I had a few days off work and decided, completely randomly, to go somewhere. Just for a long weekend. I knew that I didn’t want to go West, but I wanted some sun. So, I chose Abu Dhabi.
A couple of my friends were shocked. It’s not something that I do – go to a completely new country with a completely different culture. In the past I have tended to go to the US or Europe. But this past weekend, I wanted to leave everything behind. My thoughts, my feelings, my life. So I did.
I wrote a diary of my weekend and I hope that you’ll indulge me by reading it. The underlying theme here is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of travelling by myself. Hell, I can barely eat alone in a restaurant, let alone go away by myself!
What I learnt from my 4 short days away was that I actually kind of like myself. I like my own company. I like my own space. I LOVE the sun.
Okay, I’m going away today. I’m taking my motivation from my amazing landlady, who travelled Australia and New Zealand alone for 6 weeks. Okay Stuart, this is only 4 days, but it’s all relative and it’s all daunting.
The flight is about 7 hours, but for the first time, my time difference is going to be 4 hours ahead of the UK. This has NEVER happened to me! So. Take off at 1pm and land at midnight. I got some sleep on the flight and collected my thoughts.
8 episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm later and I look out the window and we’re beginning to descend into Abu Dhabi. It’s just before midnight and it’s one of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever seen from the air. Miles and miles and miles of US-style roads in a grid system, but with not too many buildings. And then there’s the darkness. Miles and miles and miles of what must have been desert. It was phenomenal. Not a bad start to a weekend.
Off the plane and through immigration. It took minutes. It’s about 12.40am on Friday, but it feels earlier, because it’s 8.40pm on Thursday back in the UK. Picked up from the airport in a gorgeous car and straight to the hotel. I booked a Hilton in the Business District. It was a good price and I like that chain. You know what you’re getting and that’s all I needed.
My room is on the 7th floor, and Oh My God. For a bog-standard room, it was amazing. The bed was massive, and the bathroom was stunning. It was a perfect start. I just collapsed. I was so tired. Can’t wait until Friday.
I woke up about 10.30am. That was an amazing night’s sleep. Woken up by the call for Friday Prayers. The sound was beautiful. I’ve never heard it before and it was something that I certainly won’t forget about in a hurry. I’m on this relatively strict diet at the moment, so I’m not eating breakfast. As tempting as that hotel breakfast is (and who doesn’t LOVE a hotel breakfast?), I avoided it and went to the gym.
I keep banging on about my 5k run (link here!) and I was using Abu Dhabi as my ‘warm weather’ training camp (yeah, right).
Off to find the pool. That’s really why I’m here. For some sun and some warmth, given that the week before in London and across the UK, we had practically been snowed in.
29 degrees. And…. relax. Headphones in and I drift off.
Big mistake. Because you end up like this.
I stayed out for a few more hours in the shade, went back to my room and took a nap.
I have to say, the entire point of my weekend wasn’t to see the sights or explore the City. It was to relax and refresh myself. I didn’t want to leave the hotel and if I’m honest, being by myself and being able to plan my day on my terms, I wasn’t planning on it.
The pool bar turns into a really cool ‘chill out’ bar at about 6pm at the hotel. You can sit inside and watch sport (no), or head outside and just enjoy the scenery from the roof. It was magical.
The most random thing about the hotel is that there is an Irish pub next door – Victors. I figured that I would try it out, because apparently you can’t get away from pubs, even if you’re in the Middle East! I didn’t stay for long, it was SO busy as there was a band playing. I met a couple of people who were teachers in Abu Dhabi. Everyone had quite a bit to drink, but (for once!) I just wanted to sleep, so I headed back up to my room.
Woke up at 11am. This bed gets comfier by the night. Back to the gym and then obviously, onto the pool.
I set out to stay off social media while I was away, but I just couldn’t help myself. Whilst the UK was recovering from a week of snow and a cold snap, I just had to put a few photos up on Facebook, Twitter and of course, Instagram.
Social media is a curse and a blessing, I have always found. In the right circles, being ‘Friends’ with people that you actually know and like, it can be a wonderful thing, full of love, giving you the ability to share what you are doing with friends and family. That’s why I try and keep my job out of my social media profiles, because I just simply cannot be bothered with some of the abuse that has been directed at me in the past because of what I do and who I have worked for (it sounds like I’m some sort of arms dealer – I’m not!!!!!)
Anyway, the curse of staying out in the sun for too long is that you end up looking like a panda.
But as the sun went down, I went back to sit outside by the pool again. I HAD to try a shisha and so I ordered the Apple flavour. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was good and went down very well with a couple of Mai Tai cocktails.
I just sat there and watched people. There were hotel guests and those who must live locally, all interacting within their groups. It made me think about the fact that while the world can be a big and scary place, we are all connected, not through one language, but through our compassion, dignity and interest in what’s going on around us. It was powerful (but that may have been the shisha hit).
On my way back to my hotel room, I came across the hotel’s nightclub. So being the newly-formed intrepid explorer that I am, I thought I would take a look. Oh my. I left quickly, it was all very overwhelming and I think that I was the only person there alone (and I also can’t dance).
Saturday was the day that really brought it all home to me. About the fact that I had travelled alone and the fact that I was in a completely different cultural set up. It was educational and inspiring, but it did make me realise that I only had one more day left before I came home and back to London.
I’m really getting used to this bed now. But it’s my last day here. My flight isn’t until 2am, and I don’t need to leave the hotel until 11pm, so as far as I’m concerned, I’m going to spend the whole day by the pool.
It’s clearly off-season, because it’s so quiet here that I pretty much had a barman to myself – bliss!
Sunday was pretty much just laying around by the pool, packing, having a bite to eat at my favourite hotel bar (again!) and then heading to the airport. I hopped onto my flight, slept all the way through, and that was that. My weekend was over.
For the last couple of days, I’ve smiled more than I have in recently months, I’ve been more productive than I have for months and I have been more mindful of my feelings than I have for years. I finally feel like I’m on the up. I didn’t go away to change my life, but I went away to change my mindset. It’s only been a few days since I came back to the UK, but I feel like it’s been working for me.
I posted some words on Instagram that summed everything up – the way I’m feeling, the way I dealt with the weekend and the way I feel now.
“I needed a break, by myself, alone, away from everyone and everything. I’ve never truly travelled alone and it was so daunting, going to another continent, with a completely different culture. This weekend has been the most restorative few days I’ve had for years. After a very difficult start to 2018, I feel like I’ve found a purpose, which is to learn more, explore more and live my best life. Yes, it was only a weekend. Yes, I stayed at a Hilton. But my God, I am coming back to the UK with a renewed spirit, knowing that I cannot change the past, but I can certainly change my future.”
And I fully intend to.