Archive | August, 2011

Around Town in Abu Dhabi

9 Aug

With Mideast unrest at a feverish pitch as signaled by recent epic occurrences (uprisings and toppling of several notorious dictatorships in the area), one may not be immediately inclined to consider the region a suitable spot for the next vacation spot. Perhaps fair enough, though as of this writing at least, there are still swaths of states in the area that have largely, in one way or another, been left unscathed by all the volatility in the region. One such amalgam of Emirates in the Arabian Peninsula is the United Arab Emirates and I got to experience firsthand what all the hoopla over Dubai and less popular (but perhaps for not much longer) Emirate and capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi, is all about.
I’d been curious about Dubai for some time now but Abu Dhabi, more recently, piqued my interest the most, since I’d been reading a lot about recent high-profiled developments in the area and how it is beginning to come into its own as a destination in its own right. And thus, I decided to choose it as my base of exploration. As I got to find out, this up and comer is gradually emerging from the shadows of its trendier sibling, Dubai, with pretty aggressive plans to become the cultural hub for the UAE and indeed the region. It’s likely Abu Dhabi’s conceited to Dubai as the nation’s primary commercial center—boasting the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, amongst others (though as recently reported plans are underway in Saudi Arabia to build an even taller monstrosity)–but Abu Dhabi now has bragging rights as the first city to host an outpost for the world famed Louvre in Paris (currently under construction and scheduled to be completed in 2012) and, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi joining the global Guggenheim network (New York, Bilbao, Berlin, Venice) slated to be completed and opened by 2013. Both of these museums will be located in the Cultural District of Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi.
In terms of making ones way over from North America: Emirates and Delta both run direct routes to Dubai from the US; the former from NY-JFK (and depending on your itinerary, on their ultra-lux A380 jumbo jet), and the latter from Atlanta — with seamless connections to Abu Dhabi. Etihad on the other hand runs a direct route from NY-JFK to Abu Dhabi typically on the stretch version of the airbus A340 series, the -500/600 range. The trip’s roughly 14 hrs (from NY), but if being on an aircraft for that long isn’t particularly appealing to you, alternatively, seamless connections are also possible via major European hubs.
Arrival at Abu Dhabi is at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Transfers into town are fairly easy and because of the favorable exchange rate–at the time of this of this article (1 USD roughly translating to 4 Emirati Dirham – AED)–even hailing a taxi is into town is quite reasonable. Easy connections to Dubai via coach buses right outside the terminal are also possible. It’s roughly a 1.5 hr. journey.
Not surprisingly for a city its size and being the capital, there are numerous choices when it comes to accommodations – with many more constructions underway. My choice was W’s popular spinoff, ultramodern and hip aLoft Abu Dhabi located at the trendy ADNEC (Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center). See separate write-up: Quality
Services and Amenities at an Affordable Rate
. The amenities, such as the poolside lounge where the regions trend set get to chillax and, of course, showoff a little bit of skin, plus the property’s bar/nightclub on the top floor, Relax @ 12 — with panoramic views of the city below, alone are enough to get even the most finicky traveler intrigued. Other notables for accommodation in Abu Dhabi are the InterContinental, Shangri-La, Hilton, and not to mention, world famed Emirates Palace Hotel. If ponying up the cash isn’t quite in the cards, stop by for a visit, or afternoon tea, it is indeed a sight to see.
Becoming an increasingly multi-cultural hub (just roughly 16% of the overall nation’s populace is Emirati), cuisine choices run the gamut. What tends to dominate, being in the Middle East, are Lebanese specialties. Check out Lebanese Flower at either the Al Khalidiyah or Tourist Club locations. The food is pretty good and draws a crowd of mostly locals and visitors alike. Having a strong Southeast Asian draw, cuisines from that area are also plentiful with lots of options to choose from.
There are lots to see and do in this capital city. Shopping, for those seeking retail therapy, is a favorite pastime among visitors and locals alike. Boasting several complexes from high-end luxury brand outlets to merchants pedaling locally and regionally made goods, this town’s a shopper’s delight. Being that this area is commonly referred to as the ‘new’ Middle East, commercialism and some fear–the excess of–reigns supreme in Abu Dhabi. There’s also perhaps the unstated competition between commercial hub, Dubai, so there’s a building boom–with flashier and more dramatic structures (though thankfully not quite at the level of Dubai’s yet which is a little refreshing). One such mega-complex is the Ferrari World on Yas Island, something to certainly try and see on your visit.
Some other remarkable sights across town and experiences that ought not to be missed: architectural gem and house of worship, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the largest in the world, noted earlier in the write-up, Emirates Palace Hotel which hosted–amongst others–the controversially extravagant Christmas tree last holiday season, and, dune bashing or what might be referred to as ‘desert safari’ are absolute musts.

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This Phone Deserves Some Street Cred, Too

7 Aug

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In a world where Android (Google) and iPhone (Apple) reign supreme and RIM (BlackBerry) still having traction (albeit to a lesser extent due to market shrinkage–thanks to user migration to the aforementioned platforms), the mobile operating system ranked a distant 4th (in the US, according to Nielsen – March 2011), Windows Phone 7 (WP7) gets little to no airtime.
Sure, I think one can argue that Microsoft finds itself in this position largely due to its own doing. The evidence is plentiful; from lack of innovation (in the early days) to failed attempt after attempt (hello, KIN?) to make up lost ground and stay relevant, to huge missed opportunities because of lack of clever Marketing (those uninspiring TV commercials promoting the launch of WP7 still make me cringe), the list goes on.But brave souls (yours truly included) who’ve chosen to give Windows Phone a whirl are finding that the platform isn’t at all the Window Mobile of yesterday year. In fact, a lot of us are quickly realizing that not only is it a completely revamped OS which has a ton to offer (and more to come this Fall with the next iteration codenamed ‘Mango’), but also, fun to actually ‘spend time’ with.
One of my favorite aspects of the device (besides the very fluid metro-style UI) is what Microsoft refers to as Live Tiles. These can be viewed as dynamic mosaic style squares that make the interface a little more interesting rather than staring at a whole bunch of static apps on the home screen. For example, this is evident in the ‘People’ hub which is one of the first sections you see when you power on the phone. With a single touch, aggregated updates from social networking sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Windows Live — with Twitter to follow suit in the Fall) are displayed in a single instance. App developers are also taking advantage of this feature and instituting their own dynamic tiles, which makes the UI a little more aesthetically pleasing. See examples (in slideshow) Groupon, USA Today, AP, BBC, MTV News, The Weather Channel, to name a few.
On the note of apps, Microsoft takes a beating in the press for not being any close to Android or iOS, in terms of sheer volume. But, to be fair, how many apps does one use at any given time? Apple touts something astronomical like over 350K and Google, 200K+, no doubt dizzying numbers but I think folks are a little too hung up on this. At recent count, MS is nearing 30K (puny by comparison to be sure) but I feel Marketplace now has some pretty relevant apps that aforementioned figures have seized to impress me. I like the ‘quality’ over ‘quality’ approach.
So far, some of my favorite apps include:
– News: USA Today, NBC Nightly News, France24, Mosiac by Tribune (aggregated news from LA Times, Chicago Tribune, etc), AP Mobile, BBC Radio and NPR Listener (honorable mention: NY Times)
– Travel: Kayak, American Airlines, British Airways and XE Currency, Clever Translate (honorable mention: Travelocity, TripAdvisor)
– Social/Lifestyle: Foursquare, 4th & Mayor, Open Table, Yelp, Epicurious, IM+ (honorable mention: Facebook)
– Movies: Flixter, Fandango, MSN Movies
The user experience has also improved drastically. I find the innovative UI to be so much fun and seamless to navigate. In addition to the ‘People’ hub, I love WP7’s multimedia experience via the ‘Music + Videos’ hub, featuring Microsoft’s Zune software. Videos and audio play crisply with access to a plethora of content in Marketplace (most content also transfers over when downloaded from the iTunes store). This hub features a dynamic tile that displays images of the latest material you just listened to as well.
And so while Microsoft might not necessarily get the highest marks for ‘cool’ factor, with these WP7 features (and much more to come in the Fall), this phone does deserve some street cred, too.

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