… sitting atop one of the ancient Portuguese forts above the Muscat port…

Muscat - what a delightful city.  Oman – what a delightful country.  I cannot say enough good things about my visit to this place.  I was impressed by the people, the landscape, the history and the beautiful ocean and mountain views.  My only regret is that I only had a few short days to visit – I wish I had longer.  I booked a round trip ticket and hotel inclusive package to Muscat from a Dubai travel agent.  The price was not too expensive and the hotel (Sheraton) was nice with a friendly staff.  Quite a few of the workers were from Bulgaria (black hair & blue eyes – what a sight at the eastern end of the Saudi Peninsula) as well as from other countries in Asia, India and Europe.

My hotel had a nice ocean view (photo below) and the weather was sunny and mild – this was very nice considering that it was the dead of winter.  I quickly found that Oman is a very conservative country – there are no bars or restaurants except some small (and dingy) watering holes inside the hotels.  I checked out my hotel’s bar and it was a smoke-filled and dark place with exceedingly expensive beers and decided that I didn’t want to smell like smoke and I quickly took a pass.  What I would find in Muscat to occupy my time would be more of the “outdoors” type of activities.

I considered taking an organized tour but (as it was low season) there was not much to choose from.  I inquired about hiring a taxi for the day with an English-speaking driver to be my guide but found that the cost was quite high.  I checked the phone book for some rental car agencies and found a car that wasn’t too much and decided to give it a try.  It did have some mileage limitations that would prevent driving too far south (I had originally wanted to drive the length of the country) but certainly enough to get around Muscat and the surrounding area.  I took a cab to the rental car agency, gave my credit card, bought the additional insurance and soon I was on my way.

Oman is quite a mountainous country; it seemed that every direction I looked I could see mountains and hills and each had a 500 -year-old Portuguese fort atop of it.  This country was a Portuguese colony and they fortified the coast exceedingly well – the forts were close enough to interlock cannon fire and seemed the stretch the entire coast.  In the top photo, if you look over my shoulder on the right side you can see a massive Portuguese fortress that once guarded the port at Muscat.

The style of the homes was very similar to what you might see in any other Gulf country: squat square cement buildings and tall (relatively) featureless rectangle apartment buildings.  As the area is so hilly the houses and apartments seem to spring up between the hills giving the city a unique desert-mountain look.

Aside from the hills, getting around the city was much like being in Dubai – similar cars, expat taxi drivers (usually Indians and Pakistanis but a fair amount of Omani taxi drivers) and the usual amount of horn honking.  The drivers were most courteous in Muscat - especially when compared to Kuwait.  But really, who drives worse than the Kuwaitis?  I found driving around in my rental car to be an easy experience and would recommend any visitors to Muscat consider hiring their own car – it was quite convenient.

One of my first visits was to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.  This was indeed an impressive building and complex.  The grounds of the mosque are expansive and full with beautiful gardens.  Inside, the Grand Mosque brags the world’s largest chandelier and carpet (almost the entire mosque is covered by a single rug).  The building is beautiful with its tall dome and spired hallways off of the main building.  Unfortunately, due to my limited digital memory (I was carrying only 3 x 46mb memory cards) I did not capture as many photos of the mosque as I should have.  As I’ve looked at some of the other websites that have photos of this mosque I opted to post a night shot of the mosque as I not seen any of those on the web.  It is really a grand building – if you come to Oman don’t miss the opportunity to visit.  It is open Sunday through Wednesday from 8-11 am.

Just to add a little scale to the size of the mosque complex I’m including this photo taken after I’d parked my rental car in the parking lot.  As you can see in the photo I still have a few hundred meters to walk just to get to the main building complex:


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