Before traveling to any city it’s a good idea to look it up on the web to see what cultural icons, places of beauty or other must-see sights are on offer. So like a good traveler I looked up Jeddah before arriving. Many cities around the world have TripAdvisor lists of the top things to do while visiting and Jeddah was no exception. Unfortunately, when I checked the list, three of the top 10 are malls. Not sure how you feel about malls but, for me, they definitely fall under the category of things I wish the US had never exported to the rest of the world. So clearly I had no interest in visiting those.
The next site that jumped out at me was a huge bike sculpture. Some of the reviews were underwhelming, such as “Just a big bike in the middle of busy road.” and “This is nothing special a bicycle in the middle. You will see when you go past driving. No need to stop.” That was a little disheartening, but it was close enough to my hotel to try to find it on one of my runs. Unfortunately, I got a little turned around and missed it. After reading more of the reviews, I decided it probably wasn’t worth going back for.
Another one of the sites is the World’s Tallest Unsupported Flagpole. So… it’s basically a stick in the ground? I had to read the reviews to find out how a flagpole becomes one of the must-see sites in a city of several million people. The first review that jumped out at me was “It’s a really big flag! That’s it!” I guess they really like things to be big in Jeddah. Many of the others explained that the flagpole is part of the gateway to Mecca and Medina which has religious significance. I can understand that, but the flagpole ranks several places higher than the gateway itself which seems odd. By far the best comment however was “You can see it while you riding your cat.” I’m disappointed to say I never saw anyone in Jeddah riding their cat.
The first of the top ten sites that I did get a chance to see was King’s Fountain, the world’s tallest jet fountain. I admit the same argument could be made about a tall stream of water as a tall flagpole or large bike, but somehow in my mind, this is cooler. I didn’t get a chance to hangout and watch it. Like many of the landmarks in Jeddah, you get a nice view of it from the car (or cat) driving by. With more time, I would like to have watched it for a while.
The highlight of my leisure time in Jeddah was Fakieh Aquarium (currently number four on the top ten list). Being right on the Red Sea, the staff at the aquarium try hard to strengthen the connection between the people of Jeddah and marine environment around them. It was amazing to see the variety of life they had on display. It was equally amazing to see the excitement of the school group that was there for a field trip. The excitement echoed down the hall ways.
There were large tanks and small with everything from banded coral shrimp to sharks. Although the students visiting were most excited about the large sharks and rays, I was most excited about the sea horses and sea dragons they had. These small, seemingly delicate creates are so ornate that they don’t swim very fast. On a reef, they seem likely to be prey to anything that wants an easy meal, yet they continue to survive. I’ve only seem them in the wild once and when we spotted one, I spent most of my air floating near it, just watching.
The other creature at the aquarium that I could sit and watch for hours was the jellyfish. There’s something mesmerizing about their simple movements and hunting technique. I’ve noticed more aquariums starting to have jellyfish displays and each one catches my attention.
Overall, I felt like I missed some part of authentic Jeddah. I never found a bustling market or people excited about the local food culture. Other than coffee/hookah bars and ice cream shops, I didn’t see people hanging out, enjoying each others company in the evenings. This seems like such a universal habit that I assume it was happening somewhere, but clearly not where I was. Perhaps next time I visit I’ll have a little more time and be able to find just such a place… If I don’t spend the whole time watching the jellyfish or riding my cat.