then go back and do more, with Ray.” But it was still delicate. Husbands here work really hard, while the wives have all the fun, or so it seems.

Finally it came down to the wire, time-wise. Donnette needed to be in town for the F1 event at Yas Marina Circuit, and then was leaving to go home to Alabama a couple days before Thanksgiving, and not coming back until January. By that time, I would already be gone back to the U.S. for good. It was now or never. I said, “If nobody else can go, then I’ll go by myself.” I would’ve, but Mark said, “You are not going alone. That’s where I draw the line.” Although a solo trip greatly appeals to my sense of adventure, I knew he was right. I was alone in Paris for a couple of days, but Jordan, with its conservative Arab culture and proximity to Syria, is a different story. Plus, (forgive me for saying this but it’s true) Jordanian men can be … challenging. So I talked to Donnette, and she played our card. “If I don’t go, then Anne can’t go. And she’s not going to get another chance. I have to go with her.”

So Ray, bless his heart, acquiesced. He could see, ever since the Halloween party, that Donnette and I have a certain girl-chemistry. We get along easily, have the same drinking habits, and have a lot of fun together. We were both born in Michigan, in the same year - 1957. And during the trip, we found out just how much more we have in common, almost to the point of being spooky. But more about that later.

Mark, bless HIS heart, booked us rooms at three Marriott hotels – Jordan Valley at the Dead Sea, Petra, and Amman.
DSC01278Although we at first thought it would be best to get a car and driver, and Donnette said Ray would be more comfortable with it that way. Then I realized that would be too expensive, and inconvenient. We’d have more flexibility if we had our own wheels. I had no worries about the driving. I drive in the UAE. How bad could Jordan be? There were mountains, but I drive in mountains at home, all the time. Donnette just said, “I’ll tell him later, after we get there.” In the end, he figured it out for himself.

We took the early morning Royal Jordanian flight from Abu Dhabi to the new Queen Alia International Airport just south of Amman, got our passports stamped and heard “Welcome” for the first of probably a hundred times over the next few days, and found car rental row. When I handed my reservation printout to the handsome young Jordanian with impeccably slicked-back hair (with a little flip at the very bottom) who was behind the counter, he looked at it, shook his head a little, and said, “But, this is Budget.” I started to look up, even though I knew the sign said Budget, and by the time I caught myself he was already smiling mischievously. Ah-hah, almost gotcha! WELCOME to Jordan!


Our first stop was Madaba, on the way to the Dead Sea, about halfway between the airport and our hotel. With the help of Donnette’s Garmin navigation system, “Carmen,” we were there in less than an hour, found the visitor center in the middle of town, parked, and went on the walking tour.

Madaba dates from the Middle Bronze Age, has a long and fascinating history, and is mentioned twice in the Bible (Numbers 21:30 and Joshua 13:9.) Byzantine Christian and Umayyad Islamic mosaics were discovered and preserved there in the late 19th century when a group of Christians came to resettle and rebuild the long-abandoned town.
Hippolytus Hall
Although our visit there was short, it was the perfect way to begin the trip. Starting at the visitor center, we wound our way upwards to visit the Madaba Mosaic School and Archaeological Museum which covers and exhibits mosaics of the Church of the Virgin and Hippolytus Hall, and ended at the Byzantine Greek Orthodox St. George Church which houses the Madaba Mosaic Map of the Middle East dating back to the 6th century CE. This amazing map contains the oldest surviving cartographic representation of Jerusalem, and includes features that are still visible today when viewed on an aerial photo or satellite image like Google Earth.
Madaba Mosaic Map
Donnette and I were both fascinated by the mosaics and, as usual, I’m learning more as I research after the trip and learn about the larger archaeological park, the school where Jordanian students from all walks of life learn the timeless methods of creating and preserving mosaics, and I realize the incredible richness of the history of this place, the Holy Land, and its people.
 The Mosaic School has both male and female students.
St. George Church, Madaba

St. George Church, which houses the Madaba Mosaic Map, is quite plain on the outside. But this Greek Orthodox church is all Byzantine splendor on the inside.

St. George Church, Madaba, Jordan
And then it really hit me, that Jesus lived and walked right here. The world’s three great religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – all originated here.
(Disclaimer: I am no religious scholar. Any misconceptions or off-base comments are due to my limited knowledge and are not meant to mislead or disrespect. So. Please forgive.)
Mosaic of Jesus Christ, Madaba, Jordan

Donnette and I looked at the mosaic representation of Jesus in the church and agreed: he looked much like the Arabs we see every day, except Jesus’s hair and beard are longer, and lighter brown. Probably bleached by the sun, and there were no “saloons” to go have it “painted” darker back then.

When we emerged from St. George Church, it was 1 p.m. and we were famished. So we went directly across the street to a pizza place, of sorts. We ordered a couple of pies that came folded over, with a bit of filling, and undersized Diet Cokes. People may say that prices are high in the UAE, but we could have gotten the same meal at an Afghan hole-in-the-wall bakery in Abu Dhabi for 1/10 the price (minus the Cokes.) Then we wandered next door to a shop that sold Dead Sea bath salts and mud mask for facials, among other products. The owner magically appeared and, even more magically, it was the proprietor of the pizza place! Same guy!
He convinced us that we should buy products from his store, that anywhere else the prices would be much higher because he owned the factory and so we were buying factory direct. This, we think, was perhaps true because we actually never even saw any products similar to what we bought there. But really, who knows? And who even cares? Not us, we got some good stuff for gifts and girl parties..

Then we had to run the gauntlet back to the Visitor Center, with shops and street vendors hawking their wares: “Hello, you want to buy pashmina? Mosaic? Jewelry! Come, I give you good price! Hello? Where you from? Excuse me?Hello!” I did spring for a beautiful mosaic of the Tree of Life, which features prominently in ancient mosaics (and which Mark will find out about when he reads this.)

But I didn’t get photos of the great street life. The problem is, if you stop, even to take photos, you are committing yourself to something, perhaps just a discussion about why you don’t want to buy something, that’s hard to get out of. Taking photos isn’t exactly free.
DSC01273Finally we were on our way, over the crest of Mount Nebo – which, sadly, we didn’t realize the significance of at the time. This was where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land, which he never entered, and where it is said he is buried somewhere. We wound our way through a landscape dotted with olive orchards and goats. Donnette was impressed by the heights, the views, and the curving road, but to me, coming from the mountains of Nevada and California, it was all in a day’s drive.

Arriving at the Marriott, I mentioned that my husband, who booked the room, was a Priority Club Gold member. “Will he be arriving later?” Well … no. “We usually give upgrade if the member is present.” But, minutes later, we had our upgrade to a pool view room. And what a pool – actually, pools! You’ve heard of a Pub Crawl? Well, here you could do a Pool Crawl, all the way to the Dead Sea.
We went down to look at the sea, but decided to wait until morning for our mud bath and float in the salty brine. I was wondering if the water would be cold. But no! It was surprisingly warm. But the Mojitos were calling and the sun was setting. First , we had a couple at the outdoor Oasis Lounge, while watching the sun set. Then it was Happy Hour in the Acacia Bar, where we retired for more Mojitos and a salad for dinner … and then time for sleep, so we could wake up early in the morning for our Dead Sea mud treatment.

To be continued …

PS I neglected to add the photo album before posting, but here is a link:
Jordan - Madaba Mosaics

Monday, November 10, 2014

Abu Dhabi’s skyline: a conundrum

Today’s Abu Dhabi rose from the sand in less than 50 years.

What does a skyline say about a place? Sense of place is a big subject for geographers. I searched for “Abu Dhabi skyline,” and found inspiration for the historical perspective that I was looking for. In order to understand Abu Dhabi today, you have to look at yesterday. A very recent yesterday.


Abu Dhabi Corniche skyline.

The inspiration for writing this story about the Abu Dhabi skyline was a discussion on Unwind just after we sailed across the finish line in front of the Corniche and were cracking open a “Green Gatorade,” aka Heineken.


ADFF 2014 logo

Thinking of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival graphic featuring some of the city’s iconic buildings, including my favorite “coin building,”  I heard myself complaining, “What’s with the skyline? … makes no sense … they could have planned it to look so much better …” and so on. I actually questioned why they hadn’t designed the skyline more like the idealized ADFF version!


Abu Dhabi Sailing Week ADCA 005


Young Matteo, in his youthful wisdom and charming Italian accent, held up his hands to make a frame and said, “You have to look at it like this, one building at a time. That one is nice … yes, and that one is nice …"



I’d been viewing Abu Dhabi’s skyline as an incoherent, incohesive failure of planning and aesthetics. What I forgot was the landscape it replaces: sand, sea, and sabkha, or salt flats. There was no natural backdrop other than the flat horizon, no dramatic line to mimic or respect, like, say, Cape Town. No hills to build on like San Francisco. No vegetation, even. Abu Dhabi was a barren island, detached from the mainland by just a few meters of shallow water, surrounded by sand bars. Today’s skyline was, literally, dreamed up over the past 50 years. The main island is now almost completely developed, and the surrounding sand bars have been enhanced with millions of tons of rock and sand so that they, too, can become part of the glittering new city.


ADCA #1 2013-14 027



Today’s Abu Dhabi is still in its awkward adolescence, growing at breakneck speed, sprouting limbs all out of proportion, stumbling over its own feet. The skyline is piecemeal, perennially under construction. There is no continuity. It’s a series of unrelated snapshots.

It’s like that old camel joke: designed by committee. This committee was made up of developers and architects, each trying to make the biggest impression.









ADCA Yas Cruise 069


And that’s why the snapshots of skyline are often gorgeous, grandiose …





and … sometimes confounding.

Palace Marina 028


So when I sat down to write this story, I thought to myself: “You’re supposed to be a geographer. You’ve studied urban planning. What makes a great skyline?” I searched “great skylines” and came up with lists – and lists! and more lists! – of cities known for their skylines.

Abu Dhabi wasn’t on any of them. But Dubai was. Dubai is full of unbelievable architecture, but it has two buildings that rise above the rest – literally, and conceptually.

The Burj Khalifa, tallest building in the world …

… and the Burj Al Arab.


There are other buildings with distinct profiles lining Dubai’s long coastline, and that’s one of Dubai’s distinct advantages: its one long, slender skyline. Unlike Abu Dhabi, which is a jigsaw puzzle of skylines.

Another advantage for Dubai? An historic port, still functioning. A cultural heart, still beating, its circulatory system, still intact.

Abu Dhabi developed into the modern city it is today within Mark’s and my lifetime. MHe was born in 1950, the year oil was discovered here. In 1962, the year I started kindergarten, the first oil was exported from Abu Dhabi. The local people were mostly unaware, still living in barasti houses made of palm fronds and using the beach as their toilet. They were drawing brackish well water into goat stomach containers for drinking and cooking. During the 1960’s, as I watched Flintstones cartoons on television, the people of Abu Dhabi were living in a construction zone, as much-needed buildings were hastily erected using salt-laden concrete which soon crumbled. Electricity was supplied by portable generators.


Abu Dhabi barasti

“The town of Abu Dhabi with its barasti houses and first main road. 1961.”                    Photo: From Rags to Riches-A story of Abu Dhabi – Mohammed Al Fahim


In 1971, the the year I started high school, seven Trucial States, as they were then known, joined to become a nation, the United Arab Emirates. More oil money meant more buildings, better buildings, taller buildings. 10-story buildings! In 1975, as I graduated from high school, the first international hotels opened in Abu Dhabi. I watched the Holiday Inn in Detroit fall into decay while, at the same time, the Emiratis signed agreements to build the first Holiday Inn in the UAE. By the end of the 1970’s, as the recession hit and I migrated from Detroit to San Francisco, the oil boom was going bust. Even in Abu Dhabi, commercial and residential properties in Abu Dhabi were going unoccupied. But that didn’t last; the 1980’s were on the horizon.

AD corniche 1984

“The gardens of Abu Dhabi Corniche in 1984 which had just been laid out and were still being planted.” (Gulf News)


I grew into an adult in the 1980’s and and 1990’s. Abu Dhabi was growing up, too. By 2000, the city had completed 6,000 projects and added 90,000 housing units. We both, Abu Dhabi and I, spent those two decades building, tearing down, and rebuilding.


AD corniche 1998

“Looking along Abu Dhabi Corniche in 1998 to the Bainuna Tower in the distance, with the blue Union National Bank and gold Arab Monetary Fund buildings in front of it. At this time, the whole length of the Corniche was being extended into the sea.” (Gulf News)


At the turn of the 21st century, Abu Dhabi was at a turning point, positioning itself as a global city, alongside its better-known neighbor, Dubai. Do you remember your frame of mind, at Y2K


he headquarters of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Adia, in 2007 is the latest landmark along the Corniche with its dramatic folding glass front towering over the rest of the city.

“The headquarters of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Adia, in 2007 is the latest landmark along the Corniche with its dramatic folding glass front towering over the rest of the city. “(Gulf News)


An ambitious 25-year plan, unveiled in 2005 as Abu Dhabi Vision 2030, describes development and redevelopment plans for the main island of Abu Dhabi and its several satellite islands, and the mainland, which are all connected by bridges.


Abu Dhabi Corniche, 2012. View from Etihad Towers.


Viewed from the perspective of my own lifetime, I appreciate the Abu Dhabi skyline for what it is. It’s the front row of a dynamic city built in a snapshot of time, compared to any other city. Abu Dhabi has gone from palm-frond beach huts to skyscrapers of more than 80 stories during my lifetime. And I am here, to experience and appreciate it.

Unlike Dubai, whose skyline can be viewed from a single long northern shoreline or from a southern highway vista, there is no one Abu Dhabi skyline.  It must be viewed from many vantages. I’ve had the great fortune to see and photograph the many facets of Abu Dhabi’s skyline – from the water, on boats and on my board, and on the road, from the windshield and my bicycle. Corniche, Reem Island, Saadiyat Island, Yas Island, Eastern Mangroves, Al Bandar, Between the Bridges, Emirates Palace Marina, and others that I have yet to discover.

Eastern Mangroves Skylounge (8)

Abu Dhabi skyline from Eastern Mangroves Hotel Sky Lounge.


How it will all come together, only God knows. But it’s an amazing place to take in the many facets of the skyline, and take photos.

Here are some of my favorites.


Historical photographs:

All other photos are © Anne Thomas