50 Dirhams a Day: London

50 Dirhams a Day: London


50 AED = £ 8.49 (March 2013)

With your £8.49  in hand, taking on the town of London can be a feat. One of the cheapest things to do—and one of the most enjoyable—can be spending time really looking around the city. Given that London is around 2000 years old and is the capital of one of the most influential countries in the world’s history, simply observing it is a joy in itself.

Modes of transport are a bit dodgy for the wallet’s health, so I recommend Barclays Cycle Hire. For just £1, you can bike clear across central London in merely twenty minutes. Stop off at the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, or the Victoria and Albert Museum to see art from the fourteenth century through to the present day. The British Library is also free, and the exhibits there house original work from Lewis Carroll, J.K. Rowling, and Shakespeare: you can look at original folios from Elizabethan England and first drafts of Harry Potter, all in one afternoon!

Afternoon tea at the National Gallery isn’t too expensive: £2.50 lets you choose a cup of tea from a myriad of flavors, all while you enjoy a lovely view of London. After your tea, you’ll be fortified to handle the crowds in Trafalgar Square, not far from Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. If you happen to time it right, you can join in at the Evensong service at Westminster to get a look on the inside for free!

There are plenty of places to wander in London, but some of my favorite places are the libraries and the parks. The Senate House Library is just a five-minute walk from the NYU London academic center in Bloomsbury. If Hitler hadn’t been stopped, the library would have become his headquarters. The building was used as a set for The Dark Knight Rises.

For a change of pace and a breath of fresh air, you might think about spending £5 for boat ride in Regents Park.

A taste of history, tradition, and a good cup of tea is waiting if you if you just step out on the cobblestones and grab your umbrella.


[Photos – Top: Barclays Cycle Hire; bottom: Senate House Library. Photo credit ; Jordan Schulze]

Side Streets: Oryx Hotel Rooftop Terrace

Hungry for a bite, we stopped at a sign for a café as we sauntered around the streets of Khalidiya. We went in through the Oryx Hotel: a charming place in the heart of Khalidiya neighborhood that offers a quiet getaway compared to the hustle and bustle of the beachside Corniche resorts.

On the top floor of the hotel is a terrace surrounded by tall pillars evocative of ancient Greece. There is a pool there, too, surrounded wooden lounge chairs, where you can relax after a swim. The place feels like oasis, where you can sit, relax, and enjoy a fresh drink.  There are even poolside shishas are also available from a starting price of 40 Dhs.

The hotel’s Horizon restaurant has a décor reminiscent of a cruise-ship, but its warm vibe seems appropriate for both business meetings and snacks with friends.  The menu choices range from a biryani of the day to the “All American Sirloin Steak (95 Dhs), Jumbo Seafood Prawns (110 Dhs), Italian pizzas and pastas (40-50 Dhs).  The house specializes in Indian food, however, with specialties like Tandoori Malai Chicken (55 Dhs).

As a light snack, we enjoyed crispy potato wedges well seasoned with sweet “chilly” sauce and we sipped on rock shandy and strawberry coconut mocktails.  To reward ourselves after a long walk, we dug into an all-time favorite: warm brownies with vanilla ice cream.

The terrace of the Oryx is an ideal place for an afternoon getaway: the quiet rooftop offers a sanctuary that provides a bird’s-eye view of yet another oasis in this part of Abu Dhabi: the green grass and tall trees of Khalidya Park.  Whether you come for shisha, a swim, or the warm brownies, a trip to the top of the Oryx is worth your time.

Side Streets: Ghaf Gallery, Khalidiya

Abu Dhabi doesn’t exactly brim with art galleries. You couldn’t spend a day ‘gallery hopping’ as you might in other cities, and many people are under the impression that art galleries in Abu Dhabi simply don’t exist. But like so many things in this city, if you seek, you shall find.

The Ghaf Art Gallery, tucked away on Khaleej Al Abari St, behind Khalidiya Park, was opened in 2006 and is aimed at nurturing local talent. The title ‘gallery’ as applied to the Ghaf might seem ambitious to people more accustomed to huge spaces housing lots of work. ‘Hanging space’ might be more appropriate, but the Ghaf nevertheless has an important role to play in the local arts scene.

When I stopped into Ghaf, the exhibit featured six or seven pieces of digitally produced images of a dystopian, post apocalyptic society with the Abu Dhabi skyline lingering in the background. Past exhibits at Ghaf have included work from Zayed University students and other local artists (click here for a review of this work). Exhibits  change monthly, so no visit to the Ghaf will be the same as the next – fitting for a city constantly in flux.

Where: Behind Khalidiya Park on Khaleej Al Arabi St, just past the British Veterinarian. Cabs will take you to the Park, and you can walk down Khaleej St away from the Corniche.

Opening Hours: Saturday-Thursday, 9am-1pm and 5-8pm. Closed Fridays.

Website: http://www.ghafartgallery.com/

Side Streets: Abaya Couture at Mauzan


Tucked away in a quiet Khalidiya back street next to a falafel shop and a private gym, the Mauzan abaya boutique feels more like high-end New York couture shop. Leave the hub-bub of Khalidiya outside – this place belongs in its own private world of rococo opulence, with gilded full-length mirrors, endless racks of flowing, silk gowns, and a scattering of velvet armchairs where perfectly coiffed Emirati women can recline.

Granted, this isn’t just any abaya store – with annual showings in Paris and a team of designers who have previously worked for Chanel and Elie Saab–Mauzan (“rare pearl” in Arabic) represents the cutting edge of Islamic dress. Drawing from the latest international prêt-à-porter trends such as bright Aztec prints, intricate lace embellishment and clean-line sports luxe, Mauzan’s collection caters to the modern Arab woman who wishes to combine the contemporary design with traditional dress.

Unfortunately for the regular human being, Mauzan represents the elusive and dreamy world of couture! The prices aren’t to everyone’s budget, with the average hand-made abaya ranging from 17,000dh – 20,000dh. On the upside, the boutique offers a range of slightly more affordable party dresses and gorgeous, sixties-style kaftans (my favourite uses a traditional Japanese cherry-blossom print you’d expect to see on a kimono), which range from 5000dh – 10,000dh. Also, the choice of silk scarves (500dh – 12,000dh) and house perfumes make ideal gifts – the latter make use of local oils and spices, and start at around 200dh.

Address: Zayed 1st Street (Electra Road), Al Khalidiya, near the National Bank of Abu Dhabi

Welcome to Side Streets

Welcome to Side Streets


I love being lost. More accurately, I love getting un-lost. In an unfamiliar city, I relish the process of orienting myself to street names and landmarks, identifying routes on a map, and navigating public transportation. Alas, one of the first things I learned about living in Abu Dhabi is never to place confidence in a general “sense of direction.” The city is a sea of tall, shiny buildings, construction sites, and homogenous storefronts. Streets have several names, department stores echo across blocks, and while taxis are cheap, I can’t always communicate with the taxi drivers. Despite having taken the bus, I can’t decipher the schedule. I wander astray if I haven’t studied a set of directions in detail just before going anywhere, but I love these moments of wayward confusion, because no matter how roundabout the route, I always end up somewhere with a story to tell.

Last spring, a friend and I – tasked with photographing examples of Abu Dhabi flora for an ecology class – hopped into a taxi right off campus and asked for the Mangrove National Park, please and thank you.

“Mangrove Village?” asked the driver. We exchanged uncertain glances.

“Er…Mangrove National Park?” I repeated, tentatively.

“Mangrove Village?” our taxi driver nodded. Now, this moment illustrates a key aspect of the Abu Dhabi taxi experience. You either exit the cab, realizing that neither you nor the taxi driver really knows where you’re going; or, more inconvenient, perhaps, but also sometimes more exciting, you stay, knowing you’re fated to spend at least ten more minutes speeding around the city, taking swooping U-turns and potentially ending up far from your destination.

We chose the latter, and 25 minutes later arrived at a suburban compound. There were no mangroves in sight, but the sign read: Mangrove Village.

Lost but undaunted, we set off in the direction of a residential street flanked mostly by sand and private fences. We live in the heart of the city, in a high-rise surrounded by businesses, dilapidated apartment buildings, banks, and hospitals. The closest street is six lanes across. Mangrove Village was completely different – this was suburbia, Abu Dhabi style.

At one point, the development abruptly stopped. In front of us was a stretch of empty lot and torn-up sidewalk. Trees had fallen around piles of used construction material. We broke off conversation mid-sentence and stood, staring. I pulled a pair of sand-encrusted pants from the rubble.

We wandered around in slow motion, glimpsing swirls of cotton candy insulation and blue plastic sheeting among the debris. Staring at the ground in an attempt not to step on a nail, I didn’t notice right away what my friend saw – a door, propped in the midst of it all. And off in the distance, pristine and beautiful, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

photo courtesy of Sachi Leith

Once we’d pulled our gazes away from what looked like the set of a post-apocalyptic film, we made our way back to the roads, found a cab, and returned to the more familiar areas of the city, where Abu Dhabi is easily sorted into opposites—extreme wealth alongside extreme poverty, mosques and abayas next to sunburnt tourists in bikinis, East and West, old and new, tradition and modernity. These oxymoronic qualities can be shocking, but never invisible. But the Abu Dhabi we saw out at Mangrove Village seemed naked, stripped of glossy facades and simple dichotomies. It was as if we saw each layer of the city being peeled away: the desert, the buildings, the mosque, the ghostly evidence of human labor. The Mangrove Village site looked abandoned, but perhaps work had only been paused, or perhaps something had been destroyed and was being re-built: we had stumbled into something that was in process, but what the process was, we couldn’t know. But walking there offered us a way to see beyond easy oppositions.

In “Side Streets,” Electra Street will take you along on adventures around Abu Dhabi as we uncover those places that are rarely destinations but are almost always more interesting than where you wanted to go in the first place: places where you can see the city growing, shifting, changing. We’ll explore little known restaurants, secluded shops, and unexpected cultural activities. We’ll be combing the streets to bring you details of artistic and cultural life that might not make it into the pages of Time Out. Electra Street is a magazine founded on the basis of journeys and exploration, both literal and figurative. With “Side Streets,” our aim is to get you a little bit lost on those journeys, if only to see what can be discovered along the way.

As always, if you have insider tips or questions of your own (Which sweets shop has the best coconut barfi in town? Where can I find a decent piece of non-Ikea furniture? What’s the off-menu special at that hip new café? Is there a slam poetry scene here in the Dhabs? How does one navigate the fish market? And does the public library actually exist?), we’d love to hear them. Send us your feedback through Facebook , Twitter (@ElectraStreet), or email (electra.nyuad@gmail.com), or leave us a comment below.