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Thursday
May172018

Oman & the Emirates: My Travels to the Middle East

Travel Means Dreaming Of What Is Next.

I'm kind of strange around spontaneity (like making last-minute plans after work), but when it comes to travel, I'll book a flight or plan a vacation on a whim without telling a soul, knowing full well that I could end up rolling solo...

On December 1, 2017, I decided to book a multi-leg journey to the Middle East after having seen some fantastic Business Class fares on Emirates.  After looking at the calendar, I chose the date range of Friday, 2/16 through Monday, 2/26.  I knew that, besides Dubai, I wanted to stay the night at a fancy Bedouin desert resort and visit a friend in Abu Dhabi.  Upon realizing how close these cities were to one another (a 1.5 hour drive), I felt like I could squeeze one more excursion in to my itinerary.  Why not Oman?  After seeing an incredible episode of Top Secret Swimming Holes (Travel Channel) about the country's famous Wadi Shab, I decided to begin my holiday in Muscat.   

My itinerary:

First, I want to make some points/FYI's about visiting Oman and the U.A.E.:

  • As a US passport holder: If you are arriving in Oman via air, you do not need to procure a visa prior to your trip; you will obtain one upon arrival. 
  • As a US passport holder: You do not need a visa to visit the U.A.E.  
  • English is prominently displayed after Arabic and getting around is relatively simple; most people speak pretty good English.  Bonus: Cars drive on the same side of the road there as they do in the U.S.
  • If you are a woman:
    • Don't be an idiot and pack a bunch of slutty clothes.  Have some respect for the local culture and customs; keep your shoulders covered, your cleavage hidden, and anything too far above your knees invisible.  Because, let's be honest, unless you look like Emily Ratajkowski, no one wants to see the junk-in-your-trunk.  
    • When visiting a mosque, don't fret about what to wear; you can rent an abaya onsite, which is what I did every single time.  My friends, however, brought scarves from home and wore pants on the days that we knew we'd be visiting, as ankles must be covered in the house of worship.
    • If you plan to visit a public beach, play it safe and sport a one-piece bathing suit.  Bikinis don't really fly around here unless you're on private hotel grounds. 
    • Drinking alcohol is prohibited outside of licensed hotels and clubs.  While you can certainly enjoy yourself, don't be a stumbling drunk, as you may be arrested.  There is zero tolerance for public intoxication.
  • I'm going to say it again: Drinking alcohol is prohibited outside of licensed hotels and clubs.  While you can certainly enjoy yourself, don't be a stumbling drunk, as you may be arrested.  There is zero tolerance for public intoxication.
  • If you have prescription meds that you plan to take on your trip (especially super intense pain pills), make absolute sure that the RX is in your name and, if necessary, the prescribing doctor can confirm this on your behalf.  Don't believe me?  Read this tidbit!
  • Carry local cash for shopping at markets and smaller stores.
  • There is virtually no crime because the punishments are so harsh.  That being said, local people are hard working, trustworthy, and actually do what they say they're going to do (like keeping an eye on your luggage while you use the loo, or arriving on-time to pick you up at your hotel for your departing flight).  
  • Smile and be friendly!  Folks are incredibly polite and hospitable - I promise that you will leave with new friends.  
  • Learn a couple of Arabic words prior to your arrival - for example, "shukran" means "thank you" - it is very much appreciated, even if your accent sucks.  

.

Muscat, Oman: Must see/do 

  • Prior to your arrival, contact your hotel and have them coordinate to have a driver/shuttle greet you at the airport.  
  • And, while you're at the airport, get some local currency.
  • Visit the palatial Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque 
  • Shop for local goods and spices at the Mutrah Souq and stroll along the Corniche - the people watching is prime!
  • Take a day trip to Wadi Shab: If you need an excellent tour guide, please contact me and I will send you details (lindsay@thelunchbelle.com)
      

Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.: Must see/do

  • Spend a few hours at the incredibly majestic Sheikh Zayed Mosque, which will take your breath away!
  • Sip on a latte dusted with 14-karat gold at the opulent and fabulous Emirates Palace hotel.  
  • Have lunch on the water at Al Dhafra, one of my two favorite dining experiences in the Emirates!
  • Smoke shisha and sip on cocktails al-fresco at the Eclipse Terrace Lounge at the Four Seasons
  • Peruse, taste, and shop at the Date Market (located within the Al Mina Vegetable Market)
  • Spend an hour or two at the Louvre Abu Dhabi 
  • Go window shopping (or buying!) at one of the high end malls.  Fendi, anyone?
  • Get a custom-made charm with your name written in Arabic!  

Dubai, U.A.E.: Must see/do

  • On the front or back end of your stay in Dubai, book a night in the desert.  We chose to stay at Bab Al Shams, located just about 30-minutes outside of town.  We spent our 24-hours here riding camels, relaxing pool-side, and reveling in one of the best meal/entertainment experiences *ever* at the Al Hadheerah Desert Restaurant.
  • Want to get a great view of the Palm Jumeriah without paying for a helicopter tour?  Grab a cocktail at the Observatory Bar & Grill at the Marriott Dubai Harbour.
  • Shop for local goods at Souk Madinat, a slightly upscale version of a traditional Arabic market. 
  • Spend a day/half day at the beach sunbathing, swimming, and searching for starfish (I found a few!)
  • Sip afternoon tea 27-floors above the city complete with 360-degree views at the world-famous Burj Al Arab hotel.  *Make reservations in advance, as you are not allowed on property unless you're a hotel guest or a restaurant diner with a valid booking.
  • Curious to see what Dubai was like pre-glitz and glam?  Head over to the Old Dubai Souk and peruse the spice and gold markets (among others).
  • If you want a front row seat to view the water/fountains show at the base of the Burj Khalifa - the world's tallest building- grab a glass of wine on the terrace at the Armani Hotel.  You will not be disappointed!

.

To conclude: Because I'm sure that you were curious...no, I did not end up traveling solo.  Two of my girlfriends hopped on board the minute they heard about my holiday plans.  And, let me tell you, our first taste of the Middle East was everything - and nothing - that we had expected.  In the best ways possible! 

If you are thinking about planning a visit, I have one piece of advice: Leave your pre-conceived notions, assumptions, and stereotypes at the proverbial door.  Because if you come to this fascinating and culturally-rich part of the world with an open mind and an open heart, you will be rewarded, humbled, and enlightened beyond.  Everyone that we encountered could not have been more friendly, hospitable, helpful, courteous, humble, or genuine.  Not once did I ever feel unsafe or was scared that I'd be met with danger (a question that I was asked repeatedly by many of my friends/acquaintances).   

...

Until we eat again

The Lunch Belle  

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