Bumped off by Royalty!

Trip Start Jan 08, 2012
Trip End Jan 19, 2012

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Morning landlubbers!

Apologies for lack of contact over the last day or so – was overcome with the excitement of going ashore in Oman!

Anyway, Thursday dawned hot and sunny (sorry Delyth!) and I had set my alarm for 6am to go for early bird breakfast as the excursion left at 8.15. Thought I would have a leisurely breakfast – thwarted again! The main restaurant didn't open until 7, and only tea/coffee and donuts available before 7 – should have organised room service!

Never mind, had time to go back and sort my rucksack out! Breakfast assault at 7 was more successful again – took my bag with me this time, and not many people in the restaurant – so had a table for 6, by the window, to myself – haha! Even managed 3 journeys to the servery without losing either my food or my seat! ( I think it is very cruel of you to laugh at my discomfiture Delyth!). Also asked for 2 cups of tea at the same time, a. because I am thirsty, and b. because people think there are 2 people sitting there!(Do you think I have a career writing a survival guide for solo cruisers!)

Quite a palaver getting ready for trip out – men had to wear long trousers and a shirt, but women, long skirts or trousers covering ankles, socks, long sleeves and headscarves. Was boiled before leaving cabin! Decided to take my socks off as the socks were only required for the mosque.

Onto first bus to leave and managed seat by myself – other passengers quite an eclectic mix – lots of Germans and Russian, some Canadians but very few Americans – as someone said, why would they come and spend time in an area where everyone hates them! The intrepid ones were just as dull as usual. On passing the opera house 'what sort of shows do they put on there?’ – I’m afraid I had said ‘Opera’ before I could stop myself, and the couple in front of me nearly collapsed laughing!

Nice Indian guide, has been in Oman 5 years, speaks 5 languages fluently, English, German, Italian, French and Arabian as well as Urdu – these people put us to shame!

Lots of information about Oman en route to first stop which was the largest Mosque in Oman, only just ‘dethroned’ from largest in Arab world by new Mosque in Abu Dhabi, which also now has the largest carpet, and largest chandelier as well – methinks these Sheiks like to outshine each other!

Oman as a country is unique in the Emirates in that 80% of inhabitants are local and only 20% are incomers, as opposed to Dubai and Abu Dhabi when it is the opposite. In Oman, tourism is relatively new, and last year, over 65% of the tourists were German, followed by Austrian, Swiss and a few from other countries. Interesting eh? Most people therefore speak German as well as English and Arabic.

The Ruler is the Sultan, but little is known about his private life and noone is allowed to discuss it with visitors. (According to Wikipedia, he was educated in the UK, went to Sandhurst, had a commission in the British Army in Germany, then overthrew his Father in a ‘palace coup’ in 1970. He married once then divorced, and has no children. His plans for succession are unknown. He loves opera and super yachts!)

The average Omani man may have up to 4 wives, but has to negotiate the marriage through his parents and the girl’s parents. He also has to pay money upfront for the privilege –up to $30,000 – a third for the wedding itself, a third for a house, and a third in reserve in case he is divorced, when he has to ‘pay off’ his wife. If she divorces him, she gets nothing! (Interestingly – a good racing camel costs over $100,000!)

All the taxi drivers and bus drivers have to be Omani, and if you start a new business here as a foreigner, you must have an Omani partner, with at least 25% share of the business, and from 1970, women have to make up at least 25% of the workforce, whereas before they weren’t allowed to work. Unlike Saudi Arabia, the women can drive and walk around unaccompanied – which they do, in great gangs, but covered up top to toe however. They are very superstitious about having their photos taken, so I have only got ones taken incidentally in a general shot, as they worry about their photos being seen by other people and making them unsuitable for marriage, and the older ones worry about their spirits being ‘stolen’ by the camera, and will often hide if they see foreigners coming towards them, or avert their eyes.

Most people on the bus had conformed to the dress code – there were a couple of British (of course!) women in shorts and strappy tops, and when they were told politely that they wouldn’t be allowed in the mosque, they said they didn’t want to go there anyway! Their menfolk had visible tattoos and the guide asked them to cover them to go out, and they refused – made me embarrassed to be British! We also had the extreme opposite, a German lady in full Arabian outfit – the long dress, scarf the lot – except hers was white with embroidery – had she not noticed that the locals were all in black?! She didn’t blend in at all, she just looked like a silly foreigner trying to look local – and stupid to boot! (Just like those tourists in Bhutan Fiona! – do you remember Tashi’s face?)

Anyway, interesting drive to the Grand Mosque, lots of new buildings, but none allowed to be more than 14 storeys high, which makes the place less overbearing than e.g. Dubai, and most of the houses are painted white and replicate traditional designs, but fancier.The Portuguese were here briefly and there are the remains of forts and watch towers along the coast, but the guide was quick to point out that the Portuguese only took over Muscat, not the whole of Oman. ( According to Wiki – the British were the ones to encourage Omani Sheiks and tribal leaders to get together and form the Sultanate as they wanted to protect the ‘quick’ route to India, just like they helped the Egyptians, and there was a Royal Navy frigate in the port and a Royal Navy Guard at the port entrance – listening to his iPod on duty!)

Lots of Indian and Chinese labourers and roadworkers as Omanis wont work on the roads or construction, and therefore lots of Indian and Chinese neighbourhoods with the associated shops and eating places.

Disaster struck when we arrived at the Grand Mosque – it was closed! The Queen of the Netherlands was staying with the Sultan and was to visit sometime during the day, so the whole place was closed from dawn to 8pm that evening! The poor guide was beside himself as his company hadn’t known about this, and the previous day there had been a 6 hour delay on getting a tour back to the ship because of traffic jams around Muscat due to the Queen’s arrival!

Didn’t bother me in the least as it was absolutely out of anyone’s control, but the bus was awash with mutterings and moaning as you can imagine!

Bless him, he managed to find another Mosque that would allow us in as long as it was before 12, because, with the Grand Mosque out of action all day, all other Mosques were in great demand for the prayer times! It was very beautiful inside and personally I wasn’t in the line of people queuing to complain when we got back!

Then we went to the Souk and had 45 mins there – not long enough! Had a good wander around – it was covered like the ones in Luxor and Istanbul, and the sellers were much less ‘in your face’ than some places. The prices were high though, and I didn’t see anything I really wanted or needed – lots of shawls and ornaments, and I don’t need or want either! Fascinating watching then locals shopping though, husband and wives and children and servants, quite an entourage! Also gaggles of young girls doing what girls do everywhere, shopping with their friends at a weekend (Thursday Friday are the weekend in Oman)

The last stop was at a private museum of Omani life, but it was as shame as no photos allowed, interesting film about the rest of the country, and the cases of local jewellery were interesting, and it would have been good to have gone there first, before the souk, so I would have known what was traditional and what was not.

Then back to the ship in time for lunch, and as most tours were still out, it was nice and quiet. Had an interesting pudding – what looked like the little tartlets that we get in Gran Canaria, pastry with Confectioners’ Custard, topped with strawberries and kiwi in aspic – or that’s what I thought it was! When I put my fork in, it was a bit hard – then I realised the chef had been adventurous with the left over mince pies from the day before – and just put the topping on top to camouflage them! I laughed out loud! They obviously had a glut to use up after Christmas!

Nice lazy afternoon, mostly sleeping and reading on balcony or in the cabin – impossible to find a sunbed on deck – all reserved from dawn onwards – despite the dire warnings not to, so I don’t bother trying!

Had a table for 6.30 and managed to book for Fri night formal evening as well  - made friends with the booking girl, and she knows my name now! Hopefully I am less hassle than some of her customers.

Had lentil soup, which was clear not thick, you would have commented on that Fiona, and then slices of beef with potato gratin and broccoli, followed by Pecan caramel tart – which wasn’t what I was expecting, more like a syrup tart with chopped nuts in – might have been pecans, but no real way of telling! Very nice nevertheless, and finished my wine – so will splash out on another one tonight which should last me the rest of the cruise! Cant be too extravagant at $50 a bottle!

Had my little gamble, spent $3 and won 2, so no bit worries. They wont make a fortune from me! Cleopatra and Texas Tea best games on this ship – Frog Prince useless!

Will end now, it is way past coffee time, get this sent, then back to cabin for relax I think! What a life eh?

Toodle pip – oh no, wrong cruise, the cruise directors here are two men, so camp, they make the two on Benidorm look manly! Fiona, you would HATE them!
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Delyth ace packer on

Hey that sultan sounds like a good catch!!!! Less mention of the heat and more about the trials of dining room - love it. Definitely think career as writer, sounds as if having good time. Keep up the blogs

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