Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 November 2019

Moving from Dubai to Abu Dhabi: missing old haunts, but finding a sense of community

Hayley Skirka recently moved to the capital and is excited about it, but she's still missing some of her Dubai favourites

Hayley's Saturday ritual of walking dogs at Stray Dogs UAQ will involve a lot more effort and driving now that she's moved to Abu Dhabi, but she's wondering if it's time to find new routines.  
Hayley's Saturday ritual of walking dogs at Stray Dogs UAQ will involve a lot more effort and driving now that she's moved to Abu Dhabi, but she's wondering if it's time to find new routines.  

I first arrived in the UAE at 2am on Sunday, September 7, 2008. I took my first steps in the Middle East a few minutes later, and can clearly recall the thud of nerves in my stomach as I exited Dubai airport and approached the line of men leaning against the security barriers, with their hand-written arrival signs, waiting to collect passengers.

I’d very recently graduated university with a degree in journalism, but was landing in this foreign country to teach ­English. My thinking was that Dubai would be a place to spend a year doing some travelling and that working as a teacher would give me the funds and holidays needed to make the most of the UAE’s enviable location for exploring Asia.

Or so I thought. That was 11 years ago. Like many others who move here, my one-year plan didn’t quite hold up.

Since then, while I’ve migrated back to a career in journalism, I’ve yet to do the same with my home country. My interest in travelling has remained steadfast, however, and I’m now travel writer at The National. That same career move has led me to my most recent life change: leaving Dubai for Abu Dhabi.

I realise that such a move is not exactly a life-defining moment. My new house is 98 kilometres from my old apartment and I can drive between the two in one hour, traffic dependent. However, after more than a decade in Dubai, where I’ve watched The Dubai Mall open, the Dubai Marina expand and the Burj Khalifa take shape, I’m excited for what life in the capital holds.

It’s only been two weeks, so I’m not well-versed enough to compare the two cities. Despite working in Abu Dhabi and having as many friends here as I do in Dubai, I still don’t really know the capital beyond Sheikh Zayed Bridge, which was typically as close to downtown as I ventured when commuting.

But I am already missing a few things from my old place. My ­former neighbourhood, Motor City, is the first. Having spent the last four years in the tree-lined suburb, I’d grown fond of the neighbourhood dog-walkers, the tiny strip of restaurants, shops and coffee houses, and even the ­occasional autodrome action, despite the droning the supercars would bring.

My favourite beach is another sore point. It’s located beside the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club and when I first discovered this little patch of sand, I would often have its shoreline to myself. The crowds have picked up a little since then, but the beach is still an off-the-beaten-track find that comes with free parking, no entry fees and a great little local cafe next door.

This secret beach in Jumeirah, Dubai is something I'll miss now that I've moved to Abu Dhabi. 
This secret beach in Jumeirah, Dubai is something I'll miss now that I've moved to Abu Dhabi.

Impromptu visits to Dubai Opera are another casualty of my move. There are so many shows on the roster at the Downtown Dubai venue that I’d become quite fond of booking last-­minute tickets and making the 20-minute drive down Al Khail Road to catch a performance on a random weeknight evening.

I feel as if I’m getting all the thrills of being new here, but without any of the trepidation that usually transpires when you move countries

Volunteering with the Stray Dogs Centre Umm Al Quwain is also going to be tricky now that I reside further away. The Saturday evening journey to the shelter, where more than 300 rescue dogs live, used to involve a 50-minute drive. From my new home, it’s closer to a four-hour round-trip.

Weekend wanderings around Alserkal Avenue are also much less likely now. The warehouse arts district was one of my favourite ways to kick-start a weekend. Yet, as much as I enjoyed the gallery hopping, boutique shopping and strong coffee, I’m unsure if I’ll be committed enough to set my alarm to drive there from the capital.

All that being said, my friends in Abu Dhabi are bubbling with enthusiasm that I’ve joined their ranks and some of that passion has definitely spilled over to me. On my first day here, for example, I noticed such a sense of community. Not only did I have a conversation with both of my new neighbours on day one, I also answered the door to a friend (who now lives nearby), who had popped by to deliver two plates of foil-wrapped, home-cooked dinners – something that was very much appreciated in our moving-day madness.

I now have a garden, so perhaps instead of volunteering to walk dogs on weekends, I can finally give one of the shelter pooches a forever home. And when it comes to the art galleries I’m going to miss, I can hardly complain when Louvre Abu Dhabi is a 20-­minute drive from my new home.

With Louvre Abu Dhabi on my new doorstep, I cannot complain about a lack of art galleries. Photo by Ismail Noor
With Louvre Abu Dhabi on my new doorstep, I cannot complain about missing Dubai art galleries. Photo by Ismail Noor

I’m also relishing a sense of the unknown. I have the chance to find new favourite restaurants or seek out undiscovered places to sunbathe or dune bash. I’m excited to take visitors to places that aren’t Aquaventure or the Burj Khalifa. I feel as if I’m getting all the thrills of being new here, but without any of the trepidation that usually transpires when you move countries.

In fact, there’s a little piece of me – possibly the part that prompted me to fall in love with travel in the first place – that has now been re-ignited in a country that I’ve lived in for more than a decade.

Updated: November 7, 2019 11:14 AM

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