Al Ain traditionally is called the Garden City because of its greenery. Well… green compared to the other parts of the UAE which has very little. Locals hold Al Ain in high regards because it was the birthplace of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, their first president. It is also the city with the highest Emirati population (~30% compared to ~17% for all of the UAE). However, there are three main things that people from Dubai or Abu Dhabi comment on when I say I am from Al Ain.
1. They remark about how the weather is beautiful in Al Ain. Although it gets hotter here than in other parts of the country, there is basically no humidity, so it is more bearable.
2. They ask why I would want to live in Al Ain since it is a village. Now I would not consider Al Ain a village in the typical sense of the word, but it is quiet compared to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
3. They comment on the number of roundabouts. And it is this that I think Al Ain should actually be known for. The City of Roundabouts. Unless you are going right into downtown, there are no streetlights. Traffic is controlled with the roundabouts.
Because there are no addresses in Al Ain, roundabouts are the landmarks we use to give directions. A well-known roundabout is how every set of directions begins. Streets are designed in a way which prohibits you from merely just turning around to go the other direction, or cutting across to get to the other side. Because of the medians, you have to do a roundabout u-turn to get to the other side of the street. Most of the roundabouts have four exit points. This means that you take the first exit to go right, exit two to go straight, exit three to turn left, and exit four to do a roundabout u-turn. You might be thinking, duh – of course that is how a roundabout works. Well I come from a place that is basically roundabout free. The only roundabouts I can think of in Portland/Vancouver are in the Laurelhurst area or maybe even Seaside.
Before I got my license, I was scared of the roundabouts. Of course the basic understanding is that if you are in the outside lane, you should take the first exit. The middle lane is to go straight, and the inside lane is for the third exit or for doing a u-turn. But well, frankly, this is the UAE, and people are not known for following safe driving standards. People rarely use signals, so I just couldn’t figure out how you would know if the person on the inside lane would exit or continue around the roundabout. After I got my license and drove through my first roundabout, I realized it wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be. You start to get a sense of who is going to exit or not exit and who is going to stop before entering the roundabout and who isn’t.
I have been on kind of an obsessive kick about roundabouts lately. I find them intriguing. I have been trying to learn their names; some of them have official names, some have unofficial names, some have no names, and now some have names that I have coined (well, at least I use these names… maybe they will catch on eventually). This morning I went out for a little drive and tried to take pictures of the roundabouts I frequently use.
This is the Rugby Club roundabout. Although good chance is that if a person is a member of the equestrian, shooting, or golf club, they probably call the roundabout by that name instead since it is the main entrance to all four places. However, since I am a member at the rugby club, that is what I call it.
This one is officially named Al Jamia’ Roundabout (or the University Roundabout in English). It is on the street behind the university, so I guess in theory the name makes sense. BUT, I would rather if the roundabout that is in front of the university was named the university roundabout. As you can see, it is a rather nondescript roundabout.
And as far as I know (and I have asked many people), it doesn’t have an official or unofficial name. It gets referred to as the roundabout before the Tawam Roundabout or the roundabout after the Diwan Roundabout. Unofficially I have been calling it the Construction Roundabout since January, but once the construction ends, it will need a new name especially since it is such an important roundabout (well at least to me since I can’t go anywhere without driving through it). However, I am at a loss for coming up with a good one since it is so plain. Kassandra is pushing for its name to be the Dog House Roundabout because of the tiny little tool shed(?) that was recently put there, but I haven’t declared that name official yet. I am debating on spray painting all the palm trees hot pink and then calling it the Hot Pink Palm Tree Roundabout, but I haven’t let my obsession get that out of control yet.
This one is officially called the Al Ain Hospital Roundabout because it is the closest one to the hospital. However, it was coined the Pagoda Roundabout by Christine, and I have declared that its new name.
This one is officially named Al Jahili Roundabout because it is near Al Jahili park and fort. Locally you will hear it called the Rotana Roundabout because (you guessed it) it is near the Rotana. I asked someone once why they call roundabouts by place names like the Rotana. What happens if the Rotana closes down and a new hotel opened? What would they call the roundabout? He told me they would probably call it the Old Rotana Roundabout. I call it the Water Fountain Roundabout.
The official name for this is the Deer Roundabout (notice the little animals on the top), but some people call it the Goat or Antelope Roundabout maybe because you can’t really see what kind of animal it is on the top especially when you are driving around it. I call it the Tall Roundabout because it is the tallest roundabout around.
Even though I just consulted Google maps and it calls this one Sheik Zayed Roundabout, I have never heard anyone refer to it as that. I don’t think it has a real name. Kassandra and I call it the Mayan Sacrifice Roundabout.
Up until last week, I have been calling this one the Spaceship Roundabout even though its official name is Al Diwan Roundabout. Now that I understand that the spaceship-like building is a city hall and that diwan means that in Arabic (at least that is the closest translation I came up with), I am inclined to let the official name stay but will still have to say, “you know the roundabout with the spaceship building” if someone doesn’t know it is called the Diwan Roundabout. Speed limits (apparently) switch to 60 at this point, and you start to see streetlights.
This was my fun for Friday morning. Once traffic started to get heavier, it became too challenging and dangerous to stop and take roundabout pictures. But don’t worry, there will be a part 2. After all, you still haven’t even seen the Colored Ball Roundabout, the Wish Flower Roundabout, the Mountain Roundabout, or the Clock Tower Roundabout (that isn’t even a roundabout anymore). I bet you can’t wait!