I wear two hats with different names: Madison Woods when I’m wearing the artist hat, Roxann Riedel in real life and real estate. I'm a rock-smashing paint-making artist & a sales agent for Montgomery Whiteley Realty. Hailing from the wild Ozarks in Kingston, Arkansas where my husband and I work toward a sustainable lifestyle.

You can text or call to reach me by either name (see above):
(479)409-3429, or email madison@wildozark.com

Abu Dhabi Engages All Five Senses

There are two sounds I’ll associate with Abu Dhabi for the rest of my life.


The first is the sound of prayer during the dark wee hours of the night. It’s a haunting sound, one I liked even if I couldn’t understand the words and don’t follow the religion they’re from. The sound of it is broadcast from the many mosques (all villages/neighborhoods have a mosque). I found it comforting and it immediately brought me to a state of meditation and reflection.

Doves calling and the wind rattling through the dried acacia pods on the trees outside my husband’s villa.

This sound I tried to capture, but I couldn’t get a good recording.

Abu Dhabi engages all of the senses, all of the time

Here are just a few of the things that stood out during my trip to visit my husband who was working near the city during 2015-2016.

  • humid furnace-like heat
  • flavors of world cuisine
  • expanses of desert
  • cultures of many peoples
  • haggling for carpet
  • architecture
  • immense commercial growth
  • shopping
  • wealth
  • beauty
  • perfumes



In Abu Dhabi you will be touched by the heat. It’s inescapable.

It’s hard to express just how hot it is in the coastal desert. Today’s high is 116*F. This is not the “dry” heat that is more comfortable, but the very humid heat of a coastal region.The only shade is from shadows cast by buildings and trees. The only trees are palms, acacias, and a few other types with flowers. I didn’t recognize them. None of them are large and they only exist where water is available. In between the villas and city, there is this:

Between Al Reef and Abu Dhabi city
Between Al Reef and Abu Dhabi city

That’s water in the far background (canals leading to, or Persian gulf – not sure which), but the expanse of sand looks about the same no matter where it is when there isn’t a city or villa complex. We didn’t travel outside the metropolitan area, so I don’t have any pics of the rural deserts.

Other parts look like the stretch in front of this apartment complex:

Apartments in the desert
Apartments in the desert

Shop Shop Shop

I believe so much shopping happens out here because it’s too hot to do much else. That, and because there’s a lot of wealth in UAE, from both tourists and the Emirates themselves. There is also a lot of non-wealthy people living there. Many of those providing the services are from other surrounding countries and those farther away who are working to try and better the quality of life for their families back home.

Our hotel clerk was from Russia, the taxi driver was from Pakistan (who told us his Mother lives in Afghanistan and wife lives in France and that he’s planning a trip to visit his homeland in a few weeks). The artists who did my henna were Indian and many of the store clerks were from far eastern countries.

Being in the shopping malls is an experience in observation if you’re not actively shopping. We weren’t doing much to help the economy while we were there – mostly window shopping.

However, there were two things I did want to get from this part of the world while on site: a small carpet or two and some henna body art. Haggling for the carpet was an interesting experience that deserves a whole blog post all to itself. The shop keeper only spoke a few words of English and we don’t know Arabic, so the going was a little slow.

Touching Rugs

Eventually, we managed to get the message across that we wanted hand-made, not machined rugs. Hand-made rugs are very expensive so we could only afford small ones.

Looking at rugs in Abu Dhabi shop.
Looking at rugs in Abu Dhabi shop.

The ones we ended up buying were made in Afghanistan. We’re not experts, but can at least recognize hand-made versus machined. I’m not sure whether we made a good deal or not, but I love the rugs so I’m happy. I’d like to learn more about recognizing quality in rugs like this. When we win the lottery or my book sales skyrocket, I can get some more and maybe a room sized one, ha.

Afgan rug with blue
Afgan rug with blue
Front and back of the red tribal rugs.
Front and back of the red tribal rugs.


I love the look of mehendi, the henna tattoos. The henna salons were harder to find than I expected. Apparently, henna tattoos are not part of UAE’s encouraged culture. It is more of an Indian tradition. But we did find a salon eventually, even if it was in a back alley and off the normal beaten tourist route. These pictures are fuzzy, but that’s all I have to offer:

Henna on my foot
Henna on my foot
Henna on my hand
Henna on my hand

To sit anywhere and observe for any length of time is an auditory smorgasbord of languages being spoken. Most know a little English, but some do not. Many of the people I saw were not Emirate natives, but tourists and immigrant workers from all over the globe. There were as many of the locals shopping for goods as tourists.

About those head covers for women

All of those I think were local women wore at least a head scarf and robes. Some wore full burqa with the metal face cover/shields. While I was there and standing in the scorching sun, I tried an experiment. I have a black scarf I keep in my bag in the event I do want to cover my hair. It’s not required for tourists, but to visit a mosque it is. I brought the scarf with me in case my flight was diverted to a very strict country and we needed to off-board for some reason.

However, back to my experiment. The scarf made the heat noticeably less intense on my head and any part it covered. So I believe it is a misconception that the black makes the heat more awful than it already is. This doesn’t make logical sense, I know, but I felt the difference with my own senses. Perhaps it works like shade cloth.

If you are reading this and are a woman who wears full covers, please comment to let me know your experience with this.

Here’s a pic of me trying on one of the fashionable robes and scarves at the mall shop:

me in robes
me in robes

Between Villa and City

From Al Reef, where Rob’s apartment (villa) is, to Abu Dhabi city is about 10 miles (that’s a guess). Between the two there is a gas station, a shopping mall, what looks like an apartment complex, and a lot of projects under construction.

Almost all of the signs both on businesses and on the highway have both english and arabic language. This was immensely helpful.

The gas stations are full-service, so having someone pump our gas was a throwback experience to childhood memories. At the gas stations, you can see some western influence in the fast food options available. The first photo shows a Hardee’s restaurant. The closer one is Popeye’s.

Gas station near Abu Dhabi
Gas station near Abu Dhabi
Fast food in the desert
Fast food in the desert

Highways between are less pretty than those in the cities, but that is to be expected. It would be impossible to water palm trees in the middle of nowhere. I am amazed at the workers who somehow do not die of heat exhaustion while walking to and from bus stops or job sites, and who can even work in the middle of the day out there.

Highway out of town
Highway out of town
highway nearing downtown
highway nearing downtown


It might be surprising to know there are gorgeous beaches in Abu Dhabi, but the city is located on the Persian Gulf (or Arabian Gulf, depending on which naming authority is followed). The waters of the gulf are an amazing shade of blue.

Abu Dhabi from across bay
Abu Dhabi from across bay

We stayed two nights at the St. Regis Hotel and swam in the waters Arabian/Persian Gulf and found a few seashells. The water was very warm, and the beach was scorching. I don’t run often, but I ran from the end of the walk path to the water! The soles of my feet were burning even with sandals on.


Aside from the beauty, the hotel offered a world-class breakfast and dinner buffet. We tried to eat a little bit of everything, but there were just too many dishes and so I prioritized by most appealing to my sense of sight and smell.

Here are some of the desserts – beautiful and tasty!


There is a wood called oud that is used to make a distinctive perfume. All of the shopping malls in Abu Dhabi have kiosk shops that sell this perfume. The prices range from a few hundred dirhams (or a lot less for small sample sizes) to many thousand dirhams for pieces of the wood itself.

The smell comes from a sap made by a certain type of tree’s response to a fungal infection. There are many perfumes and each have different smells but contain the same base of oud.

Perfumery must be an Arabic specialty. I sampled so many different perfumes from the various kiosks. When you’re sniffing the various perfumes, the shopkeeper will periodically give you a jar of coffee or charcoal to smell. This refreshes the olfactory nerves so you can continue to sniff more scents.

Rob bought me several different perfumes, some containing oud, but one is now my new favorite. It’s called Huboob Yas. This one doesn’t contain oud. I generally don’t wear perfume because it makes my sinuses hurt, but this one does not and I love it not only for that, but because the scent is heavenly.


All cities have lots of interesting buildings, but Abu Dhabi and Dubai seem to have some spectacular ones. Since I didn’t have my own camera, I didn’t get as many photos as I ordinarily would have, and all of these were taken from inside a moving car.

Going Home

Finally it was time to go home. The airport at Abu Dhabi isn’t very busy (as compared to Chicago or Dallas or Atlanta). My flight was scheduled to leave at 0340. We got to the airport by 0130 and turned in the rental car. Well, the car had a dent on it and there was some dispute about whether the dent was already there when we took the car, but since it wasn’t recorded on the pre-inspection, it didn’t matter.

So I got to the check-in counter at 0150. That was too late. The customs and immigration counter had already closed the window and I would not be allowed to board. This meant we had to buy another ticket, and those tickets are very expensive when bought at the time of need and only one-way passage.

$1400 lighter and booked for the next night’s flight, we went back to the villa and Rob got about an hour of sleep before he had to go to work. I spent the day working on organizing my photos and getting some sleep and starting this blog post. I didn’t bring my camera with me, so all of the photos are either taken with my phone or Rob’s camera.

We left much earlier for the airport this time and got there in plenty time. Before we left I tried to check-in online. It didn’t work. When I got to the counter I found out why. The flights were overbooked and there were no seats available.

There was a huge line of people in line behind us who were about to discover this same fate. How and why this happens I have no idea, but whatever causes it should be stopped immediately.

Finally after the clerk called all the different airports and we had been standing nearly an hour at her counter, she found a way to get me home. I’d have to go to Manchester, UK, then to Chicago (where it would be 6 hours wait), then to northwest Arkansas. Except instead of my later 0340 flight, I’d need to board the one getting ready to board now, at 0240. And I still had to go through passport/immigration.

Anyway, to make a long story short, more than 24 hours later I was pulling up into my own driveway and way past ready to jump into bed.

Overall, I enjoyed my visit to Abu Dhabi. I’d like to have stayed longer and spent more time with Rob. But as most of you who have property and livestock know, it’s hard to leave it for long. I’m lucky to have a son who was able to stay home and take care of things while I was gone.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – we didn’t get to do the tour but I’m sure it’s beautiful inside too.

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