Add Formula 1 Grand Prix to its many regular adventures and pampering — Abu Dhabi becomes an emirate offering consistent high points
There is palpable excitement in the air. Pit crews, media people and tifosis are pouring out of the airport in a steady stream. Within the airport, there are banners announcing the upcoming event of the year — the last Formula 1 Grand Prix of the year in Abu Dhabi.
My hotel is the Grand Millennium just by the Al Wahda Mall on Hazza Bin Zayed Street; it's just a 10-minute taxi ride from the corniche. Of course, 10 minutes depends on the mood of the traffic — languid or fast and maniacal. With the F1 around the corner, adrenalin is flowing strong — pedal to the metal is rampant on the roads. But the race notwithstanding, almost everybody loves speed in Abu Dhabi, and it shows in the choice of cars — Porsches, Maseratis, Mercedes-Benzs, souped up sedans... Those who get high on torque rather than on horsepower drive capable SUVs and play with them on the huge dunes surrounding the oasis in the dessert.
Since it is almost national sport, I go for a spot of Wadi Bashing with a hawk-nosed local at the wheel, dressed in a spotless white Kandura (or ‘dishdash' as the expats call it). The man seems intent on defying the laws of Physics, and takes the big muscle Toyota Land Cruiser on the narrow spines of huge dunes. I am convinced we are going to roll over, and sit ready to make an exit through the door when that happens.
However, this machine-against-dune game turns out to be thrilling. After that, we park outside a dessert camp where we sit like lords on soft mattresses and against fluffy bolsters, and are served succulent kebabs while a woman belly dances to local music.
The next day (Friday), as Formula 1 cars scream around the Yas Marina circuit on their practice laps, I go kayaking in the mangroves — it's fantastic! Scuba diving is another fulfilling activity here. Which makes me think about a bit of history — around 300 BC, nomadic fishermen and herders settled in Abu Dhabi, but the town itself dates back only to the mid 1700s. Into the 1900s, the town survived on dates and pearl trade. Of course, those hardy divers who went down to collect pearl-bearing oysters from the ocean floor did so holding their breath, but I have the luxury of a tank on my back and ample time to explore the charms of the world underwater.
Adventure itinerary ticked off, it is now time for some pampering — Chi, the spa at Shangri La hotel. I come out feeling light-headed and glowing as if I've got a new skin.
Continuing the good life, we head for dinner to the opulent Hotel Emirates Palace. Guests can choose from 15 dining options, and we opt for Hakkasan. This Michelin-starred, modern Chinese restaurant from London opened here on June 1 this year. The 165-cover restaurant, which features a unique take on modern Chinese, has four private dining rooms with stunning architecture, seating from six to 12 guests. The food is fantastic, and the martinis at the lively bar, imaginative and delightful. I head back to my hotel happy.
The next day, I am advised to have a light breakfast because I am visiting Abu Dhabi's latest attraction — the 86,000-sq.mt Ferrari World, said to be the world's largest indoor theme park. The iconic red roof carries the largest Ferrari logo ever created (65m x 48.5m), and the park includes more than 20 Ferrari-inspired rides and attractions.
Now, the reason for my light breakfast — Formula Rossa, the world's fastest roller coaster, has the same G force one would feel while driving in an F1 car and braking at maximum speed. Strapped inside it, I am accelerated to 240 kmph in three seconds. It feels as if my soul has been left behind, and I am hurtling into hell. It is by far the most wickedly thrilling roller coaster ride I've ever had. The other rides, including V12 (where you can walk into a virtual engine) and Scuderia Challenge (where you can drive a Ferrari simulator) makes Ferrari World a must visit.
Sunday arrives, and with it, the 2010 Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Sitting at the Etihad Airways lounge above the pitlane, I see the likes of Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, Frank Williams, and Jackie Stewart sauntering about. The race itself is high-decibel madness as the cars scream down the Start-Finish Straight, and then brake hard to take the corner. It is the highest point of my weekend in Abu Dhabi. In fact, the weekend has been a collection of high points!
On my flight back I realise I am still holding my breath, expecting the next high point to come…
(For more information on Abu Dhabi, visit www.visitabudhabi.ae)