Tree design in a centrally-located park (Sharjah; United Arab Emirates)
Leaving Abu Dhabi, and heading roughly east following the coast, Dubai is the next port of call, and since this blog already has a Dubai entry (October 2007), the neighbouring city of Sharjah has been incorporated into the fold in order to compare and contrast the established tourist mecca of Dubai with the more traditional alcohol-free enclave of Arabian culture that is Sharjah. So what better place to commence than in Sharjah, where the title of the capital of Islamic Culture is demostrated in a few simple but effective ways.
Impressive architecture is what this city excels at (Sharjah; United Arab Emirates)
A few mosques dotted here and there are part of the city's urban fabric, King Faisal Mosque and Al Noor mosque to name but two, and the city is also home to a few museums, the Sharjah museum of Islamic Civilization being one of the city's most prominent examples. It soon becomes clear that, despite its proximity to neighbouring Dubai, this is a city which has not hopped upon the bandwagon of using its wealth to create a plethora of tourist-centric amusement zones in the same way in which both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have, and the centrally-located Sharjah fort is a must-see piece of Emirati culture which symbolizes the city's origins and the way in which they have been interwoven into the modern-day fabric. Dubai still retains its title as the world's fastest-growing city, and this means that it is hurtling towards the future at seemingly breakneck speed, and in the process trying to cover all basis on the tourist magnet front, especially when considering that the offshore oil reserves are less exploitable than those in Abu Dhabi, meaning that Dubai will be more reliant on the influx of tourists in order to keep its financial status buoyant.
A still-unfinished Dubai skyline (Dubai; United Arab Emirates)
One of the truly great factors here for the consumer is that there is a colossal range of goods available to suit literally all nodes on the budget scale, and the Al Karama district, along with the best of Deira's bargain basement outlets will keep bargain hunters happy for ages, whereas the exclusive nature of Dubai's high-end shopping malls will no doubt appeal to all those whose 'shopping for status' trends can unfold in some serious money-consuming ways. A city of superlatives, Dubai is home to the world's largest shopping mall, the 1200-plus store strong Dubai Mall, and the world's tallest structure, the Burj Khalifa, stands adjacent to it, suggesting that you might as well juxtapose one largest-of-its-kind building with another, for the sake of effect. If it is shopping mall visuals which you crave, then look no further than the delightful interior decor contained within the Ibn Battuta shopping mall, a node on Dubai's recently-established metro network, which effectively hints at the steps taken in Dubai to make the city a far more commuter-friendly place.
The majesty of the Palm Jumeirah hotel (Dubai; United Arab Emirates)
Another neat touch is the monorail which runs from one end of the Palm Jumeirah to the other, terminating at Aquaventure water park, where a day out of pure hedonistic family fun is all but guaranteed. It seems as if the plastic fantastic nature of Dubai is going to divide public opinion as to whether this is purely a synthetic playground for the super-rich, or indeed whether the city's trappings are the model for other places, especially in the Arabian Gulf, where traditionalism and conservatism have muted the ability to pleasure-seek in a free-spirited context. My overall view is that you certainly cannot ignore any city which is developing at such a rapid rate of knots, and given that a holiday really succeeds when it takes a tourist out of their rigid full-time-work routine, what better place to do that than a city where, quite literally, anything goes.