Wednesday 1 April 2015
Another 26 days off! Woo! This time I’m fitting a LOT in. Well, I guess that’s kind of normal for me!
It’s always a great start when you get to Heathrow and there is a sign on the check in desk stating that your flight is delayed. At least it’s only 20 minutes. Apparently.
I haven’t flown from terminal 3 in a while, it gets so busy. And I was so early for the flight. The 9pm departure time came and went and we didn’t even have a gate. Finally, we did. Boarding was super quick and by 10pm we were off – they can turn these planes around quickly when they want to!! They served dinner at 12am. I didn’t feel like eating, I just wanted to sleep. But I was given the most delicious looking vegan tray – sprouted chickpea, kidney bean and lettuce salad. A potato and vegetable curry, with rice and spiced lentils. And fruit. It was so good!! I tried to sleep, but didn’t really succeed. And despite taking off nearly 90 minutes after scheduled, we only arrived 15 minutes late! At 7.45am.
Thursday 2 April 2015
Flying over Oman into Muscat I was really surprised. I hadn’t expected it to look like this! Brown mountains, with brown valleys full of small square-box white buildings. No green insight (apart from a tiny patch in front of a mosque).
2015 country number 5 – Oman
I only have a few letters of the alphabet left to tick off, now just – J and Q. Did I come here just to go to an “O”?
Perhaps (obviously)….but it was conveniently on the way and the diving looks good!
We had to walk off the plane and the heat hit immediately. All 39 degrees celsius of it. Awesome!!
We were bussed to the terminal and I was surprised when I was met by a woman with my name on a paper. I had a personal escort to get my visa, through immigration and customs! Wow!! And everyone was so nice!! It was all so quick. Only 15 people got off here, the rest of the plane was transiting!
Within half an hour I was outside and had found my driver. Despite being so hot, it was also surprisingly very windy. Hotels are incredibly expensive here, nothing at all in the cheaper guesthouse range. So I’ve gone all out and staying at a 5 star hotel, not what I normally do when away for several weeks. Novel.
And it was a very quick drive from the airport – literally about 5 minutes!! Deserted. Into my room – wow. Probably the biggest room I’ve ever stayed in. I’m going off on a city tour later today, but for now I have several hours to do nothing. Sleep? No….pool time!!!
Surprisingly totally deserted here too, had the entire pool and area to myself! Amazing! After a couple of hours lounging on a pool bed – yes – literally the size of more than 2 beds, I was feeling rather sleepy. 3 hours on a plane is clearly not enough. I was picked up at 11.30am by my driver for the next few hours. We drove along the coastline, through the various small towns that make up Muscat city.
The city isn’t really a ‘proper’ city, more just made up of lots of different areas; the government building area (lots of similar, large white boxy buildings), the car-buying area, the clothes shopping malls, the embassy area (very fancy, bright white, small boxy buildings) etc. We drove past the Sultan Qaboos mosque. It was huge. The mosque once had the largest rug in the world, until Abu Dhabi took that title. It was surrounded by a small green park area – this is what I saw when flying over this morning. Sadly it’s only open to visitors in the mornings for a few hours and I had missed that, so didn’t get to go in.
The guy told me lots of random facts about the country. One that was particularly unusual was about the car number plates. They are all different colours. Yellow is for a personal car. Red is for a company owned car. Orange is a taxi. And a flag is for a royal car – and we did spot one of these!
After leaving behind the populated areas, we climbed a bit into the hills. One of the major Omani oil companies is here – they own a whole dock for their ships and their oil storage cylinders are up here in the hills – rows of large containers. We headed up past where the old city gates used to be. Each village has its own large stone entrance way. And the views from here down into Old Muscat were cool.
Surrounded by brown mountains, the usual white square box buildings in the middle. Forts on each side (Al-Jalali Fort and Al-Mirani Fort) and a couple of ornately decorated palace buildings peaking between.
We made our way down to the coast and into Old Muscat, stopping to look out to sea and at the forts at a few different spots. These forts are no longer used, they used to be look out points for protecting the country. In the middle, there is a large open square. This square is surrounded by several geofence to administrative buildings and at one end, a new museum which is still being built.
This square is also home to Al Alam palace (Sultan’s palace), an ornate colourful building (yes it really stands out against all the white!) which is the ceremonial palace of the Sultan. He no longer lives here, but lives further up the coast.
Next up, Al-Bustan Palace, apparently the sultan did once live here, but now has turned into the Ritz hotel. Apparently it was fine to wander in and take photos, ok, don’t need telling twice! Wow, it was elaborate. A huge domed atrium, full of glittering gold and large chandeliers. People were rather dressed up in here, so I didn’t stay long in my tatty clothes….!
We carried on along the coastline and reached some pretty marinas and small deserted sandy, rocky coves with bright blue waters. Once we hit the Shangri-La complex, we turned around and headed back.
The final stop was along the Corniche, a small bay lined with shops and a large mosque with a blue mosaic minaret (tower). There were a few locals bustling along, but mostly small groups of tourists who were visiting the Mutrah Souq. The driver said this was a traditional souq where people came to buy things – particularly if they were getting married. However, really all it was were a few lanes of touristy souvenir shops selling exactly the same things that are sold in markets in Istanbul (lamp shades, plates and bowls), India (scarves, shoes, spices stuffed camels and decorations) and Dubai (ornamental and souvenirs oil lamps).
The only ‘different’ things I spotted were the hats which are worn by men (a kuma). So it wasn’t all that exciting. What I really wanted to try were fresh dates. Sadly it’s not the season for them, they don’t ripen for a couple of months yet. But in this large date growing country it must be easy to buy dates? Seemingly not. I found a shop that did have some dates, several different types, but they were more expensive than in England!!!! What?? I bought a small bag of them (£1.70) which was expensive and they were really disappointingly not very nice. What was better were the little shops which were behind the Souq. These were local shops, selling local dress, local snacks and small electricals. There was a mini supermarket, so small only about 3 people could fit inside. They had trees of bananas hanging outside and lots of other fruit and vegetables. So I bought a watermelon (yeah, I carried a whole watermelon around…) a few mangos and bananas. Not particularly cheap at £4 though.
Dotted all around the city are small ‘coffee shops’ as they are all called. What this means is a small stand selling drinks, juice and small fried Indian foods, with some plastic stools outside. They looked quite popular with locals and given it was now 2pm I was a little hungry. So I tried 1 of each of the little samosas, sweet bread and lentil discs that they were selling (and all just happened to be vegan!). Not bad at 70p. And they were delicious!!! So I went back to buy more for later…!
It was just a 15 minute drive back to the hotel from here, past more white square box buildings. I got back at 2.30pm. Not much to do, so went to sit by the pool again. Water was still freezing!! But by 4pm I just could not stay awake any longer. So I went for a nap for a few hours. I temporarily woke up, ate some watermelon, enjoyed my bath and went back to sleep again by 8pm!!!
Friday 3 April 2015
I was up early this morning at 6.40am! Looking outside, it looked quite foggy – lots of dust in the air. At breakfast by 7am – so much choice!! I had a bit of Indian potato curry (yeah, I love a curry breakfast!) with some coconut chutney and a plate of fruit. Then headed off to a marina.
The taxi to the marina was expensive £14 (!) for a 10 minute drive. I found the dive centre, but then they said they were cancelling due to the weather!! It’s quite windy and there is a lot of dust in the air. They are expecting a sandstorm to come over from Dubai. So don’t want to go out incase the weather gets worse. All the dive boats were cancelling. Bit of a shame, but what can you do.
Basically (apart from a country beginning with “O”) the reason I came here. They were nice enough to drop me back at the hotel, so I didn’t have to waste more money on a taxi!! 8.30am and a whole day ahead of me….! So I went to the gym for 90 minutes – had the whole place to myself!! Sat by the pool for a while. Packed. Basically did nothing. Major sandstorm didn’t arrive. Ate some more watermelon. Went back to the pool. Back to the gym. Really quite boring doing nothing.