The Ikea adventure... we laughed, we cried...

We, like many expats, had to make the decision as to whether we would:
A: Ship all our furniture over.
B: Use the money allocated to us for relocation to simply buy all the stuff we needed here, and fill our home with exotic things from the middle east.

We chose option b.

And went to Ikea.

The Ikea in Abu Dhabi is located at the Marina Mall, and has a reasonable range of your usual Ikea stuff. We had finally got hold of the keys to our place (see the On housing entry) and measured up.

So, armed with our measurements and a bit of an idea gleaned from previous visits to the great blue and yellow shop, we walked confidently into the store.

We dutifully listed the things down that we wanted. Selected the style of the bed.. tested the mattresses, within the boundaries of decency of course, and strode happily up to one of the staff to organise delivery and payment.

Our helper smiled and said that all of the things that we had selected for delivery (there were some small stuff we figured we could stuff into the car) were available, and that delivery would take place in about 2 weeks.
We were briefly dumbstruck. I had to leave in less than a week. We had no furniture. Not even a bed.

This wasn't going to work out at all.

I asked, with a slight tremble in my voice, whether there was any possibility that it could be delivered any sooner as I was leaving soon, my wife would be on her own... etc.

With an unfailing smile the helper simply said "No, it will take 2 weeks"

Then it occurred to me, something that would be "off script" for the staff, something that caused immediate concern for our helper.

"I'll hire a van then, and come back tomorrow morning" I said triumphantly.
"No no, Sir... it will take 2 weeks" she replied, looking a little uncomfortable.
"No it won't" I said, knowing that we had already made a contact with a reputable car hire place, whom I knew had a van for rent.
"I can get one today, and be here tomorrow morning - you already said all the things are in sto... hang on...the stuff isn't actually in stock here is it?"

2 Epiphanies in less than 2 minutes - I was on a roll.

"Yes sir.. I mean .. no.. I mean..."
"The stuff we want is at the Dubai store, isn't it?"
She was defeated.
"Yes sir, but you would have to drive a van to Dubai" she stated with a look that suggested that I was, actually, NUTS.

The same look I would later get from the guy who was handing me the key to the van at Eurostar car rentals. (see related post on renting a car) It was as if no-one had ever thought up this crazy scheme before.

Who would have thought you could hire a van, no bigger and no harder to drive than most 4wds that are punted around all over the place, and actually DRIVE a it to a shop and put things in it, then drive it home and take the things out again.

Without help.

Not many it would seem.

The road trip.

Don't ask me how we found our way to Dubai Ikea. I still don't know. You could give me a pencil, a piece of paper and 1000dhs as payment for me to sketch a rough guide, and I'd simply stare blankly at you until you gave up and left with your money. (I will, however, include a map of sorts at the end of this post).

I do remember travelling along at 120kph in the mighty Toyota Hiace van, radio and airconditioning on, my best girl in the passenger seat, and being passed by a Bentley that was moving so fast it was creating little swirling tornadoes of sand in it's wake.

I jokingly decided to catch up, but after a minute the speed warning buzzer was annoying us too much - so I dropped back to 120. If it wasn't for the buzzer, and Karma punching me in the arm I think I could have taken him. Karma thinks otherwise.

All was fine until an hour and a bit after leaving Abu Dhabi, we hit the spaghetti like road system that is Dubai. I know that Abu Dhabi can be confusing (see later post on Navigation) because of the naming system, but Dubai has a confusing naming system AND a road network that defies any kind of logic.

It makes those old cartoons about 4 leaf clover style express ways (the one that either Porky Pig or Daffy Duck would inevitably get lost trying to get off of) look like a documentary rather than light hearted entertainment.

A wrong turn can mean adding 25 minutes to your trip - and that's just getting back to the spot you made the error from.

So with all this stacked against us, and with some 'tension' in the van's 3 seated cabin, we ploughed ahead - at times just guessing that we were headed in the right direction.

After a very short time - even for Dubai - we miraculously we saw the Ikea sign just off to the right of the road we were on.

Angels sang. The clouds parted.

All became clear for a moment - then we were lost again.

We could SEE the object of our desire, but had no idea how to get to it. There were roads to the left , right and directly above us. Turn offs that looked okay, then after a few seconds turned back the way you had come. Turn offs that took you simply into another lane of the road. Turn offs that started out leading toward the coast, but actually put you on a road to the desert. All the while the Ikea sign stood grinning at us in both English and Arabic.

This is why I can't tell you, dear reader, how we got there. It was pure chance that we made it to the car park, even luckier that my wife was still talking to me.

None the less, we made it.

In pretty short order we found another helpful Ikea member who took our list of stuff and processed it, gave us an invoice to be paid at the checkout and asked where we would like the stuff delivered to.

"No need for delivery - we'll take it with us" I replied cheerily.
"How Sir? There are alot of things..." He looked puzzled.
"I hired a van"
"Where do you live sir?"
"Abu Dhabi.. I will be leaving soon, so we needed to..." I was cut off
"You drove a VAN from Abu Dhabi?"
"A Van, a VAN van?" The now familiar 'you're CRAZY' look had appeared on his face.
"Yes, we needed the stuff, you guys couldn't deliver the stuff... so I hired a van to come and get the stuff myself!"
"But Sir... it's a VAN?!"
I knew this wasn't going to go anywhere except maybe an Ikea tearoom conversation later in the day.
"Yes, a van... how long do you think it will take to have it all ready to put in my VAN"
"Well" he said "You can pick up most of the things yourself, but these things" he pointed out a couple of really bulky items "...these things you will have to get from the Bulk goods desk.. past the cashiers to your left"
He handed us the invoice, and we were on our way.

We acquired the various bits and pieces and pushed our 3 trolleys out to the cashier, paid the bill, and went to the bulk goods waiting area. AGAIN we went through the disbelief and the ensuing conversation with the guy there regarding the whole VAN thing, then sat down to wait for the rest of our gear.

I was pretty confident that our plan would succeed, and that soon we would be scooting down the highway with a van full of joy and merriment. Pretty confident, until Karma saw our extra stuff being wheeled toward us and quietly uttered the fateful words: "Are you sure that we are going to get all this stuff in the van?"

The next surprise was that there was no loading bay as such, and that in order to get our stuff in the much talked about van we had to cobble together a caravan of our five overstuffed trolleys by enlisting 4 guys who were there to help during such a predicament it seems.

We then had to push these things along the mezzanine level of the shopping center - into a lift, then further though the centre and out into the carpark. It was at this point that I realised that I couldn't have parked the van any farther away had I tried.

When I say these trolleys were full I mean it. An entire bed - including queen sized mattress - our lounge-sofa-bed-thing, extra benches for our little kitchen, a wardrobe set, and matching dresser, pretty much an entire house-load of stuff. Stacked 6 feet high. On 5 trolleys. PLUS a basket trolley of smaller stuff (being wheeled by Karma).

The closer we got to the van, the more stuff there seemed to be... and the smaller the van looked.
On arrival at the mighty soon to be stuffed full, Toyota our helpers assured us that this is their job, and that we need have no concern, they will sort it out. I offered to help but it was politely refused so I opened the doors and stepped back with Mrs AD-ist.

What ensued was something I had never seen before.

Now, let me say here that I am by no means putting myself up as an expert in van packing. I mean I have helped friends move, I've moved the odd fridge, and I do like the look of 1970's VW Kombi vans, but that's about where my experience stops.

Box trailers on the other hand..

I liked their theory - well I would have liked it a whole lot more if it wasn't my stuff being thrown into the back of the van. These guys had supreme faith in the packaging that was surrounding our new furniture.. a faith that I didn't share, but still, we went with it...

... right up to the point that they tried to put the mattress (the last thing to go on - I had suggested that it should go in first.. but I was not an "expert" it would seem) in through the side door, while trying to bend it completely in half. In fact, I think if left to their own devices AND to prove that they could get all the items in the van, they would have been happy to run the mattress through a shredder and then tuck the pulp wherever it would fit. End usability was NOT a priority.

When it became apparent that they weren't going to succeed it their quest to fit the mattress in to the now groaning rental van, OR their sub-quest of rending a brand new mattress completely useless, I decided (with a firm push in the back from my long suffering bride) that I would step into the fray, using the only arabic word I could, at that point, employ with any certainty.

"Laa, laa laa laa laa LAA"
No I wasn't sticking my fingers in my ears and having a tantrum.. "laa" is arabic for "No", but my protesting seemed to work.
"Sir, we do this all the time" the spokesperson of the working group reassured me, although not as confidently as he had before.
"We need to start again, the mattress needs to go in first, then we need to work around it."
I moved the van to a slightly more accessible place, a procedure that meant that all of the cargo doors of the Toyota were left open to allow one of the "team" to make sure that anything hanging out of it wasn't going to hit anything. Like a carpark pylon... or the car that had seen that there was a possibility that we were going to move in the near future and had been waiting throughout the entire first attempt at loading.

Then everything was taken out and the process was started again.

I'd like to say that I had all the answers, and that because of my superior knowledge of packing Ikea stuff in rental vans it all went smoothly after I had taken charge.

It didn't.

There was a point, thankfully brief though it was, that I actually though that we weren't going to get it all in. The "team" had decided that if I were to take over the loading procedure.. then they were only going to offer assistance in the form of labour, and their "font" of knowledge, such as it was, was now no longer available. We had a large bedhead box to go, I wasn't hopeful.
"I don't think this will work, Sir"

It did, but with no small amount of force I hasten to add, the bedhead went in and we all cheered.
Even more miraculous was that all the doors closed.

The "Team" had all departed, and we leaped in to the now groaning HiAce and found our way back to Abu Dhabi, where, 2 hours later we unloaded everything into the common area of our little apartment building.
In the rain. POURING rain.
In light of all that could have gone wrong - over-zealous packers, 2 hours of transport shifting the boxes around in the back, pouring rain, everything ended up fine, not a scratch.
Of course - we always new it would (?!?)

Epilogue: I wrote this nearly 2 and a half years ago, so the information, while entertaining, is a little redundant... between then and now (22nd of August 2011) the Marina Mall store has been closed and the biggest Ikea in the Middle east has been opened on Yas Island. You can't miss it in all it's blue monolithic hugeness. Jut follow the signs for Yas Island, then the signs for Ikea. Easy. SO in the spirit of things I've removed the old map to the Dubai store to alleviate any "your map is wrong" comments...

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I LOVE YOUR BLOG! I've been reading post after post after post.....I'll be flying out to RAK in a week and have been researching as much as is possible.....

    Excellent writing, sense of humour, attention to detail but not too much, cross-cultural observations with fairness and more humour...BRAVO!!!


Andrew Webber is a writer, living in Abu Dhabi with his wife, two cats and two dogs.

His first book "Erasure" was published in June 2012 and was followed in 2013 by the Prequel to Erasure, "Broken".

In 2016 Erasure was a prize winner in the Montegrappa Writing Prize - part of the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature.

For more information click the "Erasure" book cover on the left side of this site, or simply go to

Thanks for visiting.