Summer in the city: Six lessons I've learnt during my first hot season in Abu Dhabi

From England to Abu Dhabi, two very different summers

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, July 30, 2019.  Downtown Abu Dhabi on a blistering 50 degrees Celsius day.  The Corniche.
Victor Besa/The National
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For the past eight months, I've been bracing myself. I stocked my cupboards, queued my Netflix playlist and replenished my bookshelf, ready to deal with my first Abu Dhabi summer.

As the calendar rapidly approached the season’s arrival, I couldn’t get the face out of my head. It’s the face I have been seeing ever since arriving in the UAE; the face I have been picturing every time I hold my breath and head outside.

"Have you experienced a UAE summer yet?" people would ask. "No, not yet," I'd tell them. Then, the face. This same pained expression has been worn by many people I spoke with. A combination of exhaustion, warning and just a hint of fear. Usually to be followed up with something amounting to "just be prepared".

Having spent all of my formative years living in the UK, I wasn’t sure I would ever truly be prepared for the unrelenting heat I was about to endure. At home, if it hit 30°C, that was enough to spark a weather warning from the Met Office, mass hysteria and a serious conversation about whether it was hot enough for us all to be sent home from work. The thought of 45°C+? My English brain didn’t know how to begin to comprehend.

But here we are, almost halfway through August – right in the midst of this long-dreaded Abu Dhabi summer and I'm not sure what I was so worried about. Yes, it's hot, but the extra numbers on the thermostat are yet to cause me too much stress – in fact, it's been quite the opposite.

With the heat comes a slowed pace of life. The chance to sit back, wind down and see another side to the UAE’s capital. Here are a few takeaways from my first summer in the city:

1. It’s not too hot for the pool

Everyone said it would be. They told me I would be cooped up inside for three months, hiding from the sunlight like a vampire. And yet, I’ve managed to visit the pool at my apartment almost every weekend, even with my pasty English skin. As long as I’ve got plenty of sun cream, and spend regular intervals in the pool, it’s perfectly manageable. Plus, it’s much easier to get a prime sun lounger at this time of year.

2. Socialising gets more creative

The capital, just like the rest of the country, inevitably quietens over the summer months as many head for cooler climates. But it just makes those of us who stay even more determined to be sociable. In my experience, there have been more dinner parties, more trips to restaurants I had been meaning to try, and more of a drive to carve out new things to do, which has been anything but boring.

3. Taking some time to do nothing has its benefits

The time I have been spending inside hasn't been all wasted. It turns out I've inadvertently been practising niksen – the Dutch lifestyle trend that all the cool kids are trying, and it effectively involves sitting and staring into space. It's said to revive the mind, spark creativity and prevent burnout. People in Europe visit specialists to achieve this state of mind, and we can get it for free. Now is the perfect time to get practising.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, July 30, 2019.  Downtown Abu Dhabi on a blistering 50 degrees Celsius day.  The Corniche.
Victor Besa/The National
Section:  standalone.
Summer in Abu Dhabi shows the capital in a whole new light. Victor Besa / The National 

4. I’m finally sticking to an exercise routine

In the UK, they say summer bodies are built in winter, and in Abu Dhabi, I’m finding it to be the reverse. I’ve made numerous attempts to find a regular workout pattern since arriving, but during the busier months, it’s always fallen by the wayside. But in the past few weeks, I’ve tried four new gyms in Abu Dhabi, signed myself up to a half marathon and finally found my motivation. There’s certainly something to be said for having more time on your hands.

5. I love where I live

Spending more time indoors has made me appreciate how lucky I am to live in such a lovely apartment. Over the past few months, I have been slowly nesting, decorating and pruning to get my place to the relaxing and comforting space it now is. If you are going to spend more time inside, it might as well be in a place you love.

6. The UAE is truly built for all seasons

For the first half of the year, I ­barely spent any time indoors. At any ­opportunity, I was outside in the sunshine, whether it was relaxing at the beach, kayaking in the mangroves or taking trips to the desert. But now, I realise just how many indoor attractions there are to explore. From my first trip to Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi to finally making it up to Ski Dubai, the summer gives us outdoorsy types permission to turn our attention inwards.

In a world that moves at 100 miles an hour, we all need to slow down every now and then. And here, for the first time, I can do so without feeling guilty – it’s what we are meant to do. So the next time someone asks me if I have experienced a UAE summer, I’ll be able to say yes. And I already know that my face will reflect a much more positive experience.