Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Camping: 1000 Nights Camp revisited

It seems appropriate that with Earth Day just passed to share some beautiful pictures of Oman's landscape.

Last weekend we revisited the 1000 Nights Camp in Wahiba Sands, and while I won't go into detail about the camp again (you can read about it, here) I will say that it was a completely different experience this time. We knew how to get to the camp for starters.

On this occasion, we had my aunt, mum, and cousin with us. Before entering the sands, we stopped in what I can only call an oasis for lunch. Right next to the sands, an area filled with green plants and trees. Beautiful. I wish I had the photography skills to get a shot showing the contrast, but just picture sand dunes next to farmland.

After the 40km drive, we arrived at the camp and managed to get a drive up to the top of the dunes to watch the sunset. Our driver gave us a taste of dune bashing, which was terrifying. As you go over the top of a dune, you get that feeling that you do at the peak of a roller coaster, except you are very aware of the fact that there is no suspension to slow you as you fall and you are completely reliant on the skills of the driver.

Having safely arrived at the top of the dunes, we sat and waited for the sunset.

Being April, it was much hotter than last time and we were wrong this time to have got a room without air conditioning, the temperature stays hot throughout the night before dropping very slightly in the early hours of the morning and then heating up all over again. This time the water in the bathroom was warm though, which made having a shower outdoors much more bearable.

The next day we headed along to Wadi Bani Khalid, again. This is still my favourite place in Oman, and while I wouldn't recommend a trip to the desert right now, Wadi Bani Khalid would be a perfect day trip because the pools of water are perfect for cooling off in.

With the summer quickly catching up with us, I'm starting to get a bit of anxiety thinking about being trapped indoors for the next couple of months. How do you cope?! 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Out and about: Muscat Grand Mosque

Muscat Grand Mosque main hall

Every guest that comes to see us is taken for a visit to the Grand Mosque, it is one of Muscat's best "attractions". The mosque, which is Oman's largest, opened in 2001 after 6 years and 4 months of building. It can accommodate 20,000 worshippers at any one time (750 women in the women's hall, and the rest men) and although this number seems huge, for Friday prayer the place will easily fill with the late comers ending up outside.

Muscat Grand Mosque
Muscat Grand Mosque

 As Muslims, it is easy for us to wander around at any time since the Mosque is open all day, every day. Non-muslims/visitors, on the other hand, are limited to visiting in the morning until about 11.30 a.m. When visiting with my family the first time I hoped that there would be tours during this period, but it seems you have to organise this separately. During this time there are some information areas open where you can find out more about Islam, ask questions to the volunteers, or just escape the heat and get some water! They also have a good video explaining a little about the mosque.

The site is beautiful and, as the name suggests, grand. I'm going to say this about a lot of places in Oman, but the sandy/cream stone always looks beautiful in the sunlight and the landscaped gardens make it a very peaceful place, as it should be.

Close to the men's ablution area there is a long corridor which at one end starts with the earliest interior designs of mosques and goes through time showing the changes. It is an area you don't often hear about in the guidebooks, but it is definitely worth looking out for.

Muscat Grand Mosque design
Muscat Grand Mosque design
Muscat Grand Mosque design

On our visit we learnt some facts about the mosque, here are my favourites:
  • There are 34 chandeliers that hang from the ceiling in the men's hall, but the center, the main one is made up of Swarovski crystal and has gold-plated metalwork. It weighs 8 tonnes and has 1,122 lamps inside. It is one of the largest chandeliers in the world and was the largest in the Middle East for a short time. 
  •  Worthy of a separate point, the chandelier contains a staircase, yes a staircase, for when the bulbs need to be changed. 
  •  The carpet in the men's hall is a single piece covering the 4,343 sq meter area. It was stitched in parts by a lot of women (I forget the number) and took four years. The final stitching and laying of the carpet was done inside the hall. 
  •  The carpet weighs 21 tonnes.
Muscat Grand Mosque men's hall

How's that for fun facts? If you have visited the Grand Mosque let me know what your favourite part was.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Out and about: Dolphin watching

Dolphins Oman
I once read a very disturbing article about dolphins and other animals that are generally considered cute. It was so disturbing I insist on sharing it with everyone, link. That said, it didn't make me want to see dolphins in Oman any less (I just won't ever swim with them).

There are a few companies in Muscat that offer the trip, some are combined with full-day tours or snorkelling. I expect they are all much of a muchness and I selected one based on the cheapest deal (I booked my trip with Azzha Tours).

We departed from Marina Bandar al Rowdha, near Muttrah, at 10am (there is also a departure at 8am). We were fortunate that the sea was calm that day and we whizzed off into the horizon and after half-an-hour had nothing but ocean surrounding us.

Marina Bandar al Rowdha,
Boat ride Oman
Then the search was on. At this point, we were one of a few of boats looking out for dolphins. The sign that someone had spotted some were that one boat would speed off and so would the rest behind him. We saw a small pod of dolphins who would duck under the water as we got closer and would reappear again further away a little later.

Dolphin watching Oman
How many dolphins you see really just comes down to your luck on the day. We were lucky to see any and I managed to get one "classic" dolphin picture. We were told that only days before there were hundreds.

I couldn't help but wonder how responsible the dolphin watching organisation is here. There were about five/six boats chasing the dolphins on our visit, and this must cause a disturbance and put the dolphins under stress. The boats did all seem to stop a distance away and switch off their engines, which I understand is the rule, but considering the dolphins would always duck away and appear so much further I wondered if we would have been better watching from one spot or making a much slower approach. So if I arrange another trip again I will make sure I do some research first. 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Eating Out: SemSom

New restaurants are always exciting, and after reading some great reviews of Semsom, which is located in Muscat Grand Mall, I wanted to check it out.

Described as Lebanese with a twist, I didn't really know what to expect. I, wrongly, dump a lot of Arabic cuisine into the same category. There is a lot of crossover in my defence.

Let's start with the obvious. I had to order the pink hummus, the twist is clear, rather than the traditional chickpea and tahini mix there is the addition of summac, which gives the colour, and thyme, which gives it a tartness. The best part is picking it up with the fresh, hot bread that is served to the table regularly.

I made the ammateur mistake on filling up on the bread though: good bread is hard to come by and it's hard to not help yourself to just "one more bite". I couldn't finish my main, which was the marinated steak. The choice was mainly because everything else on the menu was a bit of a mystery. With no descriptives of the food and pictures that weren't that helpful in a lot of cases I didn't want to make a choice blind. Although from what I could see being served to other tables everything looked delicious.

The marinated steak was tender and juicy, and wrapped in flatbread with gherkins, other veg and sauce. The portion size was generous and I could barely finish the two sides you choose to come with it, in my case chips (always good) and an aubergine dish.

I did decide to go a bit more adventurous with my drink choice and ordered the Gellab, which turned out to be a date drink with nuts and raisins. It was very good, although the Ayran (yoghurt drink) probably would have complemented the food better.

A dinner for four (one side, four mains, and four drinks) cost around 30OMR, so not bad value for money. It is also worth noting that, unlike many other restaurants, the staff are really on top of the service, which adds to the pleasant experience.

I've noticed that a new Lebanese restaurant has opened in The Wave so my plan is to visit that next and see what Lebanese without a twist is meant to taste like.  

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Favourite things: March

Taking inspiration from Heather over at The Duncan Adventures I thought I would share my favourite things about the month of March.

So in no particular order...
1. Trevor Noah in Muscat
To say we were excited that Trevor Noah was coming to Muscat and that we had tickets to watch his show is an understatement. It was fantastic. I came home with my cheeks aching from laughing. You can read more about it, here.

2. Boat trip to Daymaniyat Island
As part of our "enjoy the outdoors before the summer starts" trips we visited Daymaniyat Island as part of a larger group of friends. The day was relaxed and it was nice to do something a little more unusual for a day trip. You can read more about it, here

3. Naturalizer shoes
My favourite fashion find in the Middle East by far has been this brand of shoes. They are so comfortable (and so expensive too, but let's ignore that). To save my feet and the rest of my body a lifetime of pain I try to minimize the use of flip flops and decided to invest in more supportive shoes that would crossover as work and weekend shoes. The styles don't seem to change that often, and most of them might not be considered that stylish, but there are a few classics in there and they are supremely comfortable. You can find the store in Muscat Grand Mall.

4. The Miniaturist
This is my current book club read  kept me very much hooked in March. I'm not 100% sure I liked it, but it is a story that keeps you sucked in.

I have my aunt, cousin, mum and dad visiting throughout April, so I am looking forward to lots of quality family time and showing them the sights and sounds of Muscat, which reminds me to ask, what are your must see places? 

Wednesday, 1 April 2015


So Trevor Noah was in town last night for his first show in Oman.

It seems like booking a gig here is a good omen for a lot of artists, after all Ed Sheeran won a whole bunch of awards just before his show, and Noah was announced the new host of America's The Daily Show.

Me and the hubby actually only discovered him a couple of months ago. We were watching an episode of Live at the Apollo and he had a short slot: after that we were hooked.

The venue for the show was Al Bustan's Oman Auditorium, which was perfect: lots of comfortable seating and just enough people to keep it feeling intimate.

We arrived soon after the doors opened and since it was free seating decided we would sit up front, three rows from the front in fact -- in perfect range for questioning it turns out.

I think comedy is a really hard job: fulling people's expectation to laugh, staying on the right side of the line between funny and insulting. Noah is great at this, I wasn't sure how he would deal in a Middle Eastern setting, how he would adapt his show, but he did brilliantly. That said, he isn't rude and generally keeps is clean anyway. His comedy is observational, which meant that a lot of the material was original, and the main themes tend to be racial identity and culture. He seems to be very insightful, as well as observant, which only makes the jokes he makes about men, women and relationships, in particular, that much funnier.

As I mentioned, he did adapt the show to the audience, touching on his brief observations of Oman and the Middle East, while uniting the diverse audience. I would love to think of myself as talented enough to recount one of his tales here, but I'm not so I'll leave you with a link of Live at the Apollo to enjoy instead.

Another great memory for the Oman scrapbook. Thanks Trevor!