Place where my soul rested…Oman…the beautiful Oman!
Last year I had my “round” birthday. A few decades ago I saw the lights and colours of this Earth for the first time and I fell in love with it. I knew that someday I’ll have to go to see and experience everything. It was important to me to celebrate it big, somewhere away from home but alas I work in the school system. I can not just go on a vacation whenever I want, I have to obey the rules and respect the system. Or not 🙂 The first rule that I made was that I’ll have “a birthmonth” and the second rule was that I’ll have the birthday celebration whenever I decide. So, after these simple rules, everything else was easy. The original plan for the celebration was a different country, different time of the year…but Miss Destiny chose something different for me and I am most grateful that she did. I have sung the birthday song to myself while I swam in a wadi with my boys. Is there anything better in this world? We bought airplane tickets for late April (school spring break) and decided to go just the three of us. We have lost cheap airline tickets for the two other trips that we planned because we waited for our friends to make a decision. So, this time we were wiser and faster because I celebrated one more year of my life and with that event came the small pearl of wisdom 🙂 Let’s go!
Why visit Oman?
Omani coat of arms
Basic facts: Sultanate of Oman is an Arab country on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. The total area is 309 500 square km. The capital city is Muscat which was occupied by the Portuguese for a period of 140 years (1508-1648). Arabic is the official language. About 75% of the people living in Oman are Muslims. Rial (OMR) is an official currency. Sultanate has borders with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Oman is one of the oldest human-inhabited places on the planet and oldest independent state in the Arab world. Fun facts: Oman is literally a terrorism free country same as Qatar (which we also visited) and crime almost does not exist. Always before travelling check theGlobal Terrorism Index report. Omanis are one of the greatest shipbuilders in the world. Until 1970 there were no hotels. Can you imagine that? The law says that all the buildings in the country must be white or beige. For all you shopaholics out there one of the oldest marketplaces in the world is in Muscat – The Mutrah Souq. Oman is famous for frankincense so make sure to buy some of the best quality on the market. Birds from three continents – Asia, Europe and Africa – can be seen in Oman. Omanis are among the finest breeders of Arabian horses in the world. Legend has it that King Solomon, son of David, gave to Omanis a stud Zad el-Raheb and all today’s Arab horses are descendants of that horse. There are no Coca-Cola products in the country and the most selling soda is the Mountain Dew (and after visiting Oman our “no soda drinking” son favourite drink is, of course, Mountain Dew. To buy alcohol in Oman, you have to have a license and they are allowed to spend no more than 10% of their monthly income on alcohol. Don’t worry about alcohol and soft beverages because as a visitor or guest (almost in every hotel), you will be greeted with a bowl of dates, qahwa (traditional Omani coffee with cardamom), fresh-made tea (lemongrass, ginger etc.) and fruit. The country was severely lacking the infrastructure, healthcare, and education, with only six kilometres of paved roads and a population dependent on subsistence farming and fishing, until 1970. Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said overthrew his father and aimed at ending the country’s isolation and using its oil revenue for modernization and development. In his first year in power, Qaboos also abolished slavery in Oman. Schools, universities and hospitals were built. Today schools are scholarship free. During university students get free studying, accommodation and food if they choose to study in Oman or they can get a scholarship for studying abroad. Croatian Ministry of education do you hear that!?! Do you feel ashamed, at least a little bit!?! Huh!?! Young people after they turn 30 get land for building the house. Health care system is free, and there are no taxes on the salaries. Wow! Sultan worked together with the government and together they forced modern infrastructure with hundreds of miles of new roads and telecommunication networks, port and airport, electrification etc. We took a car and drove around the country and they are still building new roads. Miles and miles of the new roads. Bravo! The airport in Muscat is the most beautiful and the most organized airport we have ever been to. Well done! The government encouraged the growth of the private enterprise, opening the banks, hotels, insurance companies, and print media began to appear as the country developed economically. Europeans think that oil is the most important Arab resource but we are so wrong. Ask real people living in the Arab peninsula and the answer will be water. As water being natural wealth and fortune in the Arabic world one of the most important projects in new Sultanate was building a desalination plant. And finally, we take off! It was rainy and cloudy Thursday so we went to Diners lounge at the Zagreb Airport to have a warm tea and to get a massage in massage chairs before long sitting in a tight airplane seat. We flew to Doha and then just a short flight to Muscat. Pretty comfortable! We were smart enough to book a driver with a car ahead, through the internet. Low budget tip: book cheap airline tickets as soon as you spot them and make sure to check our tips&tricks about finding good deals. Use OTaxi app to find Orange taxies that are the cheapest one in Muscat or rent a car ahead. Driving in Oman is so easy for Europeans and the prices of gas are really affordable. Before arriving check if you need a visa which you can purchase at the airport. We took a Tourist visa 26A which is a single entry visa valid for a period of 10 days and costs 5 OMR. We booked a really nice hotel with breakfastLa Rosa Hotel Muscat. Over the years of travelling, we have learned that breakfast is the most important meal of the day while travelling. Fulfilling and tasty breakfast with coffee or strong tea can help you survive the day 🙂 Hotel is near the bigLuLu hypermarket so in the morning stock up your backpack with water and fruits (our personal choice were mangos, yummy!).
The Al Aram Royal Palace
On our first day, we visited The Al Aram Royal Palace and took awesome pictures. Matija took the camera at one point and made a surprise for his Mom. He took pictures of all those beautiful street lamps that I adore so much. Vegetation around the Palace was blooming at its best so we enjoyed our walk although was so hot. Al Mirani and Al Jalali forts are perfect spots to have a dialogue with your kid about colonisations, conquests and foreign powers that happened during history.
The Al Aram Royal Palace
Wear sunblock and a hat. Drink little sips of water every few minutes. Don’t worry you won’t have to go to toilette because you will be sweating a lot. 🙂
When the temperatures rose so high that it was scorching we went to The National Museum and spent few hours learning about Omani history, building technics, vessels, frankincense fields, beehives tomb burial folklore, first scouts in Oman etc.
The National Museum of Oman
When the sun came down we visited the oldest marketplace in the world, The Mutrah Souq and enjoyed the spirit of old Muscat. To finish our day, we took a walk at lungo mare and enjoyed the life that was happening around us. Prepare yourself that Omanis are not so keen to be online, so you’ll have to read blogs, watch vlogs, read articles etc. much more and much harder then you’ll have to for any other country to gather information about all the places you want to visit. That’s why I haven’t put the links for these places of interest that I’ve mentioned above.
The Royal Opera House
The next day we visited the Royal Opera House which is located on Sultan Qaboos Street (mayor highway in Muscat). In 2001 Sultan ordered to build the Opera House which has a capacity to accommodate a maximum of 1,100 people and is splendid. It was the first in the world equipped with Radio Marconi’s multimedia interactive display seatback system so the audience can keep track of the plot and get all crucial information.
The Royal Opera House
If you are an architect or you have interests in architecture make sure to visit this divine building that is a masterpiece of the magnificence and beauty. Since we travel with our calf 🙂 we took a taxi to the Al Qururm beach. Made a few pictures in the sand and discovered that Otaxi app gives you different prices according to a location that you are standing. So be smart and walk around, make sure to go away from high price hotels, resorts and points of interest. Remember that temperatures in April are high so don’t push your self too hard and enjoy the simple things while you travel. Don’t make too challenging a sightseeing plan! We finished our day in traditional Omani restaurant Bin Ateek Restaurant for Omani food and enjoyed traditionally
Bin Ateek Restaurant for Omani food
food to summarise the day. After eating all that food plan to walk, and walk, because you won’t be able to sleep because Omanies are excellent hosts and they will feed you well. Remember that Oman is among the safest countries in the world so you can walk freely in the evening when its cooler and finally you can take that awesome night pictures.
the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
The third day we visited the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. There are no words to describe the beauty of it. Although I haven’t seen the whole World, interior and exterior of the Mosque are so divine that I can say for sure that this is the most contemplative, peaceful and place to rest one’s soul. It is the place where one can get to know with the spirit of Islam as a religion, science and civilisation. Construction od the Mosque took six years and was finally inaugurated on May 4, 2001, to celebrate 30 years of the sultan’s reign. It is the second-largest mosque in the world. The Mosque was built from 300,000 tons of Indian sandstone and it has the capacity of 20,000 worshipers. Connecting the top of the mosque’s walls and the internal courtyard is a bar inscribed with verses from the Kuran. The mosque’s prayer hall floor was handwoven by 600 hundreds of women which took about 27 months to make and it is coloured with traditional vegetable dyes. It is a single piece Persian carpet composed of 1,700 million knots and it weighs 21 tons. And the chandelier, oh the chandelier will take your breath away. It weighs around 9 tons and is decorated with 600,000 pieces of crystal trimmed with gold. It even has a small staircase inside it for workers to perform the maintenance needed to keep its 100-plus lamps shining bright. The Mosque is full of the symbolism that goes through the monument and you have to go and see for yourself because, as I already said, there are no words to describe the beauty. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the mosque every day, except Friday, from 8:30 until 11:00 am. Visitors are asked to dress modestly and women are also required to cover their hair. Make sure to visit Visitors Centre where you will be welcomed with freshly brewed coffee, all variety of teas, dates and literature to learn more about the culture and history of Islam. And believed or not everything is free and hosts in the centre are so nice and welcoming to every guest. They are the most patient people I’ve ever meet inside the monuments of any kind. After the Mosque we took a taxi and went to collect our car at the airport so the real adventure can start. We took a small car because it was only three of us, but next time we’ll take 4WD and camp gear because Oman is a camp free country so you can save on accommodation. We didn’t go on dessert camping because we promised our friends in Qatar that we’ll go with them but make sure to experience that because if you check the vlogs over the internet it’s so great. The stars and campfire with stories of the locals. What can be better than that?
In the late afternoon when the sun wasn’t so high we visited Qantab and Yiti beach because we travel with a young one who needs to dip his feet to the sea everywhere we go. Search Google maps or some app to find overlook that will take your breath away because Oman is country of that kind. Drive slowly because wild donkeys, goats and camels are wandering all around. In the evening we took ice cream and went to take night pictures of Mohammed Al Ameen Mosque.
The Mohammed Al Ameen Mosque
A beautiful mosque that has three domes made like lace. It’s magnificent in the evening. The construction brought together world-renowned designers, materials, technologies and artists from Iran, Italy, Germany, Austria, India and the UK. Use your days to the fullest!
Wadi Dayqah Dam
Early morning breakfast, loading fruits and water to a car and heading to Wadi Dayqah Dam. Opened in 2012 the dam was built to collect the periodic rainfall and control the volume of water flowing to the villages below. The lake is 8 kilometres long and it has a spectacular view on both sides of the dam. Wadi Al Arbeieen was next on our wishlist so we drove through marvellous rocky roads to get there. The views were fabulous and that was real Oman everywhere we looked. We saw every possible colour of the rocks, from sandy yellow to black, including the pink rock where I took the picture of the boys. Make sure to check our YT channel to see how we drove through a creek that flows from wadi (meaning valley). This was a real family day for enjoying the Nature and all the creatures that Mother Earth can make. This was a day that our child likes to call “Day when we are a real family.”. Meaning we are oriented on each other, we have time to experience everything together, we have enough energy to listen to one another. Perfect day! After all the adventures and pictures we took there, we headed to the town of Sur and had a nice dinner in our hotel Sur Bandar Al Ayjah Hotel on the cliff, next to the sea.
The Bimmah Sinkhole
This was another perfect day because we went to the Bimmah Sinkhole which is filled with pure crystal emerald water. The water is salty because in the underground is connected to the sea. The sinkhole is surrounded by rocky formations and green palm trees. There are two explanations for how sinkhole arose. First says that the limestone layers were dissolved causing the surface layer to collapse and second says that the meteorite fall of the sky which is why locals call this place ‘Hawiyat Najm’ which means the place of the star fall. My personal favourite is the second explanations because it’s romantic and charming. Make sure to take your bathing suit on you because there are only toilets with no changing rooms. Take plenty of water with you if the day is hot and some food because there are build sunshades where you can rest before the new adventure.
Wadi Ash Shab
On day five we visited my personal favourite wadi, Wadi Ash Shab. Prepare small changes (1 OMR) because locals will take you in boats from the parking lot to the place where you can start hiking. It’s not a long cruise, and you could cross by foot when the water is not so deep but please support the locals. Take with you sun-screen, food, snacks and plenty (really plenty!) of drinking water, swimming clothes, slippers or sturdy water-proof footwear, camera and waterproof bag (otherwise you won’t be able to take any pictures inside the cave). The main attraction of the wadi is the waterfall in the cave, which you can reach after a roughly 40 minutes hike and swimming in 2-3 pools. We made a memory that will last for a lifetime because we swam in the cave and I sang “Happy birthday to me!” so many times and I was deeply happy and touched by the beauty of Nature. There were hundreds of shades of blue and green because the sun was playing with water. This is something worth a visit definitely! This is the place where you realise that the Earth is so beautiful and there is a place for everyone.
Wadi Bani Khalid
We were so tired and our bodies demanded a rest so we took longer night sleep to be ready for a new day. After breakfast with a big coffee and Omani black tea, we were ready to confront the world. On our way to the house of Sheikh Khamis bin Halles Bin Khadim al-Hashemi and the Old Castle Museum, we stopped in a small village to buy more water because we saw the map on Wase and we were sure we’ll need more. We parked on the street in front of the small store and the owner went out to shake our hands and offer help. He gave us crucial information on how to find Wadi Bani Khalid because we found out that Sheikh went to Muscat and we won’t be able to have a tea with him as planned. Sheikh was kind enough to call us back and apologize for not being at home.
Catch me if you can!
We drove to Wadi Bani Khalid for a long time uphills. We met a few wandering donkeys and goats. You can swim there but there are signs to dress modestly because of the respect for the local villagers. The most important thing is that in Wadi live small fish that nibble dead skin of your feet. So take some beverage, sit on the stone, put your feet in the water and enjoy because you will definitely deserve it after all that walking and hiking for the past few days.
And…it is time to go home but before that, we visited pebble beach in Tiwi town, drove through valley and made few pictures in the Wadi Tiwi. And…there is something embarrassing we have to admit. We went back to Bin Ateek Restaurant and ordered Omani dinner – again! Just a few hours before boarding! One of our rules for travelling is – never eat a lot of food before flying but this food was so delicious. On the airport, we went to Primeclass Lounge to have some alcoholic beverage as digestive to survive the airplane after all that food. Oman is the country that should be on everyone’s bucket list. This place is unreal. Probably the best place to travel to in Arab world. So, put some Omani music to your headphones, turn on the Skyscanner and head off to the land of pure water, warm sea, rocks of every shade and people with the warm hearts.