Friday, March 13, 2020

Oman – January/February 2020 – Part I
A few years ago while in Dubai I booked a trip to the Musandam peninsula in Oman, filled with fjords and beauty but the guide never arrived so it has been on my mind every since.  This year I decided to visit Oman and see those fjords for myself.  Some friends of mine did the trip on their own but mentioned it would have been a lot better with a guide.  This information I took to heart and decided to do some of the trip on my own and some with G Adventures.

Left SNA on January 27 and arrived in Muscat on January 29.  Many long flights and layouts but as I used my United miles the trip was essentially free!!  I booked an airbnb in Mutrah near the souq and my host picked my up at the airport.  The airbnb was about a 15 minute walk to the corniche, the fish market, etc. which was a really good location.  I walked to the fish market to see the fresh fish and vegetables and then into the souq selling Omani and Indian artefacts and one of the oldest marketplaces in Oman dating back two hundred years.  Climbed up to the Mutrah fort built by the Portuguese in the 1580s and then into the Ghalya’s Museum which I thoroughly enjoyed.  This delightful museum is a reconstruction of what an Omani house would have looked like between 1950 and 1975.  There were beautiful wooden doors crafted from East Africa and some lovely jewelry and garments used for weddings.

Walked back to the souq along the corniche and found a little café upstairs where I had a nice Greek salad out on the patio.  Later that evening I walked to Bait al Luban, a traditional Omani restaurant, near the fish market and had a delicious shuwa lamb dinner on the patio.

In the morning I had some baklava and coffee with my host and then we visited the Al Bustan palace, a beautiful hotel set along the beach.  Stopped to see sohar, a replica of the boat which sailed to Guanzhou in China.  She dropped me at Bait al Zubair, a fabulous museum in old Muscat where I spent a couple hours learning about the life of the Omani with displays of traditional handicrafts, traditional clothes, face masks, swords and a replica of a traditional Omani house.  Walked to the Sultan’s palace and then took a taxi to the “cave” area where there are a lot of restaurants and had a nice Greek salad outside on the top at a Lebanese restaurant.  Taxi back to the souq and then walked to the Al Riyam Park where I started a walk back to the souq but it seemed too dangerous so I gave it up…

Later that evening I had a wonderful Indian dinner at Mamtaz Mahal.  My tandoori roasted cauliflower and tikka masala chicken with garlic naan were very tasty and I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere.

Worked something out with a friend of my host so didn’t have to rent a car.  He dropped me in the morning at Starbucks on Qurum Road near the beach and I had a “real” coffee and muffin.  There are no coffee shops in Mutrah and I had missed a cup of good coffee to start the day.  Wandered along the road to Qurum beach and found some cute little restaurants and shops.  Had a coffee and cake at Costa Coffee overlooking the sea and then walked to the Qurum Natural Park and enjoyed the beautiful waterfalls and paths filled with plants and flowers. 

Dinner at the Turkish House was really nice.  Decided to dine in the old part serving seafood and started with a meze platter filled with hummus, eggplant and Turkish bread followed by nicely grilled fish.

Another delicious coffee and muffin at Starbucks the next morning, before being dropped off at the Grand Mosque, a gift from Sultan Qaboos to mark his 30th year of reign.  He died this year and was much loved.  The mosque can accommodate 20,000 worshippers and the prayer carpet is a major feature of the design of the interior.  Also of note is the extraordinary chandelier above the praying hall.  While visiting the mosque was the only time I needed to wear a head scarf.

Got a ride up to the Al Ameen white marble mosque on the hill.  I was fortunate it was still open so I could see the hand carved works of art in stone inside in the form of Islamic patterns and calligraphy.  Breathtaking inside and out.  Caught another ride to the Royal Opera House and took a guided tour.  Considered one the most beautiful and technically advanced opera houses in the world, it was fascinating to see how many ways it could be transformed.  Because Sultan Qaboos was so musical no music or musical performances are allowed for 40 days in Oman out of respect for this great man…

In the afternoon, I walked along the Qurum Beach to Costa Coffee where I enjoyed a delicious coffee and cheesecake overlooking the sea.  Taxi back to Mutrah.  Got a ride to Shabestan, a Persian restaurant later that evening and had an excellent meal, i.e. side platter of arugula, feta, olives and bread, chicken kebabs marinated in lebnah, saffron and lemon and three rice.

Walked along the corniche almost to old Muscat and back in he morning and then was dropped off at my new hotel where the G Adventures trip would begin.  I had thought about renting a car and doing this part by myself but decided I would probably miss many things without a guide and a 4 wheel drive car.  Walked to the beach nearby and stopped at the W Hotel to see their lovely bar/tapas area called Living Room which was very ecletic.  On to Costa Coffee for a coffee and chocolate cheesecake, always  enjoying the view of the sea.  Our group meeting was at 6 p.m.  There will be 12 of us, some from Australia, England, Scotland, etc.  Our guide was from Oman.  Got a nice briefing of what’s to come and then I walked down to LoKanta where my former host works and she sat me at a lovely table upstairs.  It is an upscale Turkish restaurant and I enjoyed my meal, i.e. meze platter with hummus, eggplant, yogurt and cucumbers and roasted pepper dip with warm bread, grilled lamb kebabs with vegetables and a spectacular dessert called kunafe made with kadif and warm cheese drizzled with a light syrup.

Nice breakfast buffet in the morning and then to the Grand Mosque again, this time with a guide which made the visit more memorable.  Dropped by the souq in Mutrah where I had already been and then to the Museum in Old Muscat where I had also been but enjoyed seeing some of the exhibits again.  Lunch at Le Cave at a Turkish restaurant where we all shared a large meze platter, lamb and chicken kebabs, grilled fish, salad with feta cheese and cucumbers and a light mango custard for dessert.  On our own for the afternoon.  Took a walk to the beach as it is close by and made some flight reservations for my upcoming trip to Salalah.

In the evening I walked up to the Crown Plaza hotel on the hill and had a delicious tuna tartar outside on the patio overlooking the sea.  Unfortunately my chocolate dessert was terrible and I had to send it back but on my way out I was offered some nice Arabian desserts which I ate on my way back to the hotel…

In the morning we drove along the coast towards the picturesque Bimmah Sinkhole, a limestone “lake” of turquoise waters about 60 m deep, perfect for swimming.  Continued on to Sur, stopping along the way at a local restaurant where I had delicious grilled fish with naan bread and a simple salad.  Stopped at the Dhow Shipyards to see how craftsmen build dhows, the teak boats the traditional way, without plans.  Unfortunately now people prefer to build fiberglass boats because they are much cheaper to make and easier to maintain.  Drove along the corniche to our hotel.  Had a nice Omani date cake and ice cream with tea before leaving for Ras El Jinz about 8:30 visit the turtle sanctuary.  As it was not the season to see the turtles it was a futile trip as there were none to see…

After breakfast on the patio, we drove in 4 wheel drive cars towards Wadi Bani Khalid, a rocky oasis nestled in the East Hajar mountains filled with natural pools.  There was a rather difficult walk to a low cave which was interesting to see if you had a flashlight.  I crawled in just far enough to see inside and it was worth the walk.  Stopped for a snack and then into the dunes where we climbed around and watched the sunset before settling into our desert lodge at Wahabi Sands.

Met in the lodge for a buffet dinner, i.e. chicken kebabs, rice, cucumber salad, breads, hummus and several cakes and Arabian desserts.

Pancakes and honey for breakfast with delicious dates served at every meal.  Leaving the desert behind, we headed towards Ibra and stopped to visit the Jabrin castle which dates back to about 600 years ago and has undergone an extensive renovation.  It is filled with history of how life was in Oman and there are many rooms inside all of which served a specific purpose, i.e. a special room where dates were crushed into liquid.   We spent about an hour enjoying all the lovely rooms.  Stopped at a little café for a falafel sandwich and then at the historic fortress of Bahla but didn’t go in unfortunately…  Saw some racing camels with remote controls which was very interesting.  Children used to ride them but now it is done by remote control!!!  Arrived in Nizwa about 5 p.m. and wandered through the old and new souqs, sampling dates and halvah.  We had time on our own so I visited the Nizwa Fort and Castle which was fabulous.  The castle part was filled with interesting exhibits about making indigo, how the palm trees are used, etc. housed in the beautiful rooms of the past.

Picked out a fresh fish for dinner at a little restaurant nearby and had it grilled along with a Greek salad.  Checked into our hotel, a bit far from town.

Early breakfast and then into Nizwa for the goat market which was great fun.  People were crowded around as goat sellers paraded their goats calling out the price until someone was interested.  Also stopped by the vegetable and fish markets and the weapons market where antique guns and knives were sold.  Stopped by LuLu Hypermarket to pick up a salad for lunch and then on to Al Hamra to visit the traditional mud houses of Misfat Al Abriyeen.  The village boasts amazing agricultural terraces, beautiful alleys and old houses built on top of solid rocks and learn about the Falaj network, Oman’s ancient water supply system.  Returned to Nizwa via Jebel Shams where we had a picnic overlooking Wadi Nakhr known as the Grand Canyon of Oman and then walked down into the “snake point” of the gorge which was a really nice walk. 

In the evening we all met in the lobby and drove to a nearby Turkish restaurant where we had a delicious dinner outside. I had chicken kebabs with yogurt sauce and Arabian bread and part of a spinach and cheese filled Turkish pizza which was really nice.

After breakfast in the morning, we drove through Wadi Bani Awf which offers some of the best off-road driving with beautiful scenery and stunning cliffs and canyons throughout.  Took a nice walk along the creek and continued to Snake Canyon where we picked up ice cream to hold us over until our late lunch.  Stopped at a really nice Turkish restaurant where we shared a kebab platter, meze of spreads, selection of breads and salads.  It was really delicious.  Arrived back in Muscat and had a few hours to take a walk along the beach. 

Later I walked down to Lokante where my friend works and had kanafe, the delicious dessert I had last time I was there and a cup of hot tea.  In the morning I fly to Khasab and finish the remainder of my time in Oman on my own which I am truly looking forward to!!!

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