Thursday, 30 July 2015

Life lately: Home Sweet Home

I can't quite believe I am already half-way through my visit back home. I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive about coming back. I had been told that expats can end up having expectations of home that don't match the reality and the result is this feeling that home isn't quite home anymore.

I'm glad to say that all my fears were unfounded and I am having a wonderful break. So far I've spent a lot of time with friends and family, eaten in some fantastic restaurants, and just enjoyed being able to walk around without dripping in sweat.

What has been really nice though is experiencing London a little like a tourist again. When you are travelling through the city every day it is easy to stop noticing things -- I tended to stick my head in a newspaper or a book and never really looked around -- travelling on the underground or train now I've just taking the opportunity to appreciate the sights and soak up the atmosphere.

I've been a rubbish at taking photographs, but I'll make sure I do better this week and share those with you next time.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

I'm leavin' on a jet plane....

You know I have never actually heard "Leaving on a Jet Plane" but for some reason I always sing it as a rap in my head.

Anyway, tonight I leave for three weeks in London. To say I am excited is an understatement. I do plan to keep posting here, but we'll see what time allows. I've jammed packed myself with activities, lunches, dinners, and activities pretty much straight from landing. If you are interested in seeing what I am getting up to though I will keep social media updated, mostly my Facebook and Instagram pages. 

Before Ramadan, I also downloaded Periscope and intended to start live streaming parts of my day in Oman. Then my days got very boring, so instead, if I am brave enough, I'll give this a try for the first time in London. 

Until next time, Eid Mubarak! I hope the unexpected dates didn't ruin too many people's plans! Let me know what you will be getting up to this long weekend. 

Monday, 13 July 2015

Eating Out: Iftar at the Al Bustan

Last night me and my husband were treated to a lovely iftar at the Al Bustan's Al Khiran Terrace restaurant. We've chosen the lazy option of eating iftar on the couch in our pj's for most of Ramadan, so the opportunity to dress up a bit and get out of the house was a welcome one.

If you haven't been to the Al Bustan you really should: it is beautiful. It has one of the most impressive entrances to a hotel that I have ever seen. The staff are also exceptionally friendly and helpful; you miss that service in a lot of places in Muscat, and it did take me by surprise, but the effect is that you feel extremely welcome and comfortable.

The Al Khiran restaurant offers a buffet for iftar. There is a lot to choose from: salads, bread, grilled meats, and stews as well and the fried foods that you come to expect at Ramadan. I particularly liked the lentil soup and the traditional Omani shuwa (a slow cooked, spiced lamb and rice dish). There was also a dish called Shuwa Madrooba, which is unique to the menu and was created by an Omani chef. The dish is a fusion of shuwa and madrooba (which was described as being like baby food and is a combination of meat and vegetables). Admittedly, this doesn't sound that appealing, but it worked and wasn't at all as heavy it might sound.

Of course, I saved most of my appetite for the dessert table. The lemon-mint sorbet, in particular, was very good, as was the creme brulee, which freshly had the sugar melted on top so you got to experience that satisfying crackle and crunch once it cooled. There were also Arabic biscuits and other sweets, Um Ali, some very fresh Turkish delight, a chocolate fountain, and fruits too. I think I tried one of everything on offer.

If you want to catch the iftar at the Al Bustan you have until the end of Ramadan. It starts every day at 7pm until 10pm and is 18 OMR each for adults, which includes drinks (I suggest you try the Tamarind juice).

A huge thank you to Al Bustan for inviting us to experience the iftar, they did not ask me to write anything but we had such an enjoyable time it only seemed right to document it.

Let me know where you have enjoyed iftar this year, and what are your plans for the upcoming Eid holidays?

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Beyond Oman: One week in Koh Samui

My probation period at work is over and I've had the luxury of being able to plan and book my future holidays. The plan, while based here, is to explore the east while we can enjoy the reduced traveling time. We spent our honeymoon last year in Thailand, with four days in Bangkok doing the typical tourist attractions and one week on the beautiful island of Koh Samui.

Join me as I reminisce...

We flew to the island from Bangkok airport via Bangkok Airlines. They are the only airline that fly directly to the island, or you need to make the journey by boat. We stayed at the SeaDance resort, which had only been open a matter of months by the time of our stay. The resort was new and the staff friendly and keen to do all they could to make our stay a pleasant one. I loved our room, which was decorated beautifully, and we had a fantastic view of the pool and the sea when we woke each morning. Although the hotel hasn't defined itself as a couples hotel, I would say it is more suited for couples or friends than a family.

Day 1
Having arrived late the previous night we spent the first day lounging by the pool, tanning and, after all that relaxation, went for a pamper session at a local salon. We enjoyed an herbal ball massage, a traditional full-body oil massage, and a facial.

Day 2
While my husband spent the day scuba diving, I spent the day with Sonja, a French/Italian German-born trained chef, who has lived on Koh Samui for the past 17 years. She taught me how to cook three Thai dishes: Tom Yum soup, green curry, and Pad Thai. The class was one-on-one and got to benefit from being able to ask questions whenever I needed. Sonja is a character, and she had me giggling all day as she shared her anecdotes of life on the island. Although I have only attempted some of the dishes a handful of times, Sonja really got me excited about cooking and I was much more happy to be a bit adventurous with our meals when we got back home, which my husband appreciates.

Day 3
We enjoyed another semi-chill day, we hired a moped for our time on the island as it was the easiest way to travel around. We visited Fisherman's village for lunch and my husband had what he still considers the best meal of his life at the Happy Elephant restaurant (pictured).

Day 4
We hit the waters on our fourth day and set sail on the Chantara, Junk Boat. According to the captain, the idea behind the day was to do whatever we wanted as long as we had fun. We sat outside and caught some more sun, and after a while had lunch, which was freshly prepared on the boat. We then stopped a bit for snorkeling and continued towards the island of Koh Lanta, which is meant to have a gorgeous beach. Unfortunately, we got hit with heavy rain and ended up inside the boat, which turned out to be just as fun as the staff kept us entertained and provided hot drinks and nibbles while we headed back to the island. Even though the day didn't quite go to plan, we still had a great time. Actually, it rained every day we were in Koh Samui, but it is usually not for long and you can’t complain about it because it is what makes the place so beautifully green.

Day 5
After a day at sea, we headed up to the hills of Koh Samui and spent a day riding a Polaris quad car. It was essentially a tour of the island, with stops to take pictures and appreciate the beauty of the island from a high point. After a home cooked Thai lunch, we then visited the waterfall, which was the highlight of the trip for me.

Day 6
For our final full day on the island, we decided to hit the road on our moped. The island only has one main road, which does a full circle, and it is small enough that you can drive around it in a couple of hours. We stopped at a pub, run by an Englishman, who had been living on the island for 20 years. The location was quite isolated, which can said of any part of the island once you get away from the main tourist areas. It was here we decided that our retirement plans include running some sort of guest house somewhere beautiful.

Day 7
For our last few hours in Koh Samui we decided to treat ourselves to a visit to Eranda Spa, after checking out of our hotel we had a few hours to kill and a pamper session before the long flight home seemed like the best way to end our trip. After picking the various scents of the scrubs and oils we wanted used to our own hut where we were left to start with the steam room and jacuzzi before, getting our scrub, wrap, massage and finally a facial. The whole treatment took around 3.5 hours, and in between each treatment we were provided with drinks and even a cake. It was the perfect way to end the holiday. 

This year we will be visiting Singapore and Bali, and I can't wait. I have been using TripIt to organise all our bookings and to come up with a rough itinerary. If you have any suggestions for activities, or places to stay I would love to hear them.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

One week in Oman

One Week Adventures Oman
What what you do if you had only one week in Oman? It's hard to narrow it down, right? Well, that is what I had to do as part of a guest post for the blog One Week Adventures.

The blog run by Clement -- who loves to travel -- but like many of us is a professional and only has a short amount of holiday time available. His blog provides one-week adventures to destinations all over the world with the idea that you can make the most of a place in one week just as much as any long-term traveler.

Please head over to the website and check out my post as well as the many others on there. I like the sound of Japan for my next adventure.

Also, let me know, if you only had one week in Oman what would you do?

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Favourite things: June

I skipped my favourite things for May, I just drew a blank when I sat to write it. Looking back, we did lots of fun things, visiting Dubai and starting diving being two of them, but the month just seemed to be a blur.

So here we are at the end of June. Ramadan started just under two weeks ago so we haven't been up to much, but I still have a few favourites.

1. Welcoming a new family member.
My sister-in-law gave birth to a beautiful baby boy in June. I'm not sure how they do it but newborns are so entertaining. It has been wonderful watching him slowly growing and making lots of funny facial expressions.

2. Becoming a certified diver
I finally completed my diving course and am now a certified diver! I can honestly say it is the best thing I have done since being here and is certainly nothing I considered before moving to Oman. The plan now is to try and go diving at least once a month and when we go on our "summer" holiday in September.

3. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo
I didn't think this particular product was available in Muscat and I had stocked up on my last trip to London. Everyone knows air conditioning, and extreme heat, humidity and sun exposure aren't good for skin, and this product has been doing an amazing job of keeping my skin clear of small breakouts. I found it in Muscat Pharmacy (the branch in Al Meera mall) and the lady told me she often gets it in stock.

4. TripIt
I am partial to a good bit of planning and this app just makes it so much easier. You can link it to your email address so that any hotel bookings, flights, etc. are imported automatically with the necessary data. You can also add activities and notes manually and, of course, all the information is available offline.

I hope everyone is having a good Ramadan. July is looking to be very busy towards the end of the month, and I can't wait!