Oman: A second sip
After exclusively driving, diving, climbing and swimming for the first two days of our Oman trip, we needed to reduce our mileage and explore the gorgeous city of Muscat. Bee and I thought about doing a city tour but then we realised we just couldn’t be bothered to socialise with anyone else (I know, we are terrible).
So we just got in the car, put on our GPS and drove to visit the highlights of Muscat which included Sultan Qaboos Mosque, Al Alam Palace, the Muscat Royal Opera Theatre and of course, Muttrah Souk.
As expected, the mosque was gorgeous with stunning mosaics and impressive columns. Just look at that dome!
Lots of people are going to ask me to draw a comparison between the Grand Mosque in Kuwait and the Sultan Qaboos Mosque in Oman so all I will say is this: the exterior of the mosque in Oman is simply dazzling… but the interior of the Kuwaiti mosque WILL take your breath away.
Bee and I hit the road again to visit the Royal Opera House. We indulged in a quick walk through the building to take in the impressive architecture.
Afterwards, we drove towards Muttrah where we stopped off to view one of the Sultan’s residences, Al Alam Palace. Sultan Qaboos rarely ever stays in Al Alam Palace as he seems to prefer his other residences. However, this palace is the one used the most to receive high ranking official guests and has hosted in the past the likes of the Queen of England and the Queen of the Netherlands. The palace is not open to the public, but tourists can walk around the yard in front of the palace at any time.The palace, which has a contemporary Islamic facade of gold and blue, was built as a royal residence in 1972.
In the same vicinity was the famed souk. Now I am not a person with a natural aptitude toward shopping (unlike Fox & Bee!) however I do enjoy wandering around markets. From Sarojini Nagar Market in Delhi to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, I love to soak up the heady scents, colourful sights and sample the local cuisine. Muttrah Souk did not disappoint… its the oldest market in Oman. This roofed marketplace is a typical Arabic souk full of different items, from wide variety of textiles, fruits, vegetables to souvenirs and jewellery. Best part of the souk was that when the vendors saw Bee’s white face, they were so intent on selling her scarves and perfumes that I was free to explore unihibited.
I loved Muttrah. It’s also called the Old Muscat, and it felt like we were in a totally different time. Did you know that this port was once occupied by the Portuguese? By the 17th century, however, the Omanis have had enough of them. They not only kicked the Portuguese out of their ports (and country) but controlled trade and territories along the African, Iranian and Indian coasts up until 1970. I especially loved walking out of the souk towards the corniche (promenade) and looking out at the harbour… it reminded me so much of Durban that I began to feel a bit nostalgic.
We finished off our day in the city with a couple of cocktails/mocktails in various hotels in and around Muscat. Its interesting to note that although a mere two hours apart, in this aspect as well as many others, Oman is completely different from Kuwait. Somehow, it has managed to retain its culture and charm yet has also moved towards being very open and westernised in its view towards alcohol, tourism and infrastructure.
Bee and I had one last day to kill in Muscat and I didn’t want to do another long drive to see a fort so we wondered what we could do. The answer came to us naturally and while we enjoyed a relaxing breakfast at Candle Cafe overlooking Qurum Beach (lovely food but lazy service, again reminding me of Durban!).
We made our way north through the hill of Oman to Muscat Hills Resort. We moved past the old part of the city, onto the arid, jagged, golden hills where the resort is located. Muscat Hills is a perfectly manicured wonderland where traditional whitewashed buildings sit beyond a row of palm trees and the emerald sea. Why spend a day at a resort you ask? Well it looks like this…
… so that’s why. The beach is gorgeous and unspoilt and because you pay to use it (10 OMR), you are treated like royalty. From fluffy towels to sunblock, you can happily sip your drink while enjoying feeling like an Arabian princess. A befitting ending to our Omani adventure I believe.
Oman is a country where crime is unheard of and smiles and gestures of friendship are the order of the day. The scenery is mind blowing and honestly if there is any destination whose secret is worth keeping, it’s Oman’s. With mile after mile of pristine beach and seas teeming with dolphins and turtles, its vast coastline is as untouched as it gets. You’re not harassed by anyone as you lay on the beach, soaking up the sunshine and the local people are an absolute pleasure to talk to. I have to say that Oman holds a little piece of my heart and I really hope to return there soon!