‘Marvelous sights’ of Oman and the UAE

By Theodore Liebersfeld
This item appears on page 14 of the June 2016 issue.
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Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque — Abu Dhabi. Photos by Theodore Liebersfeld

Having returned from my December 2015 independent trip to Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), my eyes are still glowing and my mouth is still agape from the marvelous sights, both modern and ancient.

• OMAN is the more conservative of the two countries. Observing customs, traditions and everyday life there was an eye-opening treat.

Its capital, Muscat, is a beautiful city caught in a narrow strip between mountains and sea. Its three main areas — Ruwi, Mutrah and Old Muscat — are visited on a long loop tour that takes about two hours to navigate by bus. 

The variety of scenery is unbelievable and includes a rocky coastline, beaches, a marina, an opera house, a Parliament building, the Mutrah Souq, the Sultan’s Palace, new and traditional architecture and several fine museums. The opulence of the Grand Mosque is exceeded only by its “competitor” mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 

I stayed four nights at the Ruwi Hotel (Ruwi, Muscat; phone [968] 24704244, www.omanhotels.com/ruwi), and the total cost, without breakfast, was OMR144 (near $375), including 17% in taxes. This 3-star hotel had an attractive lobby area and a pleasant poolside patio, and my spacious double room was comfortable.

Providing complimentary transportation from the Muscat International Airport, the hotel is located in Muscat’s Ruwi commercial district and is within walking distance of numerous restaurants and shops — very convenient. 

Online from Big Bus Muscat (http://eng.bigbustours.com/muscat/home.html), I booked a 2-day pass ($58) for the hop-on, hop-off tour. The Central Business District stop on the tour circuit was about a 10-minute walk from the hotel. 

On one day, I did the entire loop without alighting from the bus. Well-produced audio commentary was provided by headphones. On the second day, I got off to explore museums and Old Muscat plus the beach, shops and restaurants in the Shati Al-Qurm area.

Through Viator.com a month ahead, I had booked the 8-hour excursion “Enchanting Forts of Nizwa” for $67 with Orient Tours (Dubai). This excursion to the desert city of Nizwa rewarded me with stops at ancient abandoned villages, Nizwa Souq, Nizwa Fort, Bahla Fort (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Jabreen Castle. The tour leader was informative and accommodating.

• DUBAI, of the UAE, consists of numerous distinctive neighborhoods. The new Dubai is centered around Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. The view from the 124th-floor observation deck provides a bird’s-eye perspective of creative, modern architecture surrounded by barren desert. I purchased my Burj Khalifa “At the Top” entrance ticket ($36) through Viator, though tickets can be obtained from the website www.burjkhalifa.ae for about the same cost. 

The areas of Deira and Bur Dubai are separated from each other by Dubai Creek (crossed by abra, or water taxi) and are crowded, bustling and fascinating. Jumeirah Beach, with the “7-star” hotel Burj al Arab, the Jumeirah Mosque, Internet City (a technology park), Media City and the Marina (with artificial canals) are other fabulous neighborhoods, each with its own flavor.

My accommodation for five nights was the 3-star Landmark Hotel Baniyas (Baniyas Square,14th Rd., Deira, Dubai, UAE; phone +971 4 228 6666, http://landmarkhotels.net/baniyas) in the Deira district of Dubai. I booked through Expedia.com, paying (with taxes) $800. This included an extensive and appetizing breakfast buffet daily. The only extra cost was a tourist tax of AED10 ($2.75) per night, collected at checkout.

Skyline of Abu Dhabi as viewed from Heritage Village.

The hotel is an older property, ready for some refurbishment, but my room was clean and comfortable. The lobby area was attractive, and the hotel staff was helpful. The location was enticing to me because it was in the lively, older part of town, which I preferred to the glitzy and expensive new Dubai area.

The Dubai metro was sparkling and easy to use, with the Baniyas Square station (on the Green Line) directly across the street from the hotel. The Dubai Creek water taxi station also was nearby.

I used Viator to book a “Half-Day City Sightseeing Tour” ($37) with Orient Tours. It was comprehensive, including Jumeirah Beach, Jumeirah Mosque, new Dubai, Dubai Museum, a water taxi ride across Dubai Creek, the Spice Souq and the Gold Souq.

I visited two other UAE emirates on day excursions: Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.

• SHARJAH is considered to be the nation’s cultural capital, with a restored historical area and noteworthy museums, including the terrific Sharjah Art Museum, showcasing the creative energies of the Arabian Peninsula and the rest of the Arab world. I visited Sharjah on an independent day excursion, taking a bus (30 minutes) from the Sabkha Road bus station, located near my hotel in Deira.

• The city of ABU DHABI, capital of the Abu Dhabi emirate and of the UAE, is one of the world’s richest cities and competes with Dubai for skyline architecture.

My “Day Tour of Abu Dhabi from Dubai” ($75), booked through Viator, was provided by the Dubai Cola Company. The friendly tour leader showed us the city skyline, the renowned Emirates Palace Hotel, Heritage Village, Yas Island, Ferrari World (www.ferrariworld abudhabi.com), which is the UAE version of Disney World, and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a fabulous, snow-white complex holding two world records: world’s largest chandelier and world’s largest handmade carpet.

Giant, ornamental incense burner at Riyam Park in Muscat, Oman.

• For my last full day in the UAE, I used the hotel travel service to book a day-long tour ($75) from Dubai to the garden city of Al Ain in the Abu Dhabi emirate. 

A cheerful, knowledgeable tour leader picked up four other participants and me at our Dubai hotel, and we drove about two hours to Al Ain, where we spent about five hours touring the city’s attractions before returning to Dubai.

The rugged scenery along the way to Al Ain was awe-inspiring, and we made a stop for a snack of camel’s milk ice cream. Once we reached Al Ain, our visits included Green Mubazzarah, a family-oriented park at the foot of Jebel Hafeet, and the famous Al Ain Zoo. The gardens, camel farms, date oasis and zoo are all delights and were a huge contrast to the UAE’s fabulous urban centers.

I returned home on New Year’s Day 2016, fascinated and satisfied by my latest travel adventure.

THEODORE LIEBERSFELD

Boynton Beach, FL

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque — Abu Dhabi. Photos by Theodore Liebersfeld

Having returned from my December 2015 independent trip to Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), my eyes are still glowing and my mouth is still agape from the marvelous sights, both modern and ancient.

• OMAN is the more conservative of the two countries. Observing customs, traditions and everyday life there was an eye-opening treat.

Its capital, Muscat, is a beautiful city caught in a narrow strip between mountains and sea. Its three main areas — Ruwi, Mutrah and Old Muscat — are visited on a long loop tour that takes about two hours to navigate by bus. 

The variety of scenery is unbelievable and includes a rocky coastline, beaches, a marina, an opera house, a Parliament building, the Mutrah Souq, the Sultan’s Palace, new and traditional architecture and several fine museums. The opulence of the Grand Mosque is exceeded only by its “competitor” mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 

I stayed four nights at the Ruwi Hotel (Ruwi, Muscat; phone [968] 24704244, www.omanhotels.com/ruwi), and the total cost, without breakfast, was OMR144 (near $375), including 17% in taxes. This 3-star hotel had an attractive lobby area and a pleasant poolside patio, and my spacious double room was comfortable.

Providing complimentary transportation from the Muscat International Airport, the hotel is located in Muscat’s Ruwi commercial district and is within walking distance of numerous restaurants and shops — very convenient. 

Online from Big Bus Muscat (http://eng.bigbustours.com/muscat/home.html), I booked a 2-day pass ($58) for the hop-on, hop-off tour. The Central Business District stop on the tour circuit was about a 10-minute walk from the hotel. 

On one day, I did the entire loop without alighting from the bus. Well-produced audio commentary was provided by headphones. On the second day, I got off to explore museums and Old Muscat plus the beach, shops and restaurants in the Shati Al-Qurm area.

Through Viator.com a month ahead, I had booked the 8-hour excursion “Enchanting Forts of Nizwa” for $67 with Orient Tours (Dubai). This excursion to the desert city of Nizwa rewarded me with stops at ancient abandoned villages, Nizwa Souq, Nizwa Fort, Bahla Fort (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Jabreen Castle. The tour leader was informative and accommodating.

• DUBAI, of the UAE, consists of numerous distinctive neighborhoods. The new Dubai is centered around Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. The view from the 124th-floor observation deck provides a bird’s-eye perspective of creative, modern architecture surrounded by barren desert. I purchased my Burj Khalifa “At the Top” entrance ticket ($36) through Viator, though tickets can be obtained from the website www.burjkhalifa.ae for about the same cost. 

The areas of Deira and Bur Dubai are separated from each other by Dubai Creek (crossed by abra, or water taxi) and are crowded, bustling and fascinating. Jumeirah Beach, with the “7-star” hotel Burj al Arab, the Jumeirah Mosque, Internet City (a technology park), Media City and the Marina (with artificial canals) are other fabulous neighborhoods, each with its own flavor.

My accommodation for five nights was the 3-star Landmark Hotel Baniyas (Baniyas Square,14th Rd., Deira, Dubai, UAE; phone +971 4 228 6666, http://landmarkhotels.net/baniyas) in the Deira district of Dubai. I booked through Expedia.com, paying (with taxes) $800. This included an extensive and appetizing breakfast buffet daily. The only extra cost was a tourist tax of AED10 ($2.75) per night, collected at checkout.

Skyline of Abu Dhabi as viewed from Heritage Village.

The hotel is an older property, ready for some refurbishment, but my room was clean and comfortable. The lobby area was attractive, and the hotel staff was helpful. The location was enticing to me because it was in the lively, older part of town, which I preferred to the glitzy and expensive new Dubai area.

The Dubai metro was sparkling and easy to use, with the Baniyas Square station (on the Green Line) directly across the street from the hotel. The Dubai Creek water taxi station also was nearby.

I used Viator to book a “Half-Day City Sightseeing Tour” ($37) with Orient Tours. It was comprehensive, including Jumeirah Beach, Jumeirah Mosque, new Dubai, Dubai Museum, a water taxi ride across Dubai Creek, the Spice Souq and the Gold Souq.

I visited two other UAE emirates on day excursions: Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.

• SHARJAH is considered to be the nation’s cultural capital, with a restored historical area and noteworthy museums, including the terrific Sharjah Art Museum, showcasing the creative energies of the Arabian Peninsula and the rest of the Arab world. I visited Sharjah on an independent day excursion, taking a bus (30 minutes) from the Sabkha Road bus station, located near my hotel in Deira.

• The city of ABU DHABI, capital of the Abu Dhabi emirate and of the UAE, is one of the world’s richest cities and competes with Dubai for skyline architecture.

My “Day Tour of Abu Dhabi from Dubai” ($75), booked through Viator, was provided by the Dubai Cola Company. The friendly tour leader showed us the city skyline, the renowned Emirates Palace Hotel, Heritage Village, Yas Island, Ferrari World (www.ferrariworld abudhabi.com), which is the UAE version of Disney World, and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a fabulous, snow-white complex holding two world records: world’s largest chandelier and world’s largest handmade carpet.

Giant, ornamental incense burner at Riyam Park in Muscat, Oman.

• For my last full day in the UAE, I used the hotel travel service to book a day-long tour ($75) from Dubai to the garden city of Al Ain in the Abu Dhabi emirate. 

A cheerful, knowledgeable tour leader picked up four other participants and me at our Dubai hotel, and we drove about two hours to Al Ain, where we spent about five hours touring the city’s attractions before returning to Dubai.

The rugged scenery along the way to Al Ain was awe-inspiring, and we made a stop for a snack of camel’s milk ice cream. Once we reached Al Ain, our visits included Green Mubazzarah, a family-oriented park at the foot of Jebel Hafeet, and the famous Al Ain Zoo. The gardens, camel farms, date oasis and zoo are all delights and were a huge contrast to the UAE’s fabulous urban centers.

I returned home on New Year’s Day 2016, fascinated and satisfied by my latest travel adventure.

THEODORE LIEBERSFELD

Boynton Beach, FL