Two of my good friends from back home in the UK have been over very recently and although our week saw us indulging in such fun activities as heading to the top of the Burj Khalifa for high tea, a classic Dubai evening brunch, and even neon crazy golf, one of the highlights from my point of view was the day spent in Abu Dhabi, which managed to somehow combine a spot of culture with pure, adrenaline-fueled awesomeness. Unfortunately one of the aforementioned friends was not present that day as he had to return earlier to the UK, such is his unflappable devotion to the health and well-being of the country’s pets. Still, one of my good mates from here in Dubai jumped into the void and so our trio of musketeers headed down to the UAE’s capital.
The day started in actual fact with me dragging myself up at my more usual 5am to attend a regular triathlon swim training session, followed by a leisurely breakfast and a chance to plan the day ahead. The bare bones of the day focused primarily on Al Forsan, a big sports campus in Abu Dhabi, which includes such activities as shooting, paintball, equestrian sports, karting and wakeboarding. As my friend was visiting then it was decided that it would also be a great idea to make a brief stop off at the Grand Mosque, which even from a distance is an impressively humbling structure, gleaming bright white in the sunlight, with what feel like hundreds of perfectly aligned minarets towering toward the heavens like proud shoulders on parade. I had incorrectly always assumed that the mosque would be situated in a busy, difficult to navigate and park in section of the city and yet was surprised to discover that accessing it was super simple making a visit an absolute doddle and a must for any visitor or resident alike.
In spite of the large numbers of visitors present, the mosque is so large and expansive in it’s design that one cannot help but experience that same level of calm and tranquility that you get when quietly shuffling around some of the huge cathedrals in Europe, albeit with a much brighter atmosphere given how light the mosque is both inside and out. One of the features that I particularly liked were the large pools that run around the perimeter and which on a windless day perfectly reflect the grandeur of the mosque itself, creating a powerfully striking visual image. Even the restrooms are a sight to behold!
A visit to the mosque can be as lengthy or rapid as you choose, and we managed to see most of what we wanted within the hour, hopping back in the car to make our way back out towards Al Forsan and the rest of the day’s fun.
Fun, however, cannot start until bellies are full and so an impromptu pause for lunch at the Abu Dhabi golf club was called for, where I had what my friend reliably informed me was voted the “best dish in the world” (beef rendang) – it was pretty amazing to be fair. One thing that the UAE does have in spades is good eating and it is so easy to understand why many new residents pile on the pounds during their initial few months. Good job there is so much sport then is what I say!
Al Forsan has quickly become one of my favourite places to spend time over here and until this day I had only actually used the wakeboarding facilities. In our eagerness we arrived early, as most of the park’s activities didn’t start until 3pm. Still, another excuse to take a break and enjoy some tea with friends, whilst finalising exactly what our afternoon was going to look like. The decision was pretty much this: start off by shooting some guns before getting all competitive on the karting racetrack, and then finish the day pulling some gnarly moves on the water down at the wakeboarding lakes.
I have fired air pistols and rifles before but have never discharged a real gun, even when I visited Texas, which is probably the kind of place it is almost illegal not to have fired a gun in! With identifications checked and our weapons selected – I went for a Sig pistol – we headed downstairs to the range to meet our quartermasters and start the session. It was quite surreal and felt quite edgy as we were handed our pieces, always careful to follow the exact instructions of our tutors on how to best hold, aim and finally fire our guns. The kickback that they gave was more than movie and TV depictions of pistol firing allude to and the advice to breath in and hold your breath steady prior to gently squeezing the trigger once the ‘bite point’ had been reached really did help. In fact I found myself hitting pretty much the centre of the target each time, only dropping a couple of shots slightly wide once the target was moved to a range of fifteen metres, which happens to coincide with about the limits of my contact lenses. Still, maybe with some laser surgery perhaps I do have a promising future as a double ‘0’ after all 🙂
On the grid
One macho activity ticked off, it was time to get our petrol heads on and hit the track for some kart racing. The track at Al Forsan is a fantastic playground, with wide sweeping bends, hairpin chicanes and full throttle straights on which to exercise the Hamiltons and Alonsos in all of us. Our session was a little light in numbers, with the three of us paired up with just one other young lad, whom we did all end up lapping several times, and as such it often felt like we were just driving solo. I am convinced that a larger group on the track would make for a far more competitive, faster and overall more fun session, but it was still awesome.
Third and final on our list for the day was wakeboarding and a chance to once again hit the ramps and improve on some of the skills I had previously been working on, especially after I pretty much concussed myself during the last visit. With some really good boarding on show all round, we felt that the smaller lake had been tamed enough to allow us to graduate onto the big, fast lake, where I finally plucked up the courage to take on one of the bigger kickers. The difference between the first and second lakes’ ramps was pretty noticeable, as I literally felt like I was back skydiving coming off the larger kicker. In spite of looking and feeling on several occasions as if I was going to stack it on the landing, I managed to remain in control to power on through to the rest of the run. The next challenges are to a) try the opposite kickers, and b) have a go at a basic trick such as a 180-degree rotation off the ramps. Hmm, we’ll see how that goes….
There was an unexpected bonus end to the day when as we were leaving, a very pretty girl who had been wakeboarding as well and whom all of us had noticed on arrival, was leaving at the same time. Wanting to be polite I casually enquired as to how her session went and then wished her a good evening as we disembarked from the bus and headed for the car. We then saw that she was waiting as though for a taxi, which was confirmed when she started walking towards the road itself. Bearing in mind that Al Forsan is a little out of the way, the chances of being able to flag down a taxi were remote at best. The dilemma was do we do the gentlemanly thing of pulling up and offering a lift, running the risk of perhaps freaking her out as would always be the case when an unknown 4WD with tinted windows and three guys pulls up. I figured that the worst that could happen was that she politely refused an offer of assistance and we all went on our merry way, with the best being that we could be of help.
As it turned out she happily accepted our offer and when it transpired that she was basically heading back to the same area of town as my friend lived in, it seemed like divine providence: we were meant to stop and offer assistance. Miss France, as I shall refer to her as to save giving real names here, was originally from Paris, having only recently moved to Dubai to continue working in telecoms security, a pretty cool, techy sector as far as I could tell. She had recently decided to take up wakeboarding and had taken a taxi from Dubai to Al Forsan and back on a couple of occasions in a bid to really progress, which is some commitment to learning! She was actually the perfect car companion, not only stunningly beautiful and French, always a winner in my eyes such is my penchant for the accent, but clearly incredibly intelligent, confident and easy to talk with. Basically the perfect woman. As I said, a great bonus end to the day: the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from doing a good deed for others and a new friend here in the big city.
Tips for a trip to the Grand Mosque & Al Forsan:
- Remember to take/ wear something to cover your knees if a guy, as you’ll otherwise be asked to don a kandoora for your visit. Women need to dress modestly and cover their heads, so bringing a scarf to do so is a good idea.
- Be prepared to take your shoes off as you won’t be able to enter the main prayer hall with shoes on your feet. You can keep your socks on but you might want to leave either the brightly coloured Super Ted pair or the ones with big holes at the toes at home.
- Be prepared to say “WOW!” I did as the mosque came into view for the first time. It truly is an impressive structure.
- Take your ID – if you want to do any shooting then you’ll definitely need it.
- Plan to spend several hours there, as there is sooooooo much to do.
- Take some mates with you as it is a cracking place to hang out with friends.