Sunday, April 15, 2012

Oman Trip: Muscat, Day Two

After our day in Doha, we spent the next five days in Oman. Cagatay has a high-school friend who lives now in Muscat with her husband and kids, and she insisted that we stay with them. We arrived late on Sunday night, but luckily they only lived a couple of minutes from the airport, in an expat complex with its own private beach.

The next morning, Dila had to go to the girls' school for parent-teacher conferences, and she offered to drop us off at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque for an hour. I was silently thinking to myself, an hour? I have been in my fair share of mosques in Istanbul, and that seemed like an enormous amount of time. But this mosque was AMAZING and we easily could have spent another hour there. (If you're going to go, plan wisely: The mosque is open everyday except Friday, but only from 8:30-11am.) I already knew that I would have to dress modestly -- I wore an ankle-length skirt, t-shirt and sweater -- and they make you (women) cover your hair as soon as you enter the grounds.

We first walked directly across the grounds and headed into the prayer room, which we at first thought was the main prayer hall but turned out to be just for the women. The main prayer hall ended up being around and behind, and was just incredible. According to the Omani tourism website, this room fits 6,500 worshippers at a time, and the Persian carpet is apparently the largest in the world. Basically, it's about 50 meters from carpeted floor to blue-porcelein dome, and in between is just wide open, airy space. After going in both the prayer halls, Cagatay and I wandered down the various passageways outside -- I was particularly taken by the decorative niches, which were done in either exquisite tile work or mosaic.

After the mosque, Dila and the girls picked us up and we headed into Mutrah, which is sort of the downtown Muscat area, except that downtown is mostly just a row of three- to four-story whitewashed buildings along the water. In this regard, Muscat is a very odd city -- it's very long and thin, the city stretching some 50 kilometers or more in the narrow space between the ocean and the dry mountains. As a result, I never really felt like I had a handle on it. We didn't spend much time in Mutrah -- we took a quick walk through the souq, but it felt very touristy and inauthentic (which was sort of disappointing as Oman is well-known in history for its prime trading ports, and they were great exporters of frankincense). We then headed to the Bayt Az-Zubair museum, which is home to a number of displays on Omani military history (lots of weapons on display) and culture (also lots of traditional dress) in a restored house. The museum wasn't really my cup of tea and I think we were all hot and hungry, so we made only the briefest of stops to take a look at the exterior of Al-Alam, the Sultan's Palace (though he doesn't live there, it's purely ceremonial), within the Walled City before heading to lunch at the Intercontinental Hotel.

The rest of the afternoon was pretty leisurely, I must say. Cagatay and I both really needed a vacation so after lunch, when the girls were off having their tennis lessons on the hotel's courts, we relaxed in the lawn chairs and had a little siesta. :)  On the way back to the house, we stopped briefly at the City Centre mall, which looks like any mall you'd find in America (or Istanbul, for that matter). Except, of course, for the lettering -- most of the shops were recognizable brands and had the names displayed in both Latin and Arabic alphabets. My favorite stylistically was Marks & Spencer, purely because they incorporated the green "&" in both versions.

As usual, the Flickr slideshow is below. Most of the photos are from the Sultan Qaboos mosque, up until the wide exterior shot. After that comes a snap of the Mutrah souq, followed by a poster featuing Sultan Qaboos himself, then it's the Sultan's Palace, some watchtowers nearby, and the Marks & Spencer logo in Arabic lettering.

Created with flickr slideshow.
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