Wednesday, January 24, 2001
On our final day in Dubai we visited Sharjah a few of miles north of Dubai. Like Dubai, Sharjah is the name of both a city and of an emirate. More conservative than Dubai, it is the emirate that does the most to preserve the heritage of the region. Our focus was on two souks in the city, Souk Al Markazi and Souk Al Mujarra.
Souk Al Markazi is a beautiful building consisting of two very long halls connected by two bridges, The roof is curved and crowned with huge wind towers. The building was not designed with air conditioning in mind. Much of the exterior and the roof is decorated with ceramic tiles in hues of blue. On the first floor are an assortment of fairly ordinary shops that you might find in any other general souk.
The second floor was the treasure. It is actually a balcony that lines each side of each hall. It is filled almost exclusively with at least a hundred rug and antique shops. As you explore the narrow spaces, rug merchants entreat you to enter their shops and look over their merchandise. There are both old and new merchandise and much of it is very high quality. If you like expensive silk rugs, this is the place to go. One of the rug merchants was especially inventive and had fairly good English skills. He asked us to please come in and talk as he had nothing else to do. When we hesitated he said that we must at least look at his flying carpet. We relented and he showed us a faked photo of fighter pilots taking off from an aircraft carrier on a rug. We all laughed at his joke and had a good time laughing and talking while looking at the merchandise as he unrolled one beautiful rug after another.
After extracting ourselves from the flying rug shop and exploring the rest of that souk we drove a couple of miles to Souk Al Mujarra. The newest of the souks in Sharjah, it is a beautiful building. However, it is filled with more conventional shops with clothes, etc, much like a ordinary mall. We didn’t stay long.
That afternoon we went to Safa Park for a walk and to see the Chinese lantern festival displays. The lantern display was erected for a term of several weeks and is huge. There were elaborate scenes depicting all kinds of stories and themes. It would have been nice to see it at night with the lights, but we just didn’t have time. As it was, it was extremely colorful. As we walked we wondered at the size of the park and that none of the extensive lawns or trees or shrubs or ponds could exist without a sophisticated irrigation system.
In fact, Dubai is a very, very green city with flower beds dividing most highways, fountains at many interchanges and manicured lawns everywhere. Drip irrigation tubing is everywhere and when you drive around in the evening or early morning there are sprinklers everywhere. Most of the fresh water comes from seawater desalination plants. It is a real wonder that it is possible to desalinate that much water!
Now it was finals time. Our final shopping stop was at a date shop. Yes, a shop that sells nothing but dates! They are delicious and we bought half a kilo of individually wrapped ones to bring back home. Then it was time for our final dinner in Dubai at our favorite place, the Automatic Restaurant & Grills. On the way back to the apartment we made one last stop at the Emirates Towers, set piece of all the Dubai high-rise buildings. Consisting of two towers, one is a five star hotel while the other is offices. There is also a mall in the hotel side. There is nothing we could afford in the whole mall. Wow!
Then it was back to the apartment to finish packing.
Dubai to Home
Thursday, January 25, 2001
We awoke before three so Nat could deliver us to the airport by four. We said our farewells and wished each other and the baby-on-the-way well. Then it was off to the airport. Check in went smoothly and Bill read while Sandy explored the duty free shopping, said to be the finest in the world. Laden with candy and nuts from the shops, we boarded the plane and took off for Frankfurt and, then, home.
We had cloud cover for most of our flight time. However, we had a good view of the mountains and high plains of what we believe was Saudi Arabia. Talk about desolate! It is dark brown and without any apparent vegetation from the air. Some of the mountains appeared to have a light covering of snow and we could see cultivation patterns in the ground but it is hard to believe that you could actually grow anything there. It must be a hardscrabble life!