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Published: April 9th 2010
National Assembly building, designed by the same guy who did the Sydney Opera House
And I am not the only one who has ever had a date with Kuwait. The ancient Greeks amongst others also had a date, a longer lasting one then mine. Theirs lasted around 300 years, starting around the time of Alexander the Great. They however didn't visit the mainland much and preferred to stay on their little island of the coast. They called it Icaria, after the Greek hero Ikarus, and like him their fate was doomed in the end. Perhaps it had been better to call it something else, maybe after a hero who didn't decide to have a run in with the sun. He fell as we all know because the wax that kept his wings together melted as he came closer to the sun; and the Greeks on Icaria? Well they were too far from their homeland perhaps, and after the Greek kings of Persia were overthrown their situation most likely became rather difficult. Whatever happened, they disappeared and new people came and colonized the island and now 2300 years later, the island is no longer known as Icaria, but as Failaka and is part of the State of Kuwait. And all that can be seen of 300
Old and new, minaret and Liberation Tower
years of Greek presence is some ruins in the sand, a few broken pillars and capitals of a temple. Still that is quite much seeing that in the 2000 years after they left, or in the 2000 years before they came, there is even less to show for.
Back to the present, and the arrival of a certain Dutch traveler. My date lasted, as said, shorter than the Greeks, much shorter in fact. All in all it lasted 6 days, and in those days I am ashamed to say I didn't really do that much. I had plans, but most of them were discarded along the way. I strolled around the city and took in what meager sights it had, the most impressive of which is perhaps the Kuwait Towers on the corniche. The problem is not Kuwait in itself, but the fact that my last two countries have been Qatar and Bahrain, and as far as sights are concerned they are all very similar. They all have a corniche with parks and a walking path, they all have skyscrapers of various outrageous forms and sizes that light up beautifully at night, then there is the compulsory rulers palace,
National Museum Complex, with a replica of the dhow Muhallab II, and the traditional Sadu House and Bait al-Badr house next to it of similar style
which is huge and lavish and modern and has an enormous national flag flying high from its roof, of course there are the big highways with insane traffic, and a National Museum with much the same exhibits in each country, a mud walled fort or two, a heritage village, and a lot of sand. The point is, after a while you feel you have seen it all before, especially since I came from Dubai in the first place! So by the time I reached Kuwait I was sort of saturated with the 'Gulf' sights. There are only so many mud walled forts one can take in, or high twisting metal and glass gleaming buildings.
I tried nonetheless, I walked the corniche, took in the rulers palace, the National Museum (which had been plundered by the Iraqi's during their infamous invasion and thus had even less exhibits to show than usual), a few heritage buildings, and looked at the skyline from various angles. I didn't go to the Red Fort in Al-Jahra, even though I was planning too, because quite frankly from photos I saw on the internet it didn't look very much different from the beige forts I had
Library, Mosque and Liberation Tower
seen in Bahrain or Qatar. Perhaps it is and this is my loss in that case. A bigger loss for me is that I didn't go to the Kuwait House of National Memorial Museum (what a name), which gives a picture on what the invasion felt like to ordinary Kuwaitis. I wanted to go and should have gone, but I didn't, and I have no better excuse than that I was lazy, and couldn't be bothered trying to figure out how to get there by bus and on foot.
I am however glad that I did decide to make the trip out to Failaka Island to see the Greek ruins, unlike everybody else who went to see the beach. The ruins in themselves are not that fantastic, especially if, like me, you have seen some stunning ones in Greece and Turkey. But the setting is quite extraordinary, out in the middle of nowhere, on a little speck of an island in the Persian Gulf. One just doesn't expect to find classical Greek ruins out here! And even without the ruins, the boat trip out to the island was a pleasant one and a half hour journey, away from the
Sief Palace, only a small part of the Emir Palace
hustle and bustle of Kuwait city. Like the rest of the passengers I did eventually end up on a beach though, one I had all too myself, because I didn't go to the tourist beaches. I opted for a beach not far from the jetty and just down from the old Greek colony. And as I was sitting in the sand watching the waves crash in, I wondered if long before me some Greek had been sitting right on that spot watching those same waves. Only 2300 years separated us, both on a date with Kuwait.
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