Clothing for women
I live in Sharjah which is much 'stricter' than Dubai - no alcohol is allowed here. Before I left England, I was warned about the dress code here for women - that you got spat at if your revealed your shoulders. However, its much more relaxed than you think. I wear skirts that just cover my knees and a t-shirt and it's fine. I don't wear short skirts or a revealing top though some people do in shopping malls here (Russian ladies). I wouldn't advise it because of the stares you'll get from the local men, which is very off-putting.
Walk along the Corniche
While not as cool as Dubai....a lot less expensive. Sharjah is a working city with its own share of marine traffic. You could probably spend and good hour or two walking along the Corniche on your way out to the beach to the East.
You can see the Sharjah biggest roundabout, covering an area of more than 60,000 square-meters in Al-Sour district. It's surrounded by The Islamic Mall, King Faisal mosque and Al-Khaldiya bridge. The roundabout overlooks the colourful flowerbeds which spell out the lighthearted message "Smile you are in Sharjah".
The Monument is placed in the middle of the area and is decorated with seven oysters each with a pearl inside which represent each of the seven Emirates. The seven oysters surround the central pillar, which is crowned with a golden pearl symbolizing the union of the Emirates. The monument is surrounded with water basin decorated with fountain and greenery, boarded with plants and palm trees. The area contains comfortable wide seats and lighting for convenience at night.
Carefully reconstructed authenticity
Historically the most powerful and one of the wealthiest emirate in the region, even before the arrival of the British, the position of Sharjah on the route to India secured its importance during the British reign, and made it important enough to be recognized as a salute state (be it of the lowest class, 3 guns, as compared with the Indian maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir, 21 guns!).
Discovery of oil and extraordinary wealth brought in overnight did not hinder Sharjah leaders to adopt a more conservative approach on values and liberties, as compared with their neighbours in Dubai. And although the “anything goes” feeling becomes more visible, it can be argued that conservationism is one of the reasons why Sharjah acquired the reputation of the poor twin sister of rich Dubai, or the “Dubai sleeping quarters”. In fact, most of the town looks exactly like this – endless dormitory quarters, with tall blocks surrounded by large parking areas and supermarkets. Virtually deserted during the day because many of its inhabitants work in neighbouring Dubai, Sharjah comes back to life after 6,30 p.m.
On the contrary, it may well be the case that mingled development of the Emirates required a sort of division or specialisation in “priorities” or “tasks”, or that, faced with the stunning achievements of Dubai, Sharjah is trying to promote a different recipe of success.
With the construction of the University City and the proliferation of museums, art galleries and theatres, Sharjah promotes itself nowadays as the cultural capital of the Emirates. I would have liked to see a theatrical performance, even if played in Arabic, just to get an understanding of the cultural dimension of Sharjah, and to simply compare it with the “foreign workers” dimension, obvious in every corner.
However cultural or not, I enjoyed the more “authentic” atmosphere carefully preserved in the remains of old town around the Al-Hisn Fort, the Heritage Area and the Corniche. And although recently reconstructed to the original plans, and despite being surrounded by tall glass covered buildings, I guess the old town preserves some of the lost flavours of the Emirates - simple architecture lines complemented by small details such as gas lamps or wooden pillars, rich doorways leading to covered souqs and inner courtyards, elegant mosques, etc.
A small family run restaurant in a covered souq in the heritage area was the best place for me to get under the skin of present day Sharjah: two traditionally dressed Arabs eating makbus (fish, rice and vegetables) with their fingers, a fat ex-pat having its tea and sweating like hell, while 4 slim Indians were splurging with shish kebabs and shwarmas. Very few talking, and in no case between the tables….but all watched carefully the sports bulletin of Al Jazeera on HDTV plasmas. I kept watching around and thinking how tasty life can be, as long as you keep it simple.