From Khasab Oman, we took a plane to our second stop in Oman: Muscat. Since our plane did not arrive in Muscat until early afternoon, and we had to leave early the next morning, our options were limited. Unfortunately, neither the Jalai and Mirani forts (16th century Portuguese) or the Sultan’s Palace are open to the public, and the Grand Mosque and many of the museums and palaces are open only in the morning and early afternoon. Not to be too detoured by official hours, we arranged a private driving tour (the only practical way to see the sprawling city and its sights) of these and other interesting sites. Among the highlights were the:
Grand Mosque, which we could view only from the outside, but our guide could enter and take pictures of the interior;
Reconstructed Jalai and Mirani forts which cut striking poses over the city and the harbor;
Corniche (beach), with its daily hand-polished, granite sidewalks and balustrades;
The city’s three harbors, the most exclusive of which houses the Marina Club, the smallest of which houses a fleet of small fishing boats and the largest of which is needed to accommodate the King’s huge yacht;
Royal Opera House, which was not open to visitors at that time, but we saw the beautiful marble exterior, two elaborate arabesque-style carved lobbies and the Galleria, occupied primarily by exclusive jewelry and watch stores and high-end restaurants;
The Sultan’s Palace (whose pillars are among the few splashes of color in an otherwise white and cream-colored city) along with the King’s guest quarters;
An array of new, but traditional-style government buildings including various ministries and the new court complex;
Al-Bustah Palace, which is the city’s most exclusive hotel and whose top floor is reserved for those of the King’s guests who can’t be accommodated in the palace’s guest quarters; and
Mutrah Souk, a modernized version of a traditional souk whose central section is dominated overwhelmingly by tourist shops (tee shirts, pashminas, souvenirs), but whose labyrinth of smaller alleys contain many specialty stores for locals that sell everything from baby cloths and hair ribbons and bows, to large appliances.
The city (or actually a confluence of three cities (Mutrah, Ruwi and Old Muscat) presents a very different image from Abu Dhabi and Dubai. While the two UAE cities are dominated by ultra-modern high rises and bold color palettes, Muscat consists overwhelmingly of white and cream-colored low-rise buildings, most of which contain Arabesque elements, such as lattices, domes, crenulated walls and/or Arab-style doors and windows. Nowhere is this better exemplified than along the primary commercial blocks of the Corniche.
Despite our late arrival, we were able to visit one of the city’s most important museums (the Beit Al Zubair) which traces the history and culture of the country by displays of traditional weapons (especially swords and flintlocks), musical instruments, coins and postage stamps, books and manuscripts (dating from the 7th and 8th centuries), household items. women’s clothes and jewelry, men’s attire (including ceremonial walking sticks and Khanjars, or daggers). The museum also contains a replica of a traditional palm frond house and a mid-20th century home, as well as an exhibit of fiberglass models of oryxes, the national animal, painted by different artists. A beautiful and enlightening museum of which photos could be taken of only a few sections.
Hotel and Meals
We stayed at the wonderful Crowne Plaza Hotel, of which many rooms overlooked the beach and pool. We had to change our room 3 times because they kept giving us a queen size bed instead of a king size. But the third time was a charm and we were given an upgraded rom on the 6th floor with a beautiful view of the beach. Bed and linens were very comfortable. The shower was in a narrow bathtub, but the water flow was sufficient. The room had lots electrical outlets including by each side of the bed. One side of the bed had multi country outlets and USB outlets.
In addition to the room and atmosphere, the hotel also has a wonderful pub with all types of reasonably priced (at least reasonable as we had just come from Dubai where drinks are outrageously expensive) and light food. We ended up eating at the hotel’s Arabian restaurant, Shiraz, where we shared a wonderful meal of an interesting salad (basil, lettuce, tomato, red/yellow/green peppers, carrot, cucumber, feta); bread with a yogurt, cucumber and dill dip; chicken and kofka kebabs, lamb in seven herb, red bean and dried lemon sauce; and three types of rice (white, red with saffron and berries, and green with dill). A very good dinner was made even better by adding a 2013 Wolf Blass 2013 Red Label Shiraz-Cabernet!
After spending a very comfortable night, we received one more gift from the hotel: probably the best and most interesting breakfast buffet we have ever seen. It had every type of fruit you can imagine. Tom began with mangosteen, rambutan, passion fruit, papaya, dates–oh my. That, however, was just the first course. Want pancakes, eggs or omelets, any style? No problem. There’s also a huge variety of breads and muffins, cheeses and smoked and cured meats and fish, including smoked duck and chicken and a delicious tuna pastrami. For an oriental start, how about miso soup? Or if you want more Arabic dishes: have some hummus, moutabel (spicy eggplant dip), labneh (strained yogurt), foul medamus (Egyptian dish of cooked and mashed fava beans served with vegetable oil, cumin and optionally with chopped parsley, onion) and halloumi cheese, either raw or grilled. What a wonderful way to begin a morning. Our only regret was that we had only allocated 25 minutes for breakfast. We could have easily spent a leisurely hour exploring the food.