Muscat, (Oman)

“Cryptus Portus (the Hidden Port)”, “Moscha Portus”

Muscat, Oman, July 2017

Continuing on our journey bound for Tanzania, this is our second intermediary stop after Luxembourg City and Nancy. Muscat it is then for the entire day since the very early morning until the very late at night departure on the next and final flight into Zanzibar. Although we knew this was not that much time for such a beautiful city, it did work great for us in being the first time in this incredible country, now looking forward to discover in full in the near future and not just its capital city, but the many historic villages and that incredible ochre landscapes of the mountains and the yellow of the desert amidst the blue of the Arabian Sea.

Muscat is in any case, a small city; “narrow” but very long, with a very small historic old town in a creek flanked in between the Portuguese forts among the bendy coast and the mountains. All is there to see and visit can be perfectly done in a day, and even less, but bear in mind a very important subject here: the heat. If you are coming between March and October, it is guaranteed to be over 30 degrees during the day. That sounds still OK, until you experience the over 40 degrees, very dry, June to August months. During the night it does not really drop much and remains stable at around 30, therefore if there is something I can strongly recommend you here is to rent a car. You cannot imagine how much you will appreciate this. Muscat, as opposed to what Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha or Kuwait are, it is still very laid back and living in the past. Public transports are only a bunch of buses, not even as efficient as the other neighboring countries’ capitals. There are no metro system nor air-conditioned bus stops. The heat simply feels like fire, and so it did in our stay making it quite uncomfortable if I am to be honest, even though we thankfully had a rental car.

Now, what at one hand is the down-side, in the other hand this translates in a very unique city. Forget the shiny skyscrapers and islands gained into the sea as for neighboring UAE or Qatar. Forget a “westernised” world and enjoy instead a truly unspoiled Arabian experience. Its architecture, its culture, the food, the people; our country number 86 and it was stunning and a wonder! (more…)

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Kuwait City, (Kuwait)

“Madīnat al-Kuwayt”

Kuwait City, Kuwait, May 2014

One of the craziest bank holiday trips we’ve ever done. In fact, why to even think, it was the craziest with no equal. Visiting 2 countries in just 3 days, that is something very normal anywhere in our European city breaks, but not for going that far to the Middle East in such a short time. And actually in this case, that was not one of these low air fare offers, but instead an on-purpose Qatar Airways flight merely to boost the tier level of our Executive Club membership. Quite worth it knowing how many times we fly using any of the One World Alliance partners which means for us lots of air miles and other benefits.

So you might wonder how is it possible to visit 2 capitals in different countries in just 3 days. Well, let me tell you it is possible. Yes, it is very short time and definitely I would love to have been longer and enjoy visiting other places nearby and of course, more time by the beaches on the Gulf. In any case that was yet another well worth it trip back to a little piece of the Arab World. It was a day and a night in Kuwait City before flying the following morning to Doha for the next 2 days, then back to London.

As there is not really too much to see or do in the city, a day was definitely enough for us, of course bearing in mind that our peace for sightseeing is quite fast as we are very used to travelling, all extremely organised to the detail and specially with not much time to spare. (more…)

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Tunis, Carthage and Sidi Bou Said, (Tunisia)

“Liberty, Order, Justice”, “Defenders of the Homeland”

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Tunis, a vibrant modern capital city growing constantly in the shadow of its rich ancient history; beautiful, elegant, organised and safe yet often bypassed by the tourists seeking the resorts along the coast such as Sousse, Monastir or Djerba; however it really deserves a special mention and visit. This is a place where you will fill at times as if you were anywhere in France while at the turn of a street, in the middle of an Arabian Night tale, all in perfect harmony coexisting each others with care and respect. No wonder why Tunisia has gained its reputation as one of the most open and respectful country among the Arab world. A mosque, a Catholic church or a Synagogue on the same street? no problem, everyone is welcomed.

Having been a French colony, the architecture and language is clearly part of its heritage. French and Arab is understood and spoken across the nation, not so much with the English for what a little bit of French would help you going further and getting better deals when bargaining the shops of the bazaar in the Medina. While this is a maze of labyrinthine narrow streets completely filled with shops along both sides of the road, traditional Arab architecture in the mosques, houses, schools and palaces all of which now listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site; in the other hand, and side by side, is the Ville Nouvelle. The new city created by the French with planned tree-lined wide avenues and squares built with the architectural styles of that era. Expect to see mostly art-nouveau and art-deco.

Visiting the city, both the Medina and Ville Nouvelle is easy and straightforward. An entire day is generally a good calculation. Certainly less than that will be pointless to be honest, 2 days would be ideal, but any longer is unnecessary. Still, you need to include in your plans Carthage and Sidi Bou Said (explained later), and this means an extra day. Now if you ask me if the city and these places can all be visited in a weekend trip, then yes, but only if knowing how to move from a place to another without losing any time. But in a country where you can have some great beers and wine in nice bars (it is allowed to drink alcohol), with that many incredible coffee and shisha places, restaurants and shops, don’t rush this too much, 3 days is the ideal.

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Abu Dhabi, (UAE)

“Father of Deer”, “Emergin Emiratis”

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As a final stop over on this trip, we decided to spend another 2 days in Dubai, and take the chance for visiting the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi. Indeed a great decision also in order to split such a long flight back from South East Asia, get back to usual time and try to avoid the bigger jet lag, well, at least in theory because in practice, it was not the case once back in London.

Reaching the city was once again fast and straightforward, especially when having a rental car. Basically you just follow the Sheikh Zayed Road which traverses the entire Dubai, and continue all the way southwest. Soon the desert will surround you, but notice how many trees have been planted in between the lanes of the road. Not only here, but at both sides of the road too. This is even more notorious when approaching the city, where you will get to see big fields of green grass, many trees and plants. This is one of the long term ideas of the Emirates, changing the harsh environment for something much easier to stand and coop, and nicer. Vegetation brings humidity and moisture, and after all, water; but it does also reduce the temperature. It felt much nicer in here than in scorching Dubai.

The city itself has not much to offer to the visitor, well especially when comparing it to Dubai, but still impresses anyone to see the grand Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the Emirates Palace or the shiny skyline by the Corniche. Also the spectacular Guggenheim or the Louvre museums, or the Ferrari World or Formula 1 among other worldwide names.

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Sharjah, (UAE)

“Al Shareqah”

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Sharjah, the third largest of the emirates that form the United Arab Emirates as a country, is literally the next northeast of Dubai, with Sharjah City, its capital. Basically, it is a continuation of Dubai. Once you cross the Dubai Creek it’s not even a kilometre farther and you are already there. The only clue which alert you are in a different emirate and different city are the signs in the road. As for the look of it, you could never tell if you have left Dubai. The emirates are so small and the cities so long along the coast that you move in a continuous urban area. Abu Dhabi being the largest, the remaining 6 emirates are tiny and together towards the tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

Although not as spectacular as Dubai, it is rapidly kicking off with lots of projects going on. Construction, like everywhere in the Emirates, is at its peak. I imagine the city in few years time, certainly hard to recognise to what I saw during this trip.

There are only 2 reasons why would you want to come here. I cannot think on any other, unless you are just curious to know how it looks and to say you have stepped on it. One, the beaches. There were absolutely empty! Nice sand all along, and many kilometres of it. The promenade, Corniche, runs parallel and was also really nice for walking (bearing the intense heat). The whole promenade just for yourself, rarely someone else, oddly some random tourist here and there. (more…)

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Dubai, (UAE)

“City of Gold”, “21st Century City”, “The city of the future”

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An incredible trip to the Middle East bringing us to the shiny and spectacular city of Dubai. Just few days here as a stop over before continuing on to South East Asia, the final destination on this journey. And what best way to fly here than with Emirates, the flag airline carrier of Dubai, on their Airbus A380. That is always an amazing experience to fly on such a plane, especially for an airplane lover as I am.

Leaving London behind with barely over 12 degrees, and landing a little over 6 hours later at over 35 degrees, that’s priceless for a late in the year holidays. What I was actually not prepared was the temperature shock once the doors from the airport to the outside opened. The heat is such and so, so dry, that it is hard to stand it the first minutes until your body adjust. And that was just 35, considering the +45 experiences in Doha and Muscat from other trips. Thankfully we were prepared and changed the cloths from winter to summer while still at the airport.

It was just matter of few minutes later when we were in the rental car heading to our hotel when we felt out of this world. And what a experience was that! The impressive Sheikh Zayed Avenue heading north passing such a wonderful collection of super tall skyscrapers. The city of the future. This avenue was a hint of what was yet to come. The Burj Khalifa follows after more or less half way toward the Mall of the Emirates, and on and on; the collection of landmarks continue. (more…)

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Jerash, (Jordan)

“Gerasa”, “Pompeii of the East”, “The city of 1000 columns”

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Another of the jewels amazing Jordan has to offer, the ancient city of Gerasa, nowadays Jerash. one of the best preserved Roman city from the Decapolis group, the once 10 cities on the Eastern Frontier of the Roman Empire in Judea and Syria. The most complete and best preserved city of the Roman Empire, outside of Italy, often referred as Pompeii of the East. Nestled in a green and well-watered valley in the biblical land of Gilead, the remains of the ancient city have long attracted tourists from all around the world.

Wander among the original temples, theatres, plazas, paths and colonnaded streets; all enclosed within the remaining city walls. A history that goes beyond the Romans at a place inhabited with settlements dating from the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad and Abbasid periods, indicating human occupation at this location for more than 2,500 years.

It lies merely 50 kilometres north of Amman, hence the perfect half day trip from there. It is so the case that when we arrived to Jordan, we actually did not know about this place until we saw postcards at all other sites we’ve been about the incredible and rare-oval shaped forum. It really got out attention for its uniqueness, and in truth, it is the only one the Romans ever built this way. Coming here therefore was not even optional, it became a must somehow squeezed in our very tight agenda.

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The Dead Sea, (Jordan)

“Sea of Death”, “The Eastern Sea”, “Lake Asphaltites”

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Jordan is not only about Petra, Wadi Rum Desert and its countless ancient cities and monuments. It has lots more to offer, certainly being one of the greatest assets the Dead Sea. Forming the border naturally with Israel just at the other coast and completely visible from Jordan, is one of these once in a lifetime, hopefully more, experience.

What you have heard that the water is really pushing you up to float, it’s all true, no doubt. What I did not expect is that once you walk inside the water, when it covers your legs, then it’s hard to even keep standing up right. Just let yourself float and enjoy.

To reach the nearest beaches from Amman, you have a handful of bus lines from Mujaharin bus station to Rame, at the costs of just 1 JD. But first, once you are at that bus station, ask anyone to point you to the right bus to Rame. There are too many buses and it can get seriously confused but people over there is really friendly and will help you. Such buses leave once they are full and so on.

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