Big Bus proves magic for visitors
At first it is a bit of a puzzle to identify Leonardo’s nationality. Sitting in a corner on the right side of an open-top tour bus, he is wearing a white kandura and Arabian-style sandals.
He explains with a beaming smile: “It’s more comfortable in kandura.”
Leonardo, who is Italian, is skimming through a Big Bus brochure while waiting patiently for the stop for Sheikh Zayed Mosque where he hopes to marvel at its beauty.
“I don’t speak good English,” he says, looking at his son, also called Leonardo.
“This is our first trip to the Emirates,” says the younger Leonardo, 30. The family have only spent one night at the Sheraton Hotel and have just started their holiday, but they are ready to share their experience of the UAE.
“Abu Dhabi is modern, beautiful and has tall buildings,” says Leonardo Jr, a pilot. “We read about the UAE and its landmarks before coming. We are happy to spend our vacation here”
This year, the family from Rome decided to spend three nights in the capital, with a particular desire to visit the city’s religious buildings.
“I don’t like shopping,” says the son. “We went to Etihad Towers yesterday. Not my style.”
They are most excited about visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. At 2pm, they arrive. Leonardo Jr takes time to gaze at the splendour of the mosque and its intricate architecture.
He first heard about the mosque on Facebook.
“Most of my colleagues have visited the place and posted great pictures of it,” he says. “The mosque is very famous in Rome and many people talk about its beauty.”
The tour commentary on the bus about the mosque, he says, is helpful for visitors.
The bus takes passengers to 22 locations, including Manarat Al Saadiyat, Ferrari World, the Eastern Mangroves and the new Yas Mall.
“To us, the Grand Mosque tops our list of attractions,” Leonardo Jr says. “We have limited time, so the Big Bus is a great way of seeing Abu Dhabi’s landmarks.”
He has plans to return to Abu Dhabi and thinks he might like to work for one of the local airlines.
Last year, the emirate welcomed a record 3.49 million visitors. Of the 400,000 passengers carried by the Big Bus annually in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, nearly a third visited the capital.
Most of the tourists leave the tour bus at the mosque, except for Reyhan Evyapan and her family, who instead decide to stay on and enjoy the ride.
“This is our third visit to the UAE,” says the Turkish woman. “We have seen everything from safari to Ferrari. We loved it. The Big Bus is a good option.”
The leaning tower of the Capital Gate, next to the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, catches the family’s attention. Mrs Evyapan’s father swiftly picks up his camera in his quest to get the perfect shot of the unique structure.
“We are leaving on Saturday. Today, we are only enjoying the views and taking pictures,” he says.
Muller Matthias and Sandra Bachmana sit peacefully on the bench. The Corniche has won their hearts, they say.
“It’s hot but I like it,” says Mr Mattias, 30.
Like the Italians, the Swiss couple are only staying for three days. What they have enjoyed most is their hotel.
“We are staying at the Resort Beach Rotana. The service is excellent. We are amazed by the facilities,” he says.
Deira’s Old Souq in Dubai has been the highlight of Ms Bachmana’s first trip.
“The souq had beautiful displays and products,” she says. “We are going to Muscat after the UAE.”
For Joerg Lippert and his wife Ingert, the main appeal of leaving Germany at this time of the year is to enjoy the sun.
Instead of basking in the air-conditioned comfort of the bus’s interior, they head upstairs to the open deck.
The couple visited Dubai in 2013, but this year decided to spend a week in Abu Dhabi, with a day trip to Dubai to see the Burj Khalifa.
Asked what they find most appealing about the UAE, Mr Lippert, 51, immediately responds: “Wonderful temperature..”
He notes the buildings are low rise in his hometown in Saxony. “You have beautiful buildings here,” he says.
Part of Abu Dhabi’s appeal, Mr Lippert says, is that it is easy to get from one place to another.
“When we were in Dubai, it’s crowded and we couldn’t spot many places to walk to get to another place. The infrastructure is better in Abu Dhabi and easy to walk around.”
He also finds that his money goes further in the UAE. “We have been to a few restaurants scattered around the city. The food is delicious and the price is very reasonable.”
While enjoying the scenery of the capital, along with its beaches and weather, Mr Lippert wonders how he can get a taste of the country’s past. “All I see around me is modern and tall buildings,” he says.
While he is enjoying his stay, he has yet to see many historical monuments.
Grabbing his camera, the German shows a photo he took of a 1,000-year-old castle at home. “We have many traditional and historical buildings in Germany. Where are yours?” he asks.
Soon the tour is passing Qasr Al Hosn, the old Ruler’s palace and fort in the centre of town, with an explanation that it is city’s oldest building and of the great importance to the entire UAE.
“Perhaps I might visit Abu Dhabi during the Qasr Al Hosn Festival,” he says. “I also want to see a camel-riding competition, but don’t know where to go.”
Before leaving the bus, Mr Lippert reflects that one day maybe he could operate a business in the UAE.
“I have a computer-software company back home. Perhaps one day I might establish one here.”
Updated: April 19, 2015 04:00 AM