All the bad parts of Vegas (Or, a layover in Abu Dhabi)

While it does have the Persian Gulf as a redeeming quality, Abu Dhabi's oppressive desert heat quickly gets the best of you until night falls.

There are things about Vegas that you love. Like how you can expect to make terrible decisions and not be judged for them, or how you can walk around drinking booze out of a bikini girl, or how it’s perfectly normal to be stumbling home as the sun rises.

And then there are the things about Vegas that you forgive, because it’s a sort of surreal wonderland. The God-awful heat. The way everything is so plainly artificial. The fact that the entire culture revolves around money. And the hangovers, my God, the hangovers.

When you land in Abu Dhabi, you might feel a bit like those forgivable aspects are a little harder to swallow. You won’t run any risk of getting too drunk (because alcohol is hard to come by in the UAE), but the heat is unbearable. It was 110 degrees on the day I landed — a “normal” September day, according to the guy at the Etihad ticket counter — and yet to fit in, you need to be covered up, wearing long pants at a minimum. Emiratis are often sporting long pants underneath traditional Muslim garb.

Excessive sweating must be an epidemic there.

Unexpected, pleasant surprise: The bus stops are air conditioned.

Surprisingly fun mode of transportation: Masdar City’s driverless personal rapid transit system will cart you around.

I flew on… Etihad’s SFO-AUH route, which clocks in at 15 hours, 45 minutes.

Just about everything prominent in Abu Dhabi has sprung up over the last few decades, and flying over the endless desert right up until the moment you land at AUH makes the city itself feel even more impermanent, like a good sandstorm or two could wipe it right off the map.

Sure, like its better known neighboring emirate of Dubai, Abu Dhabi boasts some wonderland-esque attractions, like Ferrari World and Yas Island. It’s also trying to make a name for itself as the erudite emirate: Recent partnerships with the Louvre and the Guggenheim will soon lead to new museums, and Masdar City is paving the way as the world’s first city district that’s completely zero-emission. It may well be a hypermodern powerhouse of a destination in a decade or so.

But for now, it all feels under construction. If you’re looking for the “authentic” Middle East, you might need to keep looking.

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