The good thing about having someone from out of the country come to visit is that it gives you an excuse to search out things in the area to do. The bad thing is if you haven't been to a place before, you tend to do a bit of driving around trying to find things.
Over the weekend, I took my family and my mom to Al Ain, a nearby city. It's on the Omani border. I've been through it a few times on my way to Oman, but never really spent a lot of time there. I thought that we could spend a few days there and enjoy the sites. We were able to get a good deal on a nice hotel near the top of Jebel Hafeet. Our first day went really well. We went to the Al Ain Zoo, which was really nice and very reasonably priced. If you have a chance to go, I would strongly recommend it.
We left the zoo to check into our hotel, the Mercure Grand Jebel Hafeet Al Ain, which was pretty close to the top of the mountain. Because we wanted to take the kids swimming at the pool and let them go down some of the water slides, we didn't go to the top. The pool was nice, but because it was a little cool, the hotel didn't have the slides running. That was understandable because besides us, there were two other people hanging out by the pool. We were able to take the kids to the in hotel mini-golf course and enjoy a beautiful sunset as we finished up. After that we finished the evening with a nice meal. Overall, the hotel was great and I'd like to stay there a couple of nights another time when it's warmer, though I don't know if we'll get as great a deal.
The next day, we were off bright and early because we wanted to see the camel races that started at 7:30. We had a couple of different maps and vague directions from the hotel. I had tried looking for information on the Net, but couldn't find any concrete information like a map or locations. At the time I found it odd that the guide at the hotel seemed to be trying to steer us away from going but I've had that before so thought we'd just ignore him and keep looking anyway. As it turned out, we didn't see any camel races that day and were unable to find any camel race tracks. All of the times it looked like we were in the area, it turned out that it was some guy's palace. As much as I can figure, the guy has bought the land the track was on and walled the whole thing off. That took us a couple of hours to figure out.
After that, we headed to the camel market which was good for my mom seeing camels and getting charged a couple of dollars to take pictures of the camels (after the pictures were already taken). That was good because I got the chance to sit in the car and be annoyed.
After that, we decided to hop over the Omani border to the city of Baraimi. If you just go over the border, you're in kind of a no man's land and don't need to get a visa for Oman. This also means that there's nothing really interesting there. I thought it might be fun for my mom to see some traditional markets and look around there. What I wasn't counting on was that it was Friday morning and nothing is open on a Friday morning. After about a half an hour we decided we'd had enough and went back to the U.A.E. With a few days of this, they changed the rule that if you leave the U.A.E. after entering on a visitor visa, you have to wait 30 days to apply for re-entry into the U.A.E. My wife and kids and I would've been fine, but my mom would've been stuck in Oman for a month or would've had to change her travel plans to fly out of Oman back to the States.
After our jaunt into Oman, it was time for lunch so we went to a shopping mall and had a traditional Al Ain meal of McDonald's. After feeling invigorated from my Chicken Big Mac meal and Starbuck's cafe latte, I was ready to head to the deer park to give the kids a chance to run around. We drove around looking for it with our trusty map that the hotel had given us. After about an hour of looking for it, even seeing signs stating it was up ahead, we realized that where the deer park should have been, there were a whole bunch of new looking buildings.
By this point, I was pissed off from driving for hours and the kids were sleeping so I headed back to Abu Dhabi. The good news was that on the way back from Al Ain, I saw a sign for a camel racetrack about 45 kilometers outside Abu Dhabi. I made a note of the city name and was able to find information on it on the Web right away. While we won't be able to go during my mom's visit, hopefully we can go within the next week or two.