The Beach is never far
Narrow streets, enormous heat and lots of small shops. The street sides are lined with all sorts of oriental, homemade products: colourful, fluffy sofa cushions, hanging mosaic-like lamps, carved wooden tables and Arabic spices as far as the eye can see. The 1001-night-feeling is enhanced by oud fragrance clouds thanks to the incense sticks in front of each shop. I walk through the souq of Manama, the capital of Bahrain. And the only thing I'm really looking for, are as many authentic insights during my long weekend in the second smallest Gulf state as possible.
With Bahrain, I am visiting another country that is one of the so-called “Gulf States”. After Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Kuwait and now Bahrain is the last remaining country for me in this region Qatar.
The peaceful, small and inconspicuous country may have become a little better known since 2004: Formula 1 Grand Prix was held there as the first country in the Middle East.
What else do we know about this small country? It is an island but can be reached without plane or boat via a gigantic bridge from Saudi Arabia. The Al Khalifa family has ruled Bahrain since 1983. And the island nation has the world's largest underwater theme park!
When I told my friends I was going to Bahrain, the comments were: "way too hot" or "there's nothing to see there". The former: Yes, Bahrain in August definitely had to let us get creative. More on that later. Regarding the second comment: Oh no, Bahrain is definitely worth a trip! One can see and do a lot.
After a flight of about 2 hours I land in Manama, at a shiny, very pompous airport. I almost have to put on a second shirt because the air conditioning makes it so cold. As soon as the sliding door of the airport opens, not only my sunglasses but also my camera fog up from the humidity. It's so clammy and humid outside, which makes the actual temperature that much hotter.
In the morning hours I used the "milder" heat for outdoor activities, such as a walk through "Bahrain Bay" or King Faisal Corniche. Most of the day was filled with indoor activities or mall visits. There are no limits to the discovery tour here. Johanna loves the aquarium including sharks and fish feeding in the Dilmunia Mall.
One would think that due to the overall small area of the country, a lot is being built upwards. But that's not the case everywhere. Of course, the skyline with the skyscrapers is the city's landmark - but I'm surprised that many "malls" are basically more small villages, in which each shop is a separate house, and you can drive to the front door of the respective shop or can drive to a restaurant. Anyone who has ever been to the USA will certainly see parallels here.
After the first day I had one question in mind: Where are the locals? In the restaurant, in the shop, on the market, even in the climbing park: expats work everywhere. So people who came to Bahrain for work. After taking a closer look and following the accent in Arabic, I still occasionally meet Bahrainis. Bahrain as a melting pot in Asia. And it works perfectly. Churches, Hindu temples and mosques.
Religious freedom is protected by the state. Even within Islam, Bahrain is not as homogeneous as its neighbors. Percentages are being discussed, but there are probably slightly more Shiites than Sunnis living in the island state. The diversity is of course also reflected in the local cuisine. As in Asia further east, the typical milk tea with spices and flat bread baked in a stone oven are already served here. Rice is an essential part of any meal, and curries are also very popular.
Conclusion of my short trip: connecting country between the Middle East and India. Quiet, safe, clean. Varied and a real little adventure for a short break. Even if it will definitely blow every backpacker's budget, a trip is recommended - especially for those who feel calm around the water. Because of its small size, the coast line is never far, where you are in Bahrain :)
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