Today was to be our last day in Iraq. Once we had bade a temporary farewell to orchestra members and staff, we made our way to the airport where once again we found ourselves doing battle with Etihad and trying to convince them that our tickets were actually in their system. This took a little longer than was required to for us to retain any level of confidence that the checkin staff had more than the most rudimentary of clues about what they were doing.

Eventually, we found ourselves checked in and upon boarding identified a mother and her son sitting in the row where my seat was allocated. Predictably, she had plonked her infant daughter in my seat and wasn’t going to budge so again, I wandered to the back of the plane to wait for another seat to become free which eventually it did. In the end I sat next to two Arabic men, one who was escorting his uncle to India for a hospital checkup. Yes, medical procedure tourism is definitely here to stay. Upon leaving the plane, I wished them both a long and healthy life and bade them farewell.

Upon arriving in Abu Dhabi, Cam and I decided to visit Abu Dhabi city with the 6 hours we had to play with and hired a taxi to take us the half hour journey to the seafront. On the way into the city we saw the newly completed Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. We unfortunately didn’t get the opportunity to venture inside, but the view from outside was breathtaking and the building itself indescribably beautiful to behold.

We ended up traveling to the Marina Mall where we spent time pondering the fascinating cultural contrasts that basically describe Abu Dhabi. Of course the UAE is a place steeped in cultural history but it is also a place that is so utterly pervaded by consumerism that it makes you wonder whether you are actually in the heart of the Arab oil states or actually in a part of Chadstone shopping centre that you hadn’t got around to visiting yet. Marina Mall is a photojournalists heaven – the cultural contrasts are so clearly evident wherever you look that it is hard not to find a story or a question posed in any given direction that you might care to look.

After eating a pair of kebabs in the food court we wandered around the mall to see what we could see. The heat and humidity in Abu Dhabi was also a new experience for us. We literally found ourselves swimming through the humidity when outside the mall. Local contacts tell us that this was not a particularly hot day!

Instead of staying in the city until our flight we headed back to the airport a little early and spent some time looking for a lounge where we could grab a shower. The closest we got to finding one was a lounge that wanted $50 each for a four hour stay and we had to book the shower! We skipped the $100 charge and headed off to the gate lounge to ferment a little more before climbing on the plane to Frankfurt.