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OMAN | Friday, 12 February 2010 | Views [359]

Oman is a majestic country. On the southern tip of the Arab Peninsular the capital, Muscat, is a 5 hour drive south of Dubai - roughly the same time it takes to drive from London to Newcastle. However Dubai and Muscat are worlds apart.

Arriving in Muscat the first thing that strokes you is the modesty of the city. Unlike the cities of the country's northern neighbours Muscat is now allowed to build new buildings above a certain height and any new build must choose one of four colours - all rules of the Sultan (Oman is one of only two Sultanites left in the world).

Wedged in between the mountains and the ocean Muscat is a long city with no obvious centre. My Hotel was based further north up the coast from Muscat old town and right on the beach. This would be my base for the entire trip.

As it was February it was cool by Omani standards but still around 30c in the middle of the day.

After relaxing into the environment on my first evening I took a walk down the beach. The beach from my hotel to the south is LONG. It runs all the way down through Al Sarooj before the massive rocks block the bath of the beach.

If there is one thing I will take away from Oman, it is the hospitality. The people are more than lovely. I decided that I needed to buy a small bag to take out and about with me, so leaving my hotel I jumped in a taxi. The driver took me to the nearest mall and insisted that he would wait for me - for free. He kept his word and drove me through the mountains towards the old town and eventually would drive me back to my hotel that evening - again never charging for waiting or asking for any money before taking me back to the hotel.

The mountains of Oman are staggeringly beautiful. When people think of the Arab peninsular they think of deserts and sand, but Oman is so much more. The mountains run for miles inland and down the cost to the greener area of southern Oman.

The mountain roads twist and turn upwards but always in sight of the ocean then suddenly drop down towards the Old Town which steals the prize as the most beautiful part of Oman.

Unlike many Middle Eastern cities Oman is quieter and far more laid back. The first port of call in the old town was Al-Alam Palace which is striking with it's grandness and colour, especially in the all white surroundings of the buildings the circle it. It is the ceremonial palace but not the residence of the Sultan.

Walking down to the harbour from the palace you immediately see the two massive forts (Jalali and Mirani) that over look the old town and guard the harbour. These are still heavily guarded.

Walking down into the town centre I entered the Souq. Compared to Souqs across the rest of the Arab world this one is quite moderate but still as enchanting and chaotic as any other.

Later in the week we travelled out to Nizwa. Picked up by two (thankfully) air conditioned cars we travelled out through the mountains. Stopping in one village along the way where the residents, even though they did not speak a word of English was as delighted to see visitors to their village made us feel welcome and showing us around their home.

Arriving in Nizwa there is one obvious landmark, the magnificent Nizwa Fort. Surrounded by Souqs and markets. The Fort, the largest of it's kind on the Arab Peninsular dates from the 17th Century and formed the defence of the former Omani capital. The central tower is the most striking feature, rising over 100 feet out of the centre of the Fort in a massive 150 feet diameter. Below is a fascinating museum that follows hundreds of years of Omani history. The two hour drive back to Muscat was broken up with dinner out in the mountains.

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