"We travel not to escape our life, but to stop life from escaping us"
We flew early in the morning for our first day in Oman. This gave us a day to get the feel of things and also to explore Muscat. Muscat is Oman’s port capital city and has a history dating back to antiquity which means that there is a lot to see.
N.B. If you are wondering how the ‘on arrival visa’ process works it’s pretty simple. When you land you’ll head into the terminal and see a Travelex money exchange and a country to the left. This is where you pay for your on arrival visa. At the time I write this the charge is 20 OMR per person. Once you have your receipt head right and take the receipt and your passport to the customs agents to be checked and stamped, after that you are all good to go grab you bags and head outside.
There are a couple of options in Muscat for getting around. First you could go with a prearranged private city tour. These are usually on the more costly side but do guarantee you see everything you want. Second there is a double-decker bus that travels to all the most popular sites its hop on and hop of so pretty convenient however it is timetabled so if you miss it then you have to wait for the next one to come along. Also with this option you will be getting on and off with (in general) lots of other people going to the same spot at the same time, which can feel a little crowded. We went for option three, once we got the hotel and put our bags in we called for a cab and then asked the cab driver how much it would be to just have him drive us around to the sites for the day and then back to the hotel. After a little back a forward the great price of 30 Rials for 6 hours of touring was agreed upon and we jumped in and headed on our way (we had 3 adults and 2 kids so this was a great deal compared to other options).
Seeing The Sites
We wanted to see the main site but also had a few spots we wanted to see. Here is the order we went in and some notes about what we got up to:
Sultans Palace, you aren’t able to go inside the ground so most picture are through or in front of the big gates out front but the palace is beautiful and the area outside is great to stretch your legs.
Al Mirani & Al Jalali Forts, these forts are pretty cool to visit. They flank each side of the harbor and provide great view. You can also get a view of the back side to the Sultans Palace and gardens.
The Watch Tower, this light house looking tower is tucked away behind some rocks of the Al Bahri Road. You can park and climb up to the top for a great view all around.
Incense Burner & Riyam Park, across the road from the watch tower you can see the beautiful incense burner that overlooks Riyam Park. The burner is closed to the public but still amazing even from the bottom of the hill. The park offers a beautiful place to walk and also if you have kids a play park.
Mutrah Souq, this large market has a multitude of offerings from pots and pans to gold to souvenirs. Definitely take a couple of hour to really get lost and have a look around. Also never pay the first, second or even third price that’s offered especially on souvenirs, you can get some great deals with a little bartering.
Blue Mosque, although not the famous blue mosque of Turkey this one is just up the road from the Mutrah Souq and has a very beautiful minara (minaret) decorated in patterned blue.
Snacks At The Market And Back To The Hotel
According to lonely planet Al Ahli coffee shop is a good place to check out inside the Mutrah Souq but we could find it for the life of us. What we did find just down the road towards the mosque with a blue decorated minara (minaret) was a small coffee shop that did a good plate of samosa’s, falafel and bhaji’s for just over 1 Rial (including two bottle of water). If you are hungry for a snack definitely check it out.
As our time came to a close Jimal our friendly driver for the day, meandered us back toward our hotel and offered to take us out further afield tomorrow. We had already pre-planned travel for the next few days but he happily gave us his card and told us if we were back in Muscat to give him a call to drive for us again. What a great driver, and what a great day.
The hiss of steam and the sway of a river, there is nothing quite like a ride on a steam train or trip on a ferry so why not combine both. We took the steam train to Kingswear and ferry to Dartmouth for a family day trip.
Full Steam Ahead
Our kids love taking the train anywhere. There is something about a train journey where they can watch the world go by from out the windows on both sides of the train that makes them love the experience. The steam train from Paignton to Kingswear (across the water from Dartmouth) is unique because it’s a steam engine. The hiss of steam and the chug-chug of the train as it rolls to its destination just add to the experience. We took the 10:30 am train, which let us relax and have breakfast but still have some good time in Dartmouth to explore. Past beaches and through tunnels the train rolls along. People stand at crossings waving and our girls eagerly reply with a smile and an enthusiastic wave back.
Pulling In And Shipping Out
We pull into the station at Kingswear and head out of the train onto a platform that hasn’t changed much since it was first opened. Down the platform past the café and onto the dock towards the Ferry that will take us across the river to Dartmouth. The trip is only 5-10 minutes across to the other side of the river and you can either sit inside or adventure outside (like we did) and ride on at the front of the ferry watching the other boats and birds bob up and down as we pass them. The ferry jostles in against the dock and everyone file out and up the dockside back onto dry land ready to explore Dartmouth.
Parks And Markets
Take a right out of the ferry and have a walk along the river side to stroll through Royal avenue gardens. Although it’s by no mean a huge site to see, taking the short walk usually separates you from any crowds that took the ferry with you who head straight out into the town. The gardens have some interesting statues, a bandstand and fountain plus when you leave at the other end you are perfectly placed to head up Duke Street and cut down Foss Street for a walk away from the cars past galleries and stores. At the end of the street loop around to the left and head back toward the old town market that offers a selection of different shops and if you are feeling adventurous a fish monger that offers fish filleting lessons and a taste of some great local catch.
A True Devon Lunch
After this bit of exploration it time for lunch! We head to the Smith Street Deli for one of the best ploughman’s lunches I have had in many years. For everyone who doesn’t know about the ploughman’s then here is the low down. The ploughman’s lunch usually consists of a thick slice of ham and of mature English cheddar accompanied but crusty bread, pickled onions and relish however at Smith Street they add a great little fresh salad which fit perfectly with the meal. Other than the ploughman’s they offer homemade soups with fresh crusty bread, sandwiches and a whole host of other great meals plus some great coffee and tea. If you are looking for a delicious lunch this is the place to go in my opinion, you can even buy some tasty cheese, olives and crackers to take home for an evening snack, what more do you need.
Memories in Art
After filling up on lunch there is time to explore the rest of the shops and streets on Dartmouth. Stores offering handmade soaps and other artisan products all the way to the standard tourist items are dotted around the narrow streets. If you’re looking for a different and unique present or souvenir head over to Paul Barclay Designs. A former dock master turned artist has a distinctive style and offer a great range of prints and original art for everyone budget. If you catch Paul there he is keen to answer questions about what goes into creating art and hear about where you are from and what brings you to the area. Like I say, if you are looking for a unique gift or a souvenir for yourself this is the place to check out.
Carb lines and Lifeboats
Before catching the ferry back check out the RLNI lifeboat visitor’s center to learn about the amazing work they do keeping people safe when they are out on the water and across the road you might find people dropping lines into the water with small bags of meat on the end. Our girls were delighted when they were pulled back up with two or three crabs attached which were then dropped into a bucket for them to see (no hooks are used and all the crabs are usually returned to the water after). If you fancy trying it yourself duck into one of the tourist shop and they will point you towards what you need.
After watching the crabbing we walk along the river side and jump onto the ferry back to Kingswear and the train station. Make sure you get on the ferry about 20-30 minutes before your train is set to leave just to make sure you don’t miss it. Tired from a day of walking around our girls sit on the train and the slow chugging begins to lull them to sleep…..yea right, how could they wave to all the people the train passes by if they are asleep plus they wouldn’t want to miss it if the train drivers decided to let out a ‘woo wooooo’ before we get to the station.