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A Skincare Transformation

Abu Dhabi & Dubai Bae-cation Part 1: Al Maya Island & Enrique

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Hello everybody! It's time to detail my trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in a few epic posts - just because! Writing these is pure indulgence and an awesome way to recall the memories. Now not all memories of this holiday were fantastic but we will come onto that. For now, here are the first two days!

As a little background, Dubai has always been on my list of top destinations and luckily for us, one of my girlfriends is now a teacher in Abu Dhabi and invited us over. She said a good time to visit is October/November as there are no religious holidays and it's just the right temperature at around 25-30 degrees. The final race of the Formula One is held in Abu Dhabi at the end of November and flights were exactly the same price as any other dates, so we booked up!

There were three of us in New York but this trip would mean eight girls, making for a totally different experience. We were all arriving in batches from different places and spent weeks chatting in a chaotic Whatsapp group. I tried to make headway by creating a huge itinerary to share in Google Docs, which was really time consuming and I didn't get a definite feel of how Dubai is laid out or more importantly, how to dress! Now this really was a bone of contention as people were offering such different advice. Many people stated shoulders and knees must be covered at all times, friends said that clubs and beaches were 'free' zones but you still have to get there via a taxi or public places of course, and some travellers told me they just dressed as usual. My friends and I spent weeks buying outfits and after ordering Missguided's entire stock, we all had an arsenal of knee length, 'nice' daytime dresses for the Formula One, and respectable outfits for the clubs, plus a host of maxi dresses and kimonos for the day time. I got most of mine in the Boohoo sale and picked up some rather lovely beachy pieces at seriously low prices. Not really my usual style as I'm not a summery person, but I got what I needed. I had a few bikinis in my draw but also bought an embellished River Island number, and then ensured all of my shoes were re-heeled and I had stocked up on products, makeup and lashes. My look was very Ibiza-inspired and I imagined wearing jewellery to the beach and sashaying into the club in gorgeous prints.

I really spent weeks planning this gig and even started going to the gym on the *sort of* regular, plus eating really well during November. Then sods law, I got sick. The exact same thing happened just before New York and I spent the Tuesday working my way through a million tissues while working my way through my workload. I had cunningly booked the Wednesday off work but had packed the day with nail, pedicure, brow and tan appointments, and I had to find dirhams in my local high street too, which is not an easy task. So I trudged around feeling like I just wanted to curl in bed, and finally packed up my case ready for a 4.45am early rise. 

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Luckily my cold cleared up almost as soon as I arrived so maybe the air pressure or the in-flight regime I adopted worked. We flew from Birmingham to Dubai with Emirates and while the personal movie selection was endless, the food was that stodgy, synthetic plane food that made us dash to grab a few Boots meal deals at the airport before boarding. I was flying with just one friend and we glugged litres of water and Lemsip before landing in the evening. The first impression you get at a airport is always interesting and Dubai was towering, chic and ominous, with huge indoor waterfalls, glass lifts and extensive marble surfaces stretching everywhere. Taking a taxi to Abu Dhabi was a little crazy as we had no idea if the driver was even taking us 1.5hrs in the right direction or not, but soon we were speeding past the Burj Khalifa on the impossibly fast, weaving motorway trails and trying to locate my friend's apartment on Reem Island. Abu Dhabi has no post codes and the driver didn't have a Sat Nav, but on the phone my friend advised to just to look up at the skyscrapers to pick out the one she was describing. The area is so vast that each tower powers into the blank sky above the spirals of tarmac, and we soon spotted just the building she meant. We managed to let ourselves into the 8th floor apartment with a key under the mat as my friend had already set off to pick up the next arriving party from Abu Dhabi airport.

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We sat in my friend's apartment for an hour basically asking ourselves 'what are we doing with our lives?!' The building was insane and the balcony view looked out onto a stretch of undisturbed warm, black night, only peppered with the odd 50 storey sk scraper. Being a teacher means my friend's apartment is totally funded and I can only dream of having my own flat to call my own! Well I'm not keen on tying myself to a bunch of bricks, but if it were free, then of course I would love to call a home like that my own! It was gorgeous. Far from the dreary weather in the UK, the night was balmy and just right in AD. After claiming one of the foam beds on the floor, finding a side of a wall to sit our suitcases and tentatively exploring the fridge, three more gals arrived with my international friend and we all caught up and cheered over the setting. We had somehow all made it half way across the world to visit one of our group and it was a real 'we've made it!' moment!

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We got a pretty good sleep compared with usual holiday evenings and awoke to tea and toast. Before visiting we knew the time would be first spent in Abu Dhabi for a few days for the Formula One and then onto Dubai, so I needed day outfits and F1 outfits first. I considered separating my suitcase into batches for when I needed things, but I basically needed to tap into every section of my case to get ready each day. This is pretty much impossible when you can't actually unpack and only have a hand mirror and seat on the floor to get yourself set for the day. Yes there were mirrors and plug sockets around the apartment, but one bathroom to six girls was difficult! It really reinforced the fact that I need time and focus to get ready and feel good about myself. It doesn't matter what I do, I just need to do things calmly or else I'll have a bit of a mind-blank when getting ready and just go through random robot motions, applying any makeup I tend to use and just getting at least ready enough to leave in case I'm running behind. Teamed with not being able to unpack and see what I had brought with me, I only managed to add a touch of BB cream, waterproof mascara and lip balm, shoved my hair in a bun as I knew I would be sorting it out later for the F1 concerts, and picked out my outfit of planned pieces from S365 for my collaboration. Chucking sun lotion, towel, dirhams, shoes, hat, camera, sim card, etc, etc into a beach bag also proved time consuming and soon enough we were all out of the door. Now this may not seem like a big deal but I can spend 15 minutes getting ready and feel better than if I'd spent an hour getting ready if it meant there was no rush or pressure. I can't rush basically! Also we were thinking about how revealing out outfits were, as we only jumped in taxis whenever we went anywhere, but there's a level of respect you need when in the UAE and that means outfit must be considered carefully.

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So we set off feeling pretty good really and I adapted to beach life best I could. I realised I'm not a beach person or a summer person maybe - I need outfits and layers and makeup and effort, and cool, boho vibes do not come naturally to me! Also I'd just had my hair coloured back to more of a natural red so I almost wish I'd stayed blonde and channelled a beachy look. Anyway - you're probably thinking wow, how self absorbed do you need to BE on holiday! Relax! Well I wasn't thinking of these things at the time, they are more of a reflection now on how I imagined the holiday would be but didn't quite have time to implement. I'd bought gold transfer tattoos, jewellery, hair crowns and all sorts for the beach, but what took priority was getting out into the beautiful sunshine and to the local beach club that my friend goes to at least once a month, and has sent us the pictures to prove it! We ordered taxis across the city of motorways and met up at a concrete dock with a few expats, and were first on the small boat to set off to Al Maya Island. I was worried I would find it really hot and burn easily but the temperature was perfect.

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One windy journey across the sea and 15 minutes later we stepped onto literal paradise. I didn't think in my lifetime that I would visit a place like this! Straight out of a Sandals advert, the wooden dock, lined with Absolut vodka banners, lead onto a gorgeous pool area with in-pool bar and pool-side DJ stage, neighbouring a creamy white beach leading into bright aqua water. Complete with endless cushioned sunbeds and straw parasols, this was IT. We bought towels and drinks and headed straight to the beach. It was so incredible that it almost felt artificial and surreal. The day before I was sniffling around Birmingham and now I was in the most turquoise sea with a cocktail in hand, surrounded by my friends! We've never actually been on a beach holiday together so that in itself was a novelty, and it was overwhelming and just amazing!  

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We chilled at the beach, had a dip in the pool and looked on in curiosity at the other guests. Mostly expats, the island does get busy on weekends, which is Friday and Saturday in the UAE, but as it was theF1 weekend, it didn't get too hectic while we were there. Did I mention it is free entry for ladies too?!

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We didn't quite have chance to stay there and really get into the party spirit as it was soon time to head back to Reem Island for the concert later. The F1 takes place over 3 days with the race on the Sunday, and each night there is a concert. We had tickets to the Saturday and Sunday F1 events which were around £100 total and included entry into the concerts, but the Friday concert had loads of free tickets distributed so my friend had secured us some. We roamed around on what felt like an endless construction site for taxis to take us back to the apartment and began getting ready. By now there were eight girls, every inch of floor space was covered in a suitcase, and we all had to shower and be ready within the hour. One hour! In hind sight I would have gone basic on my makeup, added a bold lip, sorted my hair and threw on a dress, but at the time it was a 10 minute effort to even locate my toiletries inside my unpacked case.

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We soon determined too that our sophisticated (read: dowdy) outfits we had all sourced to look respectable at the F1 were not needed at all - we all threw caution to the wind and ended up in backless, mini and strappy dresses! My friend had advised you had to look chic and not have a combination of legs/boobs/bodycon all on show at the same time, but my friends and I are usually in midi dresses or the like anyway. The rules are relaxed at the F1 as it's a more Westernised event, but you still cannot touch or kiss a man! I ended up shoving my planned outfit to the side and throwing on three different dresses, all needing some sort of tit tape assistance, pinning or some maintenance that wasn't 'dress and go' ready within my 2 minute time frame. I'd applied my usual makeup, curled my hair a little while standing behind a few other girls of all different heights in a full length mirror, and ended up in a Boohoo berry-coloured midi dress with berry ankle strap heels. Not the outfit I had planned, and I barely had chance to assess what it even looked like in the mirror before the taxis were waiting outside and calling up repeatedly. And with that, we were off!

I hope this all seems like hilarious chaos rather than me moaning as I think it sounds negative, but it wasn't. Getting ready with friends is a mess of heels, hairspray and handbags anyway, and we were all surprised we had managed to step out again in the bright daylight dressed up to the nines in what was basically night club attire. We were heading to the Marina for drinks before the concert, which meant a 20 minute taxi across vast motorways to Yas Island, then a shuttle bus from the sandy drop off point and a walk past some pretty huge yachts. Yes the aim was to find a dude with a yacht of course! We picked out a bar next to the wooden deck of the Marina walkways and chose out incredibly expensive drinks - and note that the bar people keep the change as their tip. £25 down and one mojito up, we looked around and decided that the girls dress just as they do in classy bars at home, but it would not be the place for outfits fit for Walkabout, Oceana or any of those haunts. If there were no unspoken rules of the UAE, it would be an 'anything goes' vibe, where as the events had an air of prestige about them. We had barely ate and a few girls went off to fend for food while we sized up the crowds and were soon a shuttle ride way from the stadium for Enrique. Yes the Friday concert was Enrique Iglesias! Hilarious!

There were huge crowds slowly filtering into the huge stadium and we soon found each other and took out place in the crowd for Enrique. There were some strange warm up acts including a pole dancing cowboy, and the drinks were £16 for a double vodka. Soon the show began and thousands of people were having a blast - the concert was awesome! I love live music and being outside in the warm evening was superb, and everyone knows every word to Enrique songs even if you don't know you do. It was like a festival! We had met up with my friend's expat friends too and soon a troupe of us was walking to a hotel party. Like New York, the clubs and bars are in hotels rather than dedicated venues. We walked for what felt like 30 minutes down the huge sandy dual carriageway as all taxis were full and my feet were dying, but soon enough we were in the bar and enjoying the night. Far from being a place where being drunk is 'illegal', there was an incredibly rowdy group of Irish lads among the crowd and the drinks were flowing like normal. You can't be drunk in the street but you are allowed to drink on a dedicated premise. We ended up chatting to some guys who apparently fixed race cars but all they wanted to do was talk about themselves, despite my friend and I playing the 'who has the coolest job' game as I work for a chocolate company and she works for a jewellery brand. I didn't take my camera out as I wasn't sure I was allowed so I don't have any snaps to share, but that's a wrap for part 1! I have a whole eight more days to go so stay tuned for more including my blag into the golden circle, drinks at the 7* hotel and the reason why we definitely didn't go on a yacht!

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