Back from a Traveleyes holiday to Oman and feeling groggy and disorientated with post-holiday blues I bumped into a friend in the Cafe Nero. ‘Back from your travels then?’ She asked. Reaching for a napkin as I ordered my coffee, she added with a wink, ‘Didn’t get kidnapped then? You don’t half go to some funny places.’ A couple of people in the queue turned to stare at me. From the look on their faces, they could easily be forgiven for thinking I’d been to Caracas or Raqqa rather than to one of the safest countries in the Middle East, where different nationalities live peacefully side by side and religion shapes the daily rhythm of life.
Arriving over an arid, sun-drenched landscape into a very modern and clean airport we were greeted by our friendly Omani tour guide, dressed in a pristine long Persil white tunic, called a dishdasher, sandals and colourful turban, the standard dress of Omani men.
‘What a lovely airport,’ I told him. The floor was polished marble and there were artificial palm trees lining our route to the exit where a couple of workers were watering a living wall, the largest across the Gulf countries growing 13 different plant species and 24,000 different plants. I could see that the guide was proud of the airport. ‘The terminal opened last year. There’s a big push to drive more tourists to Oman, but not on the huge scale of Dubai,’ he chuckled.
Before we left the airport our English guide halted outside the Duty-Free, warning us that this was our last chance to purchase alcohol and that it would be very difficult to find alcoholic drinks in Oman. ‘Does anybody want to buy any before we head off?’ She asked. Weary from our night flight and not quite believing her, there were no takers. One of our travellers had come prepared though, a sneaky bottle of whiskey stowed in his luggage and discovering his secret bottle one day I helped myself to a nip. It felt as if he was carrying contraband goods and I felt like a naughty school girl. ‘If they want to loosen us up,’ he declared, ‘they need to liquor us up.’ And another traveller commented, ‘We won’t be painting the town red, we’ll be painting it beige.’ The lack of alcohol became the butt of jokes over the week but I don’t think anybody really missed it, especially after trying the delicious mint lemon cold drink served at every cafe and restaurant and Arabian coffee (with added cardomon) with dates at every meal, helping us to forget the lack of wine and spirits. It certainly didn’t stop us laughing and having a good time.
I wouldn’t recommend Oman as a destination if you’re somebody that likes to get pissed. And even if you ventured into one of the few 5-star hotels that do serve it, the prices might stop you getting bladdered. And I got the distinct impression that rowdy, drink-fuelled behaviour would be frowned upon. Muscat was a civilised, gentile sort of city, unlike Brighton or Southend on a Saturday night. Maybe I’m getting old and boring but I preferred the quieter, drink free atmosphere of Muscat. You felt much safer.
Thank you for reading and there will be more Oman blogs in the coming days.