Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I remembered to bring just about everything I needed in my four gigantic suitcases. (and somewhat miraculously, all of it fits in the drawers and closets of my smallish hotel room, with plenty of space to spare. The bags, on the other hand, are just kind of bumming around on the floor like lackadaisical roommates.)

But one key item remained in Chicago. A copy of Lonely Planet UAE.

Lonely Planet is great. It has come through for me in locales ranging from Panama to Seattle to India. Steered me and my traveling companions to great restaurants, refreshing bars and breathtaking sights without delivering us into the hands of any tourist traps.

Well, here I am in a completely new country, and all I have is a copy of “The Arab World Handbook” and a free map from my hotel.

That’s how I ended up at the Abu Dhabi Mall.

I didn’t set out to go there. All I wanted was some kafta, a good cup of coffee and maybe an Internet connection. But in following the nearest large stream of people and traffic, I wandered into the mall, where alcohol is prohibited and capitalism heartily encouraged.

It’s huge, with four wide levels and two towers. And it’s an entertaining mix of local shops and the kind of thing you would run into at Old Orchard, from a Cold Stone Creamery to an honest-to-Allah Popeye’s. All being vigorously patronized by an astonishing mix of nationalities and ethnic costumes. Per usual, I took pictures but have no way of loading them on the laptop, at least for now.

But the good news is that the mall gives me a landmark to work with. Despite a total lack of a legend for the symbols used on the map, I’m pretty confident that if I walk a few kilometers north and west I’ll come across some interesting stuff. Including… my first bar?

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