The reason for the trip: the stunning Sheikh Zayed Mosque. I've driven past it many many times on the way to client meetings, and even spent a weekend looking at it from my sunlounger at the divine Shangri-la. It's open every day until 12, but if you want to go on a guided tour, you have to go on a weekday, and you have to be there by 10. At 7 in the morning when I was dragging myself out of bed (that's just wrong on a day off!) I did question my judgement, but once we arrived I knew it had been worth it.
Interesting point to note: it's one of the world's biggest mosques and as such attracts hundreds of visitors each day. So you'd think that it would be easy to find some directions to it, no? Or that it would be very clearly sign-posted on the main road in from Dubai? WRONG! This is the Middle East, folks. We like to let you work it out for yourselves!
In this case it meant that I had to rely on blind luck and memory to get us there. And despite the fact that we were parked right nest to the mosque, this apparently wasn't the 'acceptable' way to enter it. Cue one jobsworth security guard facing me off for ten minutes refusing to let us in. After much cajoling and feminine wiles (sorry feminist movement!) he let us in. The sight of my parents and grandma running across the lawn at high speed will stay with me for quite some time!
They kit you out with an abaya and shayla and then you're good to go. I didn't catch our guide's name but she was a very lovely Australian lady who knew everything about the mosque. I don't know what it is about places of worship - churches/mosques/whatever - but I always find them very relaxing - and this place is no different. In fact it's so awe-inspiring that you can't help but be rendered silent for much of the tour.
I'm not a historian so you can find some background to the mosque here. To sum it up - it is stunningly beautiful, all white marble and precious metals. It contains three of the world's largest chandeliers. And the world's largest carpet. One of the most moving parts is that it's the resting place of the late Shiekh Zayed. his mausoleum is just outside the mosque, and as you walk past you can hear what sounds like a call to prayer. It's actually a series of people reading the Qoran. They're done this, every single day since his death five years ago, such is how much he was, and still is, revered.
If you get the chance to visit - I really recommend it.