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Hi! I'm Elena! Welcome to my travel blog Creativelena.com.
For me, it is all about “life-seeing instead of sightseeing”: Join me as I create, eat & live my way around the world. Curious?

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Going Local in Sharjah: (Fashion) Feast & Family Time in the United Arab Emirates


Creative Travel, Gourmet Travel, Travel With Locals, City Travel, Middle East, Sharjah, Travel Blog 0

Table of Contents

Diving into the Arab world … “Don’t you have a culture shock? Incredible how on this #CreativElenaRTW trip of yours, you are jetting between continents & climate zones …”, I recall my dear brother’s words to me in a recent email. Yes and no is my answer, smiling. They say that the soul always takes much longer to arrive when you can physically move from one place to the next within a matter of hours. And yes, in the month of January alone, my soul is busy embracing sweet memories from far-flung places such as New Zealand, Japan, Nepal and now … Sharjah.

 

If ever I felt something like a culture shock while arriving on the Arabian peninsula for the first time, I find it is beautifully alleviated by the smiles and happy vibes of Sharjah.

Sharjah, one out of the seven United Arab Emirates (UAE), is different, to say the least. I arrived here well ahead of time of the international Sharjah Light Festival, now in its fifth year and together with several more cultural activities the main reason for my visit. Almost immediately, I can tell that I fell for the delights of the local Arab cuisine as well as the easy-going attitude of the people I meet here – Burkha & “Dishdasha” (the traditional men’s robe) or not!

Arriving in Sharjah, the "Arab Tourism Capital" of the year 2015 ...

Arriving in Sharjah, the “Arab Tourism Capital” of the year 2015 …

 

... I take to the streets immediately on my first day of visiting, sensing the rhythm and pace of the city. The men and women might all be in traditional clothes, but certainly surrounded by the most modern amenities of (Western) life - iPhones and what have you are a most common sight!

… I take to the streets immediately on my first day of visiting, sensing the rhythm and pace of the city. The men and women might all be in traditional clothes, but certainly surrounded by the most modern amenities of (Western) life – iPhones and what have you are a most common sight!

 

The natural rhythm here feels as "nice and calm" as this sign at my local hotel.

The natural rhythm here feels as “nice and calm” as this sign at my local hotel.

 

And my first taste of the local food leaves me fully satisfied: No day goes by without me gorging myself on sweet dates, fresh hummus & delightful local salads.!

And my first taste of the local food leaves me fully satisfied: No day goes by without me gorging myself on sweet dates, fresh hummus & delightful local salads.!

 

My first travel tip on going local in Sharjah is visiting the one-and-only Mosque open to the public as a centre for cultural interpretation: “Al-Noor”, meaning “light” in Arabic.

I really, really love my time with Sharifa at the Al-Noor Mosque of Sharjah. Meeting her and listening to all her stories on everyday (cultural & religious) life in Sharjah feels like making my first woman friend in this country seemingly dominated by the men. As everywhere, it is balance that makes society go round. Sharifa fills us in on a reality that has had her change her name, convert to Islam and happily live here well over 20 years ago, originally hailing from England. She is therefore the perfect bridge in portraying the local culture of Sharjah. A visit to the Mosque is complete with a serve of coffee & dates as well as lots more first-hand travel tips by the team on further activities to do while in Sharjah.

Before entering Al-Noor Mosque, all of us are being "dressed" properly, meaning wearing the traditional long black cloth women wear in public ...

Before entering Al-Noor Mosque, all of us are being “dressed” properly, meaning wearing the traditional long black cloth women wear over their clothes in public …

 

... with the inside of the Mosque acting as a "common room" for cultural learning and understanding in this cosy, open-space environment.

… with the inside of the Mosque acting as a “common room” for cultural learning and understanding in this cosy, open-space environment.

 

Thank you so much, dear Sharifa, for this wonderful introduction on all things Arabic here in Sharjah. Love to come back and visit you again one day !!

Thank you so much, dear Sharifa, for this wonderful introduction on all things Arabic here in Sharjah. Love to come back and visit you again one day !! PS: Notice the iPhone Sharifa wears just as casually, and the Instagram account of the Mosque she manages …!

 

I like the way coffee is served here: Sweet and usually with a hint of saffron, cardamom and rosewater infusion .. delightful !!

I like the way coffee is served here: Sweet and usually with a hint of saffron, cardamom and rosewater infusion .. delightful !!

 

After a visit to the Mosque, we take to the streets for some shopping (after all, women are the same everywhere aren't they?) ...

After a visit to the Mosque, we take to the streets for some shopping (after all, women are the same everywhere aren’t they?) …

 

... with one of the best addresses being the so-called Central, or Blue Souq (Market) designed in a traditional, blue-tile architecture.

… with one of the best addresses for shopping being the so-called Central, or Blue Souq (Market) designed in a traditional, blue-tile architecture.

 

A little later in the day, I watch the men gather for prayer at a local house .. Muslim belief requires five prayer times a day, and you can really see many people flock to Mosques and prayer rooms at regular intervals during the day.

A little later in the day, I watch the men gather for prayer at a local house. Muslim belief requires five prayer times a day, and you can really see many people flock to Mosques and prayer rooms at regular intervals during the day.

 

Modern-day reality of Sharjah: Meeting this Indian family in the heart of Sharjah old town: Nearly 90% of the local Emirate population is made up of immigrants from countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or the Philippines.

Modern-day reality of Sharjah is meeting this Indian family over a movie shoot in the heart of Sharjah old town: Almost 90% (!) of the local Emirate population is made up of immigrants from countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or the Philippines.

 

“The reality is that Sharjah is one of the few places on Earth where the local people actually end up learning the language of their migrants! If you want to know what still makes it essentially Arabic, look into the heart of the nation’s genuine hospitality.”

Ashraf & Jenny, my two guides & cultural interpreters during these days of exploring Sharjah, both smile at me and my incessant stream of questions. They are from England and Egypt, respectively, and very much used to explaining every little detail about the local lingo & cultural forms of expression: “Above all, we love to make our visitors feel welcome. Sharjah is the cultural heart of all the United Arab Emirates, opening universities, museums & heritage centres at times when places such as Abu Dhabi & Dubai were busying themselves building places like Burj Khalifa. Only a century ago, the place might have been home to a few thousand people. The discovery of oil has changed everything. Modern development has attracted a surge in population of several million people! Yet right here in Sharjah, you still find small local places, markets, museums with a regular interactive programme that keeps up the beat of what is essentially, Arabic culture and our unique sense of hospitality.”

A "sense of hospitality" I like: Serving traditional Arab sweets in Sharjah.

A “sense of hospitality” I like: Serving traditional Arab sweets in Sharjah.

 

In the so-called "Heart of Sharjah" old town heritage centre, it is even possible to take a look behind the scenes of this local Halva sweets production!

In the so-called “Heart of Sharjah” old town heritage centre, it is even possible to take a look behind the scenes of this local Halva sweets production!

 

Dear Jenny takes us there: Like the tasting that follows our understanding of the production process.!

Dear Jenny takes us there: Like the tasting that follows our understanding of the production process.!

 

And always, the beautiful coffee upon entering local places such as museums or heritage centres ... I really like that about being welcomed in Sharjah!

And always, the beautiful coffee upon entering local places such as museums or heritage centres … I really like that about being welcomed in Sharjah!

 

And while you are at the local Souq (market), enjoy the aromas of the local spice bags ...!

And while you are at the local Souq (market) here in Sharjah, make sure you enjoy the aromas of those pretty local spice bags …!

 

Last but not least, let me take you into a modern-day version of “One Thousand and One nights”, visiting the fairy-tale like home of Fatima’s family in Khorfakkan, Sharjah’s rocky East Coast.

Cruising across desert land … Right behind the city of Sharjah is where the magic starts for those whose eyes are so unfamiliar with desert landscapes like myself. It takes looking out the window (and / or embarking on a desert safari!) of your modern car on the highway to remind yourself that only centuries ago, it might have taken Bedouins days to cross this desert strip from the Arabian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman in the east of Sharjah. Right here, in a place called Khorfakkan, is where we are welcomed by Fatima & her family to a genuine sense of local hospitality. Their house … a dream, even by my “spoiled European standards”! Just as in Nepal, I like hanging out with the kidseating with my hands in the traditional way over lunch there. Love it: Thank you so much, dear family, for this particularly warm Arabic welcome!

Driving across the land in modern-day Sharjah ...

Driving across the land in modern-day Sharjah …

 

... we arrive to the East Coast being welcomed with open hands!

… we arrive to the East Coast being welcomed with open hands – and what hands at that! Amazing those Henna tattoos ..!

 

Fatima & her family ...

Fatima & her family …

 

... are a fusion of tradition & modernity, serving typical tea from those very beautiful, Emirate thermos!

… are a fusion of tradition & modernity, serving typical tea from those very beautiful, Emirate thermos!

 

Dressing up ...

Dressing up …

 

... and eating like a local is what I like !!

… and eating like a local is what I like: The food is excellent here !!

 

The kids even serve me home-made cake and vow me to come back and make "Kaiserschmarren" for them ... a promise I shall keep!

The kids even serve me home-made cake and vow me to come back and make “Kaiserschmarren” for them … a promise I shall keep!

 

My words of gratitude for this warm welcome ...

My words of gratitude for this warm welcome …

 

... go to the whole family of several dozen people: What a feel of Sharjah at that!

… go to the whole family of several dozen people: What a feel of Sharjah at that! “Shakara” – Thank you!

 

Dive into more of what essentially makes up the fabric of local Arab culture as found here during my visit of Sharjah, expressed by a wealth of colourful travel photographs on Flickr:

Disclaimer: I have been invited by Sharjah Tourism on this visit of Sharjah & the Sharjah Light Festival. All opinions are my own.

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Written by Elena

Elena writes about creative destinations, shares her personal travel stories and brings inspiring photography & interesting news updates home to you. Her mission is: "Continue to be amazed at this world, one creative travel experience at a time."

Ready for learning even more about creative travel?

Elena has recently published "The Creative Traveler's Handbook". Chock full of inspiratinal stories, travel tips and advice, it offers everything you need for planning and managing your next creative escape, addressing beginners and experienced travelers alike. Here's how to get your hands on it now!
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