Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be invited to Abu Dhabi just for dinner! But about a week after arriving home from Rio I received an email from Brian Cookson, President of the UCI asking me if I was free for dinner on the 18th of October! The invite was to the UCI Gala Awards Dinner to be held at the St. Regis Cornish in Abu Dhabi. I was going to be receiving a commemorative award, but it said nothing else about it. The email then went on to say that all expenses would be paid and I would be staying at the St. Regis. I was gobsmacked!
I head out to the living room and read the email to Russ my husband at which point he asked me if I was going to go? I didn’t even have to think twice…yes was the answer! I had never been to Abu Dhabi before so it was a chance to see a part of the world I never thought I would ever see. The problem was that the week of the 18th was probably the busiest week of my life with appointments, another dinner the weekend before, hosting 100 people for lunch and presenting scholarships to them and a speaking engagement at a fundraiser! It was time to get on the phone, cancel some things and change the dates of others!
As the week neared I found a dress to wear and received my e-ticket…I was flying Business Class with Etihad…another bonus!
It was the fastest trip of my life. I flew out at 3:55pm on the 17th arriving in Abu Dhabi at 11pm. Had dinner on the 18th and then was back at the airport on a plane at 10:40am the next morning, the 19th and home in Melbourne at 7am on the 20th! Flying Business class certainly helped!
The St. Regis is opulent beyond belief. I have never stayed in a hotel so amazing and the staff there were available 24 hours a day for anything that you wanted. The one interesting aspect of this hotel is that every room has a view of the ocean and every room has butler service. Needless to say I was there for too short a time to take advantage of the butler service!
But I had at least one day in Abu Dhabi so I had to see something of it. The concierge booked me on a tour and 10 minutes later I found myself on a bus with 5 other people. First stop was the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, this was one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. Extremely large it can hold 40,000 worshippers. There are 82 domes, over 1000 pillars, has the largest handmade carpet ever which covers over 60,000 square feet (5,627 sq m), 96 columns in the main prayer hall and has the third largest chandelier in the world which measures 10m in diameter and 15m in height.
From the mosque we went to an art gallery which really just wanted to sell us gold thread artwork! Then it was on to the fig trading area, absolutely amazing figs! Then to a Heritage Village to show us what life was like before oil! What a difference.
After my quick tour I headed to the private beach club to check out how the other half live. Wow!!! This is definitely how I could live.
It was then time for the UCI Gala Dinner and it was the who’s who of the cycling world, also with the introduction of the teams who were about to compete in the Abu Dhabi Tour the following weekend. I was sitting at the table with Peter Sagan (2 x World Champion and World Tour Winner) and his wife and Amber Neben (World TT Champion) and her husband, along with the Minister for Roads and Transport for Abu Dhabi. It was certainly an honour to be included with riders of their pedigree!
All too soon it was over and I was on my way home. In fact when I got home I questioned whether I had even gone it was so fast! But it was certainly an experience I will never forget and I am very appreciative of the UCI, Etihad and St. Regis for the experience.