Middle EastVirtual Travel Tales


Magnificent interior of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Oman

Salaam aleikum! We have arrived in Muscat after a great night catching up with friends in Tbilisi, who not only braved Aeroflot flight IM1gtMAK3IT (virtually as terrifying as the real thing) but also brought us souvenirs. We’ll always treasure the branded vinyl carry bag you all chipped in for.

The Arabian Sea, camels, minarets and whitewashed buildings: I had a romantic idea of Oman in my mind before we arrived and, I have to say, I haven’t been disappointed. Since the 1st century, Muscat has been known as an important trading port between the east and west, and the influences of this can still be seen. To complicate matters, Oman has been ruled at various times by different indigenous tribes, the Persians, the Portuguese and the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Qaboos bin Said has been in charge since 1970.

We’d done our research beforehand and were dressed conservatively in long, flowing clothes, and had brushed up a little on Omani etiquette. We even had small presents tucked into our bags in case we found ourselves in the situation of being invited to someone’s house for dinner. Nothing if not organised.

We spent this morning in the Wahiba Sands with a group of surprisingly amicable camels and their handlers – inscrutable men in white robes and turbans – who showed us stretches of desert sand dunes, oases and remnants of the Bedouin lifestyle. By late morning it was too hot to continue, and we headed back to Muscat.

We spent this afternoon visiting the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, exploring the seafront with its old Portuguese forts, drinking mint tea, getting lost in the souks and buying more Frankincense than I could ever hope to use. In the spirit of Australia’s Big Pineapple or the Big Banana, the Omanis have a giant frankincense burner in al-Riyam park. There’s no way we could leave without seeing that.

Tonight, after a quick dinner of shwarma or biryani, we’re planning to wander Old Muscat and just soak up the atmosphere. I might need a coffee first.

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