Thursday, 18 August 2016

Why I've been a rubbish blogger

One of the "rules" you see about blogging is never to apologise for an absence. Most people don't care or notice that you've not been updating, and yet, I feel like I should explain.

Really, I haven't been that bad; just extremely lazy. I have at least five posts ready in draft format waiting for images. But, for reasons that will become obvious, downloading the pictures from my memory card has become this huge, arduous task that I haven't had the energy or inclination to do. I will get round to it, eventually.

And the reason for everything: I'm having a baby.

My first instinct after finding out was to run home. Not because I wasn't happy about it, but because I didn't want to start a family until we left Oman. The thought of going through pregnancy and childbirth in a country I don't consider home with friends, family, and convenience all thousands of miles away is scary. But I've had enough time now to accept the fact and, if nothing else, the experience will make for an interesting blog post or two.

As a government employee, I am entitled to care at the local health centres and hospitals - saving us a chunk of money since my husband's work insurance doesn't cover maternity. I've also heard that the government healthcare is better (and in worst case scenarios you would be transferred to a government hospital anyway). The obvious difference so far is that the private hospitals are shiny and modern compared to the health centres. In terms of the service, the main observation I can make is that no one likes to tell you what's going on or why you need to do something. In my case, I suspect that the occasional language barrier doesn't help; but, it is entirely possible that I just ask far more questions than the average person.

I will blog more about this in another post, purely out of interest sake since I appreciate many people don't have the option to use this system. I won't be posting weekly updates for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don't think they'll be that interesting (reading around the subject I've had things pretty easy up to now), and secondly, I'm already over halfway through. Finally, as we have already established, I've been feeling pretty lazy. I spent most of the first trimester asleep, and trimester two seems to be a test of my willpower not to eat 24/7, which was only made harder during Ramadan. I went through that phase of looking like I had just let myself go a bit, and now a am sporting a small, but definite, bump. I'm not sure how normal this is, but it does double in size after dinner, and seeing myself inflate at night and deflate by the morning is weirdly entertaining. 

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Here comes the summer

I dread the arrival of summer in Muscat -- the heat, the boredom. Ergh. But this year I've made plans.

1. Troom Oman Escape Room. I've wanted to visit Troom for a while, but I decided to wait for the summer since it is an indoor thing. It's an escape room game where you need to look for clues and solve puzzles to find the key to get out. You get an hour in total, and there are three different themed rooms, which means the chance for more than one trip.

2. Camping in the mountains. We have a camping trip planned to Jebel Shams next month, and if that goes well, I would also like to try Jebel Al Akhdar. Mountains being high as they are means that the temperature is much cooler. If camping isn't your thing, there are hotels, which I would hope will have some special rates for the summer.

3. Go snorkelling or scuba diving. As you all know, diving is my thing now and no phrase rings truer when you think about how hot the summer can get here than the words of Sabastian from The Little Mermaid: "Darling it's better down where it's wetter". Be warned, though. When you are in the water, all is amazing, but it will be very hot travelling to and from the sites and you need to be very careful about getting sunburnt. I'm speaking from sore experience.

4. Visit Salalah. The most popular time to visit Salalah is the Khareef (monsoon) season when the place turns green and cool. That said it is one of those places you can visit anytime, and probably best to visit out of peak season when the hotels get expensive and full. If we do manage to see it this year, I will probably try to plan the trip just outside of the busy season (August) so it's not too crowded and expensive.

5. Spend the day at Wadi Shab. I'm adding this to the list not really knowing if Wadi Shab is feasible when it's hot. I've heard great things about the place, and many people claim it is a favourite so I want to see it for myself.

There are of course lots of other places to be entertained indoors -- the cinema, bowling alleys, ice rink, and the "shopping centres" -- but I do prefer the atypical options.

Where do you plan on seeing out the summer? More ideas are most welcome! 

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Out and about: Jebel Sifah

One of my favourite stretches of beach in Oman is at Jebel Sifah. It's one of those places that if in doubt we'll just head there to hang out or have a BBQ. 

So when Jebel Sifah invited my family and me to spend the weekend there, we didn't take long to accept the invite. 

We usually get there by car. The drive takes you through the mountains on long windy roads that open up to pools of water. But, this time, we arrived via water taxi, which is a completely different experience. The taxi leaves from Marina Bandar Rowda and arrives in the marina of Jebel Sifa about 45 minutes later, taking you past the Al Bustan Hotel, Shangri-La and then stretches of mountains. 

When we arrived, we checked into a huge two bedroom flat with a view of the sea. The development is very much like The Wave, with a mixture of flats and houses, coffee shops, places to eat, and, most excitingly, a brand new dive centre. 

One of the great things is that while you have access to the beach and sea, you are also free to enjoy the pool at the hotel Sifawy (which also has a impressive Friday brunch and dinner buffet). 

We had the option to take part in water activities, too. Diving was unfortunately cancelled because of strong winds, but my husband did have a go at jet skiing (I was too scared). 

We also got a chance to look at how the development will expand in the future, with the addition of a couple of 5-star hotels, a golf course, and more houses and flats. It will be impressive. The flats we stayed in are available to rent, either via the hotel for short-term/weekend stays, but there is the option for long-term renting, too.  

We had a great weekend, thank you to Jebel Sifah and Muriya for having us. We'll be back! 

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Expat Life: Top tips for relocating to Oman

I've filled out a couple of questionnaires about my blog and what it is like being an expat in Oman recently and they, typically, would ask for top tips when it comes to living here. So I thought I would collate my answers and add a little more information for anyone about to make the journey or new to the place. That said, I would like to think these tips are useful wherever in the world you are going.

Before you arrive
1) Get your paperwork in order.
Get marriage certificates and education certificates attested. We were given a lot of wrong information from my husband's company about what we would need to have. This meant FedEx'ing documents back to the UK to be attested, which is expensive and time-consuming. Think ahead and bring all the documents you could be asked for.

2) Pack home comforts.
I was very naive about how hard I would find the transition, but my best friend gave me this tip, and she was so right: pack home comforts and things that are familiar to you. I specifically remember her telling me she took the Boots home-brand facial wipes and cotton pads, and this makes so much sense. While shopping in a new place can be exciting, it can also be incredibly annoying, especially if you don't recognise brands or can't even figure out what a product is because you can't read the packaging. Having those small things that add a bit of normalcy to such a big change can make a huge difference.

3) Read blogs.
Mine obviously, as well as all the people in my blog roll. They will give you an idea of what life is like here and what you can look forward to. Obviously, you will continue to do this after you arrive too.

4) Join Facebook groups.
There are loads of Muscat-related groups, some for buying and selling furniture and such, others for asking questions, and some for reviews of restaurants, spas, etc. They are great sources of advice and information.

5) Spend time alone.
Undoubtedly you will feel isolated, and you have to get used to dealing with that feeling or being alone or lonely. There will also be situations when you will be trying your best to communicate with someone, but you just don't understand one another, if you want to get used to this maybe try having a serious conversation with a toddler.

After you arrive 

Now I'm going to leave out the obvious here, because there obvious (get a roof over your head, furniture, bank account, etc.)

1) Get out and drive.
Don't end up like me so scared of the roads that you don't go out and explore. Get in the car, expect that people are going to drive fast and very close to you and if you are from the UK get over the fact that you are driving on the wrong side of the road. I don't think I ever used my horn before living here; now it is almost daily. It's normal.

2) Forget about time.
Time. Deadlines. These words mean nothing here. If you give up on expecting anything to be done in a hurry, you'll be just fine.

3) Socialise
There are a few expat social groups for women, which I have blogged about before, and via Facebook, you can find groups related to any particular interests you may have. There is also a handy "local events" tab where you can find out about stuff happening that you might want to go to.

4) Find a new hobby
Chances are whatever hobby you had before you moved to Oman exists here, but there is the chance to get into new hobbies, particularly outdoor ones. I discovered scuba diving, but there are plenty of other water sports, there is also hiking, driving, camping, cycling, and I am sure much more. If you aren't so into the outdoors, there are also clubs for playing games, arts and crafts, reading. And if it turns out that there isn't a club/group for your particular thing, it's easy enough to start your own.

I hope that is helpful to anyone moving. Those of you who already made the move, what would your piece of advice be?