Oh man!….Oman!! October 2014

Felix arabia

Arabian landscape from the side of the highway.

Normally when i’m travelling it’s the time of the year when I should be sleeping in and resting from the hectic life that is Amsterdam so it never ceases to amaze me that i’m usually up by 5am reading and drinking tea. This morning was particulary beautiful, sitting on the balcony of the Radisson Blu in Dubai watching the sun rise, the glass of the Burj Khalifa sparkling in the distance. There was a large group of people sitting on a patch of grass near the quay of Deira Creek doing yoga. By 8am it was getting unbearable due to the heat. I tried to take some photos of the sun rising and the Burj Khalifa but the lens always condenced up. I decided to go to the mountains where it would be cooler rather than spend yet another day looking at highrise buildings and generic shopping malls in Dubai.

The drive to Oman was sometimes amazing with huge sand dunes but mostly it was shrub land or industrial buildings or little rows of one storey stores selling nothing but rugs. The nearer we got to Oman the more exciting and rugged the scenery got, mountains began to loom on the horizon. Crossing the border and into Oman I knew immediately I would love this country, it seemed more rural and traditional, not as bling as Dubai. I also noticed there were many Omanis around while in the U.A.E. you never see Emiratis, only foreigners.

The Hajar mountains look grey as there is no vegetation. Now and again i’d notice old brick forts on hilltops, it was Eid Mubarak the time when sheep are slaughtered so these poor animals were being bundled into the back of pickup trucks awaiting their fate.

Omani Landscape

Oman really is fascinating, I noticed oryx, lizards, swam in lush pools of water called wadis, felt my jaw drop when noticing old buildings, I’m also crazy about the fact that most Omanis wear traditional dishdasha and muzzar, I even saw an old woman wearing a rare Muscat Burqa…a thin falcon like veil which just covers the nose and mouth. It was no surprise that Oman has a very strong Swahili vibe, influences from when Zanzibar used to be the capital of the Omani Empire, I was sometimes reminded of Dar es Salaam. It was a real pity I couldn’t stay longer although Oman is now in my Top 5 future destinations if i’m lucky enough to be able to visit them. Forget the modern Disney bling of Dubai and go to ancient Oman, the real arabia felix!


Dubai, United Arab Emirates October 2014

Worlds tallest

It was a misty morning, the haze outside the plane a kaleidoscope of blue and white. It was hard to seperate the Persian Gulf from the sky. I stared out of the window, bored with Emirates entertainment system, our redeye flight had left Amsterdam at 21.30 pm and now it was the early hours of the morning. Every now and then i’d notice flames in the sea of blue, I guess oil platforms where the fumes were being burnt off. Then I noticed something else, a black letter I appearing in the haze surrounded by thousands of lights, getting closer I realised it was the Burj Khalifa, the worlds tallest building. Coming into land at DXB I had an amazing view of the whole of Dubai and the surrounding desert. I have to say I was impressed with the gleaming marble airport but less so for the Emiratis working on passport control, chatting away to each other while tired passengers waited in line to have their passports stamped.

Dubai Creek

Dhow on Deira Creek

My hotel was the Radisson Deira Creek. I had chose it because it was right on the Creek in the older part of Dubai. I suspected Deira had far more character than the new modern area and over the coming days I realised I was right. The view was fantastic from the hotel, dhows on the creek stockpiled with electronics heading out to Pakistan and India and in the distance the new modern Dubai, the Burj Khalifa dwarfing everything else. It was 39 degrees celcius which made it impossible to go out for any length of time. I took an abra, a type of traditional water taxi along the creek and told the driver to drop me off in the old area of Bastakia. The whole of Dubai has a strong subcontinent feel to it, as I was being harrassed by the merchants it gave me fond memories of Paharganj 2009.

Dubai Bastakia

Old Dubai

Radisson Deira Creek

Radisson Hotel on the Creek, a lovely hotel.

There are many positive things about Dubai, the metro system is fantastic, air conditioned and clean. Many places to eat and very cosmopolitan, taxis are amazingly cheap. I really disliked the shopping mall culture, I got lost in the Dubai Mall and to be honest it was the low point of my time in the U.A.E., the same shops that you would see anywhere else. The highlight of Dubai for me was chartering my own abra and going up and down the Creek trying to catch a breeze, oh and one afternoon eating Persian carrot icecream in an Iranian restaurant. I had heard about “mountains of gold” in the gold market but it was quite a let down. I had high expectations for Bastakia, the historical quarter but it seemed a bit airbrushed to me and not genuine.

Dubai Fountains

One other thing I liked was the Dubai Fountains, a water show set to music…was surprised how moving this was!

If you like action sports, shopping, swimming pools, luxury hotels then I think you’d like Dubai. Even going to the dunes and a desert camp with belly dancing felt all so touristic. It just didn’t click with me and I can never imagine wanting to visit again. I’m still glad I went though and feel myself lucky.