Nothing has a better sense of humour than English weather; one minute I was prancing around in autumnal skirts re-thinking my pro-recycling choices if it means such a sunny November, and the next minute I’ve been punted in the face with 4-degree days for the foreseeable future. So, when an invitation to Oman dropped in my inbox, I thought toodaloo f***ers, get me on that plane. A blissful 8 hour jaunt in Oman Air’s business class and I landed in the glorious gem that is Muscat and my love affair with the Middle East began.
There’s nothing a Brit loves more than swanning away to somewhere hot, especially when it’s rainy and cold at home. The Brit in this case was me, sending smug beach pics to my bitter (and bitterly cold) friends and followers back home. When enquiring how cold it gets in Oman’s capital Muscat, I received the withering reply ‘this is cold for us’. Meanwhile I slowly sweated through my t-shirt in the 34-degree heat. Indeed, the mercury can soar to 48 degrees during their “warmer” months.
One of the reasons London will always own my heart is the beautiful architecture, it gives personality to the city and always stirs something in me. Muscat has impressive buildings by the bucket load, ostentatious constructions can be found wherever your gaze may fall. The current Sultan, Qaboos bin Said Al Said, has spent the last few decades using the money from Oman’s natural resources to reconstruct the country, so most structures aren’t older than 20 or 30 years, add the natural glamour of the place and you have a winning mix.
Oman has used its strategic place on the map to influence a cuisine inspired by the Middle East, Africa and India. Flavourful curries were a staple during my trip and I can’t talk about Omani food for long without mentioning dates. Dates are intrinsic to the culture of the Arabian Peninsula. They’re a sign of hospitality, served both in greeting and after every meal alongside a tiny cup of cardamom-scented coffee. I even saw a date smoothie, though didn’t get around to trying one.
Oh, you’ve already done a paragraph on buildings, I hear you helpfully point out. True, true, but the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is so grand (well named, there) that it deserves its own feature. The 6,000-capacity venue genuinely does take your breath away when you stroll inside, partly due to the world’s largest chandelier, dangling nonchalantly from the massive domed ceiling. The chandelier, a striking 8 tonne beast made with Swarovski crystals and gold-plated metals, is a spectacle to behold; a glimmering wonder the size of a 3 bedroom house. The mosque previously held the title of having the world’s largest carpet too, until the Qataris came to measure up the interior apparently to ensure they created bigger versions in their own newly built mosque, thus stealing the title.
Another building, I know. But fancy waiting for your flight in a $15 million lounge? Trust me, you do. Muscat International Airport has recently undergone a very (very) expensive overhaul and now boasts alluring new features like the world’s first non-business/first class lounge complete with complimentary massage chairs and food, and an actual robot that will help you with airport queries, take selfies and even assist you to your gate. It really is the future.
I’ve never fallen in love with a people more than I did in Oman, I think there must be some sort of citizenship test where charm and a sense of humour are mandatory requirements. One of the safest countries in the Middle East (if not the safest), I felt totally at ease at all times, I even shed my London bristle and chatted warmly back to total strangers who approached me to have a little natter. The punishments for crimes here are quite severe but this system seems to work well as a deterrent, attacks on travellers for example are described as rare.
I love being somewhere totally different than London and Muscat certainly ticks that box. While most western cities are basically copies on the same theme, Oman is as diverse as can be. Muscat has all the perks of a western country; decent roads, sewage systems and so on, but served up with the rich glamour of a wealthy Arabic country. Visually the whole landscape is completely opposite to South West London, sandy planes are interspersed with architectural beauties and perfectly manicured, lush green lawns.
As an Islamic country they put value on modesty, but this is applied equally to men and women who both wear long flowing garment. Although this is not a strict dress code, people can choose to wear what they want as long as it isn’t indecent, it’s a guideline that they respectfully ask visitors to abide by, and in the hot climate you’ll be perfectly happy to.
If you want a taste of luxury then Muscat is the place for you; hospitality is high on the agenda making you feel like royalty everywhere you go, tie that in with stunning buildings and opulent surroundings and you’ll never want to leave. As a tidy-freak I was pleased to note that Oman is by far one of the cleanest places I’ve ever been to, the word immaculate comes to mind, and I chatted with a friendly Omani who advised that this is because of their religion which encourages high personal cleanliness, a principle they apply to every aspect of their lives.
Muscat is the perfect getaway, for culture, architecture, food drink not to mention easy transport links. It’s clean and beautiful. Like me you’ll be smugly filling your Insta-feed right until the moment it all comes to an abrupt and ungraceful end when you land at a dreary, grey Heathrow. The only solution is to immediately book a return visit.