Friday, September 27, 2013

Wanda Goes to Salalah-- Part 1

Wanda Goes to Salalah--Part 1, Round 2!
I have already written and posted this and then the post absolutely vanished!  No idea what happened.  I have reconstructed the post, to the best of my memory.

I have written about Joe in Salalah and Austin in Salalah.  Finally, it was my turn to visit Joe's home away from home.  

Just wanted to show you a map of Oman.  Muscat is located at the top, with the star.  That is where I live.  I am very close to the UAE, which include Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  Also close to Iran.  It was a 1 1/2 hour flight to Salalah, which is at the bottom part of Oman.

Salalah is in Dhofar, Oman's southernmost province.  "Dhofar is in many respects a separate country to Oman-- different in climate, people, and customs.  Dhofar's people are closer to the Hadramaut tribes (Yemen) than to the northern Omanis, linked by centuries of shared interest in the frankincense trade routes." 

It seemed appropriate to place a picture of a frankincense bush here.  This bush is found in the middle of the quarry.  More about the quarry later.  Do you see the pale lines among the branches and trunk?  Those were cut into the bark, to let the sap run out.  The sap, when hardened, is the frankincense that we burn.

Back to my trip.  This is the road leading out of the Salalah airport.  Beautiful, tall, coconut palm trees.  The palm trees in Muscat are mainly date palms, and are shorter.  This road reminded me of Los Angeles.  Definitely one of the prettier parts of Salalah.

This is on the outskirts of Salalah, on our way to see the sheik.  Sheiks are the head of a tribe, or village.  Some sheiks can be very powerful, but the one we were on our way to see is more like a town mayor.

 Joe already had a meeting set up with the sheik.  He tried to postpone the meeting, due to my visit.  Sheik Barkhit insisted that Joe bring me to his home for a late lunch.  So there I was.  There were several large platters of fruit.  We were served delicious hot tea with ginger.  We were also served Arabic coffee.  The coffee was served in tiny cups and the cups were only filled halfway.  The coffee was unsweetened, but I was shown to take a bite from a date, then sip the coffee.  Most enjoyable!

 Here is Sheik Barkhit.  You may remember him from Austin's blog post.  The reason for the visit.  Well, there are a few villages near Joe's company's quarry that consider the quarry an encroachment on their camel-grazing land.  Joe is building this village a public majilis room, for goodwill.  The men are going over changes they want made to the blueprints.  A majilis room is a meeting room.  I thought it was just for men and was a bit surprised to be included in this majilis room.  

 After business, we went to the dining room for lunch.  Same type of furniture as the majilis room and no table or chairs!  It was me and about six men, all seated around this platter of rice and camel meat.  The men all ate with their hands, but the sheik provided me with a spoon.  Thank goodness!  The camel meat was not too bad.  Tasted like beef.

 I found this very interesting.  After lunch, we went back to the majilis room.  This man lit an incense burner and walked around the room with it.  By the way, it was not frankincense, but something else.  Anyways, we all fanned the smoke up to our nostrils and inhaled.  One man pulled out his shirt and placed the burner so the smoke could go up his shirt.  Then, the man holding the burner, set it on the floor and stood over it!  The smoke was going all the way up his dishdasha! This is not an uncommon practice.  I have to say, Omanis are a very aromatic people.  They and their surroundings usually smell very good.

Then the talk turned to wives.  I was told, very seriously, that Omani men are allowed four wives.  This is what the sheik told Joe earlier.  "Wives are like vehicles.  Sometimes you get tired of driving your vehicle and you want a new vehicle.  But you still want to drive the old one too!"  Joe also told me that on a prior visit, the sheik offered to get Joe and Austin (who is 15!) wives from his village.  

On a side note:  One of Joe's employees said that his uncle was looking for another wife.  He might offer Joe 100 camels for me!  Good to know.

After our late lunch, we headed out to the quarry.  It was close to sunset.

All the shiny trucks, ready to haul the gypsum to the Port of Salalah for shipment to India!  Like Austin said, this quarry is the reason the Holmes family is in Oman.

Joe and I, surrounded by gypsum and sunset.

 These following two pictures happened the next day, but are my two favorite pictures of the trip.  First of all, you can see how the green on the mountain ends at the desert below.  But the real point of the picture is to show the camels in the road.  There is a heavy fine for hitting a camel, so drivers are very cautious.

 "The King of the Road"

(It sure isn't the 18-wheeler!  Can you see the decoration at the top of the cab?  It is very common in Oman for the cabs of trucks to be decorated with fringe.)

Next blog post:  Wanda's Believe It or Not!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Royal Opera House Muscat

 I love living in Oman.  I really do.  But it is hard not to miss the US this time of year.  Nip in the air, the leaves starting to turn, and-- football!  The real kind, not soccer.  :)  It is a little surprising how much I miss football.  Oh well, what is a girl to do on a Saturday instead of watching football?  Go to the opera, of course!

Hubby wasn't as keen on the idea of opera, so I very quickly found five other friends willing and available.  Wendy, Debi, Ruthel, Mariangeles, Jennifer, and me.  Four Texans and two South Americans.
Saturday was actually my second time to attend the Royal Opera House Muscat.  The first time was back in March.  Joe and I saw a group of Bulgarian Folk Singers.  The real reason for that visit was to see the gorgeous opera house and to wear my brand new leopard print, rhinestone-encrusted shoes.  Which the nice stranger cut off!!! 
The Royal Opera House Muscat
I really had not taken enough pictures in March for a full blog post.  I always meant to go back.  Well, the ROHM just starting opening their doors every morning from 8:30-10:30.  There is no charge, but you can pay 2 OR for a guided tour.  That is what Debi and I chose to do.

Here I am with our Omani guide.  I wish I could tell you her name, but it contained some sounds foreign to the English language.  A note about her attire.  She is wearing an abayah, or robe, and a shelah, or head scarf.  This black clothing is not so much because she is Muslim, as much as because it is now the fashion to wear all black.  Traditionally, Omani women dressed much more colorfully.

I really like this picture with Debi and our guide, although the ladies are a bit fuzzy.  It is a great shot of the main lobby of the opera house.  All the wood is teak and comes from Burma.  But the carving was done by all Omani craftsmen.  The floors are Carrera marble.  
The opera house is a mixture of Islamic and Moroccan architecture.

I couldn't get over all the beautiful inlay in this foyer table.
Now for outside pictures.

Now back to our girls' night out.  We went in the restroom and saw this sign.  Now mind you, we are in an extremely posh building, not the mall or the airport.  Is this really a problem that warrants a sign??  And here is my question.  I had a heck of a time fitting a phone, small camera, lipstick, reading glasses, and tissues in my annoyingly small evening bag.  What in the world am I supposed to do with a hair dryer after I am done drying my hair???  Are there lockers for hair dryer storage?  I will have to ask.  :)

I believe this lovely Omani girl is wearing more traditional festive attire.  Psst, don't tell anybody, but I wore the same dress both times.  It is comfy.  But, I have different shoes on.  Black lace with black satin bows.  It's all about the shoes anyways, and a true friend makes sure to get the shoes in the picture!

So, what opera did we see?  The Barber of Seville.  Think Figaro, Figaro, Figaro!  This is the first opera I have ever attended, despite living close to Chicago for ten years.  The ROHM is one of the few to offer subtitles. Every seat had a small screen in front of it, with English and Arabic subtitles.  Since the opera was sung in Italian, the subtitles were most helpful!  It was an amusing opera, and very entertaining!  Just a quick note on what to wear to the opera house.  I would suggest between what you wear to a wedding to a cocktail dress.  You will see long dresses and more casual things, but you can't go wrong with a nice dress and high heels. 
There are several more operas on the schedule this season, as well as some ballets and lots of musical performances.  I say, dust off your rhinestone shoes and give the opera house a try!  I have a pair of shiny silver sling backs collecting dust.  Hmmmm. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me! (Barr Al Jissah)

 This past Saturday was my birthday!  A good day to have a birthday, since the whole family was home.  First order of business, gourmet breakfast made by my husband.  Then I went on my computer.  This is what I saw-- all these cakes.  I thought, "I wonder whose birthday it is?"  I hovered my mouse over the cake, and look really close at what I saw.
Happy Birthday, Wanda!!  Austin set up my Google page to wish me Happy Birthday.  I thought that was so cool!
What next?  I wanted to go to the beach!  Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort offers day passes.  For 25 OR, or $65, you can spend the day at the resort.  You have access to the pools and beach.  That also includes a lunch buffet at Al Tanoor, a $50 value by itself.  Off we went!
I thought the pass was very interesting.  A Day in Paradise.  Actually, I couldn't argue with that.  I didn't even realize that the pass includes a discount at the spa.  Something to remember for next time.  The day passes are not available all the time.  I just called the resort to check on the availability of the passes, and I was told that they are available at the moment, but he didn't know for how long.  I suspect that they may not be available when the high season kicks in.  You can call +968 2477 6666 and find out if you are interested.  Definitely worth it for a special occasion!
The Beach
We spent a wonderful couple of hours at the beach and then headed to Al Tanoor for the buffet lunch.  I have written about this place before.  We have brought lots of visitors here.  A great buffet of international cuisine.  Here are platters of shrimp and crab claws.
I did not see the name of this dish, but the chafing dish held grilled lamb.  You put it in naan, and these are all the toppings you can put on it.  I liken it to a taco bar.  :) I had Indian food and Omani chicken.  The Omani chicken was my favorite.  It reminded me of Chicken Fricassee, a dish my mom often made.
The dessert bar!  While we were eating lunch, Savannah said, "I feel like we are on vacation.  And we live here!"  I have to say, Oman is a good place to live.  :)
Looking down at the beautiful rug outside the restaurant.
You see?  I am not the only person who decorates with antique doors.  Now these are Omani style, unlike mine.  More rectangular, with shorter center doors. 
I loved this painting of old Muscat, along the Muttrah Corniche.
After lunch, we decided to lay out by the pool.  Less sand.  :)  It was a lovely day, not at all too hot.  Actually, as I hear of heat records in Chicago, Muscat is having a cooler September than normal.  While it is still a little warm for regular sightseeing (in my opinion), if you want to come visit Oman and lay on the beach, the weather is really nice!
  A picture of some of the property.  Can't center this picture.  :/
Savannah and Joe.  Austin had play practice. 

Here is the main lobby at the Al Bandar hotel.  Beautiful!  This is where you purchase your day passes.

That night, we went to the 360 restaurant in Muscat with friends.  Think Benihanas.  It was delicious!   I definitely recommend the restaurant.  Our chef made our rice and vegies into I love you! 
 Now you are probably wondering.  What did Wanda get for her birthday?  You will never guess.  I promise.  I got a ------- camel saddle!  If you saw my last blog post on the 'Salalah Traffic Jam', you will know why I LOVE it!
  I think the perfect gift is something you want, that you wouldn't buy for yourself, and that is a surprise.  Joe really hit a home run with this gift!  :)  I had actually forgotten that I admired this camel saddle when we were door shopping.  But he didn't forget.  He went back to Muttrah Souk and brought it home!  Although my kids thought he was crazy.

                                         It looks pretty good with the doors, doesn't it?  :)









Sunday, September 1, 2013

Salalah Traffic Jam

Joe e-mailed me this picture from Salalah this morning.  It was a traffic jam.  I thought, "What's the big deal?" 

Then I looked closer.  A herd of camels!  :)

If you think I am slightly obsessed with camels, you are right.  :)  They make me smile.