We've been home a full 2 weeks from Africa, but I still need to finish up our trip in the ezine. It truly was both mine and Helen's trip of a lifetime. We have learned so much about Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa, but more importantly, Africa fills your heart and soul and we have learned more about ourselves, what's important in life, and formed some ideas for our business which will take shape in 2020.
As is a fairly usual trick for me, I booked us "the long way" home and we flew from Johannesburg to Abu Dhabi for a 24 hour layover, and with the one and only intention of flying the singularly best airline award redemption available worldwide.
Here's this weeks Top 5 from our journey home.
Top 5 - Abu Dhabi and Home
1. Andaz Capital Gate, Abu Dhabi (above)
The Hyatt brand Andaz remains one of my personal favorites with its modern, arty designs and laid back luxury. The hotel's design incorporates an impressive 18º lean, which is much more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa and is as exciting to look at as it is a little bit disconcerting. In a city where every Uber we took was a Lexus, and there is wealth to be seen everywhere, luxury hotels are remarkably good value and rooms at the Andaz price from around just $150 a night.
2. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (above and below)
One of the largest mosques in the world built at extraordinary expense by the ruler of Abu Dhabi for more than 30 years until his death in 2004, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. He was also the founding father and the principal driving force behind the formation of the United Arab Emirates back in 1971. The complex covers 30 acres and is large enough to hold 40,000 worshippers at one time. Here's just one more fact out of a long list of stunners...
The carpet in the main prayer hall measures 60,570 sq ft, which makes it the largest in the world and it was made by around 1,200 to 1,300 Iranian carpet knotters.
Abu Dhabi was something of a revelation to us. We think it's a great potential layover stop for longer trips to Africa or Asia and a less flashy version of Dubai which is only one and a half hour's drive to the north. That's not to say that you won't sense the extreme wealth in the United Arab Emirates.
Our evening 3 hour private food tour with Fahad (above) turned in to a 5 hour complete cultural immersion and learning experience. A local who claimed to be middle class, here he was hosting a $200 tour and regaling us with tales of his Ferraris and Teslas. It was totally fascinating as we tiptoed through a delicate conversation on his traditionalist family and their views on the role of women that did not come close to our own. This is all part of the joy I find in travel though, learning what has driven thousands of years of history and customs, and getting a real feeling for how ancient traditions are evolving, even if it's too slowly.
So this was the most excited I have ever been before a flight. As a points and award-booking nerd the idea of flying in Etihad's First Class Apartment between Abu Dhabi and JFK had been with me for several years. 11 months ahead of travel I worked out that this was possible for our return at the end of our Africa experience. It was a lot of points transferred to an Etihad Guest account from a Citibank credit card, but with the fare at $15K per person one-way, this was still the most value we have ever received from a points booking. A bellhop appears outside the First Class Terminal entrance to gather your luggage and from this point it was 6 minutes before we were checked in, through security and in to the First Class lounge.
5. Etihad - The Apartment (above and below)
Well, it was an amazing experience, especially with only 3 travelers in the cabin including Helen and I. From the separate bed and seat, to enjoying my first shower ever at 38,000 feet, to the amazing dessert wine (Chateau Doisy-Vedrines 1999 oh sweet heaven), to the thrill of being upstairs on an A380 and to incredible personalized service including the First Class only chef introducing himself, I was in complete airline nerd bliss for the full 14 hours.
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