Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A night at the Royal Opera House (Broadway on Ice)

This year was the first that I was to miss some sort of Christmas celebration, not wanting to leave the date unmarked completely we booked to watch Broadway on Ice at the Royal Opera House.

I love theatre so I am really glad that Muscat has a little culture from the The Royal Opera House Muscat, from what I understand it was the first (and maybe still the only) venue for musical arts and culture.
The opera house is located in Shati Al-Qurm district, which I also really like, it is much more bustling than other areas of the city. The Opera House complex contains not only the concert theatre, but also luxury restaurants and shops and is surrounded by landscaped gardens. The cream coloured tiles give it an air of luxury and it looks particularly impressive in the daytime (I'll head out early one day and take some pictures to share).

The season runs from September to May each year and there is a variety of concerts, operas, ballets, and other dance shows from groups and individuals worldwide. Prices for shows vary (there are usually three performances per show) but if you are lucky you can nab the odd cheap seat in the stalls, which is what we did with Broadway on Ice.
As the name suggests the show combined figure skating with well known musicals, such as Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, and Singing in the Rain. The interior of the theatre is very classic so having an ice rink contained was quite a contrast.

Another fun aspect to a night at the Opera House is that it has a formal dress code, which gives me a good excuse to dress up (although you still need to remain modest by covering shoulders and wearing a long dress).
We managed to nab some cheap tickets for the opera in January and a ballet later in the year, not in the stalls unfortunately, but having never experienced either the Opera House is the ideal place to introduce us.

If you are in Muscat and are interested in seeing a show you can book, here

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Road trip: The base of Jebel Akhdar

We had a plan. For our second road trip we were going to visit Jebel Akhdar and explore the mountains. I wanted to find the abandoned village, Wadi Bani Habib. My husband wanted to have lunch at the new Hotel Alia. My parents were also here with us and were happy to do whatever. 

We set out at an early time for us (about 10am) and reached the base of the mountain in about two hours. The drive is a pleasant one and you see a lot of the landscape including some impressive oasis filled with date palms.

As we began the drive up the mountain we heard a squeak, followed by a shaking, and had to stop the car.

That was the extent of our Jebel Akhdar experience on that occasion and we decided it was safer to head back down the mountain and abandon the road trip for the day.

We stopped briefly at the bottom of the mountain and while my husband played mechanic, me and my parents took a stroll around what looked like an abandoned village. I say looked like because while a lot of the houses were crumbled and caved in, there were a few that still seemed to be occupied, with clothes hanging outside and satellite dishes mounted on the roof, and we could even hear chattering behind a few of the doors. 
Some of the falaj channels (Oman's original irrigation system) had fresh water running through the village.
Mum playing explorer
Spot the AC unit?
I really love seeing this side of Oman, something truly unique and pertaining to the history of the place. It is also easy to find that you are the only person exploring a place so there is that sense that you are the first to discover it. 

I've not been able to find out the name of the village, but if you are at the base of the mountain, facing it, take a right. You are taken along a narrower road and after a minute or so look out on your left for an even narrower road and the cream-coloured brick of the houses. If you get to the forest area on the right you have gone too far.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Vox Cinema Premier, Muscat City Centre

I've been fortunate enough to attend two premier showings of movies at Vox Cinema in Muscat. Last week I attended The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the final movie in The Hobbit Trilogy.
I hadn't seen the previous two movies so spent the two nights before catching up, which is not the easiest of tasks considering the movies are three hours each! I never used like fantasy and then I started watching Game of Thrones and my mind changed. I don't want to give too much away, but the third movie was good and if you are into the series, seeing it on the big screen is a must.

The movie was shown on the “Vox Max” screen, which is the largest available at the cinemas and in in Muscat, and has a Dolby surround sound system, another first in Oman.

I was lucky that the Vox cinema opened soon after I moved to Muscat, so I only know cinemas here to be much like home (with the addition of Arabic and French subtitles, and Bollywood movie listings). I have been told that before Vox opened the cinemas were pretty awful, with small uncalibrated screens.

If you are based in Muscat, I would keep an eye on the Hi FM Facebook and Instagram pages, where they often give away tickets, as well as on the radio shows. The Vox_Oman Instagram account also often does giveaways.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Off-roading: Khoud valley

For our second road trip we decided to stay closer to home. The sky still looked overcast and knowing it could rain any minute we started the morning off slowly with breakfast at More Cafe (which needs a post of its own). Just as we finished our tea, the skies opened and Muscat had about 20 minutes of quite heavy rainfall.

As a European, rain isn't that novel, so it was funny to watch how excited the local people were about it, even going outside to take pictures.

Once the rain stopped it seemed like the perfect time to head out and see the effect on the wadis, which are valleys formed by water and that are dry except for when the rains comeUnsurprisingly, there is little drainage here, on the most part it is not needed, and it is easy for roads to get flooded; the wadis after rainfall fill and act as a drainage course.

We drove down to part of the Khoud valley, a 20-minute drive from Muscat. Wadi driving is a bit of a thing here anyway and it’s common to see convoys of families setting up BBQs (and even camp) and youths hooning about in 4x4s and on quad bikes. After the rain was no different, and I'm willing to bet that even more people were out, curious as we were to see the effect.

The valley is actually quite long and I couldn't tell you exactly at what point we entered, although I do know we were headed in the direction of the dam. There were pools of water and we were able to drive down some of wadi. Even though we have a 4x4, we didn't want to test its capability and potentially end up stuck so we parked up and decided to explore on foot. It should be said that the locals didn't seem to have these fears and for the one that we did see get stuck, people were quick to help.

We didn't manage to explore as much as we would have liked as we sensed that more rain was on the way and decided to head back to the car and exit the wadi before the masses. We were in luck that just as we began to drive off the rain started and we quickly saw everyone jumping into their cars and beginning to get away. For what doesn't seem like heavy rain, you could see the wadi filling up quickly, and there was a lot of urgency to get out. What was even more surprising was the number of cars trying to get into the wadi, but we didn't stick around to find out what happened to them! 

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Road trip: Wadi Dayqah Dam and Bimmah Sinkhole

Up until the beginning of the month the weather in Oman was still unreasonably hot. The days are now a cool average of 29oC, perfect for getting out to explore.  

Our first road trip of the winter was to the Wadi Dayqah Dam, near Quriyat, which is about a 1.5 hour drive from Muscat. Unexpectedly, as you get closer to the dam, there are road signs to guide you and the drive is a pleasant one as you get to take in the landscape of the country. 

The dam was inaugurated in March 2012, and, according to the local newspaper, can store 100 million cubic meters of water, with the storage lake covering an area of 350 hectares and extending approximately 6km. The water stored is then provided, free of cost, to the residents of Quriyat for agricultural purposes.

The dam is impressive, not just in terms of the scale of the project, but how it has been made into a visitor's site. At the top there is a panorama view of the whole site and a park area, complete with shaded seating, fountains and even a place to buy food.  

We spent about two hours there, admiring the site and eating our packed lunch. There are a number of places to admire the view and appreciate the structure of the dam. 
Unfortunately, the rains were coming (yes, rain) and that meant the day was overcast so my pictures didn't come out as stunning as they might have done on a clear and sunny day. There is an eerie beauty to them though. 

Our next stop was the Bimmah Sinkhole, within the Hawiyat Najm Park. This is approximately an hour from the dam, and is in the same Quriyat region. 

The park is of course a tourist attraction, with an entrance gate, and stone walls surrounding the sinkhole. I imagine stumbling across it before the walls were built must have been quite a beautiful surprise. The cliffs surrounding are all limestone and the sinkhole is believed to be the result of natural erosion.  

There are steps and a handrail to lead you down into the sinkhole, but I would still mind your step, one step even has a tree stump in the middle. 

Inside the sinkhole is a beautiful pool of water, with a colour gradient of emerald green to blue as the water gets deeper. In this case the overcast sky, and visiting close to sunset probably an advantage as the colours were beautiful. The water is crystal clear and at its edge are tiny fish, which I have since read are great for giving you a free pedicure. 

You are of course free to take a swim, I didn't on this occasion but there was a group of local small boys enjoying themselves, although I cringed every time one decided to jump off a ledge into the pool. At it's deepest the pool is 20m but the drop from shallow to deep seems to be a small one and I was scared they would hit the stone.

Although the dam was impressive if you are only in Oman for a short while I would skip it in favour of visiting the sinkhole...although I have a few more impressive road trips to share so stay tuned! 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Life in Oman: 6 months

I decided since I have been so awful updating this blog, the best way to get back on track is to give my thoughts on life in Oman now that I've hit the six month mark. Six months already! I intend to do this little update at regular intervals (the next obvious one being at the one year mark) to track how my thoughts on the place change.
Please keep in mind this is a very personal experience.What I like about living in Oman:
  • The weather. It's sunny all the time.
  • Comfortable lifestyle. We are extremely fortunate that as a newly weds we are able to have the lifestyle we do. I doubt we would have been able to afford a nice home, holidays and regular date nights had we stayed in London. 
  • Beautiful, mountainous landscape.
  • Safe. 
  • Very relaxed pace of life. 
  • "Adventurous lifestyle" I put this in inverted commas because I am yet to do any of the outdoor things Oman has to offer; sailing, diving, camping, driving off-road in the desert or mountains, hiking and much more. I do intend to though! 
What I don't like so much about living in Oman:
  • The weather. It's incredibly hot, all the time, so much so that I don't want to leave the house unless I have to. 
  • Having to think about what I wear, all the time. This is the biggest issue for me and is very much linked to the weather. It is incredibly hot and obviously modesty is a big issue here, which means that shoulders and knees at least should be covered. So I wear a lot of long skirts and cardigans and, as a result, I am generally overheated outside of the house. It makes me not want to go out and also makes shopping for clothing difficult, since the stores don't sell a lot of clothes that would be considered modest. 
  • Driving. The second biggest issue for me here is driving, everyone on the roads is in a hurry, which leads to a lot of dangerous driving. 
  • Awful, awful shopping centres
  • No city vibe.
  • Unskilled labour needs supervision and direction. One of my worst days in Muscat was the day we had curtains fitted. I didn't realise just how much direction the men would need to hang the curtains and, after seven hours, we only had one of three curtains fitted. Having a language barrier made the situation that much more frustrating. 
  • Not being understood. This is a simple language issue and obviously can't be helped, but it makes you realise just how important communication is. When there aren't many people around that understand what you are saying, let alone deeper things like your sense of humour, it can make you feel quite isolated. 
Honestly, the last six months have been difficult, although the pace of life is nice, adjusting to it and understanding how things work here was a challenge, because it is very easy to sit and compare to the UK and then get frustrated that the processes aren't the same. I'm looking forward to the cooler weather and getting the chance to enjoy the outdoors more. I am also excited to report that I will be starting a job sometime in September, which should give me a bit more of a normal routine.  

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Picture blogging

I realise I have been pretty poor at keeping this blog up to date with my goings on. Finding the balance between enjoying an experience fully and recording it through this blog has been tricky, but I do plan to get better I promise!

I am currently discovering the beauty that is Istanbul, a city I visited over two years ago and fell in love with. I did all the typical tourist destinations on our last trip and am planning to discover new parts of the city this time round.

For now the best way to keep up with me is via Twitter and Instagram, luckily there are a lot of free wifi points that I am able to take advantage of.

Just follow the links below or hit the icons above and follow. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Road trip: Dubai visa run

Until my spouse visa is sorted I will have to take monthly trips out of the country to renew my tourist visa. For the first trip, along with my brother-in-laws family, we decided to visit Dubai.

Having two young kids with us we decided that driving would be the easier than flying, plus I was glad to have the opportunity to see a bit more of Oman.

Depending on how fast you drive, and how long you it takes you to get through the border, the journey to Dubai can take anywhere between 4 and 6 hours.

The longest portion of the journey is between Muscat and the United Arab Emirates border. The border itself is very strange, you go through a process of exiting Oman and entering the UAE about four times, needing to get permission to leave, permission to enter, stamped out of Oman and then finally allowed in to the UAE. I don’t quite understand the reasoning but we were lucky that both there and back there was no queue.

It is immediately obvious when you have entered the UAE, the landscape is drastically different compared to Oman. The UAE has the landscape you would imagine a desert to have, and a bit more green than I expected, whereas Oman has mountains and is more rocky.
It probably goes without saying that the city of Muscat and of Dubai are not comparable either, the skyline of Dubai made up of highrise buildings and there are pockets of construction everywhere as they add to the city.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of a chance to soak up the atmosphere of the city during this trip, other than to renewing my visa, we needed to visit Ikea (there isn’t one in Oman) and add a bit more furniture to the flat.

I almost thought about blogging about that experience separately because shopping in Ikea is normally stressful enough without it also being the first newly-weds home shopping trip. Ultimately it was a success though and we managed to walk away with a lot of boxes of things for the flat, and we were still talking to each other.

I’m going to Dubai again in just over a week, but this time on a girly trip with my mum and sister, which should be a lot more fun. 

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Moving and settling

I’ve been in Oman for just over a month now and other than using the cliche term “rollercoaster” I don’t know how else to describe the process of moving and settling into a new way of life.

Looking back, I didn’t really prepare myself well for the move, that said I also don’t know what I would have done differently (other than pack a lot of rich tea biscuits).

My preparation consisted of booking my flights and packing, in a very haphazard way, what I thought was essentials. After two 23kg bags, my husbands remaining luggage allowance and that of family friends also travelling with us, I was surprised at just how little I actually had.
What I did regret not packing the most was more home comforts, things like my favourite movie or TV show to watch when I was feeling low. I also didn't pack any sort of decoration, something that would immediately give my new room and more cosy and familiar feel. My packing was very practical so I immediately felt a little lost without all my “stuff”.

I knew I was going to miss my family and friends but access to the internet immediately helped with that. What I didn’t expect was how insecure I would feel, I considered myself a confident and independent person living in London but suddenly something that should have been as simple as doing the weekly shop became an overwhelming task. Not recognising my standard brand of washing powder, olive oil and other standard household things meant I had to go through that experimental phase again of figuring out what I like and I couldn’t rely on the comfort of just knowing what was good. Writing it down now, it seems very silly but I know that it will probably take more time for me to feel truly settled and not feel so insecure. 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

An introduction

Circling London is a 117 mile stretch of motorway, some people describe it as the road to hell, others as one big car park, either way, chances are, if you want to get in or out of the city you are going to have to at least cross it.

Until three weeks ago I spent most of my life living within that circle and I’ve heard it said that  Londoners do not think the world exists outside of the M25, and for me to a large extent that was true.
So having spent much of my life in the confines of the M25, I am now living in the capital city of Oman, Muscat, and plan to share my experience as a city girl truly out of her comfort zone. 

Join me.