An Oasis in the Desert

by Kristen Gray

Kataoka strikes a sunset pose outside the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates.

“The United Arab Emirates is a region of the world that Silicon Valley people should put high on their travel list,” says artist and technologist Drue Kataoka. The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, recently invited Kataoka to be a guest of the country for an annual summit called “Qudwa: Teaching for Tomorrow,” where she gave two talks about the intersection of art, technology and education. “It is a warm culture with so much hospitality. They have much beauty in their traditions, and their cuisine is superb. I love Silicon Valley as my home and artistic base, but I enjoy constantly stretching my imagination with travel.”

The Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the largest mosque in the country.

Where to eat
“For authentic Syrian cuisine, one must dine at Al-Hamidieh Restaurant,” Kataoaka recommends. “Some of my favorites are ‘the commander and his soldiers’—which is a delicious traditional dumpling dish, and the amazingly frothy pomegranate and crushed ice foam juice, as well as the avocado mousse drink.” Another great spot on her list: Café Bateel Dubai, known for its date shakes, a warm date pudding and “incredibly refreshing pineapple drinks.”

Where to sightsee
Between conferences and meetings, she slipped in time to visit the new Louvre Abu Dhabi, a stunning architectural gem on the Saadiyat Island Cultural District, and also visited the Qasr Al Hosn Museum and the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the largest mosque in the country and home to a mesmerizing 12-ton chandelier composed of millions of Swarovski crystals. For a traditional Abu Dhabi desert experience, visit the Heritage Village, “a reconstruction of a traditional oasis village with a coffee pot campfire, a goats’ hair tent, camels and workshops demonstrating traditional metal work, pottery and weaving. It was great to witness its juxtaposition against the sparkling skyline of Dubai in the background.” If you’re staying at the One & Only Royal Mirage, don’t miss the camel caravan into the desert, where you can take a falconry lesson.

The Jumeirah at Ethiad Tower in Abu Dhabi.

Where to stay
The service at the Jumeirah at Ethiad Tower in Abu Dhabi “is better than in the U.S.,” Kataoka says. “A refreshing cool mint drink and towel rushed over to us as soon as we stepped on the premises. The hotel was constantly flooded with light during the day due to its many windows. Looking outside, you saw blue sky and blue waters. It had a beautiful traditional Moroccan tea with dates and a fantastic buffet with regional cuisine. One of my favorite regional dishes they serve is the Sheikh El Mahsi, a deep-fried eggplant with minced lamb.” In Dubai, Kataoka stayed at the One & Only Royal Mirage, with its many interlocking pools and access to the waterfront. “I was able to squeeze in a Royal Hammam treatment at their acclaimed spa, which consisted of Moroccan black soap and eucalyptus-scented ghassoul together with a traditional honey facial and a massage on a warm slab.”

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