Category Archives: 2014 Dec-Jan – Trip to Oman

2014 Trip to Oman – Day 6 – Dec 21 Back to Muscat

Once again Trish and I were awake early.  She turned on the coffee pot at 5 am (Trish is clever enough to prepare it the night before so all that is needed is a switch flick) and I wandered out of our room somewhere near 6.  The sky was just lightening with the dawn and within an hour there was a lovely golden glow on the lower level of the Burj Khalifa. We were packed up and on the road at 10.  While stopped at a traffic light I commented on all the large concrete columns along the cross road.  I  thought perhaps the Metro rapid transit system was being enlarged to service the area.  “No,” John said, “They are going to dredge the Dubai Creek to the ocean and all this section of road will be torn up and flooded.  That is where the road will go over the Creek when the project is completed.”  Only in Dubai does perfectly good infrastructure get torn up or re-routed to accomodate a new idea.  I don’t know if there is actually a City Planner in Dubai but if there is he must be bald by now.

There was only one MUST DO on our list before leaving the city – according to Trish anyway.  I don’t think the rest of us cared one way or the other, but she had two specific objectives if she made it to Dubai during our visit: buy a pair of Converse runners (2 pair for the price of one – success) and visit the Harley Davidson shop to get some T-shirts for herself and her friends.

Our daughter loves to ride (I think she got that from John) and her Harley is her most prized possession.  By the time we found a parking spot and braved the continuous traffic stream to cross the street she was almost vibrating with excitment.  The three of us patiently humoured her as she drooled over the bikes, looked at the accessories and novelty items, and selected the shirts she wanted to buy.  Yesterday at the souks she mentioned a couple of times that she would love to come to Dubai with an unlimited budget.  Today it would all have been spent in the Harley shop.  So….success on item number two.  Well done Trish.  And thank you Carrie for navigating through the traffic maze to get her there.

After we pried Trish out of the Harley shop we hit the road for our return to Muscat.  Traffic was definitely lighter than our journey up here but the usual traffic issues cropped up now and again.  Trish and Carrie shared comment duties.  The animal count on the trip home was 57 camels and 71 goats; still no donkeys.  John also counted four chickens, a dog, and 2 Brahmin cattle. The sand drifts across the road and builds up against the meridian.

We went off-roading for a half mile due to road construction.  Carrie was very careful going over the ruts and bumps in Joseph’s BMW. Both sides of the highway as you enter the city limits of Muscat are lined with palm trees, flowers and grass.  The sprinklers were running when we drove up to Dubai and were on again as we came back down. We arrived back at Joseph and Carrie’s villa just after 4 pm.  We had a bit of a delay at the Oman border crossing as Trish needed to purchase another 10 day tourist visa. We had discussed the visas with Joseph and Carrie before coming and knew there were 10 day and 30 day visas available.  John and I are going to be in Oman for 30 days so when we entered the country we bought 30 day visas.  This turned out to be a bad decision.  And if I had thought for a moment I would have realized it.  Unless there is a multiple entry visa available for the country you are visiting the visa you purchase is a one time entry.  So….our $20 rhial ($60 Cdn) visas (each) were no longer valid for re-entry into Oman. We had to complete the forms and purchase two more 30 day visas to cover the rest of our visit. Oops.  But we arrived safe and sound.  Joseph bought steaks on his way home from work and the grill worked its usual magic.  We had a great time in Dubai and look forward to a few more jaunts during our stay.  I don’t think any of them will involve six hour drives though.


2014 Trip toOman – Day 5 – Dec 20 Dubai

We set out on our second day of touring Dubai after a leisurely morning in the apartment. Since there were now five of us Carrrie called the taxi service for a van.  We were let off on the main street near the Gold Souk.  It only took about 10 minutes to walk into one of the most opulent and blingy places I have ever seen.  Shop after shop after shop after shop with windows crammed full of gold (and silver) jewelry.Up and down narrow alleyways and through wider, more populated aisles we wandered, pointing out items that caught our fancy or our sense of whimsy.  The mind and senses actually blur after awhile.  Joseph told us that 24 tons of gold are on display in the Dubai gold souk on any given day.

In the window of a corner shop at the end of one of the aisles is the world’s largest ring – with the Guiness Book of Records certificate and description to prove it. It contains 5.17 kg of precious stones set in 58.686 kg of 21 carat gold for a total weight of 63.856 kg.   (2016 Update:  this ring was purchased by a fellow and was being loaded – with great difficulty and much ado – onto the same plane Carrie was boarding to fly back to Muscat after visiting friends in Dubai. The fellow was making much of the fact that he had bought it.  Why would anyone want to is my question?)

You can get a soother for your infant (pink or blue) that has a pure gold base, gold playing cards, a paperweight Euro note replicated in gold and sealed in fiberglass, solid gold key chains, trinkets and all manner of bright shiny things.

Once we had blinked away the bling we walked through the nearby spice souk. Trish has a foody friend and she purchased 2.5 grams of saffron (which would just fill the cupped palm of your hand and is so light you would not notice it) at a cost of 25 dirhams (about $8). Pound for pound saffron is the most expensive spice on earth. There was ground fennel, sunflower stamen used for facial cleansing, blocks of salt, kernels, roots, barks, powders and dried fruits like lemon or leaves of other plants.  A cornucopia of olfactory bliss. Then we boarded a water taxi to cross The Creek to the textile souk and strolled amidst fabrics and dresses and pashmina scarves and, and, and….

  These shoes, left outside the mosque, belong to men who are inside during one of the five daily calls to prayer.

By this time it was food time and we flagged down a couple of taxis to take us across town to one of Joseph and Carrie’s favourite restaurants: Barasti Beach Bar, which is located near the Marina and has a gorgeous white sand beach in front that is used by the guests of a neighbouring hotel. Once again there were Christmas decorations and an entire ‘tree’ made from bottles of Stella Artois – which you can enter to win.  All the staff T-shirts had silly Christmas sayings on the back.  We enjoyed an excellent lunch then found two more taxis to take us back to the apartment where we all rested our weary feet.  Joseph worked on work, then packed his bag and took it down to the car.  At  5:30 he left to find a cab to take him to the airport for his 8 pm flight back to Muscat.  The rest of us will drive back tomorrow.  Hopefully the return trip will be one of the four hour versions.                           Poor Joseph is just ‘over’ having his photo taken.

2014 Trip to Oman – Day 4 – Dec 19 Dubai

Neither Trish nor I slept well.  She was awake when I got up at seven.  I think we each got about 4 hours of sleep if you total all the bits together.  The coffee was on and the morning light was lovely on the Burj so we didn’t mind – too much.

We were sitting in the living room waiting for the coffee to perk when Trish glanced out the window and saw a stream of neon yellow-clad runners going by on the street below us. Turns out the 10 km Nike Run Dubai started at 6 am.  Over 25,000 runners participated last year and this year must be similar.  Below us and between the buildings we could follow the entire route.  The roads had been closed to traffic and the runners kept coming around the distant corner from the marshalling area for over an hour!  Pretty impressive!  And that is a lot of T-shirts.

Once the majoirty of the crew was up, washed and fed we were off to explore.  (Carrie didn’t come along – she was probably not wanting to venture into traffic again so soon after yesterday.) Joseph took us to Madinat Jumeriah where there is an indoor souk patterned after the world’s longest-running covered souk in Damascus.  From the promenade at the river’s edge there are lovely views of the Burj al Arab; the world’s only seven star hotel which has become the iconic symbol of Dubai.

                                   A nice setting for a photo or two.

Joseph then drove us to the Dubai Marina to show it to Trish.  He lived there for 6 years and this is where we stayed when we visited him.  There are many residential apartment towers in the area, lovely view-scapes, shopping opportunities – both necessary and exotic – abound and there are a large variety of ethnic restaurants.  The Dubai Marina walk is very popular with both locals and tourists and parking is always an issue.  Joseph very ably navigated a few deep holes in a construction zone lot and parked the car within an easy walk. Oops – Someone else did not navigate the sand too well.All is well in this travelling Canadian’s day!
This is my favourite building in Dubai.  We have been here just often enough to see it progress to completion.  I think it is brilliant.

Then we were off to the Dubai Mall where Carrie was to meet us for lunch.  This is the largest mall in the world based on total area and is ranked 14th in leaseable space with over 1200 shops.

There are four levels of stores, 10 levels to the parking arcade and many people from many cultures with diversely different styles of dress.  Trish was happy, she didn’t need to keep her shoulders and knees covered as she does in Oman. Tank top here we come. Again, Christmas decorations galore.  Trish even got wished a Merry Christmas by a young man in the coffee shop.  We wandered around, just idly looking – except for Trish who was on the prowl for a new pair of Converse shoes. The Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo are located in the center of Dubai Mall but we did not take the time to check them out.   Next trip maybe .

The main event of our touring today was “At The Top,” a ride to the 124th floor of Burj Khalifa – there are 163 in total.  The Burj is 828 meters tall (2722 feet).  The ascent and descent take 1 minute exactly.  Now that is a FAST elevator; it makes yours ears pop.  No glass windows.  I am sure people would not like to see how fast we are moving.  They regulate the number of people going up so there are not hundreds and hundreds milling around at a time.  There is an enclosed platform that juts out from one of the sides of the building and an open slat at differing heights in each window so whether you are tall or small you can stick your hand out, or your camera if you are very careful to have the strap wrapped securely around your wrist. The endless view was incredible and it was surreal to realize that we were looking down on all of the tall buildings that stretch skyward from the ground.  A really, really cool experience.

                                               Mother-daughter photo op                 Selfie time                                   John gives a selfie a try with his SLR. One of the staff potographers posed Trish for a shot on the window sill. The access to At The Top is inside the Dubai Mall so when we came down from the tower we carried on with our mall wandering.  Malls over here put all the stores of similar products together so if you need electronics you can find all the stores near each other.  We located the shoes area and continued the Converse search (which was very successful, two pair for the price of one. Trish was thrilled.
                                             A gold Lambourghini.

The Waterfall. A fountain with sculpted divers on the face.  The wall behind the water is dark so it makes the water flow look the same color as the divers.

To cap off a fabulous day in Dubai we reserved a terrace table at Thiptara, the Thai restaurant Joseph and Carrie had taken John and me for my 60th birthday dinner a few years ago.  The palm trees along the street are all strung with fairy lights so it made a lovely walk from our apartment to the restaurant. The lovely Dubai Fountain plays every half hour and we were close enough to feel the mist from the massive water propulsion.

                             A fountain bowl of poinsetta petals

                  All in all it was a fabulous day with my family.                                       (There has to be some perks for a $600 dinner – Canadian!)



2014 Trip to Oman – Day 3 – Dec 18 Road Trip

Today we took a road trip.  Trish has never been to Dubai and had said she would like to go if we could arrange it.  Joseph and Carrie had already considered taking a ‘long-weekend’ trip to their former home city.  Work weeks in the Middle East go from Sunday to Thursday with Friday and Saturday being the weekend.  Carrie drove the car with John, Trish and me, and Joseph flew up after he finished work.

The drive from Muscat to Dubai can take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours depending on traffic.  Today was one of the six hour drives.  Driving styles over here are very aggressive and very spontaneous – lane switching, tailgating, speeding, and cutting across lanes are frequent occurences.  It is a stressful drive but Carrie did well.  Her comments and mutterings about the other drivers were never very loud, only contained an occasional expletive and were generally quite mild compared to how it may have been if some of her passengers had been driving instead.

We saw two mild accidents, 17 camels and about 175 goats.  The roadside shops parallel the road for miles out of Muscat.  The towns just run together.  Round-abouts are used and the middle of the circles are often filled with flowers and shrubs or a sculpture or a small building.

There is lots of roadwork being done along the route. Once through all the check points at the border crossing (there were two going out of Oman and four going into the UAE) the scenery changes dramatically.  Suddenly there are sharp craggy peaks, followed by bright reddish-golden dunes which give way to almost white sand and scrub trees and then, just over a small rise, Dubai.

    Desert camping is very popular.  The Burj Khalifa dwarfs all the other skyscrapers.

We rented a three bedroom/two bath apartment with a folding bed for Trish.  The apartment belongs to a family currenly away in the UK.  The couple has 16-month old twins so there are baby toys and paraphernalia stored in corners.                         We have a pretty nice view from the apartment living room.

After we found the apartment we drove to The Lime Tree Restaurant for a bite to eat. Well, we really went there so Carrie could have her Triple Chocolate Brownie, but it was time for food anyway.  Dubai is an ever-changing city and it was quite a challenge to navigate at times.  Carrie kept having to re-envision the city map in her head to get us where we wanted to go.  The final stop of the day was Mall of the Emirates, home to over 560 shops, 90+ restaurants, and the ski hill and winter fun center.  The Mall and the ski center were beautifully decorated for Christmas.  Dubai may be in a Muslim country but they know a commercial windfall when they see one. We arrived back at the apartment a little after 9:30 and Joseph’s taxi dropped him off about half an hour later.  We all had had a very long day so there was no late night conversational lingering before we hit the sack.

2014 Trip to Oman – Day 2 – Dec 17

Today was a quiet day.  Joseph and Carrie went for their morning walk before he left for work.  Trish woke up at 5:30 and turned the coffee on, then enjoyed her first dose of caffeine while reading on her private balcony.  I got up at 7:30 and sliced up all the fresh fruit we bought yesterday before making myself some breakfast.  John slept the longest – lucky fellow.

The morning was spent with all four of us on computers/phones doing whatever it is we all do.  I do know Carrie worked on her ArtistThink website.  She has been posting creativity inspiring articles and interviews with artists and educators for a few years and is now branching out to create an online creativity-course. Trish kept an eye on the sunshine streaming through the window at the top of the stairs to the roof and when it looked high enough in the sky she settled in for some tunes and rays.The neighbourhood looks pretty good from up on the roof.After lunch Carrie, John and Trish went to a different mall to buy bread and a few items to make Christmas cookies.  I stayed at the villa and wrapped all the presents we had brought from home.  More work for Carrie – trying to set up a telephone number online for her new business.  This is not easy to do for an American registered company when she lives in Oman.  Three and a half hours later she was successful.

Joseph leaves the house about 8:30 or so each morning and gets home between 6:30 and 8 pm depending on work and traffic. (Oman has crazy traffic.  Normal rules of the road are universally treated as suggestions – even stop signs.)  He grilled the steaks when he got home and dinner and dishes were finished about 8.  The game we started last night was played until 10 and then everyone was off to bed.  This type of routine will be quite common while we are here; interspersed with some days of sightseeing and activity.  Tomorrow is a travel day.

2014 Trip to Oman – Getting There and Day 1 – Dec 13-16, 2014

John and I decided to spend Christmas with our son Joseph and his wife Carrie in Muscat, Oman.  Since it is half a world away we decided to make the long flights worth while and stay for a month.  Surprisingly Joseph and Carrie were okay with that – well, Carrie was.  Not totally sure about Joseph.  But he said he was willing to put up with us.

We invited our daughter Trish to come along. She had 17 days of holidays she could take so we booked our flights.

Our itinerary was: Fly out of Kelowna, BC to Seattle, WA Dec 13 at 12:19 pm.  1 hour

Fly out of Seattle, WA to Dubai, UAE  Dec 13 at 5:10 pm      14 hours

Fly out of Dubai, UAE to Muscat, Oman Dec 14 at 10:25 pm   1 hour

Arrive at Muscat 11:35 pm Dec 14.

The reality was somewhat different to say the least.  My sister and her husband offered to drive us to the airport and they dropped us off at the terminal at 10:30.  It was foggy which is never a good thing at the Kelowna airport.  Sure enough our flight was delayed.  Then it was delayed again.  Then it was canceled.

The gal at the Alaska Airlines counter was overwhelmed with all the re-bookings and took forever to find us new flights.  The Seattle to Dubai Air Emirates flight the next day was fully booked so alternative airlines had to be found.  She booked John and I on the 12:40 Air Canada flight to Vancouver and the 8:30 flight to Seattle, with an overnight layover.  We would then fly to Amsterdam on Delta at 1 pm Dec 14, have a 3 hour layover and fly to Muscat after a short stop in Dhoha, Qatar, arriving at 9:30 pm Dec 15.  By the time she had all that done the 12:40 flight was closed as it was too close to the scheduled departure time and she could not make a booking for Trish, even though the plane had not yet arrived and the flight was also delayed due to fog.  But… booking was closed so Trish couldn’t fly with us.  She was then booked on another flight leaving Kelowna at 5 so would be in time for our 8:30 plane to Seattle that evening.

Our 12:40 flight finally left at 2:45 and there were quite a few empty seats so if the re-booking had been done quicker Trish could have flown with us.  However just as we were going through security to fly to Seattle Trish texted that her flight out of Kelowna was now canceled as well because the fog had rolled in again.  Not Good.

Multiple texts flew back and forth.  Trish met another couple who were also stranded and they decided to rent a vehicle and drive to Vancouver as the chances were very good that any flights out the next morning would also be canceled due to fog.  Four more people joined in with the plan so seven random strangers crammed all their luggage and themselves into a rented SUV and drove to Vancouver at 7 o’clock at night. A wonderful time was had by all and Trish has six new friends.

After about three hours sleep at a friend’s house she caught an 8:50 flight to Seattle the next morning and waited for us at the gate for our afternoon flight to Amsterdam.  We arrived at the airport at 10 am to have lots of time to get our Delta boarding passes and meet up with Trish.  Delta had nothing in their computer except our names – even though John had gone online at our hotel the night before, found our new bookings and selected seats for us and Trish.  Delta said since our flight was a re-booking by Alaska Air we had to go see them.  We spent over an hour and a half standing at the counter unsure as to whether we would make our flight to Amsterdam. Alaska finally sorted out “the computer error” and we hurried to Delta to get our boarding passes.  The line was lengthy at security but we were assured by a staff person that we would be okay.  We arrived at the correct gate, without seating assignments, as the plane was beginning to board. Trish had the seat we had selected for her last night and we were given the last two seats together 11 rows ahead of her.

We arrived half an hour early in Amsterdam, found a transfer station and got our seats and boarding passes for our flight to Muscat.  Again John and I were together in the two middle seats of the four center rows and Trish was 21 rows behind.  Trish slept almost the entire flight.  I got about 4 hours and John, who had napped on the flight to Amsterdam, dozed a bit while the young fellow in the seat beside him had a good sleep on his shoulder.  The plane was delayed 20 minutes or so in Dhoha due to a valve not opening so the engine wouldn’t start. We got towed back to the terminal where the valve was opened manually, the engine roared to life and off we went.

Joseph and Carrie arrived at the airport just as we walked out the terminal.  It was about a 20 minute drive to their villa and after a tour of the house and a short visit everyone went to bed.  It had been a VERY long, VERY stressful trip and we lost an entire day of our holiday.  However, we arrived safe and sound at our destination so all was well.

  I was impressed that they had put up not one, but two Christmas trees.

                              The next-door neighbours.

Joseph has to work most days during our visit and he was gone by the time we got up.  Carrie, Trish, John and I visited for awhile then Carrie drove us to the ocean-front boulevard to walk along the beach and enjoy the warm weather.  

Then it was off to the grocery store to stock up on food.  We found it very interesting to see the Christmas decorations and ‘treats’ in this Muslim country.  There was even a Christmas tree in the airport, which surprised us all and winter decorations in the mall. All in all it was a wonderful first day in Oman.  We look forward to the rest of our visit.  Some days will be game-playing days where we won’t leave the villa but we have made plans to see some sights and experience some adventures.  You will have to wait and see what we get up to……