Year 1: Semester 1 Week 14

Hello all,

What an amazing week. I feel so blessed.  I can tell that the next few weeks are going to be crazy busy, so I guess this was the calm before the storm, relatively speaking. We had two days off class for U.A.E. National Day, which made a 4-day weekend, so a few friends and I decided to spend three days exploring Muscat, Oman.

Side note: I'm slowly changing the official name of my blog from "Alison in Abu Dhabi" to "Alison's Adventures Abroad" because I am very quickly realizing that this college experience is going to take me far beyond just Abu Dhabi. I've officially been in 4 countries in the past 4 months (not counting airports)... U.S.A., U.A.E, Jordan, and now Oman. As someone who hadn't gotten to travel very much before coming here, that's crazy to me. It's also fun to compare the similarities and differences between the different Middle Eastern countries as I explore them.

First, before leaving for Oman, we had a U.A.E. National Day celebration on campus, which was a lot of fun. There were performances of music and sword twirling, as well as Emirati food, desserts, a henna artist, a photobooth, and more. The streets are covered in red and green lights and U.A.E. flags, and some cars are decorated as well.

National Day celebrates the 45th anniversary of the U.A.E's founding
Sword twirling
Portrait of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa
With my roommate and another friend
Majlis cushions

Got my abaya on for National Day :)
Go NYUAD falcons! Here's a live falcon looking majestic
Photobooth! With props + national clothing. The girl in the center is wearing a decorative burqa (face mask) for the photo- from what I understand, these were traditional but now are less common- more for the older generation/ a fashion statement
I traveled to Oman with two friends from school. I can't possibly describe everything, but I'll try to do it justice. We spent the whole time in the capital city of Muscat. It was a really nice change of scenery- Oman is more mountainous while Abu Dhabi is very flat. One regret from the trip was that we didn't get to go trekking further into the mountains/ wadis, but hiring a guide or transportation to remote mountain locations was a bit too expensive for our first time in the country. I'd love to come back once I'm old enough to rent a car, because everything is kind of spread out and that would have made life easier.

One of my biggest concerns in planning the trip was transportation, since the taxis aren't metered and I was told that they tend to hike up the prices for tourists (and given that we were 3 loud white people wandering around looking lost, it was very very obvious that we were tourists, haha). For example, one cab driver first tried to ask us for 20 riyals (around $50 USD) for a 15-minute drive! There was no way we were going to pay that, so we bargained him down to 6 riyals- still expensive but nowhere near what he had been asking for! I'm glad we were prepared for that to happen. Other than that, though, we got lucky so many times. We met an upperclassman from NYUAD on our flight who graciously got her Omani friends to drop us off at our hotel on their way from the airport. Our hotel was right near the public bus station, so we saved money on transport to parts of the city and back to the airport- the public bus was very affordable compared to the taxis.

Across from the bus station
Also, while we were on our dolphin watching boat, we met this Lebanese guy and his girlfriend who live in Dubai, and they happened to be staying at our hotel. They introduced us to their Omani friend who had a car, and we tagged along with them to lunch, walking around Muttrah Souk / the corniche, and dinner. It was so helpful because they knew the best restaurants to take us and what to order there. In general, everyone was really friendly and helpful about giving us directions. Compared to Jordan, the language barrier was much less of a challenge-- pretty much everyone spoke English and we had a much easier time navigating. While it's obviously good to be smart about safety no matter where you are, I've walked around at night in the downtown of Muscat, Amman, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai, and felt safer in those cities than pretty much any big city in the U.S. at night.

From what I could observe, the traditional clothing in Oman was pretty similar to the the traditional clothing in the U.A.E, except the men wore patterned hats or headdresses wrapped differently from the U.A.E. ones, and there was more colour/style variation in the women's abayas and in the styles of clothing overall. Some people wore western clothing also.
Patterned hats
The Lebanese guy we met, wearing Omani clothes from the souk
In the U.A.E., there are more foreign laborers/expats than Emirati people (for example, you would rarely see an Emirati taxi driver or store clerk), which sometimes makes it hard to really get to know Emirati culture except for within the college campus bubble. In Muscat, there were still some foreign workers (mostly Indian), but lots of Omani people still owned little shops and drove taxis and so we got to talk with them. In Amman, Jordan, pretty much all workers and people we met were Jordanian. It was interesting- parts of Oman reminded me of Jordan, and parts of it reminded me of the U.A.E. (probably just because those two places are my only basis for comparison), but Muscat felt like a middle ground between the two in a lot of ways- not as artificial as Dubai but not as ancient as Amman.

 The mosques in Oman are so pretty! A lot of them have blue tops, like this one:

We actually ate a lot of Indian food in Muscat- such good chicken tikka masala, chicken khorma, mutton curry, butter chicken, biryani, paratha, garlic naan... For about $7 USD we could get plenty of Indian food to feed all 3 of us. The Omani food was mostly rice dishes with spices and lamb or chicken. Interesting foods I tried for the first time included: blended rice with date syrup, an avocado milkshake, rose-flavored jam, frankincense-infused water, and natural chewing gum made out of frankincense.

Dates for dessert!
On the first day, we took a tourist bus around the city. It was nice because we were able to see so much of the city in such a short time, and it definitely helped us to get our bearings.

Opera house

Parliament building

Marina views
We stopped at Qurum Beach and rented kayaks from a little shack.  We had fun, except that the tide was going out, so the water got too shallow to kayak and we kept getting stuck in the sand!

We also went to the National Museum and one of the sultan's palaces, which were in the same courtyard. On all the hilltops, there were little forts overlooking the water.

Gate with the sultan's picture on it
Sultan's palace

The National Museum had so many interesting things! They had a display of Omani khanjar daggers, dhow boats, currency, ancient artifacts, clothing, jewelry inscribed with verses from the Quran, and so much more. We were there for almost two hours and didn't have time to see everything.

National emblem of Oman, crossed swords with a khanjar dagger

Over the course of the trip, we went to Muttrah Souk (market) twice. There was so much to see there. I have discovered that souks tend to be bigger on the inside than they seem from the outside- little tightly-packed alleyways just keep branching off and intersecting into a maze of little shops.

Entrance to Muttrah Souk
The next day, we went dolphin watching and snorkeling. The boat driver told us that seeing dolphins was not guaranteed, so of course I thought we wouldn't see any dolphins. But I was pleasantly surprised! There were at least 50 dolphins, and they swam in little packs past our boat and jumped out of the water. They were so cute! The ocean was a gorgeous royal blue colour, and the waves were just choppy enough that we kept getting splashed by the boat's wake.


After that, we snorkeled in a beautiful little cove. I saw two sea turtles and so many tropical fish!

Later, we went up to this fort overlooking the water at sunset. Like I've mentioned, these forts were on top of the cliffs all around Muscat.

The first day, we went to the fort at night, but missed the view, so we went twice!
The third day, we tried to go on a hike not too far from the city, but we couldn't find the hiking trail and it was quite warm outside, so we ended up walking through the mountains along a road, which was not too bad. We also walked around the shops near our hotel. It was a nice way to end the trip, just exploring the city spontaneously and seeing what we could see. It was a weekend evening, so the shops were packed and we were the only tourists there. We got juice from a little juice shop and talked to the owner, who was from Mumbai. One of the best parts about traveling is meeting people and getting to hear their stories.

The streets were so busy!
Ruwi Clock Tower

Oman is such a beautiful country, and I can't wait to go back at some point. I love the juxtaposition of mountains with beaches- there's so much to do!

I finished the weekend with a fun little trip to Bounce (the trampoline place at the mall) and Shake Shack for dinner with the coworkers at my admissions office assistant job- it was our end-of-semester appreciation event.

Anyway, I'm excited for the next few weeks (assuming I survive finals, haha), and I'm looking forward to winter break, because my family is coming to visit and I'll be staying in the U.A.E. with them during the break. In the meantime, there's a lot to do, but hopefully it all works out.

Goodnight from Saadiyat Island,