7 Emirates 24 Hours: The Reality

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Friday: Smooth sailing on ATL-DXB. Great flight attendant to chat with, his first trip to Dubai, filling in for a seniority-laden flight attendant who called in sick.

Saturday: Arrival, pick up the rental car, stacks of maps in hand, roll out of airport…and not a single sign for Abu Dhabi. Get very lost. Repeatedly. Try to find a restaurant open late but only guys smoking hookahs watching soccer for miles of highway. Finally find an Indian restaurant off the highway serving Indian migrant workers. Delicious roti. Rinse down and repeat. Convenience store with English speakers and good directions.

Sunday: 2-hour cruise to Abu Dhabi completed in a tidy 4 hours. Collapse in bed. Ignore the morning alarm 5 hours later. Finally out of bed and the fun begins.

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Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The F1 circuit and opulence of Abu Dhabi.  Then the open desert and temptation to head for Saudi Arabia, luxury cars at over 100 mi/h blowing past the trembling rental in the desert winds. Already two hours behind plan and running for the Gulf of Oman.

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Great pedestrian crossing sign

Passing Gulf and collecting a picture, then back across the UAE for the step-ladder of small Emirates on the north coast, distinguished by increasing levels of gaudy architecture in proximity to Dubai.

Sharjeh is effectively an extension of Dubai and a great place to enjoy the sites and get very lost in looping roads. A few minutes for a rushed dinner with Iraqi émigrés. Just the small matter of finding a gas station and entrance to the airport.

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Sharjeh sunset

No time to see much of Dubai but just enough for a shower and stop (later regreted) at the reasonably priced duty-free.

A flight back surrounded by US military contractors coming back from rotation in Iraq and Afghanistan. The USO is wonderful at airports in welcoming soldiers back home but who welcomes or even thinks of what the contractors do, only getting press when things go bad.

On-time arrival in Atlanta, a breeze though immigration with Global Entry and then everything crashes to a halt. Atlanta is one of a handful of airports where international arrivals cannot exit to the street but must pass through the terminal and so pass through security. That friend almost lost that gift bottle of Crown Royal the carry-on was painfully ‘checked’ for delivery at general baggage claim. 40 minutes of watching a static carousel and Headline News play Gossip Channel. And 4 minutes late for work as a result. But what fun – and didn’t even cost a vacation day!

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