Friday 2 May 2014

Marvellous Muscat

The gorgeous Shangri-La in Muscat.
We've just returned from our break away to Oman. It was a fantastic trip away, but four days was plenty of time in Muscat.

Muscat is so different to Dubai. The scenery is steep and rocky. The city itself feels older and perhaps a little more what you would expect of a Middle Eastern city. The roads can be twisty and chaotic and then suddenly they are wide and grand. The local population is much higher in Oman than the UAE, so a lot less expats wandering about.

The bay of Muscat is almost European, there were moments when I felt I could have been in the Mediterranean. There were also parts when I felt I could have been in a coastal Australian town. It was quite confusing for the senses!

The Omanis love a roundabout as we frustratingly discovered on our long drive to Muscat. In Muscat itself, roundabouts are elaborately decorated - some with golden coffee pots or dolphins or incense

A Muscat roundabout.

The souk was a wonderful maze of trinkets, although probably a little too touristy. We did pick up some frankincense, which Oman is famous for and what every visitor to the country buys. The girls also bargained for and bought some tiny genie  lamps. Darbs, asleep in his stroller, attracted a lot of attention, the locals were convinced he wasn't comfortable enough and kept trying to "rearrange" him.

A lane way off the souk. 

The weather was hot and humid, pushing well into the 40s most days we were there, which made it a little uncomfortable for walking around. We were perhaps a month too late for the best weather.

We stayed just out of Muscat at the amazing Shangri-La resort, which is actually three hotels built into the most spectacular rocky cove. The long drive was worth the jaw-dropping scenery when we arrived at the hotel. We could have spent an entire three days just at the resort as it was so lovely.

We did pull ourselves away to trek into town a few times to explore. We were joined by the King of Spain who was also spending three days in Muscat and we saw his cavalcade of cars speed past us while we were there. The streets were lined with Spanish and Omani flags, there was much excitement (and security) for his visit.

One day, starving and in need of loo, we drove around Muscat looking for somewhere, anywhere, for the kids. The part of town we were in looked all shut up and there wasn't a lot around. I spotted a Costa's coffee shop and desperate we did a u-turn to pull in. Just then we spotted a restaurant and decided to give that a try.

There was a small doorway that said "Family entrance" we decided that must be us and climbed a long dark stairway. When we reached the top there were a number little doors with shoes lined up outside. We were shown to our own private room with just a rug, a few cushions and a crackly TV in the corner. We plonked ourselves down and ordered a few things off the menu, not 100% sure of what we'd ordered. While we waited for our lunch, I took the girls to the bathroom, running into smiling Omani families in the dark, narrow corridors. The girls were taken aback when they discovered a squat toilet in the bathroom "What to do we do??" they squealed.

Dining Omani style. 

When we came back to our room, a man arrived balancing a tray the size of table, the food laid out on the floor we dug in. It was amazing! Such a lucky find as apparently there aren't too many traditional Omani restaurants left like this in Muscat. It definitely wasn't set up for tourists. I had hoped to dine in one but hadn't expected to stumble on such a fabulous experience. One we'll take away with us forever.

After a long, tiring drive, we're back in the razzle dazzle of Dubai, happy to be home but so happy we did our adventure to Muscat. It has long been on my list of 'places to visit from Dubai'. If you visit this part of the world, I highly recommend taking a few days to visit Muscat.


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