When you start traveling, you generally start scouring the web looking for bucket lists, recommendations and must-see spots. Once you put a couple miles under you belt, you start thinking about the less-seen places and the less commercial locations. Obviously, the Eiffel Tower was breath-taking, the Burj Khalifa was impressive andPetra inspired true awe. But what is really amazing is finding a country, even if by accident, that far exceeds expectations.
Last of the GCC, for me
With my trip to Oman, I rounded out the 6 GCC countries: Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. As I told my friends about my upcoming trips, Oman always seemed to lag with my description. I really had no clue what to expect. It seems really old and dry. There are castles there. We’re staying at the Ritz Carlton… Sure all of that sounds nice, but when it is sandwiched between Petra and the Great Pyramids, how can you even compare? Well Tim and I were going to see what it is all about
The airplane seemed nice enough. The nonstop Oman Air flight was a smooth ride, and it is very short from DMM. While the check in line had been quite annoying, everything else went rather quickly. When we landed, a shuttle bus was there to pick up the passengers. I was one of 2 in business class, but we still got our own shuttle. Then we walked into the Passport and Visa area. This place was a cluster. Almost as chaotic as Nepal. I walked forward to the Currency Exchange window, which happened to also be the Visa Purchase window? Confusing, right? Then I was approached by a guard who had no clue what the Ritz Carlton was. He interrogated me about my stay, why was I here? What was I doing? When was I leaving? Afterwards, I got in a shorter line to wait for Passport Control. I tried to take a picture of the madness that was around me, but the officer made me delete the evidence.
Once through, we found the taxi desk and asked how much a ride to the Ritz is. Our friend, Mit, had told us it would be 12OMR. Their currency is a lot like Bahrain’s. It is $2.6/1 OMR… So that is a pricey cab. The desk told us 8 OMR, so we proceeded with the cabbie. After asking us where we were going, he too us to the Intercontinental. I told him that we needed the Ritz. He had no clue, so he pulled a U Turn, then pulled over. We stopped, and I asked why we stopped. To this, he forcefully told me to get out and pointed forward. It was already 1:30 AM, and I did not want to deal with cab shenanigans, but then I saw it…. Our cab was on fire. *OUT WE GO*
Now it is late, our phones don’t work and our cab is burning up. we waited for a while longer, then grabbed a cab. Finally, we made it to the Ritz Carlton. Apparently, no one in Muscat calls it that. They call it Al Bustan Palace. Lesson Learned. Walking in, this place fit the name. It looked like a palace fit for a king. We checked in and got the suite upgrade. We also learned that this hotel is where all the foreign royalty stay when they visit. The 9th floor is devoted to kings and princes.
It was now, very late, so after we marveled at our huge suite, we kicked out for a couple hours.
When I was planning this trip, I searched for tour groups that could give us a day tour. I found a good one in Old Muscat Tourism. They set up a full morning trip through Oman to see as much as we could pack into our time.
I strongly recommend doing this. Even if you’re tired, it is a good way to see all the sights and learn about the area.
We headed out, and luckily Tim and I got to catch a few more Zzz’s on the road. We were the first tourists to the castle. So we got our headsets and made our way through the winding hallways and stairs… so many stairs… everywhere stairs.
I loved going to the towers that housed all the cannon. It was crazy to look out and see desert for miles with date trees everywhere, and realize that we are in a castle. The castle seemed to be very new. And we learned that this castle was more like a Show & Tell type castle. It had been redone to help people learn about castles and forts in Oman. It is cool to see the efforts for tourism.
The most impressive part of this fort was the doors. They were vicious and strong
As I followed Tim, we found a “Secret Tunnel,” so naturally we went down into it. It was kind of creepy and dark, and that’s when I heard the telltale squeak of a bat. Sure enough there were bats. Tim immediately covered his head and began moving quickly, until the bat turned around and tried to dive bomb from the front. That was it; we are out. Once outside, we wanted to inform the help desk that they have bats. We were then told that, yes they use a scent to attract the bats. Oh Okay.
We headed from there to Al Rustaq, which means “big city.” Here there is a natural hot spring. People play in the water and visit it. The water is also used for crops.
At this point, we didn’t have enough time to make it to Nakhal Fort before they closed, so we stopped at al Thawarah hot spring for lunch. It was great scenery there. The water went past and we were covered by trees with a light breeze.
After lunch, we decided to go to the fort anyway. We lucked out. Turns out they were keeping it open late that day for some foreign dignitaries. I guess they didn’t realize who we are.
Nakhal Fort is one of the two big forts to visit when you come to Oman.
This was packed with tourists. They had weapons from their past on the walls. And of course, beautiful doors.
After the fort, we drove through the mountains and learned about date farming in the BidBid area of Oman. Then we headed back to al Bustan.
It was time to relax and rest. We took a little cat nap before Antoine and Ozzy headed over. The balcony was absolutely perfect in this weather.
The parrots frolicked and chirped outside our window while we had a great view of the majestic mountains.
Once they showed up, we went down and checked out the pool area. This hotel is amazing. I strongly recommend it.
After the long day, Tim and I enjoyed an All You Can Eat steak night at Al Khiran in the hotel. I knew after that meal, that I would not be exploring the night life of Oman on this trip.
After a nice night’s sleep, we woke up (a little past our alarm) ready for the day. We hailed a cab and headed to check out the mosque. In my time over here, I have seen a lot of mosques, but every review I read of Oman, said this was a “can’t miss.” I asked our cab driver if cabs were readily available at the mosque, to which he replied saying that he would be our tour guide and take us anywhere after. Well Okay. I guess that is true passion for your city. We learned about how wonderful Sultan Qaboos has been for the development of the city and culture.
Once at the mosque, I was blown away. Sure, it is the second biggest carpet in the world, but it isn’t that. It is the whole aura here. The energy and beauty all in one spot. It truly is a can’t miss spot in Muscat.
Our cab driver was true to his word and took us to the souq after the mosque. The souqs in these towns are necessary evils. They are cool gathering of knick knacks and souvenirs, but all the haggling annoys me personally. I just want to buy my keepsakes and gifts and leave.
But When In Rome, right?
Oman is known for frankincense and myrrh. If you are familiar with the Christmas story, then you have heard of these. But you probably wondered, what are those anyway? Well they are burned for soothing and medicinal smells. I knew I had to pick some of these up. I also found some nice jewelry and jewelry boxes.
Back at the hotel, we relaxed by the pool for a little while longer. Then we headed out to our flights. The airport is a lot better on the way out. And it appears that they are improving the whole airport with a lot of construction. There is a nice Irish pub, some cool gift shops, and a lounge or two to hang out in.
Muscat came in like a dark horse and rocked my wanderlusting mind. I plan to return.
until next time.