Close but no Sharjah!!!!

One of the many mosques
With my desire to see every emirate in the UAE rolling along at full steam, I decided to tick off the Sharjah emirate. Sharjah is not the largest of Emirates with it only covering 2600 square kilometers but I had heard many great things about it. The general consensus was that it was a big city with a small town feel. I decided to test this theory for myself and therefore headed off to see what Sharjah had to offer.

First things first it needs to be known that the Sharjah is one of the more conservative emirates and is not as liberal as say Dubai or Abu Dhabi, therefore appropriate clothing must be worn.  I only mention this to avoid being plagued by the local (some would argue that its the national sport) past-time of being a stareannosaurus. Some may like the extra attention and use it to boost ones ego but after the hundredth time one cant help getting the feeling of being visually violated. It is definitely a heads up worth noting, especially for women.

With the advent of oil money, basically the majority of the UAE knocked down their old places and lined every creek, beach front and major road with sky scrapers. If your an architectural nut then this is great, but for lovers of history and culture this is very disapointing. However Sharjah realised early on the importance of its history and decided to restore whatever was left. Therefore Sharjah can boast more historical buildings than any other emirate.

With my history of the middle east being rather scarce and my desire to see what the UAE was like before "the boom" I decided to head to the Heritage village with my trusty co-pilot. Little did I know that Sharjah would later be named the "city of almosts" by my experiences of the day. The first almost I experienced was to almost not get lost. Signage in the city is limiting and the lonely planet map may as well be thrown out the window. The guide books failure to label smaller streets made finding our way in this city likened to climbing Mount Everest blind....with a guide dog......listening to Celine Dion, so basically its was a suicide mission. After many wrong turns, and revolutions of the map page, we found the heritage village. Lesson for the day, get a good map!

First impressions of it were great and I genuinely got excited to go in and see the true UAE back during its simpler days. Large canons greet you outside the Al Hisn Fort Museum and the beauty of its simple design is made even more apparent when compared to the modern lifeless buildings surrounding it.

Al Hisn fort entrance

The fort was partially destroyed for development back in 1969 but the Sheikh at the time (H.H. Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mhammed Al Qasimi) halted its destruction and demanded it be rebuilt to its original specifications. It now serves as a museum and information point. As a side point of interest, the holes present in the wall were used as windows but also points at which hot boiling oil and honey were poured onto attacking forces.

A quick left turn from the entrance will lead you directly to the Heritage Village. This village is devoted to local markets, including souqs, meeting places and small museums. It was also instrumental in earning it the UNESCO title of cultural capital city of the Arab world in 1998. This is where the second "almost" was experienced for the trip. Being a friday and in Ramadan, meant that the opening times were completely different from every other day of the week. Upon my arrival at 11am  I soon read the signage indicating that the operating times for friday was infact 4:30pm onwards. Breath...calm down...relax.


Heritage Village.
Entrance protection

With extra time now available I decided to wander around and ultimately head down to the Buhaira Corniche for a well earned coffee and bite to eat. The best thing about the middle east is the amount of interesting locations one can shoot photographically down alley ways, side streets and even in the city centers. The locals are great portrait subjects, the streets a gold mine for street style photography, the buildings great for patterns and architectural photography and abstract material everywhere one turns their head. If you want to find a great stereotypical middle east photo then just wander around long enough and you will get it.


Local

Keep your eyes open and you will be rewarded

Standard Sharjah street scene
To those who are uninitiated, "corniche" generally refers to a stretch of coast/lake edge and there are many corniches in the UAE. The Buhaira corniche in Sharjah, I must admit, is one of the nicer ones Ive been on. There was for the most part, little or no construction going on and the view across the lake was pleasant and uncluttered.

Buhaira Corniche

Locals enjoying the afternoon weather
old with new and it works

With my stomach full of food and coffee and the day closing fast, I headed back to the Heritage Village to get my cultural fix. My arrival was in vain as it was well past the opening time and the village was as I had left it 6 hours earlier. So I "almost" got to enjoy the heritage village. Good reason to come back, I told myself.

Sharjah has many great galleries and museums covering history, islamic history, art and the like but with the day slipping quickly by, I decided to head to the Sharjah Aquarium which had opened up just recently. The drive down there took me past the grande souq  which I added to my next time to do list and if the inside looks anything like the outside, then it will be spectacular. 

Looking forward to seeing it on my return visit

The Sharjah Aquarium is located on the coast just outside of the city center and being a wildlife fan, I waited with baited breathe to get in there and enjoy the underworld fantasy world that awaited me. With the sunset looking so wonderful upon our arrival, the opportunity for some great photos was seized. Once again a little walk around and a chat to the locals yielded many memorable opportunities photographically. 

Local keeping an eye on me

View back towards the city

Local net repairer. Very friendly and welcoming

Great sunset
To cut a long story short I entered the aquarium with joy and happiness and an anticipation that borders on the level of Christmas morning for young children. I left with a frown and disappointment coursing through my veins. It was, by far, the worst exhibition of any sort that I have ever been to. Empty tanks, no educational information whatsoever, unhealthy looking fish and an apparent lack of any sort of curation was what I experienced. I have no fear in not recommending this 'aquatic experience' to anybody. Do not go there and save your Dirhams. I am by no means an aquarium snob with my experiences limited to Melbourne, Monaco and Genoa aquariums but this one was awful. Dont go! That is all I'm going to say. This makes the third "almost" for the day, as in the aquarium was almost good enough not to demand a refund.

A nice scene to finish the day

With the aquarium experience already desperately trying to erase itself from my mind we headed for dinner at a local 4 star hotel and eventually got fed our pizza over an hour later. Upon the 4th and final 'almost' (we almost got a decent dinner in a reasonable time for a reasonable price) I decided to call it a day and head home utterly drained.

As much as my experience of Sharjah was somewhat tainted by negative experiences, overall I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of the city. For a small place it has a lot to offer and I look forward to heading back and getting my museum and art fix without the hustle and bustle associated with the UAE's other huge cities. Its always good to give a place a second chance and I will extend this courtesy to Sharjah. I would say two days here would be adequate but the relaxed nature could easily convince you to give it a few more days before heading back to the rat race. I dub Sharjah the 'city of almosts' but believe in the future it will earn a name change. Safe travels and happy adventuring.