Abu Dhabi layover

We had a 14 hour layover in Abu Dhabi, although this became a 12 hour layover after customs took about 2 hours even with the Fast Track passes (they unfortunately did not seem to buy us much, if any, time).
The not-so-golden ticket
With customs taking so long, we gave up on being able to visit Sheilkh Zayed Grand Mosque before it closed at 10pm. Instead we withdrew 100 dirham (US$27.23) from the FGB ATM (no fees; one of ~5 ATMs) just outside security, went to the grocery store in the airport to break the bill (and actually found a Rockstar energy drink! – 10 dirham).
Dirham coins (1 dirham, 0.5 piece, and 0.25 piece)
A little taste of “home” to us, as we have been drinking Rockstars for over a decade in the US
Then we caught the cheap (4 dirham a person) but infrequent (usually 30 minutes between buses, but once an hour midday and late at night. Departs the airport at the top of every hour from 7a to midnight inclusive) A1 public bus from just outside the international arrivals terminal.

You have to pay the driver when you board the bus. We had exact change (8 dirhams for 2), but it seems that the driver will make change. You are given a ticket stub, but we were never asked to show this to anyone after boarding.

The A1 was pleasant. It was more of a coach than a city bus and even had luggage storage for large bags under the bus. However, it stops at many more stops than what are shown on the schedule! And unfortunately, someone had thrown up on the bus earlier in the day so it smelled pretty sickening.

Interior of the A1. Very pleasant… if not for the vomit smell
After a 22-mile 50 minute ride, We exited the bus at Lifeline Hospital stop and walked through the downtown to the Corniche. As we were almost to the water, we saw a large park and decided to wander through since it seemed very active (and reminiscent of Istanbul parks in the evening). We watched some teens play badminton and then some guys started to play cricket quite close to where we were sitting with improvised rules and ball. JT thought it would be fun to try to play along (and also help keep their ball in play), so he stood in the Gully defense position. However, as the ball was bowled too slowly, far away and without any movement on it, the batter didn’t need to ever try to defend the wicket; he would just be able to swing away baseball-style.
The improvised wicket… but a real cricket bat
After watching for a while (and snacking on fruit we had bought at a market on the way), we used the pedestrian underpass to walk to the actual Corniche. The Corniche had plenty of people sitting and talking, walking, and picnicking (even so late at night). It was a nice stroll, and never felt unsafe. We saw many thin, talkative stray cats while we were walking on the Corniche – as usual, we wished we had some cat treats to give the friendly, but seemingly pretty hungry, stray cats.
Katie on the well-lit Corniche
The pedestrian underpasses are well-lit, monitored on camera, and feature very lovely!
After walking for a while, at the next pedestrian underpass, we opted to walk back to the bus line and try to catch an A1 bus back. None of the bus stops had A1 on them – although we knew that the bus route went down this road – so we kept walking along the route until we saw an A1 going the opposite direction. We hurried to cross the street to get on, but there were no stops nearby. The driver motioned the he would be coming back in the same street going the other direction.

“Zayed The First Street” is kinda like “Peachtree” in Atlanta – it’s everywhere!

We went to the next bus stop – which although we did not see A1 on the sign, we felt confident the bus would stop there. We waited 26 minutes before giving up on it and deciding to just catch the next scheduled bus going the citybound direction (and just take it for the remainder of the way into town and then back out). Once we were almost to that stop, we finally saw the bus we had been waiting for driving on our side of the road. The driver saw us, and motioned to the next stop. He waited for us there while we ran for probably a 1/4 mile. But we made it! And we were the only ones on the bus! With that last run, we ended up covering 3.8 miles on foot in Abu Dhabi.

After a 45-minute ride back to the airport (2:14-2:59 am), we arrived back at the airport at 3 am. We headed for the Al Dhabi lounge (where we had free passes!). We spoke with the information desk who tried to convince us that we didn’t need the lounge – as there were restaurants and showers in the airport for free – until we told him we had free passes. Then, he told us it was within terminal 1’s secure area, but that we had to go through customs in terminal 3 first. We got to customs though, and the agent said we could not go through customs until 4 hours before our flight! He wouldn’t let us through despite customs being staffed with multiple agents and absolutely no one in line. This was a real bummer! Since our lounge passes are good for 4 hours and we would need to leave early to transfer terminals and board our flight, we decided to just save them.

Absolutely-empty Terminal 3

We were hungry (and had planned to eat for free in the lounge), so we headed to the food court and got some McDonalds and Iranian food. It ended up being our biggest expense in Abu Dhabi by far (22 dirham for the 2 roundtrip bus rides, gum, Rockstar and fruit vs. 64 for these meals!) It was plentiful though!

Abu Dhabi airport McDonalds – featuring separate beef and chicken menu options. JT was asked “beef or chicken” when he ordered a large Big Mac meal (24 dirhams)

Our American / Iranian feast!

We found a quiet area upstairs on the bridge between terminal 1 and 3. It has some long, cushioned benches, so it seemed like a good place for JT to nap from 4:30am onward. The floor cleaning began at 5:15am, startling JT awake. He put earplugs in though, and then was amazingly able to sleep the rest of the night and morning! I do not see how with all the noise from the crowds of people passing by. Meanwhile, Katie spent the time to work on her thesis proposal some. With the earplugs, JT was able to sleep through lots of noises until 7:30am, when Katie finally woke him to go through customs for our 9:30am flight to Johannesburg.

JT sleeping in the bridge between terminals in Abu Dhabi airport

Customs was really easy, and we even got exit stamps! There was an eclectic mix of cultures and nationalities in the terminal – from Arabic families in full dress, to Indian families in traditional dress, to western women in tight pants and bare midriff. There was a HUGE (100?) group of long-bearded, very-traditional and ruggedly dressed, very slow-moving people that we (and everyone else) had to maneuver through. We joked that it seemed like an entire small remote village was travelling somewhere, and it was their first time flying, which could have certainly been the case. We wandered terminal 3 for a while since our gate area had no views of planes since it was the bus terminal (for being shuttled to planes). After buying a couple of waters (2 dirham) and a UAE Pepsi (6 dirham), we headed to our gate.

Departure board in Abu Dhabi Airport.
Thankfully, they rotate to showing Latin-letters too!

One thought on “Abu Dhabi layover

  1. Abu Dhabi is probably one of the coolest towns for hi-tech architecture – since you were on the bus trips you probably saw lots albeit at night – have a great trip!

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