Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 2: Muscat

24.12: Munich -> Istanbul -> Muscat
25.12: Muscat
26.12: Muscat
27.12: Muscat -> Rustaq -> Sohar
28.12: Sohar -> Ibri
29.12: Ibri, Al Ayn, Jabrin fort, Nizwa 
30.12: Ibri -> Bahla -> Misfat -> Ibra
31.12: Ibra, Al Qabil, Wadi Bani Khalid
01.01: Al Qabil -> Wahiba desert
02.01: Wahiba desert -> Sur
03.01: Sur, Ras Al Hadd
04.01: Sur -> Muscat
05.01: Muscat -> Salalah
06.01: Salalah, Taqah, Mirbat
07.01: Salalah, Wadi Dawkah, Nabi Ayoub
08.01: Salalah, Mughsail
09.01: Muscat -> Istanbul
10.01: Istanbul -> Munich

24.12: Munich -> Istanbul -> Muscat
Hotel Mutrah, Muscat. 45 OR for a double room to which we have added one extra bed (costs 10 OR/day). The room is big, clean, has adjustable A/C, TV, fridge, telephone, some nice furniture, attached toilet, very quiet, 3km from Muscat centre. WLAN available, but not included in the price and outrageoulsy expensive (1 OR/hr, 10 OR/day). No electric sockets in the bathroom. The biggest problem is the shower, which carries very little water, meaning that it takes forever to rinse away the shower gel.
Weather: cold, but not too cold in Munich (must be a few C above 0) and overcast. Partly overcast sky in Istanbul, temperatures around 10-13C, no rain.

We manage to leave home at 8:10am and reach the airport at 9:10am. Rush to the check-in counter (we are among the last ones to check in). Not a too long queue, but we have to wait a bit. At 10:20am we are finally at the gate, at 10:30am on the Turkish Airlines plane (a Boeing 737-800).

The plane takes off at 11:05am, 40 minutes late. It lands in Istanbul at 2:30pm. We go through immigration, change some money, deposit one bag in the left luggage (12 TL) and take the metro and the tram to Sultanahmet, arriving there shortly before 4pm.  

Until 5:20pm we are there, then we head back to the airport. Actually there is no need to get back so early, but Shirley is freezing and is nervous about losing the flight.

The tram is overloaded with people. We reach the airport at 6:30pm, have some fast food, then head to the gate. Natasha got some sleep while we were in Sultanahmet and on the tram, Alissia hasn't slept at all and will be awake until late in the night.

The flight to Muscat leaves at 8:25pm, a delay of 50 minutes. It lands in Muscat at 2:30am. Then it takes quite a while to get out of the airport. First of all there is the very long queue at the visa fee counter. We probably spend one hour there. And it is also quite expensive - 20 OR per person, also kids pay the full visa fee. It's 80 OR, i.e. 160 Euro of visa fees, a ridicolously high amount, also considering that Oman does not have so much in terms of tourist attractions.

Once we manage to get through immigration and we have retrieved the luggage we proceed to the exit. One more customs check, in which they X-ray your bags.

In the arrivals hall we run into a Nawras (a local mobile communications operator) stand, where we buy two Nawras SIM cards for our phones. It's 2 OR for a SIM card with 2 OR of airtime. We also buy two recharges, one with 2 OR and one with 4 OR. The guy explains that for 1 OR you get an Internet flat rate which allows you to use the Internet for 24 hours up to a download volume of 1GB. Quite a competitive price, given that in many hotels the Internet connection is not free.

Then we take a taxi (8 OR) to the hotel Mutrah. The airport lies around 25km northwest of Muscat. We arrive at 5am to the hotel. At the reception they charge us 175 OR for the room. I sign the credit card slip, tired like hell at 5am, probably I would sign anything to get a room at this time of the night.

Once in the room I pull out the hotel reservation printout and see the price of 135 OR. I go down to the reception, and they tell me to talk to somebody at 12pm. We sleep at 5:30am. In reality Natasha is sick and keeps moving here and there until 7am.

25.12: Muscat
Hotel Mutrah, Muscat. 
Weather: a mix of sunny and clouds in Muscat. Quite windy and surprisingly fresh - too cold to swim in the sea today.

We get up at 11am, after a truly short night. Natasha is not feeling well. She was half-sick when we left home (some kind of stomach virus, she keeps vomiting everything), and the tiring trip of yesterday didn't help. Also Alissia is not feeling too great, but is half-way ok.

I talk to the receptionist, asking about the room bill. Lots of bla-bla, in the end he tells me I have to talk to somebody later in the afternoon.

Shortly after 1pm we get out of the hotel and take a taxi to Mutrah (the corniche area). Surprise, surprise, the taxi has no meter. How much does the trip cost? Only god knows, we settle for 2 OR (later we learn that this is too way much, we should have paid 0.5 OR or less).

At 1:30pm we are at the Corniche. Very nice setting on Saturday noon, lots of shops, tourists (the place is literally overrun by western tourists, I'm surprised). Nearby is the souq.

We have a lunch in a restaurant (kind of a combination of a fresh fruit juice place and a fast food restaurant), ordering the wrong things. Actually the fresh fruit juices are delicious and good value, it's just that the meals we order are not well made. Never mind, at least Natasha has ended her fasting and is drinking a fresh orange juice.

We're at the Corniche until almost 3pm, then Shirley gets back to the hotel in a taxi. I take another taxi to old Muscat, arriving shortly at 3:20pm. Old Muscat is actually a very small place and only consists of some government buildings, the palace of the sultan, a couple of forts and not much more. Nice architecture by the way.

I explore the area until almost 5pm, then start slowly walking back to the Mutrah corniche. With several photo stops the walk takes about 40 minutes. By the way, petrol for the car costs just 0.12 OR /litre (95 octanes).

At 6pm I take a taxi back to the hotel. I ask again in the reception about the bill and am told to come back after 9pm. In the room Shirley and the kids just woke up from the afternoon sleep. Natasha has high fever and receives some paracetamol.

Around 7pm we take a taxi to a Chinese restaurant, the Golden Oryx. The food is not bad, but quite pricey. Then we try to get to the Lulu mall, where Shirley wants to buy some food and drinks. We wait for a while for a taxi, but none passes. Chit-chat with some locals who explain us that in this area there are very few taxis and that we have been overpaying until now for taxis.

We walk to the main road, then finally take a taxi to the Lulu mall, arriving there shortly after 9pm. This is a medium sized mall with several shops. There is also a children playcentre, which Alissia and Natasha immediately notice. Natasha is instantly electrified and apparently not sick anymore. All games are quite cheap (one token costs only 0.10 OR).

After a while in this kids playcentre we go shopping to the supermarket. Shirley buys tons of stuff. At 10 something pm we leave the mall and take a taxi back to the hotel. In the reception the bill is finally settled. I receive 35 OR back (not 40 because they say that there is some tax I need to pay). The kids sleep at midnight.

26.12: Muscat
Hotel Mutrah, Muscat. 
Weather: a mix of sunny and clouds in Muscat. Warmer than yesterday, we need A/C in the car.

Today we get up around 9am. We skip the hotel breakfast and eat instead the things we bought yesterday. At 10:40am I take a taxi to the Budget car rental. It's somewhere around 10km from Mutrah. It takes some time to settle the car and there are a few differences compared to what we booked:
1. Mileage is not unlimited as indicated on the booking form - it's limited to 250km/day (beyond that 0.04 OR/km).
2. There is no child seat, even if we booked on through the Omancar/CarTrawler site.
3. The car seems to be smaller than what we booked (but the price is the same). We booked at Ford Mondeo/Mazda 6 class and get a Nissan Tiida which is smaller.

In addition, the cigarette lighter socket has no power, but we need power for the car navigation system. When I call the car rental later they suggest that I pick up a new car at the airport (the office where I took it is already closed). And they have no children seats and never have had. Strange.

Anyway I head to the great Sultan Qaboos mosque, which supposedly is only open for tourist in the morning. The car navigation system (we are using a Nokia 5800 phone with Ovi Maps on it) does not work. Later I find out that I need to update the software.

Shortly before 12pm I'm in the mosque. I'm there for 10 minutes until I get caught by the guard who tells me that the mosque is only open for visitors between 8 and 11am.

Then I drive back to the hotel, managing to arrive by 1pm. I pick up Shirley and the kids, then we drive to the Muscat City Center mall, which lies a few km after the airport and supposedly has a food court.

At 2pm we are at this mall. Quite big, quite upmarket mall. Lots of branded western goods. There is a kids playcentre as well. We have some lunch in the food court, then shop around a bit. Shortly after 4pm we start driving back. I get lost a bit and catch the wrong road. It's impossible to make a U-turn for quite some time, so I decide to get to the beach and drive along to towards Muscat.

The beach is relatively unimpressive. It's brownish sand and the sea water is not clean. Not nice golden sand as in Jumeirah (Dubai). Nobody is swimming in the sea.

At 5:30pm we arrive at the Shati Al Qurum beach. We stop here, walk around a bit, then have dinner in a cafe. At 7pm we drive back to the hotel, arriving at 7:20pm. By 9pm the kids are sleeping.

Copyright 2011 Alfred Molon