Sunday, February 16, 2014

Abu Dhabi

As I mentioned in the last post, we took Amtrak from Maryland to NYC. I was a bit worried about how that would work given it was New Year's Eve, but surprisingly it was far less chaotic than I expected. Upon arriving at Penn Station, we navigated our way to the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road), which we decided to take instead of the subway in order to avoid the NYE crowds. Turned out to be a great call, as there was hardly anyone on our train. We got off in Jamaica and from there hopped on the AirTrain to JFK.

We arrived at the airport about 3 hours before our departure time (we were supposed to have about 4 hours, but Amtrak was delayed from DC, so it was an hour late when we boarded at BWI), which I expected would be plenty of time. The airport was a madhouse. In particular, the line for Etihad, which we were flying to Nairobi, was ridiculously long and wasn't moving very fast. Turns out that some of the delay was because Etihad attendants were measuring carry on bags. I have never seen this on an international flight, but after watching multiple people trying to get away with 4-5 carry-on bags, I then understood why there was a need to tag carry-on bags. The guy behind us in line explained that because things are so cheap in the USA, people traveling home to the Middle East take as many things as possible and they try to avoid paying extra fees for bags by carrying them on the plane. They must still get away with taking too much on, because Erik and I ended up not getting any overhead bin space on the plane!
Flying over Saudi Arabia
We made through the line to check in after about an hour and then it took almost another hour to get through security. The flight was boarding when we made it to the gate, so we waited in that line and went straight onto the plane. This was our first flight with Etihad and overall it was quite good. I had picked our seats in advance, and we were in the back of the plane, in the first row that was 2 seats instead of 3, which gave us a bit of extra space (and a seat to store one of our backpacks under without compromising leg room). The seats were comfortable and had a nice amount of recline (maybe more than Qantas?) and the quality of the blankets and headphones were really good. Our eye mask, earplugs, and socks came in a cute travel pouch (which we now own 4 of), which was a nice touch. Of course there were heaps of movies to choose from for our 12 hour flight to Abu Dhabi, and we took full advantage of that. We were happy with the food choices/quality and the flight attendants were nice. Etihad is the first airline to offer a flying nanny, who helps parents with kids on the flight, which I think is a really great idea!

We arrived in Abu Dhabi around 7pm local time and our flight for Nairobi did not leave until 2am. Since we had some time, we decided to make the most of it and head out into Abu Dhabi. After doing some searching before we left home, I thought that the best place to visit would be the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Since we are American, we were able to get a free visa on arrival (no paperwork necessary). Immigration was very welcoming and there was no line, so we were out into the warm fresh air within a few minutes. We took a taxi to the mosque, and our friendly driver assured us it would be easy to get a taxi to the airport in a few hours when we were ready to head back.
Inside Abu Dhabi airport, which was really nice!
The mosque is massive, and as we approached it from afar, the sight of it was amazing (according to Wiki, the mosque and grounds are equivalent to about 5 football fields). It is made up of materials like marble, stone, gold, and ceramics, and these have come from different places all over the world. It was completely free to visit, and in order to go inside the mosque, I had to wear an abaya (which was also free) even though I was wearing long pants and a long sleeved shirt.
Blurry picture, but that is me standing at the entrance!
Inside the mosque, wearing my borrowed abaya.
Awesome corridor view
The prayer room is at the far end behind Erik
Pretty lights outside the mosque

The architecture inside the main prayer hall was stunning, as was the attention to detail on every part of the room from the floor to the ceiling!

We spent a few hours at the mosque before heading back to the airport to grab some dinner. If we had a longer layover we would have really enjoyed seeing more of Abu Dhabi. Etihad offers a free shuttle bus to Dubai also, so that could have been an option if we had a day to spend in the area. Lots of flights these days seem to stop in one of those 2 cities in the UAE and we would definitely consider extending our stopover if we happen to fly through the UAE again in the future.

Our next flight was on Kenya Airways, which was not nearly as nice as Etihad, but they still got us safe and sound to Nairobi at 6am, where we would start our African adventures!

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