Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

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Layovers can sometimes be a tricky thing. There’s always the concern of should you leave the airport or not. Typically, my rule of thumb is if I have at least 6 hours or more, especially in a new country, I opt to leave the airport. Obviously, having mere hours in a country isn’t ideal but it’s more exciting than sitting in an airport for hours on end. On my way to South Africa, I had a 14 hour layover in Abu Dhabi. I was really excited about seeing a bit of the country but due my layover being at night, I didn’t do as much as perhaps I could have. After I cleared customs and exchanged a bit of money, I headed to my hotel. I opted to stay at the Premier Inn because it’s attached to the airport. It could not have been  more convenient. After I dropped my backpack off, I headed out to see the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. It is the 3rd largest mosque in the world. It closes daily at 10 pm and I left my hotel around 9:15 pm so time was of the essence. The mosque was about 15 minutes away.

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From the highway, you’re able to see the lights from the mosque. It feels like you’re looking at a majestic palace. The lights flood the mosque which allows its beauty to be seen from miles away. After I arrived, I was speechless. I had seen pictures of the mosque beforehand. However, I wasn’t prepared for how alluring it actually was until I was in front of it. I was fascinated with every column, flower, archway, painting, etc that covered the grounds. Before entering, you must pass through a metal detector. After which there are many signs which state women must be properly covered. In essence, women have to wear an Abiyah, which is similar to a hooded robe. You do have to leave some form of identification with the attendant in order to borrow an Abiyah. Most of the mosque is open to everyone but the rooms in which people come to pray are off limits, which is to be expected. In certain areas, photos are off limits.

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Although I am not of the Muslim faith, I imagined what it would be like to come to worship in such a picturesque place. The floors of the mosque are adorned with beautiful flowers in various colors. The columns that line the outside of the courtyard are adorned with gold leaves. Gold appears to be one of the main materials used throughout the mosque which makes it feel regal. In a sense, you feel as if you are royalty to even be allowed in such a revered space. I walked from one end to the other trying to take in everything. I snapped a few pictures but it was important for me to be present in that moment. The mosque itself was not overflowing with tourists but I imagine during the day it might be different. As 10 pm was drawing near, I headed back to my hotel to attempt to get some sleep. If you ever find yourself in Abu Dhabi with a few hours to spare, make sure you check out the Sheikh Zayed Mosque! Pictures don’t do it justice! This is a place you truly have to experience for yourself.

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