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Published: January 26th 2016
Muscat SouqDay 4 - Friday 22nd January 2016
Antiques on show
Well after our disturbed sleep due to the fire in our hotel, we were both shattered when we got up in the morning. We had planned on sleeping till 5.15 but we were up before 5 as we couldn’t get back to sleep. Packed in record time checked out and got a taxi down to the bus stop by 6, when we only needed to be there by 6.30…talk about being the Griswalds. The only advantage of getting there early of course is that we could choose our seats, but other than that, we just had a longer time on our arse. The bus filled and we were under way by 7. Our driver today must have been Fangio’s grandson, and he appeared to be on a tight schedule as even at the stops he was hounding people to move faster. Leaving the city was via a six lane each way highway with little traffic, this would make any Sydney driver cry with envy (note Friday is their weekend). The first stop at 9.00 was to be checked out of the U.A.E. and we had to line up and
pay 35 Dirham ($14 AUD) for an exit form, which I think is something new. Back on the bus we travelled down the road for about a kilometre where we stopped once again, and piled off the bus to have our bags checked. An Omani female police officer checked the women’s bags while a couple of male police looked through the guys. The guy who checked my bags looked in one zipper on the camera bag and gave up, when he saw my backpack with all the straps and zippers I think he nearly had a heart attack and so just waved me away. Poor Michele though had to go through every compartment of her back pack which took forever, I guess she just looks a lot more suspect than me. Everyone else on the bus had to stand around for ten minutes while Michele had the police woman inspect her knickers, and at the end of this everyone got a lesson on how to repack a backpack on the side of the road. Before reboarding the bus a sniffer dog did the rounds of our bags. As a traveller you can get quite frustrated by these bag inspections but
Front door to the Sultans Palace
you have to remember how important it is and it is good when they do a thorough job.
The bus then travelled for about 5 kilometres through some rugged mountains before reaching the Omani Passport control. Off the bus again and into a building where we had to fill out a form and line up to get our passports stamped. Didn’t have Omani Rial to pay for the visa and so had to cough up 200 U.A.E Dirham ($80 AUD) each for the visa. I do remember reading something about the cost of the Omani visa but forgot about it, so this hit came as a rude shock. Back on the bus we were now in Oman and on the way to Muscat. The highway just like in the U.A.E. was wide, clean and smooth, and often had large flower beds growing next to it. As we went along our driver would stop to let people off and finally around 12.30pm we hit the outskirts of Muscat. The hotel we had booked was located half way between the airport and the old city in an area that was supposed to have lots of Government buildings, embassies and
Looking back towards the town
restaurants. Thanks to the Lonely Planet map we were able to spot approximately where we needed to get off the bus and so rather than going all the way to the bus terminal we got the driver to stop the bus and we jumped off. Unfortunately by the time we spotted where we needed to get off and he stopped was about a kilometre, so we had a long walk back in the full sun with our back packs.
We arrived in the general area as the Weekend Hotel Apartment gives the address as “behind Al Ashala Towers” but no street address and nobody could give clear directions, we eventually found it and to our surprise it is very nice apartment with two bathrooms and a washing machine. Settled in and went for a walk to get a lay of the land which unfortunately is not that exciting the only plus is we are near the Grand Mosque. On the way back to the hotel we noticed an Indian Restaurant so dinner is sorted. We are yet to see a local cuisine restaurant, have heard they are rare it is mainly Indian, Pilipino and Asian. The restaurant
turned out to be very nice, friendly and cheap so we are on a winner. Day 5 - Saturday 23rd January 2016
Today we are off to Muscat Coastline City Walk (LP), the hotel arranged a taxi to Mutrah for 7 Rials (about $AUD28) which is a reasonable rate for tourists. The trip there highlighted the amazing achievements that have occurred since the 1970’s when the current Sultan Qaboos came to power. He inherited a civil war and a country that only had two primary schools no secondary schools and about 7km of sealed road. Now everywhere you look there are highways, museums, a Children’s Library, Opera House and of course we can’t forget the huge shopping malls. Sultan Qaboos has done an incredible job over his reign in transforming his nation and he appears to be well loved by his people. Maintaining a stable country in a turbulent area of course comes at a cost and there is tight control on lots of things including information to the point even Skype is blocked.
Our taxi dropped us at the Mutrah Souq which is a little bit more humble
Beads, beads and more beads
than the huge malls we passed on our taxi ride, but like most of Muscat is not old, it is on the site of the original souq but has a modern roof to cover the stalls. The shops are presented with great character, but sell anything from bags from Thailand, fake antiques and a splattering of genuine stuff. It is not really great buying as most of the things we can buy at home for the same price or cheaper, except maybe the brass tin with Steve Irwin wrestling a crocodile etched on it or the cushion covers with kangaroos (yes really). There were beautiful Omani daggers but a nice one was over $AUD 1000 and we are not sure what customs back in Australia would have to say about bringing it home. Muscat Souq does have a nice feel about it and the hassle from venders is not as extreme as some places, and overall it has a good vibe, and worth the stroll.
We resurfaced from the souq and visited Bait al-Baranda a quaint museum telling the history of Muscat, it is only 1 rial and it is well thought out and only small so
Muscat harbour and Sultan Qaboos cruiser
it does not take too long. Then we headed along the corniche towards Old Muscat remembering that the only building with real age are the forts and watchtowers around the coast. The foot paths are surrounded by beautiful flowers and the water is crystal clear with next to no rubbish, which is amazing as it is a port town. There were some amusing sites like a giant incense burner that doubles as an observation deck, all this made it a really nice walk. Stopped for a cool drink before heading to the Sultan’s Palace, on the way stopped at the National Museum which had its official opening in December 2015 but is still not open to the public and will not be till mid 2016 because of VIP visits. So walked across the road to the palace which is again surrounded by beautiful gardens and the four mushroom columns in blue and gold at the front of the palace made it all photogenic. The palace backs onto the water so the Sultan gets pretty good views from his digs. Continued around to the old gates and then were surrounded by a group of small children who appeared to be fascinated
by us and kept trying to talk to us but only one had a few words of English, so they quickly became bored and waved us goodbye. Grabbed a taxi after negotiating him down from 10 Rials to 7 back to the hotel, we handed him the hotel’s business card with address and when we got closer even he could not work it out so we needed to direct him.
After a freshen up and rest went back to the same Indian restaurant; you know when you are on a good thing stick to it. The restaurant is called The Indian’s Delight which gives its address on its business card as “Behind Oman Oil” which is a petrol station for anyone who maybe in the area, I am seeing a pattern with the addresses given. Normally after a meal we would go for a long walk and perhaps stop at a coffee shop but the area around our hotel is not exactly designed for idle walks and is hard going. The coffee shops are either flashy and super expensive or are like the one next to our hotel that was filled with Shisha smoking males watching football.
So for us it ended up being an early night. Day 6 - Sunday 24th January 2016
Today is a short walk down the road to the Grand Mosque which was opened in 2001 after six years of construction. The Mosque
is built from 300,000 tonnes of Indian sandstone, and the carving of the stone is some of the best modern work we have ever seen and we have gazed at a lot of stonework over the years. It is built on a site occupying 416,000 square metres and the complex extends to cover an area of 40,000 square metres. The main musalla (prayer hall) can hold over 6,500 worshippers, while the women’s musalla can accommodate 750 worshipers. In the main prayer hall the carpet measures over 70 × 60 metres, and covers 4,343 square metre area and weighs 21 tonnes making it the world’s second largest rug. This hand woven carpet took four years and 600 women to weave. All this is topped off by a magnificent dome with a 14 metre tall chandelier to say it is impressive is an understatement. The main chandelier actually looks a lot like the
Back door to the Sultans Palace
mothership at the end of the movie “Close encounters of the third kind” and it is about the same size. The Mosque is opened between 8-11am Saturday to Thursday for tourist (non-Muslims) and I suggest getting there early before the bus loads of tourists arrive which we didn’t, but even with the hordes it was worth it. We wandered around the grounds taking photos before everyone had to leave about 11.30am.
Stopped a few times on the way back to pick up supplies and then back to the hotel for a relaxing afternoon blogging and catching up with emails to home. For dinner decided to try something different so we walked and walked and ended up at a five star dining establishment well if you could call a shwarma (like doner kebab) beside a petrol station that but it did have plastic tables and chairs – you get the picture. We splurged on the way home and shared one cup of coffee and a muffin, the cup the coffee was in made my hand look like the size of a small child and it was only the medium size. Dinner cost us the princely sum of 2
The Grand Mosque
Rials ($8 AUD) whilst the coffee and muffin ended up costing us double that. Tomorrow we pick up our car and start our Omani road trip
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