Leaving Port Qaboos, the port for Oman’s capital city, what was the take away on Muscat?
First impression: It was hot, with the heat registering 39 Celsius, or about 102 Fahrenheit, but with nearly no humidity.
Landing cards are distributed when leaving the ship’s gangway and must be returned upon re-embarkation.
Second impression: Muscat feels safe. For Westerners, Muscat is super exotic but also has the feel of being non-threatening.
Our tour guide remarked, perhaps not as she had intended: “We have no democracy and no thieves.” Even if she failed to adequately express what she was thinking, her remark was food for thought in more ways than one.
Third impression: Muscat presents a comfortable mix of Arabic and non-Arabic culture. We experienced Arabic culture but had no trouble communicating in English.
Our 4.5-hour Silversea tour, Splendours of Muscat, took us to a mosque, a museum, a market and more.
About 20 minutes from the terminal, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is pretty much a show mosque, in that it is not used often for religious services, even though it can accommodate up to 20,000 worshippers. It’s primarily designed for tourists to visit and admire.
The Muttrah Souq piqued our visual and olfactory senses. In the sprawling indoor (and cool but open-door) market, we browsed colorful garments, perfumes and jewelry sold by polite vendors hawking in English and Arabic.
Shops welcomed us with the smell of incense and exotic fragrances such as jasmine, saffron, herbs and spices.
Our tour included a visit to Bait Al Zubair, a museum showcasing Oman’s traditional crafts and culture.
Our guide told us that the monarch is 70 years old and added that he is extremely benevolent. If you (meaning an Omani) want a new house, our guide said, you appeal to the monarch and he builds you a house.
While there are mosques and palaces aplenty, Oman’s distinguishing feature are its wadis, which are lush oases of palm trees, colorful flowers and green grasses. We saw quite a few of these areas in Muscat. In fact, my first and last sensory perception of Muscat was of the sweet smell of jasmine. That’s an enduring memory, and a pleasant one.