The Amazing Race? Yeah, I'd win that

I reckon I could win The Amazing Race. In fact, there can't be a traveller alive who hasn't watched the reality show and thought to themselves: "Man, I would rule at that."

I know I have. I even considered entering the Australian version until I realised I don't fit any of the Amazing Race stereotypes: the gullible novice, the offensive bogan, the loveable tradie, the really good-looking good-looking person. And they don't let members of the media in, so I was stuffed regardless.

But that hasn't rid me of the sneaking suspicion that I would rule on The Amazing Race.

So I thought I could do this. I thought I could arrive in Abu Dhabi at 6am, fly out at 2pm, and still fit in three of the city's most interesting attractions - the Grand Mosque, the Falcon Hospital and Ferrari World - in a space tighter than a TV commercial break.

(I could, alternatively, have just sat at the airport for eight hours, but where's the fun in that?)

It would be the world's fastest stopover - an Amazing Race of my very own, only this would be against the clock instead of against some gullible novices, offensive bogans, loveable tradies and really good-looking people.

It began well. My flight arrived in Abu Dhabi bang on 6am.

So far, winning.

I could have launched straight into the sightseeing except my first stop, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, didn't open until 9am, meaning the first couple of hours of my Amazing Race were spent sitting at Starbucks in the airport accessing the free wi-fi.

By 8am I decided to chance it and head to the mosque early, stepping into the already blazing desert sun in search of a taxi. Fortunately, the Grand Mosque is just up the road. Unfortunately, when they say it opens at 9am, they mean it opens at 9am. I spent the next 30 of my crucial race minutes in the mosque car park, perched on a "prayer chair" in front of an industrial-size fan next to a security guard called Mohammed.

The mosque was on my list because it truly is an incredible sight, a mass of gleaming white domes and minarets that rises from the desert floor. I was the first one in, meaning I could enjoy the supreme luxury of an airconditioned mosque almost alone.

(There were two robed Arabs in there as well, sitting cross-legged on the floor in what I first thought was a reflective pose - turns out they were both texting.)

Next stop, the Falcon Hospital, one of Abu Dhabi's less conventional attractions, a veterinary clinic dedicated to the care of the region's hunting birds.

I grabbed the first taxi I could find and gave my instructions.

"The Falcon Hospital please."

I got a blank look from the driver, Faisal. I tried again.

"Falcon Hospital? Where they, um, fix birds?"

Faisal frowned. "You want a fixed price?"

"No, no. Falcon Hospital. Do you know it?" Faisal nodded. "Yes, OK."

"Really?"

"Yes."

So off we went on what I thought would be a fairly quick jaunt - except it wasn't. Half an hour later we were all the way into Abu Dhabi city, cruising its wide streets. Knowing the Falcon Hospital was in the middle of nowhere, I was getting suspicious.

"Um ... Falcon Hospital, yes?"

Faisal nodded. "Yes, Franco Hospital.""The what?"

"Franco Hospital."

Uh oh. Turns out Abu Dhabi has two institutions that sound remarkably similar. One, the Falcon Hospital, is a veterinary clinic and bona fide tourist attraction. The other, the Franco Hospital, is a proper hospital and that's it.

Suddenly I was running late. Very late. Faisal called on the help of a higher power - his mate on the phone - and got us directions to the Falcon Hospital, which was a good 45 minutes in the other direction. I still had aspirations of making it to Ferrari World until I met Dr Margit, who is probably the world's most enthusiastic falcon doctor. "The tour here normally takes two hours," Dr Margit said, thrusting a leather glove on my arm and absently handing me a two-kilogram peregrine falcon.

"But I can probably get you through in an hour and a half."

If you're in Abu Dhabi, go to the Falcon Hospital. Definitely. It's amazing, a great insight into the culture of falconry and a chance to get some face time with a big, scary bird of prey.

It's also, however, a little time-consuming when you're still hoping to get to Ferrari World. Which, with 45 minutes left to get a cab there, line up for the world's fastest roller-coaster and get back to the airport, clearly wasn't going to happen. So it was straight back to the airport for me, with my good friend Faisal at the wheel.

We had to admit defeat, the two of us, due to no more than bad luck and the language barrier. I'd lost my own Amazing Race.

But I would still rule on the real one.

bengroundwater@gmail.com

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