Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Abu Dhabi and the Qasr al Hosn Festival

Camels at the Qasr al Hosn Festival, Abu Dhabi
When we were in Svalbard, back in 2014,we met a British couple who are living out in Doha, Qatar, and they invited us to come and visit them, so rather than going straight back to the UK, we stopped off in the Middle East. we'll get to Doha in due course, but first we went to a couple of places in the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE is a relatively new country, having only been established in 1971, but there is evidence that area has had people living there for up to 130,000 years.

The British, Dutch and Portuguese started to become involved in the area in the 16th century, and by the 19th century, the British entered into agreements with the Sheiks of the Trucial States, whereby they would protect them, in exchange for exclusivity of territory rights in the area, to thwart their European rivals.

Qasr al Hosn Festival, Abu Dhabi
The main industry in this area was pearl diving, and there is a great history of that here, but that was to change in the 1950s, when they started oil exploration. By the 1960s, the wells were selling their oil, and the Persian Gulf Area, and specifically the Sheiks that ruled it, was becoming very wealthy.

The UK however, had decided that it could no longer afford to defend the area, and announced that it would withdraw its protection. The Sheiks offered to pay for the cost of protection, but this offer was turned down, presumably because to accept it would be tantamount to the British military acting as a militia, which is not permitted.

Qasr al Hosn Festival, Abu Dhabi
In a need to defend themselves, the Emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the two largest, decided to join together, and invited the five other Emirates, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah and Umm al-Quwain, to join them. The United Arab Emirates came into being on 2 December 1971. The respective rulers form the Federal Supreme Council to govern the country, and one of them is selected as the President. The city of Abu Dhabi, not Dubai as many assume, is the capital.

Cookery at the Qasr al Hosn Festival, Abu Dhabi
With a population of a little over 9 million people, two thirds of whom live in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, the UAE is only small. And of that number, only around a sixth are actually Emirati citizens, with the vast majority being from other countries. For a country where its own people are so massively outnumbered, it is surprisingly harmonious. (That is not to say it is all good. Emiratis are certainly treated preferentially, including in serious legal matters, and the poorer foreign workers, in construction and the like, are often treated very poorly.)

Log splitting at the Qasr al Hosn Festival, Abu Dhabi
With only a few days to spend here, we decided to focus on the two main cities, and started with a few days in Abu Dhabi. We liked Abu Dhabi, and found that we preferred it to Dubai overall. Even though the city as it is only really being built in the 1960-70s, it feels very real and honest. the architecture overall may not be as impressive, but it feels less driven by big business and tourism.

We weren't so keen on the heat. Despite this being one of the coldest parts of the year, the temperature was still in the high thirties (centigrade). So we didn't do all that much. One day we went out to the mosque, which I'll talk about tomorrow, and one day we tried going to the Manarat al Saadiyat, which we had read was an interesting place to discover about local art and culture, but in fact was quite disappointing. So instead, we sat in the courtyard of the Fanr Restaurant, which was rather nice.

Telli at the Qasr al Hosn Festival, Abu Dhabi
One place that we did manage to enjoy a bit of local culture and heritage, was the Festival at the Qasr al Hosn. We didn't manage to look inside the building itself, which houses exhibits of Emirati history and cultures, but it is supposed to be worth a look if you have the chance.

This is the oldest stone building in Abu Dhabi, with the round watchtower having been built in 1761 to protect the only freshwater well. The rest of the fort was built around thirty years later, and it became the main residence of Shakhbut bin Dinyab Al Nahyan and later Sheiks, up until 1966.

The festival was excellent. We were presented with a bit of new culture even before we got in, when Nic and I had to queue separately - it looked for a while like I was going to win, but then there was a hold up in my queue and he surged ahead to get there first!
Niqabs at the Qasr al Hosn Festival, Abu Dhabi
There were lots of interesting going on, from camels and traditional boats, dancing and singing, to cookery and weaving. We watched as they demonstrated the traditional method for cutting up logs, had someone explain to us how they made rope, and had a go at the weaving loom.

We watched them making the traditional niqab face masks, which they traditionally used to protect their faces from the strong desert sun and sandstorms, and I was fascinated to watch them making the telli, strands of woven threads that are used to decorate clothes and other items.

The entrance ticket included some vouchers for some of the activities, and I used mine to hold the lovely white falcon. Nic on the other hand, had one of the stall holders insist on demonstrating for him how he should put on the keffiyeh, the traditional headdress.

Markets at the Qasr al Hosn Festival, Abu Dhabi

Most of the people at the festival were locals rather than tourists, and many of those doing the displays and activities didn't really speak any English, but they were friendly and welcoming, and seemed quite happy to show us things, even if they couldn't necessarily explain them to us. We enjoyed it.

Dancing at the Qasr al Hosn Festival, Abu Dhabi

Basket Making at the Qasr al Hosn Festival, Abu Dhabi

Dancing at the Qasr al Hosn Festival, Abu Dhabi

Nic at the Qasr al Hosn Festival, Abu Dhabi

Tabitha with Falcon at the Qasr al Hosn Festival, Abu Dhabi

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