Half a day in the capital
13.02.2018 - 13.02.2018
Having arrived at the hotel at 03:30 this morning, we miss breakfast totally and sleep through until we are woken by Housekeeping at 11:00. I am sure this is a sign of getting old: some 30 years ago we would have been up at 07:00 to make the most of our time here in Muscat; today we thoroughly enjoy the lie-in and leisurely start.
Al Falaj Hotel
Named after the traditional irrigation channels that Oman are famous for, the hotel is in a residential suburb of Muscat, with very little around in the way of amenities. The hotel itself, however, is very pleasant, with super-friendly staff, a nice pool and comfortable rooms.
Self-playing piano in the lobby
The outside dining area
Interestingly, it has a Sri Lankan Tea Shop off the lobby and a Japanese Restaurant on the top floor.
While not being at all keen on a buffet lunch, there really isn't much choice here. The mezze starter selection is nice, and I enjoy the tabbouleh and hummus in particular.
The chicken is a little too dry and I am intrigued by the 'bacon', which looks and tastes exactly like regular bacon. As Oman is a strict Muslim country, pork is banned, so it is probably turkey, but it is certainly a very good imitation.
Thinking this is labneh in oil, I am very disappointed to find it is in fact pickled Brussels sprouts. I guess it was meant to be for decorative purposes only...
Fresh fruits and desserts
The chocolate mousse is even better than it looks!
Aslam, the restaurant manager, comes over to chat with us. Like most of the staff, he comes from Sri Lanka. That could explain why all the main course dishes are Indian-style.
There are some nice decorative touches in the restaurant too.
At 15:00 Said, our guide for the next eight days, picks us up for a short tour. First he stops for a view over Old Muscat, with the City Gate, Forts and Palace clearly visible.
Bait Al Zubair Museum
Photography is not allowed inside the museum unfortunately, which is a great shame as there are some amazing displays: clothing and jewellery, including the khanjar, the ornamental dagger worn on a belt. Mannequins show the traditional costumes from various parts of Oman, much of which seems to be inspired by Indian outfits. The Omani wedding displays are my favourite.
Scaled models show the four main forts of Oman: Nizwa, Quriyat, Jabrin and Al Hazm.
The section dedicated to guns is of less interest to me than the kitchen utensils and cooking implements. I am particularly taken with the Al Dallah, the coffee pots that look like they are taken straight out of an Arabian fairytale.
The second part of the museum, housed in a different building, shows old photograph from Oman before the Renaissance of 1970, when the current Sultan turned the country around from a poverty-stricken backwater with just three schools and one hospital in the entire country; to the modern progressive nation we see today.
There is also a wonderful exhibition with winners from a recent photographic competition. Absolutely breathtaking photographs!
Rooms are set out as they would have appeared in the living quarters of the late Sheikh Al Zubair bin Ali (founder of this museum) in the 1940s and 50s. It is interesting to note that most of the furniture came from England and India.
Amongst the exhibits are two items that make me feel particularly old – my very first camera (Kodak 66) and a desk caddy very, very similar to the one I inherited from my grandmother.
The grounds of the museum are nicely laid out, with further exhibits and a miniature village scene.
There are also a number of these sponsored painted goats dotted around the grounds.
Kalbuh Bay Park
After a refreshing juice stop, we continue to the Muttrah Corniche from where we will watch the sun set over Muscat.
The park is a lovely little haven, with fountains and pavilions; and is popular with locals and tourists alike.
David climbs the watchtower for a better view
I love the way the low sun makes the hills disappear into misty oblivion, with paler colours on the further away peaks.
Off shore is the Sultan's private yacht – better looking than any cruise ship!
On a hill above the park stands a giant frankincense burner
Tourists are ferried around the harbour in dhows, the traditional ships historically plying these waters.
As the sun gets lower, the colour of the sky intensifies.
Going, going, gone
We stay for a while after the artificial lights come on along the promenade and on the giant frankincense burner.
Tonight is the only night where food is not included, so we wanted to make the most of it by choosing a restaurant very carefully. Usually included hotel dinners tend to be international buffets, and I wanted to try some traditional Omani food. I spent a fair amount of time on the internet searching for somewhere not too touristy, but not so traditional that we have to sit on the floor. This is what I came up with, and we certainly aren't disappointed as we walk in: the place oozes atmosphere. The clientele is a mixture of ex-pats, tourists, families and trendy young Omanis.
I am not sure how I feel about being watched by a couple of sheep while I eat...
Labneh plate and breads
Traditional stuffed bread
Main course of shuwa and chicken biriyani
Shuwa - tender lamb traditionally cooked for 24-48 hours in an underground oven.
What a lovely way to end our first day in Oman. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip.