Sometimes you need to make a travel adventure happen. Never did I think I would find myself going to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. What started as a crazy idea became a beautiful reality and a really random day: I met my Emirati Doppelgänger / Arab twin!
Here is a story about why I made a detour in my Middle East travels to meet Aisha. From a traditional Emirati meal to a visit to a Formula One race track to a tour around the city, this day became the most memorable part of our Arabian Adventure in the United Arab Emirates.
To hear Aisha on this An Arabian Adventure podcast, fast forward to minute 29:00
So how it happened, back in February 2008, my mother saw a photo in a New York Times article that featured Aisha in a classroom in Abu Dhabi. The article talked about how American universities were establishing satellite campuses around the Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates.
She cut the photo out of the newspaper and sent it to me in the mail. I was struck how similar we looked, and close enough to make my own mother do a double-take!
Flabbergasted, I was compelled to take a photo of this photo and post it on Facebook. Seven years later in late 2015, Facebook reminded me of this photo that I posted to my timeline. There it dawned on me that I should try to contact Aisha to say hello while we were in the Emirates.
As it so happened, I was in the midst of planning my trip to the Middle East to attend a wedding in Jordan. To fly to Amman, Jordan from where I live in New York City, the flights were cheaper, more frequent, and more comfortable on Emirates Airlines but would result in a layover in Dubai.
Through the power of social media, I found Aisha’s sister on Facebook who quickly responded back to my message to her. She suggested I reach out to Aisha and provided me her email.
Aisha and I were able to connect leading up to my trip. Had I reached to Aisha out six months earlier, we could have met while she was visiting in New York City. Fate would have it that we could meet in Abu Dhabi instead.
Abu Dhabi was a mere figment of my child’s imagination; It was a place I first heard of a long time ago as a child watching Saturday morning 1980s cartoons where the animated, lasagna-loving cat Garfield would send the cute kitten Nermal to in each episode.
My brother Devin, his girlfriend Joanne, and I carved out a day of our time exploring the United Arab Emirates to meet Aisha. We traveled about an hour’s drive from Dubai to explore the city of Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi is a beautiful city and has become one of my most favorite cities in the world. It has brand new, architecturally modern and unique skyscrapers concentrated in the downtown area near the coast. The houses are the size of mansions along the broad boulevards, and the city is a pristine clean.
Our morning stop was to the exquisite Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Known as “The White Pearl of the Gulf”, The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the third largest mosque in the world behind the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.
The mosque has inspired Persian, Moorish, and Mughal touches. I felt like I was in the movie Aladdin it had that sort of Arabian feel to it. A water moat marks its perimeter in a royal blue color that contrasts vibrantly to the white marble. Semi precious stones of lapis lazuli, agate, fancy jasper, amethyst, and mother of pearl are inlaid in the marble throughout the mosque.
Inside the mosque, seven jeweled chandeliers plated in copper and 24 carat gold hang throughout the area. One of the chandeliers is the largest in the world at 10 meters (or 30 feet) in diameter and 15 meters (or 50 feet) high and decorated with 1 million Swarovski crystals. The floor is covered in a hand-made Persian rug, also the largest hand-woven rug in the world made by 1200 weavers.
After our visit to the Grand Mosque, we went to the opulent Ritz Carlton where we would meet Aisha for the first time.
I was excited and nervous all at once. What I thought would have been a simple meet and greet over a coffee, turned out to be an awesomely random day into the evening with Aisha.
She welcomed us to her country in the most hospitable of ways: Picking us up in style, inviting us to a traditional Emirati meal, zipping around on a personal tour of Abu Dhabi, and arranging VIP tickets for drag car racing and track visit at the Formula One Grand Prix race track at the Yas Marina Circuit.
As her guests, Aisha treated us to lunch at the Emirati restaurant, Al Fanar. We sat on the floor cushions in a private room reminiscent of the old Bedouin traditions. Aisha ordered us a sampling of the many Emirati dishes of rice, curries, shrimp, chicken, and lamb.
The customary way is to eat the meal with three fingers of your right hand, gently squeezing the food and then placing it into your mouth, similar to how we ate the mansaf in Jordan.
Aisha also ordered us local desserts and sweets of honey, fried dough and pumpkin. One of these desserts resembled the Italian zeppole dessert that Devin and I fondly remembered eating as children during the holidays when we would visit our Italian grandparents in Brooklyn.
We talked about all sorts of things as we all go to know one another: American TV shows, cars, careers, customs, food, and travel. Aisha, Devin, and Joanne bonded over their love of sports cars and Formula One racing.
Once we finished lunch, Aisha offered to give us a personal tour of the city. She drove us around the area and then over to Yas Island where Ferrari World and the Yas Marina Circuit were located. Here was the Formula One Race track where the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is held, and we were excited to get up close to it.
It just so happened a supped-up car show was going on followed by drag racing event. All we could hear were revving engines, screeching tires, and loud music.
Aisha managed to score us all VIP tickets for a spot up close at the starting line near the track. She discovered that Sharif, the man working the ticket booth, had just received his United States citizenship. He is Jordanian by birth and would be moving to New York City in the summer. Because of our coincidence of living in New York and having just visited Jordan the week before, we were able to enter the event, meeting Sharif on the way to the track.
Hear more of it on this An Arabian Adventure podcast.
We spent a long, terrific while together, but then Aisha had to leave for another engagement.
Before concluding the evening Aisha gifted us with many traditional perfumes and incense and then kindly arranged for her personal driver to chauffeur us around the city at night.
Our last destination for the evening was to the palatial Emirates Palace hotel, a seven star hotel that was once made to be a royal palace. Opened in 2005, the Emirates Palace is the second most expensive hotel ever to be built at $3 billion.
Read more about our time in the United Arab Emirates including skiing in the desert, visiting an oasis, climbing the tallest tower in the world, and sand-dune bashing in a 4×4.
What a wonderful new friend and twin who will hopefully come back to NYC to visit us. Thank you so much Aisha!
Until next time Adventurers