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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 1 March 2021

Why my Abu Dhabi walks are so healing during the pandemic

Each of the emirate's various walking routes offer different insights

A winter stroll as the sun rises in Abu Dhabi's Corniche. Victor Besa / The National
A winter stroll as the sun rises in Abu Dhabi's Corniche. Victor Besa / The National

So what will it be this weekend? Something current or a more vintage option?

No, I am not talking about what food to order or music to listen too. I am actually contemplating which solo walks to go on.

The fact I can’t immediately make a decision demonstrates how Abu Dhabi has evolved over the decades. For many permanent and seasoned residents of the capital, the initial choice was as clear as it was limited: the Corniche.

It’s not so hard to see why. The beautifully lit promenade is both a scenic and sentimental favourite.

Not only is the best place to experience a refreshing coastal breeze from the Arabian Gulf, but the well-maintained eight kilometre path goes through dozens of parks and resting spots.

This is where I go when I am looking for nostalgia and to appreciate what the city represents.

The soulfulness of the Corniche

Despite its many glimmering edifices, Abu Dhabi is defined more by its vibe than landmarks. It is an atmosphere of family, community and tradition.

I go to the Corniche on evenings to remember that, despite the lack of festivals, concerts and major gatherings, the pandemic has not robbed the city of its soul.

Instead, I see it in the smiles of siblings playing with each other, with parents looking on from a bench, sipping homemade tea poured from flasks.

Early risers feed the seagulls at Abu Dhabi Corniche. Victor Besa / The National 
Early-risers feed the seagulls at the Corniche. Victor Besa / The National

I also see it in the small groups of masked men and women walking together, having the kind of spirited conversation that only comes after decades of friendship.

Like many who can’t travel overseas to see our loved ones, I stroll along the Corniche to relieve those wonderful moments when my family last visited me.

The jogging paths remind me of the bicycle rides I shared with my younger sisters, while the quiet stretch of greenery near the intersection of the West Corniche Road and Mubarak bin Mohammed Street is the spot we would lay our spread of sandwiches, salads and drinks for some amazing nocturnal picnics.

The long and winding canals and paths of Reem Island

To appreciate the present, I only have to step outside my apartment on Reem Island.

Where once it was a sea of unabashed construction sites, the potential of the location has been bearing fruit over the last two years with picturesque additions such as the recently opened Al Fay Park and designated walking paths.

Al Fay Park on Al Reem Island is full of well planned footpaths. Courtesy: Abu Dhabi Media office
Al Fay Park on Al Reem Island is full of well-planned footpaths. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Media office

Crisscrossed by a series of canal promenades, this is where I go in the early mornings for a purposeful stride across a particular section of the island. For a more prosaic experience, I purposefully get myself lost on one of the paths and enjoy the normally-two-hour adventure to find my way home.

Back to the future at Umm Al Emarat Park

And for a bit of a “then” and “now,” experience, I venture to Umm Al Emarat Park.

Walking through the manicured gardens and uber-cool food trucks continues to astound me. I can still remember the place from its days as the former-Mushrif Park.

Before its multi-million dirham renovation, the site was charmingly ageing with rusted swings, monkey bars and assorted rides such as a mid-sized Ferris wheel and bumper cars. There were also little stalls selling Dh1 Sun Top fruit juices and a limited selection of crisps and chocolate.

Now I can sit on gleaming bench and sip on a Spanish Latte while digging into a Spinach salad with avocado, oranges and pistachios.

I feel gratitude on these sojourns, both for what I have but to also witness how the city of my birth grew along with me.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, October 26, 2020. The "new norm" of Covid-19 precautionary measures at Umm Al Emarat Park, Abu Dhabi, on a Monday afternoon. Victor Besa/The National Section: NA Reporter:
Umm Al Emarat Park a family favourite location in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National

I know how fortunate I am to live in a country where I am allowed to experience these moments of calm and reflection every day, while a raging pandemic denies many parts of the world that same privilege.

It also reaffirms the timeless principle that the simplest things are often the most meaningful.

So if you are tired, anxious and restless, or just need to remember things will get better, get outside and go for a walk.

Not only is it free, but the insights gained can often be priceless.

Updated: January 29, 2021 03:58 PM

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