It was the UAE 41st National Day this weekend. The last couple of years we had spent the public holiday in Dubai, enjoying the celebrations with the rest of the inhabitants of this wonderful, cosmopolitan city. The schools tend to hold a multinational sort of parade where the children get a chance to dress up either in the national costume or in their own national dress.
This year, we decided that we should use the long 4 day weekend to travel out of Dubai. After much discussion, the twins who wanted to spend the holidays in a cold climate (preferably with snow involved!) were vetoed by yours truly and we opted instead to embark on a driving holiday to our neighbor down south, Oman. We had been to the northern portion of Oman previously, but this time we went across to the capital Muscat.
Oman (thanks to what must have been a real imaginative map maker) is split into 3 portions. The largest of these 3 is down to the south, straddling the Gulf of Oman, bordering Saudi and Yemen. There is a smaller portion to the north of the UAE, within shouting distance with southern Iran. And in the middle of the the two, a small enclave of Madha village, who decided that they wanted to be a part of the Omani Sultanate instead of being part of the UAE union…I wonder how the current generation feels about that.
The drive according to google map should take us around 4 hours, but with the border crossing formalities, I expected it to be slightly longer. We left early to avoid the rush at the passport control, and it was a good call on our part as it started filling up very quickly while we were there.
I have been through countless borders over the years and it never fails to amaze me that no matter where the crossing is situated, all the guards act pretty much the same. I think it must be standard immigration officer school syllabus to have a disinterested, surly look, while making sure to chop the entry/exit stamp in the middle of an empty passport page, rendering it useless for any other future use!
And…there will surely be a drop out from the above mentioned school somewhere in the office who gives you the best “welcome to _____(fill in the blanks with country name)” smile just as you are wondering if the whole country is going to be filled with these bored looking automatons. Thank goodness!
Taking in brunch, petrol and toilet breaks, we got to Barka, our first stop closer to 5 hours and a bit. Barka was approximately 70 km from Muscat proper and we stayed at a nice resort spa called Al Nahda. http://www.alnahdaresort.com/
After the sand and stones that was our view for the last couple of hours, the greenery and trees at the resort was a welcoming sight. It was indeed a pleasure to find that the resort looked pretty much like the pictures in the website. For someone who had been in the receiving end of a “bait and hook” hotel picture scam, I was thankful! Furthermore, we arrived a full 3 hours before the official check in time, but was ushered in by a nice Filipina at the registration desk. I made sure to leave a nice review on the booking website about the wonderful time we had at the resort.
After a swim and dinner we had an early night as it started to rain really heavy. I found out later that it rained in much of the UAE as well, with parts of Dubai flooding!
Breakfast at the resort was wonderful. Linda and I enjoyed the cool morning breeze over coffee while the twins ran around exploring the huge grounds.
We left for Muscat after lunch, and I must say that while the city was interesting, it did not really differ from the old part of Dubai too much. The architecture was different, for sure, with some remnants of Portugese verandahs on houses close to the port. What set it aside was the geography of the place. It looked like old Muscat was carved out of the hillside and there were rocky outcrops in between the buildings. The souq that we visited, though had the same sort of goods that you might find in any reputable market in the UAE, was unique in the starfish design that was not apparent from the outside.
Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the sun had set and I did not have a camera good enough to do justice to the wonderful scenery that was before us. Perhaps its not good enough of a reason, but I am using that as an excuse to go back to Muscat one of these days, hopefully soon.