Insomnia in Abu Dhabi

You realize you are Generation Y when feeling “home” to you isn’t about eating a home-cooked meal, but having wi-fi. I’ll try to write shorter posts during our travels (through the WordPress iPhone app!) but not sure what sort of wi-fi connection I’ll have in Bangladesh.

I realize I haven’t posted in a while, the last few weeks before our journey have been crazy with travel arrangements related to Latke and Ladki’s Excellent “Desh” Adventure. Now we are finally Dhaka bound, the land where OMG stands for “Oh Ma go!”

We have an 11-hour layover in Abu Dhabi so we decided to leave the airport and get a hotel room to stretch out, sleep and shower. US passport holders can easily leave the airport during layovers to explore the city, which I highly recommend. I wish my layover was even longer so I could explore more. We checked into the Radisson Blu which is on Yas Island, a planned city of hotels, and as our driver explained, pretty much nothing else. The restaurant we ate at downstairs was a swanky one with a view of palm trees and some body of water (which we couldn’t see because it was night but knew it was there) and a lit swimming pool. So I was surprised to receive our bill of $37 for dinner for 3 people! Sweet! I could get used to this. The hotel is clean, hospitable and very affordable. $140 for 3 adults in a huge room, pre-booked from the US on kayak.com. I was wondering what Christmas Eve would feel like in a Muslim country. Don’t know about proper Abu Dhabi, but Yas Island seems very tolerant of western vices like alcohol, mini skirts and Starbucks. The hotel was decorated beautifully for Christmas. A human-sized gingerbread house and smaller ones throughout the lobby and restaurant, Christmas trees, etc. At the same time, you see many Arabs in their traditional garb, see Arabic writing on the advertisements and hear Azaan at the airport. A delicate balance of the eastern and western world.

Lastly, not to sound like an advertisement, but I wanted to mention a few businesses which I had good experiences with because I think they did a great job and would want other travelers to know.

First, about visas. Visa applications are in my opinion one of the most stressful parts of overseas travel. As a kid, I have memories of going to the Bangladesh and India embassy with my parents and standing in long lines in the morning and coming back in the afternoon. You’d waste an entire day! Luckily we would make the most of it and meet with friends and check out restaurants in NY. Recently, several visa outsourcing companies have popped up but I was wary of mailing out my passport to the unknown. After talking to several people who did it and had good experiences, I decided to try two different ones. Travisa outsourcing for our Indian visas and Visahq for our Bangladesh visas. I had great experiences with both. You want to give yourself at least 3 weeks for the process and keep in mind not only US holidays, but also holidays of the country you are visiting. For example, the Bangladesh embassy was closed for the 40 year anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence. Also make sure you use Express mail or some type of service where you will get a tracking number. Your peace of mind is worth the extra money!

I’ve flown to Bangladesh many times in 30 years, and after horrible experiences on Biman and British Airways, I decided to try Etihad (Singapore Airlines is probably my favorite, but it was way out of my budget this time). Usually I pay between $1,000 and $1,200 to fly to Bangladesh/India so was taken aback by the current prices (between $1,700 and $2,100 for economy) due to it being high-season and the rising cost of fuel. My $1,367 ticket through airfare.com seemed unreal. I didn’t know what type of service and cleanliness to expect at such a good cost, but I am happy to report that it exceeded my expectations. The staff was professional, the flight left exactly on time and we arrived to our destination an hour early. They give you socks, a toothbrush and eye covers, and I was able to watch Suits and 30 Rock, and peeked at some subtitled Bollywood movies (but just the dancing parts). They also were very accommodating of vegetarians so the latke was a happy camper.

Next challenge, adjusting to the time zone! More later!

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