THE FIRST OF MANY FORTS // Nizwa, Oman

Our first night on the road in Oman was spent in Nizwa, a city located less than two hours away from Muscat. It was easy to get to by the main freeway, even with a short detour.

Nizwa has plenty of restaurants, supermarkets, hypermarkets (a novelty for us), and is a good base for exploring the mountain regions of Oman. You can easily make a day trip to Jebel Shams (Mountain of the Sun) for some hiking from Nizwa, but as we had a night booked in the mountains we spent our afternoon exploring the city.

The main sites of Nizwa are the fort and the souq. Somehow we managed to completely stuff up the opening hours of the souq and never managed to experience the market in full swing, but we were able to wander the lanes and eat some delicious (and cheap) shwarma and fresh juice for lunch (look for the dodgy plastic tables under a tree near the gate into the souq, I no idea what the cafe was called!).

Within the walls of the souq is the entrance to Nizwa Fort, and dates back to the 1650s.

After reading the Lonely Planet we were under the impression that entry would only be a few dollars. However, apparently the price has since increased and it now costs 5 OMR ($16 AUD) per person to visit. If you are on a budget, I would honestly recommend skipping Nizwa Fort and heading on to the nearby town of Bahla to visit the fort there – it was a tenth of the price and far more beautiful.

Sure, the Nizwa Fort was nice, but it did feel very renovated and was full of tacky souvenirs and outdated museum exhibits.

At least the views from the top of the fort walls were worth it! Those mountains are just the beginning of what was to come.

We ended up having a little bit of time to kill before we could check into our accommodation, so after some frantic googling we drove to another site in Nizwa – the Falaj Daris Park. The park is quite small, but offer the opportunity to see a traditional falaj, which is a UNESCO world heritage listed irrigation system. The park itself was quite small, but it was interesting enough for a short stop.

An afternoon looking around Nizwa was plenty of time, but it would be a good base location for exploring the surrounding region. Our accommodation had information about various day trips and hikes and I left wishing we had more time to explore! But the mountains were calling…

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DESERTED VILLAGES & DATE PALMS // Birkat al Mouz, Oman

One of the greatest benefits of hiring our own car for our trip on Omani was having the freedom to detour to smaller sites and explore lesser known areas at our own leisure. This does take some additional planning, it is totally worth the effort. One of our first stops on our road trip was the oasis town of Birkat al Mouz, where we were able to explore a ruined village and walk among some date plantations.

A few notes on finding the ruins:

  • Getting there: Birkat al Mouz is located off the main freeway, between Izki and Nizwa, around 1.5 hours from Muscat. The town is signed (note the variations in spelling – Mouz/Mawz/Mauz), but the ruins are not. We went to Birkat al Mouz Ruin 2 on Google Maps. The back streets are narrow, but we were able to find a side lane to park on.
  • Entry: there is no signage for the ruins, but you are free to explore as you please. We were able to climb to the top tower, however proceed with caution as some buildings are not safe to enter.

I also found this blog to be a great resource for visiting the town.

Admittedly I did no know about the google map location for the ruins when we drove into Birkat al Mouz, but after pulling over and some frantic googling we managed to work out where we had to go. Pro tip – buy an Omani sim card!

If you can see the above, you have come to the right place. This is the view of the ruins from the laneway we parked on. There was a small entrance just to the right.

There was no clear path through the village, but rather a maze of crumbling staircases and narrow walkways. We popped our head into some of the buildings but avoided walking through them – some had second stories that were on the verge of caving in, whilst others had suspicious piles of rubbish in the corner. We figured it was safer to follow our way up towards the top.

Our destination was the crumbling watch tower at the top of the village, which you can see above. From there we were treated to stunning views of the surrounding valley, date plantations, and the village itself.

We only encountered one other person whilst in the village, and they appeared to be living in one of the less run down buildings. Otherwise we had the place completely to ourselves.

There was another watch tower in the distance, which is located near another ruined village. I struggled to find the information about how to visit it, but I think this post has some details.

Another stop worth making in Birkat al Mouz is at the date plantations just before turning off to the village ruins – you can see a large plantation to your right as your enter the town from Izki. We parked on the side of the road and had a short walk under the palms.

From Birkat al Mouz, it is a short drive to Nizwa, a larger city with further attractions, food options and accommodation. It is definitely worth the detour to visit this village!

– Reanna

THE GRAND MOSQUE // Muscat, Oman

Even if you are short on time in Muscat, like we were, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is definitely worth visiting. Located just off the busy Sultan Qaboos Street, the mosque is a gift to the nation from none other than… Sultan Qaboos. Finished in 2001, the mosque is a great deal newer than others we encountered on our travels, but it is a beautiful piece of architecture.

A few notes on visiting the mosque:

  • Opening hours: the mosque is open to non-Muslims every day from 8am to 11am, except Friday. Plan to get there early to avoid the crowds – we arrived around 9am and there were quite a few tour bus groups arriving.
  • Entry: is free, and cameras are allowed. We were free to walk the grounds and explore the buildings by ourselves.
  • Dress code: You will need to dress conservatively, otherwise you will not be allowed entry. We saw quite a lot of tourists turned back at the entry for wearing shorts. Wear a long sleeve top and pants/long skirt. Women are also required to wear a headscarf (it is always handy to have a scarf tucked in your bag when traveling!). If you do not come prepared, there are some skirts and scarves available for hire at the gift shop, however these are expensive (about 3 rial, or $10 AUD). Shoes need to be removed when entering prayer halls, so slip on sandals are a good idea.
  • Getting there: Oman is not very walkable, so the easiest way to get there is via car or taxi. There is a parking lot out the front.

There is very limited signage inside the mosque, so we mazed our way through the buildings and made our best guesses about where to go. Occasionally we over heard a tour guide explaining something in English.

There are two main buildings that can be entered – the above being the women’s prayer room. Whilst beautiful, it was substantially smaller and less elaborate than the main prayer hall. You will see the difference below!

I really love the arches of Islamic architecture. Here are some of my attempts at being artsy! Maybe I really should just take some photography classes…

The mosque is an active place of worship for Muscat, and is able to accommodate some 20,000 worshippers! Perhaps not all in the ablution room above.

Throughout this holiday I started to actively attempt to take more photos actually featuring Chris and/or I. As you can see, Chris puts his heart and soul into taking photos for me. We will have to work on his #instagram skills.

And of course, the main prayer hall! The level of detail inside was next level, from the tiled ceilings, to the giant Persian carpet, to the giant chandelier.

I only took photos of the chandelier from 20 different angles in attempt to display its true glory. Not pictured: Chris rolling his eyes next to me.

The above photo is possible one of my favourites from the day – Muscat is surrounded by rocky hills and I love that you could still see them from the mosque itself.

We probably spent about half an hour or so exploring the mosque, and that allowed for plenty of photo taking. If you want to avoid the crowds, arriving at 8am would be your best bet.

– Reanna

EXPLORING MUTTRAH CORNICHE // Muscat, Oman

Whilst traveling through Oman we were often asked why we had decided to visit in the first place. Thinking back, I honestly think it was because Chris found an article about driving through Oman in the travel section of the Sunday paper (which we buy, like, twice a year when we want to appear slightly educated). I remember Chris showing me the photos and being blown away by this country that I knew nothing about, let alone how accessible it was for travel. Fast forward six months, and we were flying in Muscat, the capital of Oman!

We spent six days, six nights in this wonderful country and it was a good amount of time. A few more days would have meant we could have packed in a few more things to our itinerary, but there is always next time!

We only really had one day in Muscat, and after some research decided it was best to spend our time in Muttrah, a district of Oman that features a picturesque bay and bustling souq. If you look at a map of Muscat you can see it almost split into distinct ‘cities’, and with the limited public transport options, it can be quite hard to explore the city on foot (our usual preference). Hence, we made the decision to stay in Muttrah and loosely follow the walking tour from the Lonely Planet.

After checking into our hotel, we set out towards to water, stumbling across Muttrah Fort (below) along the way. We climbed up the stairs, only to discover that the entry was blocked for work, but the climb up was worth it for some stunning views back towards the corniche.

As you can tell, there are no high rises in Muscat! All buildings are required to be built in a traditional manner, with domed roofs and curved windows. I even heard that the colour of the buildings is regulated! Either way, it makes for a beautiful looking city, particularly with the rocky hills framing the pale stone buildings.

We followed a (very immaculate) path along the coast through some (very immaculate) gardens.

Eventually, or I should say, after a few kilometres, we reached the Muscat Gates, which mark the beginning of Old Muscat, another district of the wider city. This area houses a number of museums, forts and the Sultan’s Palace.

The Sultan’s Palace. Quite an eclectic combination of buildings, looked out across the water towards an the island fort Al Jalali.

After stopping for some fresh juice we decided to walk back the way we came so as to check out a few places we missed on our walk in. One of them was the below watchtower, one of many such buildings dotted throughout the hills surrounding Muscat. We were able to climb up to this one and take in some views of the surrounding area and the corniche in the fading light.

Eventually we set foot on the Muttrah Corniche, and made our way towards the souq. We had timed our walk to ensure we arrived during opening hours – most shops close for trade between 1:00pm and 4:00pm, so we always had to plan ahead!

The main part of the souq was quite touristy, however if you slip away from the main alley ways into one if the significantly smaller side streets you will find the souq alive with local trade. Many of the stores are full of gold jewellery, whilst others sold frankincense and local spices.

For dinner we went to Bait Al Luban, a restaurant with amazing decor and an interesting menu that service traditional Omani food. Most food in Oman is more Middle Eastern – think kebabs and shwarma, with the odd Indian curry floating around – so finding ‘traditional’ Omani food can be difficult. We were treated to an amazing sunset view over the corniche from the restaurant, and ate some very interesting food – I had what I can only describe as chicken porridge with date sauce!

Whilst I do wish we could have had a bit more time in Muscat, I found Muttrah to be an excellent area to really get a feel for the city and some of its history.

– Reanna

DEIRA OLD TOWN // Dubai, United Arab Emirates

And just like that, holidays are over again! After months of planning, perusing photos and blogs online, and discussing this trip non stop with Chris, our three weeks away flew by. We landed back in Melbourne yesterday afternoon, and I am attempting to keep my jet lag in check with copious amounts of washing, cleaning the house, and going through alllll my photos.

We spent one week road tripping through Oman, with a couple of stops in Dubai, and two weeks traveling through the South Caucasus – Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

In planning our trip we were headed to Oman and Iran, we decided to have some stop overs in Dubai as a means of breaking up our trip before Oman and before Iran. We kept these stop overs after changing our trip destinations, however in retrospect we easily could have done without, or perhaps with only one stop over. Either way, it was a bit of fun to explore another city!

As we had two stop overs of roughly one day/one night in Dubai, we spent one day exploring ‘Old Dubai’, and the next time exploring ‘New Dubai’. ‘Old Dubai’ can be thought of as the neighbourhoods on either side of the Dubai Creek – Bur Dubai and Deira. We loosely followed a couple of DIY walking tours from here and here, though following them in reverse and starting in Bur Dubai after lunch at Arabian Tea House.

These first photos are from in and around the Al Fahidi historical area. The streets are for pedestrians only, and apart from the odd souvenir shop, cafe and gallery, were largely empty. Whilst beautiful, the area did feel quite artificial and touristic – however, it did make for some nice photos!

Afterwards, we mazed our way along some busier roads and back streets to the Dubai Museum. We were keen to get out of the sun for a moment, so we paid the minimal entry fee and had a wonder around. It was interesting, though a bit outdated and run down.

Our next stop was the Textile Souq in Bur Dubai. We wandered through a few different areas and had a bit of a laugh at all the stall holders throwing scarves over Chris as an attempt to literally pull him in to their shops.

We followed the creek away towards where it meets the sea, as I had read there was another historical complex further along. After walking for half an hour in the blazing sun we realised that this historical area was perhaps still under construction, as there was no one around apart from a few workers. At lease we got a good walk in!

Well, at least it was deserted and beautiful.

After applying more sunscreen and trudging back the way we came, we crossed the Dubai Creek to Deira on a local ‘abra’, a wooden boat that crosses to various stops on the other side. It costs 1 rial to cross, and you pay the driver once you hop on board. There were plenty of boats around and they appeared to leave as soon as they were full. I would recommend catching an abra from the Old Souq stop rather than the nearby Al Ghubaiba stop, as the latter seemed to be a destination for large tour bus groups.

The ride across to the Gold Souq stop only took a few minutes, but made for some great views.

In the above photo, I initially thought the white speck in the top right corner was a bird, but it is a plane! With Dubai airport in located in the city, there was a constant stream of departing planes in the distance,

From the Gold Souq stop we went to… the Gold Souq! Being more of a silver gal I wasn’t interested in any of the wares, though Chris was offered Rolex watches by numerous men lurking around the centre walkway.

From the Gold Souq it was a short walk to our final destination for the day, the Spice Souq. As we arrived around 4:00pm, not all the shops were open (keep in mind that most shops close between 1:00pm and 4:00pm!), but there was enough around to enjoy our walk through. The colours and smells were amazing, and I certainly couldn’t identify 80% of the spices and herbs on offer. Any ideas what the blue balls of spice are?!

We caught the metro back to our hotel, given we were functioning on zero sleep from our 13 hour flight. However, there was plenty to do in Deira if one had more time/energy.

– Reanna

MORE MOUNTAINS // Mount Buller, Australia

I am back to catch up on my last outstanding collection of photos, as this time next week Chris and I are going to be in Oman! We can hardly contain our excitement – every time we come home from work at the moment our greeting is usually along the lines of “X days left” or “holy %$& I am ready for a holiday”. So close, yet so far.

These photos are from a hike on our second day in Mount Buller. We were treated to picture perfect weather, to make up for our disastrous hike in the rain the day before.

We took on the 16km return hike from Mount Buller to Mount Stirling, via Cornmill and Howqua Hut. The tracks were easy enough to hike along, being predominately 4WD and fire tracks, but what we missed in technicality was made up for in ascent – it was a long, arduous climb up from Howqua to Mount Stirling!

At least the views 100% made up for it. We had unobstructed 360 degree views of the surrounding alpine region and it was pure magic.

Looking back across to Mount Buller resort – and realising that we had to walk all the way back!

We didn’t encounter many other hikers on our walk, however we were overtaken by a couple of trail runners, who apparently ran up Mount Stirling like it was nothing.

Photo out takes – this is real life! Obviously Chris is still working on his “instragram husband” game and I am just very uncoordinated.

Having been to Mount Buller and Mount Buffalo in recent months I am truly inspired to see more of the Alpine region. I should probably visit in winter and see what all this skiing business is about (or so my brother keeps telling me), but I would love to hike up Mount Feathertop and Mount Bogong as part of my 52 hike challenge. If you have done these hikes, do you have any hot tips?

In the mean time, I am off to pack my bags and dust off my passport – I will be back with a truly ridiculous amount of photos from our travels soon!

– Reanna

PROPER PREPARATION PREVENTS POOR PERFORMANCE // Mount Buller, Australia

Tonight I am sitting at home, and taking in solace in the fact that it is now a mere two weeks before Chris and I jump on a plane for our three week holiday around the Gulf and the Caucasus. The Lonely Planet guide I bought for Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan arrived yesterday and it was a struggle to put it down and leave for work this morning!

Two weeks until holidays also means two weeks to catch up on all the other photos I have from various adventures, so I can clear out my camera for the two million photos I plan on taking whilst we are away. These photos are somehow already a month old – does anybody else feel like 2018 is just flying by?

A few weekends back we spent a brief (well, briefer then we had originally planned!) weekend away in the Alpine region at Mount Buller. Known for its ski village, it is also a beautiful area to explore in Summer. Not that Chris or I had been in winter to have anything to compare it with.

We free camped about half an hour away from the village, but spent most of out time hiking around the mountain. On the Saturday afternoon we managed to squeeze in a hike up to the summit of Mount Buller whilst watching some ominously looking clouds roll towards us.

The hike was fairly short and sharp, but provided us with some stunning views of the surrounding region. How small the world is!

Clearly I am still failing at the whole ‘posing’ thing.

Perhaps I will just stick to sneaky photos of Chris from behind!

I had originally planned that we might extend our hike with a detour to Little Mount Buller, but a) we couldn’t find the trail head, and b) the heavens opened up and we were absolutely drenched within five minutes. This wouldn’t have been so bad if we had remembered our rain coats (in the car, of course!) or I hadn’t been carrying my camera (I really need to invest in a good case for it).

After half running half limping back to the car in the rain we dried off as best we could, only for the rain to let up and the sky clear. Not wanting to waste our time on the mountain, I dragged us around the village for another small walk. How could we not, with these views?

The stupidity of our unpreparedness for the weather was not lost on us, so I had to laugh and snap the above picture of our clothes drying out at the camp site. All I could think of was my brother, who works in the outdoor education sector, repeating “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”.

We learned our lesson!

– Reanna