Monday, July 23, 2012

Meandering in Muscat

Since I was in training I knew I wanted to visit Oman.  I was fascinated by the links with East Africa, the purported difference in the pace of life from the rest of the Gulf countries, and the spectacular scenery.  I kept putting off a visit, knowing it was always there, until I realized I'd better book it or forget it on this tour.

I booked my flight and booked in at the luxurious al-Wada hotel at the Shangri-la's Bar al-Jissah Resort.  The room was at least $100 more per night than I'd ever paid for a hotel in my life, but I justified it as a weekend to escape and relax and celebrate my 30th birthday.  (Easy to say then, but as I wince when I pay down my credit card balance this week I decide it will need to be a while before I indulge quite this much again.)

A few days before I was to leave, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia died.  His wishes were to be buried in Mecca, and the court was in Jeddah for the summer.  This meant a big U.S. visit, and soon.  And we were short-staffed as it was.  As it began looking more and more likely that I'd need to be in town for the visit, I changed my flight and hotel to go one day later, amazingly with no change fees.  It turned out to be a good move, as the Defense Secretary and company arrived for a whirlwind condolence visit.

Anyway, leaving a day later didn't make it any less wonderful.  I arrived in Muscat in the early morning hours of Friday and got to the hotel about 1:30am.  Check-in was efficient and pleasant, and I ate some snacks from the included minibar and fell into bed.  I woke in time to breakfast that morning, a wonderfully elegant affair with a cold buffet and entrees made to order.  I thoroughly enjoyed the smoothie of the day idea, too!

After showering and getting dressed I set off to explore the resort.  Consisting of three hotels on a large campus, the resort is expansive.  I had a couple of hours before my spa appointment, so I wandered around.  I checked out the pool and explored the beach area and then checked in with the travel coordinator.  I decided to do a half day city tour the next day, as I wanted to see at least a little bit of Muscat while I was there.  I finally made my way to the spa, which was as well-appointed as any I've ever visited.  My afternoon package was four hours of pampering in my own idyllic treatment villa, and I emerged feeling revitalized.  I took a golf cart ride over to the heritage village, which was quite underwhelming.  I'm not sure whether it was because it was Friday, or summer, or still under construction, but there were no Omani artisans displaying their trades in the courtyard and only a few stores.  I bought a few silver pendants and meandered my way back to the hotel, checking out a few restaurants along the way but deciding to order room service and watch movies.  It was perfect.

The next morning I breakfasted early (another smoothie!) and met my tour guide in the hotel lobby.  We headed north toward Muscat, and I got my first daylight views of the spectacular scenery.  We started at the Grand Mosque, which was an absolutely amazing experience.  The grandeur and beauty and opulence of the mosque is phenomenal, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the detail and art and furnishings. 

We continued on to the fish market and the vegetable market.  We wandered through Muttrah Souq, but I was too hot to think about bargaining.  Though I did see some nice embellished wooden doors...  Oh well. 

Our next stop was the Sultan's Palace.  Sultan Qaboos has ruled Oman since 1970 and is predominantly beloved by the people.  He has been generous with infrastructure, education, and economic development.  The country has transformed since the time of his father's rule. 

We glimpsed two of the city's old forts, which are closed to the public.  All very beautiful and picturesque.  We stopped at Beit al-Zubair museum, which had some interesting exhibits, particularly clothing and jewelry and khanjars from the different areas of Oman.  Our last stop was a viewpoint looking out the Arabian Gulf with the Old City in the foreground.  Muscat is gorgeous.  But next time I visit it will be during the winter.  I couldn't believe how HOT it was.  And humid.  It was entirely more potent than Jeddah, by far.  Amazing. 

Arriving back at the hotel, I was still full from breakfast so had a leisurely afternoon nap.  I woke in time to visit the Turtle Ranger's presentation, and he advised me to meet him in an hour at the al-Wada private beach to check on a nest.  Turtles use the beaches at the Shangri-la as nesting grounds throughout the year, and the resort takes protecting them seriously.  I had registered to be called if any turtle activity happened during the night, but it was a slow weekend, apparently.  I made my way down (and down, and down, and down) to my hotel's private beach, wishing in hindsight that I'd changed into beach clothes for a swim, and waited.  Mohammed the Turtle Ranger met me there and dug up a nest that was due to hatch.  After inspecting the eggs, he decided it had a little bit more incubating to do and reburied it, complete with sign advising people to steer clear. 

I waded in the water a bit, really wishing I'd changed, and photographed a group of crabs on the rocks.  I headed back over to the heritage village after that and bought two Kashmiri rugs, something I'd been thinking about for a while.  The store owner remembered me from the day before and was super helpful and generous with prices. 

After arriving back at the hotel with my purchases (which are displayed on Facebook - friend me to see them, if you haven't already; it's too time-consuming to load them to Blogger right now), I again debated whether to eat in or out.  I opted for room service again, which is one of my favorite indulgences when I travel!

The next morning I breakfasted in style once again and took my time packing and getting ready.  I took a taxi from the resort to the airport and checked in for my flight.  Or tried to.  Somehow, when my travel agent changed the booking, the return flight didn't get confirmed.  So I was going to be standby, even though there were 7+ empty seats.  I finally talked my way into one of the seats and checked my luggage.  Crisis averted!  I browsed the few kiosks at the airport, grabbed a sandwich, and waited for my flight to open.  Unremarkable flight back, thankfully, and I got home and in bed at a decent hour. 

I really enjoyed Muscat but will definitely go at a different time of year next time.  There's so much to do and see - I'd love to drive around and also see Salalah. 

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

One of the mosque's five minarets and a gorgeous courtyard

Swarovski crystal chandelier in the main prayer hall

Carpet in the main prayer hall - took hundreds of women several years to make it!

Gorgeous colors and detail

Old Muscat

Sultan's Palace and forts in view

Sultan's Palace

Royal crest

One of the forts

View from my hotel :-)

My hotel

Such a gorgeous setting!

Looking out over the expansive resort

View from my hotel room

my hotel's private beach

Beach at sunset


Turtle nest sign

Lots of turtle nests!

1 comment:

Brooke said...

What a fun trip!