A few months ago we had to travel from Malaysia back to the UK, while the flight is not unreasonably long (14 hours) it is still longer than we wanted to take in one go as Mini EE was 15 months so just about the worst age for travel (non toddling babies and those who can sit in their own seats being a much better proposition).
|Muscat - a somewhat calmer layover than Dubai|
Discretion being the better part of valour we decided to break our journey half way and give ourselves a day off before resuming the journey to the UK. While most people stop in places like Dubai we thought we would take the opportunity to look around Muscat, an altogether quieter and calmer proposition.
|Exploring the Sultan Qaboos Mosque|
While the journey did not get off to the greatest start (a drugged up taxi driver screeching along the Malaysian motorways at 150kph, immigration delaying Master and Miss EE’s exit on their cancelled student visa for so long that we almost missed the plane and finally just to top it off an emergency stop/aborted take-off due to a plane landing out of sequence), thankfully the rest of the journey went very well.
As this was our final exit from Malaysia we were rather overburdened with luggage, 5 suitcases, a pram, carry on and a box with Mini EEs car seat in for use in the UK. It was a miracle that we managed to stay within our weight allowance and we needed two taxis at the other end.
We were staying with a long term Expat Couple who let some rooms in their villa through AirBNB. They were not there when we arrived but had told us they would leave the doors open and just go in and settle in the rooms. Having been up for 36 hours straight sorting out the final packing I went to sleep while Mr EE and the children sorted everything out. By the time I woke the owner had returned and advised us where to eat etc, he even loaned us a car so the children would not need to walk the short (2k) trip into the local town for food after their long journey.
We had arranged with one of the taxi drivers to ferry us around the following day and he arrived early. We put ourselves in his hands asking him to make sure that we saw the highlights of the city. We spent an hour in the Sultan Qaboos mosque, a huge complex near the airport. The mosque is beautifully landscaped and decorated with impeccable taste. While children under 10 are not allowed in the main prayer hall the very kind doorman allowed our three children to come in with us so we did not have to take turns.
|The tiny bazaar was heaving with tourists from cruise ships|
From there we drove up into the mountains before driving back down to the coast to enjoy a few hours at the corniche and bazaar. The Muscat bazaar is tiny but thronging with tourists. Most of the wares on sale are modern tourist tat or overpriced ‘antiques’ but there are a few genuinely good pieces if you are willing to spend the time looking. The restaurants next door, while obvious tourist traps, served good portions of food at reasonably decent prices and the children were all given a piece of fruit on leaving.
|Popular tourist cafes on the Corniche|
We drove on to see the royal palace complex and then to spend some time looking through a private museum, the Bait Al Zubair, nearby dedicated to the cultural history of Omani life. The museum was excellent, set in some traditional houses it was just the right size to enjoy for an hour or two and with plenty of information to put the exhibits into context. Next to the (excellent) coffee shop was a recreation of a traditional Omani house and a space for the practice and display of traditional crafts and industries.
|Royal Palace Complex|
|Fort Guarding the Anchorage|
By this time we were starting to flag so our driver took us back to our temporary home. We walked into the local town for a quick meal before spending the evening in a rather pleasant discussion on local history, culture and work with our hosts. A girl I knew from school lives just a few minutes drive from our AirBNB, (one of the advantages of a boarding school is that I seem to know people in all sorts of places) we had intended to meet up but sadly we never quite managed to co-ordinate our schedules so we will catch up sometime in the future.
|Bait Al Zubair Museum|
|Complete with random goat statues gracing the gardens |
(no photographs allowed inside)
The homeward flight was late enough in the afternoon to allow us to have a relaxing breakfast before trekking to the airport to catch our flight to the UK. All in all, while it is not a traditional stop over, I can heartily recommend Muscat as a good place to break a journey between Europe and East Asia. The pace of life is calm and the people we met were incredibly friendly and very hospitable. We will almost certainly be back as our 48 hour stop left us wanting to see more of this country which is, luckily, rather conveniently located for our new posting.
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