Ani:ME Abu Dhabi

Now this is what I call a weekend well-spent. We headed off to Ani:ME which was the biggest Anime and Japanese festival being held in UAE this year and we weren’t disappointed.  We bought our tickets online so we could get a nice discount and so we wouldn’t have to wait in line at the event and set off for Yas Island bright and early. If you haven’t been to Yas Island before, the signage to the du Forum might be a bit difficult to follow but there was no shortage of taxis who were willing to help point us in the right direction.

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Entrance through the torii

We entered, of course, through the torii, past Japanese eateries just opening up and straight into the tent, where we were met by a giant Robo Grendizer.

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It’s Robo Grendizer!

There were loads of places to be and tons of things to do, so we started by getting some of our favourite manga from Kinokuniya, drooling over a million and one gundam kits on sale and trying very very hard to exercise self-control… which, let me tell you, was not easy. Especially when you see the entire perfect edition of the Monster manga on sale…. and Noragami right below it.

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Prints from artists

Apart from getting your hands on mangas at events like these, it’s also a perfect opportunity to buy prints from your favourite animes from local artists. There were lots and lots of artists with ready prints for sale, while others were sketching on the spot. Is it too much to ask to find someone who loves Allelujah Haptism from Gundam 00 as much as me so I can plaster my wall with his photos? 😛

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Autograph Time!

I resisted the tempatation to buy any FMA prints and we headed towards the area where all the signing events would be taking place. It turned out that Todd Haberkorn, who was the voice actor for Raki in Claymore and Ling Yao in FMA: Brotherhood, was going to be there so my brother lined up patiently for a photo, an autograph and a chance to talk about some of our favourite animes.

Yashuri Nightow was also there – the guy behind Gungrave

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Calligraphy by Ryujin Kobayashi

Apart from the anime and manga madness which included a screening of Naruto and cosplay competitions with a chance to compete in the World Cosplay Summit, there were also lots of cultural activities taking place, from calligraphy from the famous Ryujin Kobayashi, mochi pounding and kimono dressing.

My favourite, and I would definitely classify this as being a “cultural” activity, was taking pictures at the photo booth. We didn’t get a chance to go wild and do this in Akihabara so we decided not to miss the opportunity here. The photobooth was set up by Puripix and we ended up going… not once, but twice! The photos were printed at the booth in the form of stickers and you could choose to have 2 photos sent for free to your phone through the app, but we were hoping that all photos could be digitized because we had so much fun taking the photos and decorating them. When we downloaded the app, it turned out they were all digitized! We had to pay to get the other pics but it was well worth it- the picture quality was amazing, in fact I think the photobooth produced better quality pictures than a photo studio these days and for a much much better price!

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Time for some Japanese yummies

We finally headed out for lunch, deciding to skip the long lines for Soba and went to Yas Mall instead but not before saying bye to the bunny! There was a whole line-up of events for the evening, concerts and Gundam building contests. We weren’t able to stay longer, but there’s always next time 🙂

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Bye Bunny!

WTC Souq and Mall

There are loads of malls in Abu Dhabi, and while Wahda Mall is my personal favourite, rather my mum’s favourite, WTC Souq and Mall are great places for tourists and for people looking for a good place to eat out with an ambiance to match.

We stopped at the souq first, which is filled with shops selling all sorts of tourist-y takeaways. I wouldn’t say that these are exactly “Emarati” souvenirs, most of them being imported from either Turkey or Iran, but there are plenty of exotic items that would make for great coffee table conversation.

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I need to get me one of these lamps!

Most stores sell decorative items- from the typical turquoise Persian enamel plates to the deep blue Turkish evil eye pendants, postcards (so you remember all the places you’ve visited and all the ones you’ve missed) and antique wooden furniture. Some stores sell spices- there’s one right at the entrance if you fancy some dries rose buds and marjorum. They were also selling something curiously translated as “crumple”- what that is, I can’t be sure. If spices aren’t your thing, or if you’d rather avoid possible questioning back at your home airports, then maybe taking back some traditional clothes would be best. Many stores sell taditional abayas and shailas for the ladies, and kandooras and gutras for the gents. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you could always change into your new local attire and roam the souq instead. And then of course there are the compulsory to camel embossed T-shirts to give to friends, because nothing says UAE like camels…even though you’re only likely to see them if you for a safari or the zoo.

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Anyone need an Aladdin lamp?

If you’re into art, there are also a couple of art galleries where you can pick up something truly unique. When we stopped there, we couldn’t resist getting some paintings by an Iraqi artist, and we weren’t the only ones in prowling the dark cramped aisles in the little gallery with more paintings than walking room, in search of Mr. Right. Always remember, if you’re at a souq… that means you have an unwritten license to bargain…at least a bit. The  best, and most commonly used, bargaining technique is to keep insisting that they tell you their “last price”. I’m terrible at bargaining, but it’s always worth a shot… my mum did end up getting a good discount (or so we were led to believe 😉 ) If you’re worried about packaging, they can roll up the canvas for you, or you can have it framed at the gallery itself where you can pick it up later.

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One of the many market scenes painted by an Iraqi artist

If you start feeling peckish as you’re wandering around, there are a couple of coffee shops and a number of restaurants where you can sample Turkish, Lebanese and Indian cuisine and if none of those sound appealing, there a lot more places to eat right across in the mall which is just a pedestrian crossing away.

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“Eat of the good things wherewith We have provided you” – Quran 2:172

The mall itself is no less than a throwback to old souqs, with a similar wooden interior which is actually quite a refreshing change of scenery. The shops are about the same as in any other mall, but when it comes to food, they have a good number of popular eateries under one roof- PF Changs, Shake Shack, Romanos, Nandos and a long line of cafes and of course there’s the food court. Unfortunately, or fortunately rather, we were all fasting that day so we escaped the inevitable hole in our budget and instead wandered around the mall stopping to admire all the artsy sculptures that were up everywhere (except the polar bear which was positively frightening). We even got to enjoy people playing the clear piano that was made available to the public.

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Rhino alert!

There were also, surprisingly, places to sit that did not involve going to the food court. This is somewhat of a rarity in most malls across the country – so if you do see an empty bench, sit down and savour the moment.

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Don’t forget to look up and enjoy the architecture

 

The mall and souq are open from 10am to 10pm on weekdays and upto 11pm on weekends so there’s always a way to squeeze them into your itinerary.

Emirates Park Zoo

Now that the weather is getting better (I admit there’s still a long way to go), Emirates Park Zoo is  a great place to put on your list of places to visit on the weekend, especially if you have kids. It makes for a great day trip, and they even have a hotel you can stay at if you want to enjoy the experience for more than a day 🙂

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Lots of things to see!

I would recommend going in the morning in this weather and only attempting an afternoon visit once it cools down a bit, but in any case, you can always buy hats and water bottles right at the entrance so there’s no reason to worry. Also, they have mist sprayed outdoors which helps cool you down as well.

The best part about this place is that you actually get to interact with a lot of the animals- this includes being able to feed some animals like the giraffes and elephants. (I admit- this is why I was really here. I love giraffes ❤ ). They also have lots of shows held throughout the day, which they periodically announce over the speakerphone in case you forget ^^

You can buy food for feeding at the entrance but it turned out the giraffes were happily fed by the time we reached. Some people still insisted on feeding them (and the wrong food at that!) despite clear signs asking not to. 😦 If you do get a chance to go, please don’t be tempted to do that.

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Don’t forget to feed the giraffes

There are all sorts of animals, ranging from the more domesticated chickens and turkeys to the exotic ostriches, gazelles and leopards. I experienced several firsts at the zoo- seeing my first Frizzled Chicken and also my first Capybara (I only ever read about Capybaras in the Noragami manga…go figure ).

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Smile for the camera

A lot of the birds and ducks aren’t kept in cages, which makes me wonder why they stick around… the promise of regular food perhaps? I suppose it’s a mark of how well the animals are looked after at the zoo.

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Time for a morning stroll

While we can escape the summer heat by heading to the air conditioned areas of the zoo, it’s a bit more difficult for those animals who aren’t used to the scorching temperatures, so you’ll normally notice those particular animals hiding out in their feeding areas, which are shaded and probably a lot cooler. So don’t feel too disappointed if you don’t see them roaming around. They’re just resting and will probably be up and about when it cools down ^^

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Did you know zebra stripes are unique like fingerprints?

It’s easy to lose track of time at the zoo, and you’ll probably find yourself spending about 2 hours there before wondering what time it is 🙂 If you get hungry while you’re there, there are a couple of restaurants there that have you covered (yayy for Subway!).

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Hello sleepy 🙂

The zoo is typically open all year round,including on public holidays. Tickets for adults only cost AED 30 and similarly priced tickets are available for some of their special shows (prices as of Sept 2016).

Emirates Palace

This Eid holiday, we decided to head down to Abu Dhabi and visit Emirates Palace. We couldn’t make up our minds whether to visit in the morning or wait till after sunset to catch a night view of palace, but the uncharacteristically hot weather made the decision for us and we ended up visiting after dinner.

I called in ahead to see if we could book a tour, but as it turned out, all tours were booked until the end of the month. The front desk said the only real difference between the tour and visiting on your own is that the tour includes a visit to the rooms. We figured we’d just enjoy the views of the lobby and have a nice gold-flaked cappuccino at Le Cafe instead.

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Le Cafe

If you are planning a visit, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. There is a dress code so say no to shorts, flip-flops, beach wear and generally looking like a bum. Smart casual is the way to go. The other important thing to remember, is that you may be turned away at the entrance if you can’t satisfy security that you’re not just going there to loiter. If you’re planning on going for dinner, or a cup of tea, then know the name of the cafe/restaurant, if you’ve booked a tour have all related information ready. “I’m just going to look around” does NOT qualify as a good answer.

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Waiting for someone? Wait in style!

From the moment we entered the hotel, it was as though we were surrounded by gold. Everything had either a touch of gold or was bathed in relaxing soft gold lighting. It was interesting to note that there were not a lot of skylights to allow for natural lighting, except for a few openings in the main dome area which I thought was a pity only because I’m a big fan of natural lighting. Looking up at the dome is rather mesmerizing and if I could I would lie down on the cold marble just look up and appreciate the structure.

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Looking up

While we were wandering around, I ran in to a friend and after catching up we decided it was time for a good cup of tea or coffee and started looking for Le Cafe. The signs aren’t very obvious, so we had to peek at the boards in front of several seating areas to find the cafe, and the mix of my bad eye-sight with the dim relaxing lighting made everything seem a bit more hazy. We found it eventually, and while the gold-leaf coffee was really good, I would probably not recommend the Masala Chai to anyone. It isn’t chai if they’re serving milk on the side.

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A great spot for a touristy picture!

We left after drinks, leaving behind people closing business deals and other people digging in to their dinner.

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It was a lovely experience, but next time I think I’d prefer to just wander around the hotel grounds during the day and take in the architecture, the landscaping, the beautiful fountains at the entrance… and a little bit of sun.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Visiting the UAE is a lot more than just visiting Dubai. While Dubai has some great tourist attractions, a lot of tourists end up missing beautiful architectural and cultural heritage sites in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. When you think Abu Dhabi, you should think Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Named after the founding father of the UAE, this breathtaking mosque is located right at the entrance to Abu Dhabi so you need not fear getting lost trying to find it. The shine of the polished pure white marble architecture is impossible to miss.

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First glimpse of Sheikh Zayed Mosque

 

There is ample parking but if you’re worried about finding place, there are dedicated buses that run to and from the mosque. “I’m not a Muslim so will I be allowed in?” you may well ask. The answer is yes! You can come during visiting hours for a free almost hour long guided walk-in tour if you’re not planning on coming with a tour operator. Just remember there is a dress code so dress for the occasion to make sure you can get inside. 🙂

Days Visiting Hours
Sunday – Thursday 10am, 11am, 5pm
Friday 5pm, 7pm
Saturday 10am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm and 7pm

So what’s there to see… to be honest, everything about the mosque is simply beautiful, from the ornate chandeliers and domes intricately carved with Quranic verses to the ablution rooms with their gorgeous skylights.

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One of the ornate chandeliers in Sheikh Zayed Mosque

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Arches and domes lining the walkway to the women’s prayer area

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Skylight at the women’s ablution area

Once you get into the mosque, you’ll either want to snap a picture of everything or you will want to just to take a walk and enjoy taking in all the sights whether that’s in the prayer hall, the white marble pavilion or the gardens with their pools. Whatever the case may be, just remember there are some pictures you shouldn’t be snapping. Avoid taking pictures of ladies at the mosque (unless of course you ask their permission) and also taking pictures of the late ruler’s burial site is an absolute no-no!

If you want to really appreciate the exterior of the mosque, I’d advise going in winters just. I’ve only been twice but I’m hoping to go a third time… this time in the evening just to enjoy another aspect of the mosque. If you’ve ever gone at night, feel free to share some pictures! 🙂