Arabian Peninsula Visit: Muscat, Oman

By Marina Aagaard, MFT. Photos: Marina Aagaard and Henrik Elstrup

Muscat. The name spells Middle-East mystique, sun and plenty of sand … in the desert as well as along the long coastline.

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Today three tourists in Muscat, Oman. We stay at Coral Hotel on the outskirts of the city. After a hearty breakfast we are ready to experience the capital.
It bodes well: Sun is shining from a cloudless sky. The country is one of the hottest in the world during summer, but winter, early spring, temperature of 25 to 30 degr. C is o.k.

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There are no railways or metro in Oman, on the other hand there are cheap buses, Baiza busses, or taxis, which operate at a moderate price, especially if you agree on the price by the hotel and do not let the driver get the impression you know nothing about prices.

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We order a taxi from the hotel to the center of Muscat, the capital of Oman and a port city with a strategic location at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
The urban area has 1,560,000 inhabitants (2015).

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We only just get to say “red bus stop”, before the taxi driver puts a laminated card with over 20 attractions in front of us. He insists, that he can take us to many more sights and at a more reasonable price than the official bus tour.

Despite the drivers long promotional talk we decide to decline the offer. For two reasons: Our friend would rather be in an open bus than confined in a taxi. And personally we have both good and bad experiences with taxi-sightseeing; it can end up unpleasant and costly.

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So after a few minutes we are in the town center by the famous souk and busstop of the local tour bus Big Bus Muscat. I am inattentive, while the guys inquire about the price. I hear “30 OMR” (about 500 DKK) and thinking it is for the three of us. It turns out to be per person! The most expensive bus ride ever! Surprisingly, Considering that similar tours in European capitals are priced at half of that.

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Otherwise it is an excellent tour, which gets around in the city and to corners, from north to south, many places with beautiful boulevards with lush, well-trimmed lawns.

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Huge Muscat teapot and cups as a fountain. Authentic; “Like!”. 

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Below snapshots through Big Bus pane; poor photo style, but provide an impression of the capital of Oman from its best side with sky and sea and more in various shades of blue.

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On the Big Bus tour we see Muscat highlights, Mosques, churches, temples, forts, museums, harbor areas and the newest attraction, the Royal Opera House.

Eight stops, 1½-2 hours, unless you jump on and off.

The Great Mosque is missing on the trip? The reason is the location far outside the city.

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After driving past Oman’s Parliament Building in Al Bustan, we stop briefly at stop number 5 to photograph the harbour from above (with a star-shaped flowerbed in the foreground).

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At the next stop, number 6, we jump off to walk around in the old town of Muscat.

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The colorful 200 year old ceremonial palace of Sultan Qaboos of Oman; Al Alam Palace.

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We walk around and it is very quiet.

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Friday is a public holiday and this means that all museums and attractions are closed. Therefore, one should choose another sightseeing day, if you want to get inside. If on the other hand you with to take photographs from outside, Friday a good day.

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The city has several fortresses and watchtowers. There is a lot to see for history buffs and photography-loving tourists.

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We walk through one of the gates and down past a landmark on top of a hill in Al Riyam park, the Riyam monument, a huge incense burner, ‘Frankincense Burner’ named after a special local incense.

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We ontinue along the Corniche, Al Bahri Road, promenade with its elaborate granite benches, stone sculptures and golden pavilions, which provide shelter from the sun.

The whole city is completely clean and free of debris, impressive; Regrettable, that you can be impressed by that, but dirt and garbage mars many places, even in Denmark.

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Some hours later när we return to the starting point, the stop is just outside the big Mutrah Suq, attraction number 1, near the harbor in the modern district, As Sultan Qaboos Port.

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We go into the souk, Oman’s oldest marketplace: It looks small from the outside, but soon branches out into a veritable maze of narrow alleys packed tiny specialty shops with colorful crafts, glittering fabric by the meter, clothes, shoes, bags, chests, jars, jewelry, fragrances; a mix of tasteful and tasteless souvenirs.

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Camel riding is a personal favorite, the desert ship provides a wonderful soothing means of transport, so who can resist these souvenir camels, I can (almost) not.

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Camels, daggers and teapots in all sizes are popular Oman souvenirs.

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Late in the day we are having lunch at a tiny restaurant beside the souk. The chef welcomes us, but with modest enthusiasm. The food is very good, though. The guys go for mixed grill with five kinds of meat, while I settle for falafel and grape leaves with rice. It turns out to be plentiful portions, so for once I cannot finish it …

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Nightfall at the corniche.

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Fortunately our costly Big Bus ticket is still valid, so instead of taking a taxi to the hotel, we jump back on board the familiar red vehicle for one stop – a couple of kilometers.

We jump off right by the hotel. It is late afternoon. Now there’s some time to check mails and work a little, then a workout and later a light evening meal.

Another day passed and it proved once again, that you can see a lot in a short time. And diligent photography means there is documentation, if memories are blurred.

A great day, I think just before we fall asleep.

 

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