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 whilst it’s rainy and cold at home. The Brit in this case was me, sending smug beach pics to my bitter (-ly cold) friends and followers back home; this smugness came to an ungraceful end when I landed at a dreary, grey Heathrow. When enquiring how cold it gets in Muscat I had a laughing reply of ‘this is cold for us’ as I sweated through my t-shirt in the 34-degree heat; the temperature can soar to 48 degrees during their “warmer” months.
One of the reasons London will always have my heart is because of the beautiful architecture here (which can also be seen similarly across Europe), as it gives personality to a city and always stirs something in me. Muscat has impressive buildings by the bucket load, ostentatious constructions dabbled generously 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 things aren’t older than 20 or 30 years, add the natural glamorousness of the GCC and you have a winning mix.
Oman has used its strategic place on the map to influence their cuisine with inspiration from Africa and India, flavourful curries were a staple during my trip. I couldn’t go too far into this without mentioning dates, dates are intrinsic to the culture of this Arabian Peninsula country. They are 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 but didn’t get around to trying one unfortunately.
Oh, you’ve already done a paragraph on buildings, I hear you helpfully point out. While this is true, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is so grand (well named) that it deserves its own feature. The 6000-capacity venue takes your breath away when you walk inside, due partly 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 metal, 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 biggest carpet too until Emiratis and Qataris came to measure the interior and made bigger versions in their newly built mosques to steal the title.
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.The People
I’ve never fallen in love with a people more so than 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 back warmly 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 ticked that box, while most Western cities are varying copies of the same thing Oman is as different as can be. Muscat has all the perks of a western country like decent roads, sewage systems etc but served up with the glamour of a rich Arabic country. Visually the whole landscape is completely opposite, stretches of sandy planes are interspersed with architectural achievements and perfectly manicured flora. As an Islamic country they put value on modesty but this is applied equally to men and women who both wear long flowing garments although this is not a strict dress code, people can choose to wear what they want as long as it isn’t indecent, a guideline that they respectfully ask visitors to abide by.
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. Oman is by far one of the cleanest countries I’ve ever been to, the word immaculate comes to mind. I chatted with a friendly Omani who advised that this is because of their religion which encourages high personal cleanliness that they apply to every aspect of their lives.