Germany has a vibe all of its own, and wherever you go, you can experience the pulsating life of its bustling cities, calming boulevards, the art galleries, at the flea markets, or in the city’s innumerable entertainment arenas.
Located in Central Europe, with Denmark bordering to the North, Poland and the Czech Republic to the East, Austria and Switzerland to the South, France and Luxembourg to the Southwest, and Belgium and the Netherlands to the Northwest, Germany is a major economic and political powerhouse in the European continent and has been a leader in numerous theoretical and technical arenas since time immemorial.
The most populous member of the European Union – a political and economic union of 28 different member states – with a population of 80.5 million Germany is a country consisting of 16 states, spread across a land mass of 357,1021 km2, with Berlin being its largest and capital city.
Germany has been the home of many influential philosophers, music composers, scientists and inventors, and is known for its rich cultural and political history. Tracing their origin, the Germanic tribes are thought to date from the Nordic Bronze Age, or the Pre-Roman Iron Age periods.
One of the largest economies in the world, Germany offers the highest standards of living for its residents, including a very comprehensive social security system and perhaps the world’s oldest universal health care system dating as far back as 1883. Enabled largely by its position in the world as following an open social market economy system and manned efficiently by a highly skilled labour force, and supported by a large capital stock, with a low level of corruption, and a high level of innovation, Germany is grand indeed in so many ways. Germany’s achievements in the sciences too have been significant and continuous research and development efforts form an integral part of the economy. In fact, for most of the 20th century, German laureates had accumulated more awards than those of any other nation, especially in the sciences (physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine). Some well-known global brands bearing the prestigious ‘Made in Germany’ seal of proven quality are Mercedes-Benz, BMW, SAP, Siemens, Volkswagen, Adidas, Audi, Allianz, Porsche, Bayer, Bosch, and Nivea to name a few. Not surprisingly, Germany also has the largest and most powerful national economy in all of Europe. Given its pivotal position in the continent of Europe, Germany is an essential transport hub, reflected in its dense and modern train transport networks. So advanced is this network, Germany’s famous motorway ranks as the world’s fourth largest in length and is known for its lack of a general speed limit. Connecting places within the country and some destination in the neighbouring countries is the ‘InterCityExpress’ zipping at speeds of up to 300 kmph (186 mph).
When it comes to flying, Germany’s largest as well as the busiest airports are the Frankfurt Airport and the Munich Airport, both hubs are connected by Oman Air. Culturally very comfortably placed and can be considered as wealthy in many ways, Germany has been called as ‘Das Land der Dichter und Denker’ (“the land of poets and thinkers”).
During a recent count it has been officially listed that there are over hundreds of subsidized theatres, symphonic orchestras, thousands of museums and almost 11,000 libraries spread all across Germany. These cultural opportunities are enjoyed by the culture vultures visiting and domiciled in the country. There are over 106 million German museum visits every year. And as of 2013, the UNESCO inscribed 38 properties in Germany on the World Heritage List. Germany stands head and shoulders above many other nations in the world in music, arts, sports, architecture, literature, philosophy, science, technology and much else.
Germany is a country of thousands of medium-sized towns and cities. Four cities, Berlin, Hamburg, München (Munich) and Cologne (Köln), are Millionenstädte – cities where more than one million people live. Another nine German cities have a population of more than 500,000 people. The population of Germany’s 300 largest cities amounts to more than 37 million, or 46 per cent of all people living in the country. Oman Air flies to two of these cities, namely, ‘The City of Arts’, Frankfurt, and ‘The City of Lifestyles’, Munich.
Frankfurt has gained the reputation of a premier cultural destination that also offers an equally wide range of recreational activities. Whether art, nature, culture, shopping or any other form and kind of entertainment, Frankfurt has them all. Frankfurt and its neighborhoods offer excellent quality of life. For nature lovers, this is paradise. Countless city parks, the Frankfurt City Forest, the Rhine and Main River with the neighboring mountains provide ample scope for unlimited relaxation. Notably, the Frankfurt Rhine-Main Regional Park with the Frankfurt Green Belt has a 63 km circular cycle path and a 65 km hiking path. Along these paths are spectacular picnic and barbecue areas, shelters and lush apple tree tracks. Frankfurt is a city which exudes a cosmopolitan flair and inimitable style of its own. The impressive skyline, characterised by the unmistakable Messeturm and numerous banking skyscrapers, has become “Mainhattan’s” unofficial city symbol. Today, Frankfurt is home to the German Stock Exchange, the European Central Bank, the Deutsche Bundesbank and around 260 financial institutions from around the world, making the 1200-year-old trade and commerce city one of Europe´s foremost finance centres.
Frankfurt, has in fact managed to retain much of its charm, serenity and old-town flair, especially the time-honoured going-out district of ‘Sachsenhausen’. And as a city of contrasts, Frankfurt continues to prove to one and all that there is ample space and opportunity for indulging oneself in art and culture. Frankfurt offers everything expected of a cosmopolitan city. Historical buildings, a renowned museum landscape, superb exhibition venues and countless sightseeing attractions, combined with numerous cultural highlights, international sporting events, superb nightlife locations and excellent shopping opportunities.
In all the simple things that make a place liveable, Munich excels. It is clean. It is safe. The public transport system is exceptionally efficient. Distances are short. The skies are blue (quite often anyway). And the food is comforting. With the Oktoberfest and opera, Hofbräuhaus beer hall and Pinakothek art galleries, BMW and Bayern Munich, the city of Munich manages to marry old Bavarian traditions with vibrant modern living. A city sight-seeing tour by bicycle is a great way to see Munich’s highlights. Also, a walk through Munich’s historic centre will help visit its most important churches and see the carillon at Marienplatz. A visit to the fascinating Pinakothek Modern, followed by a musical evening at the Deutsches Theater would provide for some typical local entertainment.
The Nymphenburg Palace with its famous Gallery of Beauties and the porcelain factory is another great attraction for visitors. The ‘Allianz Arena’, Munich’s temple to football is a must see for all sporting aficionados. A not to be missed place to see is the Deutsches Museum, the largest museum of science and technology in the world. While in Munich, go on a breath taking Climbing Tour on the tent roof of the Olympic Stadium which could be followed by a trip to Lake Starnberg for a boat ride to the Buchheim Museum in Bernried, with its outstanding collection of German expressionists.
Oman Air flies six times a week between Muscat – Frankfurt and four times a week between Muscat – Munich.
From its inception in 1993 until now, Oman Air has witnessed only success. The tiny airline, which began operating only one aircraft for its flights to Salalah, has now grown to a mighty airline ready to challenge all major airlines.
Many great achievements have paved the way to success and among the first was completing the International Air Transport Association’s Operational Safety Audits. Oman Air attributes the successful completion of the audit to its conforming with the standards and regulations set by IATA. This places the airline to be in the list of companies that comply with internationally recognized safety standards.
Tourism in Oman
Oman Air continues to have a large impact upon the inflow of tourism into Oman. It went on to win The Oman award for Excellence, as tourism promoter for 2001. The award is instituted by OCIPED to recognize accomplishments of individuals and organizations that contribute to the Oman economy.
The airline shows continuous support and dedication to premium sports events though a several sponsorships, among the most recent the Oman Sail event and the National Bank of Oman Gulf Classic. Oman Air’s sponsorship also includes the Oman Football Association and motorsports star Ahmad Al Harthy. Their sponsorship also extends abroad as they support polo events in Europe. These events are aimed at raising awareness for the Oman Air brand and their awards-winning products and services, but also creating increased exposure for Oman’s unique attractions as part of a fabulous holiday destination.
Impeccable Products and Services
Oman Air soon started expanding its destinations and aircraft and now it flies to more than 40 destinations throughout the world. Its strengths lie in the high quality standard of their aircraft and cabin and the always-fantastic service offered to their customers. With such impeccable service, the awards soon followed. Oman Air was named winner of the “World’s Best Business Class Airline Seat” award at the 2011 World Airline Awards, in a ceremony held in the French Air and Space Museum at the Paris Air Show. Also in 2011, The Passenger Choice Awards presented them with the award for “Best In-flight Connectivity & Communications”. For the second year running, they won ‘Best Business Class Airline Seat’ at the prestigious World Airline Awards™, run by Skytrax. The prestigious Business Destinations Travel Awards have awarded Oman Air the title of ‘Best Business Class Airline, Middle East’ in 2012.
Looking to the future
Oman Air is striving to be ahead of the rest and place great importance on technological innovation. They found it imperative to implement the Electronic Ticket system and become the Second Middle East carrier to issue e-Ticket (ET) in 2005 and targeted 100% e-ticketing by end of 2006 while IATA mandate is 2007. More recently, Oman Air is celebrating reaching second place in the December 2013 issue of the highly competitive Heathrow Punctuality League Table, in recognition of its enviable on-time departure record. This success is being accredited to the extensive planning, organization and logistical resources that they have put into ensuring that the highest service standards are consistently maintained.
This great level of success has been the fuel for hard work and ambition of Oman Air. The fame and reputation that they have achieved throughout their existence is the result of dedication, passion and perseverance. Their aim is to improve their services and technology and always provide the highest level of customer satisfaction.
A wedding is always one of the happiest moments in a couple’s life, but in Oman it’s never just about bringing two people together to start their lives anew, it’s about bring two families and sometimes two villages together and binding them in one of the strongest bonds ever known for a lifetime!
In Oman even the engagement takes quite a bit of preparation. When the groom visits his bride-to-be’s house, it is inappropriate for him to come alone but with his entire family. From there once the two families have agreed on the union and the bride says yes, it’s becomes a long celebration of life until the marriage is taken place. First off, the two families have to agree upon the dowry to be paid by the groom’s family, normally given to bride directly (to start her new life). The dowry can either be in cash or kind and is considered the sole property of the bride to use as she sees fit. This ceremony is attended by family members only, and on this special day, the groom and his family arrive at her house with the appropriate gifts in trays decorated with bars and covered with fabrics, special songs are sung for this occasion as it is on this day that the wedding contract is signed.
After that, Mulkah is conducted in the mosque and is attended by the groom and his male friends and family. The couple is now technically considered married and thus culturally acceptable for them to be seen together publicly and talk on the phone unsupervised.
Now the celebration of wedding itself takes place in two houses, the groom’s, and the brides, where each of the families celebrate before the groom and his family leave their house to come and pick up the blushing bride. At each of the homes the men celebrate outside with the women inside. There’s music, dancing and an abundance of food, even with excess of 400 people that will visit both the homes on this special day!! Outside the men dance with wooden canes called assas and are regally dressed with their dishdashas, sayf (straight swords) and of course the Omani Khanjars. Inside, the women away from the prying eyes of men, dance and feast unencumbered in their finest jewellery, with their hands painted in intricate mehndi designs particular to the region (one can easily learn where a women is from based on the designs of the mehndi on her hands)
After three days like the actual wedding takes place. The groom’s family and his guests pile on into busses and cars, honking, singing and clapping in a cacophony of festive noises, the men wait while the women bring out the beautiful bride, blushing at the thought of going to her new home and from there the festivities continue at what now becomes their home.
One of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, Amman is a curious mix of ancient and modern, and is known for its welcoming residents
The seven hills of Amman are an enchanting mixture of ancient and modern. Honking horns give way to the beautiful call to prayer, which echoes from stately minarets. Gleaming white houses, kebab stalls and cafés are interspersed with bustling markets, and the remains of civilizations and ages long past.
Sunset is perhaps the best time to enjoy Amman, as the white buildings of the city seem to glow in the fading warmth of the day. The greatest charm of Amman, however, is found in the hospitality of its residents. Amman is built on seven hills, or jabals, each of which more or less defines a neighborhood. Most jabals once had a traffic circle, and although most of these have now been replaced by traffic lights, Amman’s geography is often described in reference to the eight circles which form the spine of the city. Amman has served as the modern and ancient capital of Jordan. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, dating back to 7000 BC.
Most of Amman’s noteworthy historical sites are clustered in the downtown area, which sits at the bottom of four of Amman’s seven hills. The ancient Citadel, which towers above the city from atop Jabal al-Qala’a, is a good place to begin a tour of the city. The Citadel is the site of ancient Rabbath- Ammon, and excavations here have revealed numerous Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic remains. The most impressive building of the Citadel, known simply as al-Qasr (“the Palace”), dates back to the Islamic Umayyad period. To the north and northeast are the ruins of Umayyad palace grounds. Close to al-Qasr lie the remains of a small Byzantine basilica. Corinthian columns mark the site of the church, which is thought to date from the sixth or seventh century CE. About 100 meters south of the church is what is thought to have been a temple of Hercules, today also known as the Great Temple of Amman. The temple was built in the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 CE), and is currently under restoration.
Also on Citadel Hill, just northwest of the Temple of Hercules, is the Jordan Archaeological Museum. This small museum houses an excellent collection of antiquities ranging from prehistoric times to the 15th century. There is an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a copy of the Mesha Stele and four rare Iron Age sarcophagi. Downhill from the Citadel and five minute walk east from downtown, the Roman Theatre is the most obvious and impressive relic of ancient Philadelphia. The theatre, which was built during the reign of Antonius Pius (138-161 CE), is cut into the northern side of a hill that once served as a necropolis—or graveyard. It is very similar in design to the amphitheatre at Jerash, and can accommodate 6000 spectators. The theatre is still used periodically for sporting and cultural events.
Two small museums are built into the foundations of the Roman theatre. The Jordan Folklore Museum is in the right wing of the theatre and displays a collection of items showing the traditional life of local people. At the other end of the theatre stage, the Museum of Popular Traditions displays traditional Jordanian costumes, including fine embroidery and beautiful antique jewellery. It also houses several sixth-century mosaics from Madaba and Jerash.
The Museum of Popular Traditions is open daily 09:00-17:00, and closed on Tuesday. The Jordan Folklore Museum is open every day from 09:00-17:00, except Friday when its hours are 10:00-16:00. To the northeast stands the small theatre, or Odeon, which is still being restored. Built at about the same time as the Roman theatre, this intimate 500-seat theatre is used now as it was in Roman times, for musical concerts. Archaeologists think that the building was originally covered with a wooden or temporary tent roof to shield performers and audiences from the elements. Heading southwest from the theatre complex, Philadelphia’s chief fountain, or Nymphaeum, stands with its back to Quraysh Street.
Much of the fountain, which was completed in 191 CE, is hidden from public view by private houses and shops. The Nymphaeum is believed to have contained a 600 square meter pool, three meters deep, which was continuously refilled with fresh water. From the Nymphaeum, the short stroll to the King Hussein Mosque bustles with pedestrians, juice stands and vendors. The area around the King Hussein Mosque, also known as al-Husseini Mosque, is the heart of modern downtown Amman. The Ottoman style mosque was rebuilt in 1924 on the site of an ancient mosque, probably also the site of the cathedral of Philadelphia. Between the al-Husseini Mosque and the Citadel is Amman’s famous gold souq, which features row after row of glittering gold treasures.
Visitors to Amman – and the rest of Jordan, for that matter – are continually surprised by the genuine warmth with which they are greeted. “Welcome in Jordan” is a phrase visitors will not soon forget.
The Kathmandu Valley was once widely believed to be the fabled Shangri-La – a fictional, earthly paradise and utopia, isolated from the outside world. Because of this, a visit to Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu has often been claimed as a rite of passage for ‘serious’ travellers. To call yourself a proper traveller, you would have to have been to Kathmandu!
Indeed, since Nepal opened its doors to the outside world in 1950 (due to a change in the country’s political situation), Kathmandu has enjoyed a dedicated following among modern travellers. When talking about Kathmandu, most travellers are actually referring to the Kathmandu Valley – made up of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, and its sister cities Patan, Kirtipur, Thimi and Bhaktapur. Together, these form the most populated and developed region in Nepal. Nepal itself is famous for being a centre point for Hinduism and Buddhism as it is home to many sacred temples for both faiths. One of these is the revered Buddhist pilgrimage site of Lumbini – the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, who was the ‘enlightened one’ on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. Nepal also contains eight of the world’s 10 highest mountains, with Mount Everest, on the Tibet-China border, the tallest. Nepal is landlocked between the Tibet Autonomous Region in the north, and the India in the south, east, and west. At some travel destinations, there seems to be a prevailing sense of urgency to get through a list of ‘must-do’ activities. Kathmandu can be best enjoyed by just ‘being there’ – without feeling the need to progress through any sort of busy itinerary.
In Kathmandu, as well as the rest of the country, it is common to greet people with a warm ‘Namaste’ with palms together, fingers up – in place of a hello or goodbye. It should only be said once per person, per day. Roughly translated the word means ‘The divine in me salutes the divine in you’.
Valley of Treasures
Arriving in Kathmandu for the first time, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feel of the place can be wonderfully overwhelming for a first time traveller. To a certain extent, due to Kathmandu being the largest urban centre of Nepal – complete with congested walkways, traffic delays, over zealous street traders etc – it is easy to think it is just another developing world city. But it isn’t. And once you’re settled, and begin exploring Kathmandu’s back streets, alleyways, little courtyards and older parts of the town – some of which seem to have been untouched since the Middle Ages – the real spirit of Kathmandu comes alive.
In fact, the Kathmandu Valley is an enormous treasure trove of art and culture and tradition – with much of it in the form of statues of the gods, goddesses and iconography of Eastern spirituality and philosophy. And it is hard not to be deeply affected by it all. There are well over a hundred monuments in the valley, with several Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage sites, including seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Durbar Square is the traditional heart of Kathmandu, and has been in active use since around 1000 AD. It is crowded with palaces and temples, and the most spectacular of Kathmandu’s traditional architecture. Durbar is one of three loosely linked squares – all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Perhaps the best-known building here is Kasthamandap – a three-storied temple built in the pagoda style by the early sixteenth century King Laxmi Narsingha Malla. The whole temple is built from the wood of just a single tree, and covered with the shrine. In a special ceremony held every year here, people stay up all night to share legendary stories about the temple, while feasting on traditionally prepared food.
Thamel is the commercial nerve centre of Kathmandu. It is a haven for tourists and although some consider it to be overcrowded, the streets of Thamel are fascinating. You can buy almost anything at the many markets and shopping stalls lining the streets and alleyways. Some favourites are incense, prayer flags, and cultural artefacts like Kukri swords or Hindu and Buddha statuettes. There are also bookstores, clothing shops, outdoor outfitters, internet cafes and banks in this district – and of course dozens of hotels and restaurants.
It’s easy to lose yourself in the magnificence and grandeur of some of the sites around Kathmandu – like the sacred and highly revered Buddhist sites of Swayambhu and Boudha; as well as the important Hindu temple, Pashupatinath. There is also the Garden of Dreams (called Kaiser Mahal) near Thamel where you can relax in a beautiful and peaceful walled garden next to the former Royal Palace. At the Budda Neelkanth site, an idol of Bhagwan Vishnu in a sleeping position, surrounded by water, makes for an extraordinary cool and calming spectacle.
The so-called Freak Street was once a gathering point of western hippies seeking enlightenment during the 1960s and 1970s. But these days, you’ll just a find a few restaurants and hotels here.
Kathmandu Valley is referred to as the ‘gateway for travellers into Nepal’ – and many visitors use it as a launching pad for their trekking and mountaineering adventures, holy pilgrimages or sightseeing tours into the rest of the country.
Dhulikhel is a scenic town situated 30 kilometres east of the city on the Kathmandu Kodari Highway. From here one gets a panoramic view of the Himalayan range. If you would like to see some of the Himalayas from Kathmandu itself, it is possible to spend a day or two walking out of the valley to various view points, from where you can gaze up at and photograph these magnificent peaks. Most trekking companies in Kathmandu can also organise longer, more intense treks into the mountains.
Water sport is now a rage all over the world. All countries plan different strategies to develop this sport by enhancing the sports facilities to attract more water-sports enthusiasts. As far as this sport is concerned, Oman is a paradise and is one of the best-kept secrets in the world of water sports. Hence, special focus is being accorded to develop and upgrade facilities for it. A key element of the strategy set out by the Ministry of Tourism calls for a major diversification of the tourism product. This strategy has helped Oman to successfully host the Asian Beach Games of 2010.
Water sport is one of the popular sports in Oman with more than 3000 kms of coastline and clean unpolluted waters; there are several fascinating aqua sports which are popular in Oman.
Diving: Oman has an amazing world of colour in its waters. There is a wealth of scenery, wildlife, and thrill beckoning the more intrepid underwater explorer. Yes, diving is a major activity in Oman. The relative remoteness of pockets of the rocky coasts and secluded fjords has helped to preserve their natural beauty and wildlife. These areas offer greater access with nature and exciting opportunities for exploratory diving. And the balmy water and mellow currents make Oman a favourite diving destination. Its breathtaking underworld features rock falls, scenic walls and reefs. So to explore the crystal waters and be with the amazing corals, visit Bandar Jissa, Bandar Al Khyran, Damaniyat Islands, Fahal Island, and Al Sawadi. All these places serve as a natural magnet for snorkelling and scuba diving enthusiasts alike. Night dives are popular and divers are often astounded by the amount of phosphorescence found in Oman’s nighttime waters. The phosphorescence is green/blue and emitted by microscopic plankton as a result of a chemical reaction issuing from vigorous movement.
Sailing: This sport is the latest rage in Oman thanks to recent successes of Omani sailors and teams in premier sailing events around the world. There are regular regattas held in the waters of Oman. The Marina Bandar Al Rowdha or Capital Area Yacht Club draw up plans for sailing. Sailing initiative, Oman Sail along with the Ministry of Tourism, aims to tap the maritime tradition by developing and training a core crew of Omani sailors who will then represent the Sultanate at sailing events in Europe and Oman. The aim is that Oman Sail will help to attract tourism and promote the Sultanate as a world-class sailing destination.
Parasailing: It is an adventure sport that blends the exhilaration of flying, parachuting and sailing into a single experience. Parasailing is yet to take off on a big scale here. The dhow sailing is also adventurous and the dhow sailing races are without a doubt the most spectacular and gracious events on the water sporting calendar.
Surfing: How does it feel to ride on the white waves and feel the high of surfing in the aquamarine waters of Oman? Great! Beaches in Oman are ideally suited to enjoy surfing. One of the best places to surf in Oman is Masirah Island, reached only by ferry from the village of Shanna on the mainland. Masirah with surf of four to six feet is also an ideal area for windsurfing, particularly during the Khareef (monsoon season – June to September), when warm, strong winds sweep across from the southern region of Dhofar.
Kite Surfing: This water sport has been around for a while but has started to grow quickly in the last few years. The sport uses the wind as the propelling force. Oman is among the best places in the region to kite surf – the summer season, from May to September, is ideal. The wind is consistent and on an average, 20 knots plus every day from Ras al Hadd south makes for perfect conditions for kite surfing. Masirah is popular with both kiters and windsurfers while the town of Aseela, 16 kms from Al Ashkarah, is very popular for kite surfing.
Kayaking: This is a relatively recent introduction into Oman and is currently limited to the Capital Area. Explore the fjords and coastal waters of Muscat as you gently glide in 1 or 2-seater kayaks. Kayaking on the warm waters of Oman makes for an adventurous experience. One can kayak among the fjords of Bandar Al Khyran. Musandam is another striking location that springs up in the mind when kayaking is mentioned.
Game Fishing: It is being promoted in right earnest in Oman considering the element of excitement involved in the sport. Angling is expected to find enthusiasts and those looking for new ways of adventure. Omani waters abound in a great variety of fish like Tuna, Swordfish, Queenfish, Cobia, Sailfish, Barracuda and Black Marlin.
Other water sports: Jet ski, canoeing, etc. are slowly finding a place on the domain of water sports. In the coming years, Oman is set to become an ideal destination for water sports!
With visitors flocking in from all over the Sultanate, the GCC, MENA, Levant regions, Europe and even further, this is undoubtedly Oman’s best festival yet!
To say that the Muscat Festival is truly the pride of all festivities in Oman would be a gross understatement. Over the years, the Muscat Festival has evolved to become so very popular that the citizens, residents and visitors alike look forward to being in Muscat to share all the joy and fun of the festivities.
The Muscat Municipality that drives this annual festival extravaganza leaves no stone unturned to ensure that year-after-year, the Muscat Festival stays ever fresh in its different offerings to the public. The Muscat Festival comes in many parts, all offering wholesome family entertainment. For starters, the various activities are spread across the city at two main venues of Naseem Gardens and Amerat Park besides numerous other locations.
There will be something of interest to every age group. Besides the major sporting spectacle in the form of the Tour of Oman, the Muscat Festival will also host a spectrum of colourful activities celebrating the Omani, Arabic, as well as International Culture, the Oman Food Festival, the International Festivities of Arts, the Heritage and Creativity, the Muscat International Folklore Festival, the Architects of Air, the Festival of Lights, the Festival of Arts, Laser Shows, Fireworks, Handicrafts, fun and frolic!
Tour of Oman
One of the key international highlights of the Muscat Festival is the Tour of Oman. 128 of the world’s finest cyclists will group together as 16 professional teams, to race over 935.5 arduous kilometres across 6 stages spread over 6 days. The Tour of Oman continues to be a major hit with the international media given Muscat’s breathtaking natural beauty of stark mountains, azure beaches and world-class road networks, dotted with some mesmerising monuments along the routes.
This venue in Barka, just a short drive from the Muscat International Airport, will feature one of the region’s largest outdoor international shopping pavilions during the Muscat Festival. Many nations from the Central Asian to South East Asian countries, the Eastern Bloc, the Baltic countries, African and the Middle Eastern nations will be present to offer their countries signature products for sale at very attractive prices. Besides shopping, Naseem Gardens will feature a large multi-national food court, a huge children’s entertainment arcade with many rides and other attractions. Every evening there will also be laser shows and a colourful fireworks display over the park’s precincts, providing for some wholesome family entertainment.
Al Amerat Park
One of the key highlights of the Muscat Festival is the Omani Culture and Heritage Village, with an accurate re-creation of a traditional and ancient Omani village, complete with its own ancient souq, fort and live lifestyle demonstrations. This year, all these will happen at the Al Amerat Park. Besides Omani, the park will also host the International Festival of Arts, Heritage and Creativity where over 150 artisans from 25 different countries will be present to demonstrate live handicraft performances. Also many other outdoor entertainment activities like the International Folklore, Live Musical Shows and performances, Children’s entertainment activities will take place here.
An all-time hit of the Muscat Festival has to be the Oman Food Festival, where the authentic tastes of Oman will be served to the world, will be held at this venue. Traditional cuisines, live cooking counters, dine-in and takeaways will make the offerings complete. Other notable highlights at this venue are the Muscat International Folklore Event and a series of theatrical presentations organised by the Royal Opera House Muscat. Besides all of the above, the Muscat Art Festival, a celebration of the fine arts will be held across the capital city in various museums and art houses. The Festival of Lights would convert the city into a veritable magic world, where Muscat’s many Forts, Gates, Monuments, Buildings and other select structures would be lit up attractively. With all this and more, the Muscat Festival surely promises to live up to its well earned reputation as one of the major crowd pullers of the region.
Get ready to be part of Muscat Festival 2014 and if you are planning to visit Muscat, and you couldn’t have chosen a better time to visit, then book flights to Muscat on omanair.com to join the festival.
Oman Air is the official carrier for the Muscat Festival 2014
For complete programme listings please refer to www.muscat-festival.com
Not every country can boast one, never mind four! We are talking about Oman’s World Heritage Sites which the global community has honoured for their significance to the present and for posterity. Having just one World Heritage Site is something any country can be rightfully proud about. So to have four such sites is truly a feather in the cap of this dynamic, culturally significant land. The four sites in Oman are the Bahla Fort, the Land of Frankincense, the Aflaj irrigation system and the Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn settlement and necropolis.
What is a World Heritage Site?
A World Heritage Site (WHS) is one listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as a place having special cultural or physical importance. Each WHS belongs to the country where it is located, but it is also understood that it is in the interest of the international community to preserve these sites. There are 840 WHS in 148 countries.
In order to comply for World Heritage status, a country must first make an inventory of its sites of cultural and physical importance and nominate a particular site for evaluation by the World Conservation Union and the International Council on Monuments and Sites. There are 10 selection criteria and to be chosen as a World Heritage Site, the site must comply with each one.
Why do they matter?
The criteria for a place of cultural significance includes an example of human creative genius, such as an example of traditional human settlement or land use which has become vulnerable over time. It also might reflect the interchange of cultures over a span of time, and especially any culture that has since vanished from the face of the earth, or is in danger of doing so.
Criteria for natural or physical World Heritage significance reflect examples of exceptional natural beauty that represent major stages in the Earth’s history, as well as areas of outstanding importance in terms of biological diversity and endangered species.
Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn
This is a wonderfully complete example of a third millennium BC necropolis site. Together with fortification towers, settlements and irrigation installations for agricultural cultivation, it is a rare example of the way an ancient culture lived. Part of the reason for its being accorded World Heritage Site status was its superb example of Bronze Age funeral practices. Situated in Ibri, some 300km south-west of Muscat, the northern part of the site consists of bee-hive tombs while the southern part contains cemeteries of the Um al-Nar period’s style, between 2700BC and 2000AD. The site used to stand at the intersection of ancient trade routes, and exploratory work has revealed several tombs which date back to the Iron Age. Visitors cannot fail to be struck by the realisation that the site points to the existence of an advanced, well-ordered civilisation 5 000 years ago in Oman. Archaeological work has also unearthed well-designed red pottery pieces decorated with horizontal black lines. An archeological tomb dating to the Um al-Nar period and some chambers of the main tower in the settlement have been renovated. Visitors cannot fail to be struck by the realisation that the site points to the existence of an advanced, well-ordered civilisation 5 000 years ago in Oman that must have enjoyed a flourishing economy and contact with other parts of the world! The construction of the tombs suggests a specialist knowledge of stonemasonry as well as a thriving architectural community.
Oman has been described as “the land of 1 000 forts” and it certainly seems wherever you drive across the Sultanate that there are forts on every hilltop. However, only one made it into the ranks of World Heritage Sites. Bahla Fort is one of four historic fortresses situated at the foot of the Jabal al Akhdar highlands. Its stone foundations and immense adobe walls and towers were built in the 13th and 14th centuries, and reflect the power and vision of the dominant tribe in the area at the time, the Banu Nebhan. Some of the walls are 165 feet high. Reconstruction work is ongoing at the Bahla Fort. To the southwest is the Jaamea Mosque with a 14th-century sculpted mihrab. Bahla Fort is about a two-hour drive south-west from Muscat towards Nizwa.
Aflaj Irrigation System
This World Heritage Site refers to the ancient system of water irrigation that is believed to have been in use in Oman since around 2500BC, and is still in use in some places. Five actual sites were selected by the World Heritage Committee to represent the more than 3 000 sites in Oman. These are Falaj Al-Khatmeen, Falaj Al-Malki, Falaj Daris, Falaj Al-Jeela and Falaj Al-Muyassar. The system works by letting gravity channel water from underground springs to crops and human settlements. Such mastery of engineering allowed communities to grow crops in extremely arid areas, and allowed for equitable and effective allocation of scarce water resources throughout the community. A tour of these sites is an absolute must to better understand Omani culture. Look out for the gradual change in water usage, from collection for drinking through male and female ablution areas, laundry and finally into the date fields. Sun dials were also used traditionally to time the distribution of water.
The Land of Frankincense
Many visitors to Oman will have heard of frankincense from the Bible, it being one of the gifts from the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus. However, many will not have actually seen a frankincense tree, much less one being harvested. The frankincense trail, on what has come to be known as the Incense Road, actually consists of four designated areas, the archaeological sites of Shisr, Khor Rori and Al-Balid, and the Frankincense Park of Wadi Dawkah. These places straddle an ancient caravan route that took frankincense from here to different corners of the world. A tour of this World Heritage Site with leave visitors with a glimpse into one of the most important luxury trading activities of the ancient world. In addition, the Oasis of Shishr and the structures at Khor Rori and Al-Balid are outstanding examples of medieval fortified settlements.
As soon as you arrive in Oman, don’t make a beeline for the widely available international cuisine, but rather sample the enticing local fare
While you can find everything from cannelloni to croissants, bagels to biryanis – and often on the same street – no visit to Oman is complete without trying the splendid local cuisine. Here is a quick guide to some of the nation’s signature snacks and defining dishes.
Rice: Is the staple diet eaten at lunchtime in all the regions of Oman. Cooked in a variety of ways, rice is served with meat dishes. ‘Maqbous’ – tinged with saffron and cooked over spicy red or white meat, is a popular rice dish. ‘Qabooli’, however, is a zesty combination of meat, potatoes and rice browned with sauces.
All Things Spice: Similar in consistency to Harees, but blessed with a nutty and bracing bouquet, ‘Qabooli’ is a goat and rice-based stew completed by cashews, pine kernels and lemons. The panoply of spices used – cinnamon, cardamoms, saffron, cloves – date this titbit back to the era when Oman was one of the world’s spice trading centres.
Al Aursia: Is an exclusive Omani dish, served during festivals and some occasions, consists of mashed rice. Usually, it is served with special sweet sauce locally called ‘Al Turtcha’.
An Ancient Delicacy: One of the customary celebratory meals in Oman is Harees. It’s a lip-smacking porridge of roughly-ground wheat slow-cooked overnight with butter and cuts of chicken. Both tart and hearty to the taste, harees is energy-rich and the ideal fuel for a wander in the desert.
Khubz Rakhal: Another signature dish of Oman is this wafer thin bread made out of unleavened dough. In the days of yore, this local staple food was cooked over a fire of palm fronds. To make this bread, a handful of premixed dough is taken and rolled into a fist sized ball and then smeared into a very thin layer on the hot griddle. When the dough becomes crispy, an egg can be broken and smeared along with mayonnaise, if needed. This versatile and non-spicy bread can be served during any meal time. For instance, Omanis will enjoy this thin bread with honey for breakfast, or crumble it over curries of fish, chicken or mutton during dinner or even during lunch time.
A Subtle Confection: The Omani sweet tooth is legendary. Fruity scents and treacly aromas ooze from souqs, restaurants and cafes across the land. A time-honoured symbol of hospitality, halwa is a filling yet dulcet and subtle confection of cooked dates, clarified butter, caramelised sugar, starch and spices. The perfect accompaniment is a cup of strong black Omani coffee, earthy on the nose yet with a sweet and warming finish thanks to the sugar and cardamoms within. Halwa also goes well with Omani tea which, unique amongst the Arab nations, is prepared with plenty of milk, sugar and spices such as cloves and cardamoms. At colder times of the year, ginger is added for its cosy and warming tones. Head to an event like the Muscat Festival and you can watch men toiling over huge steaming cauldrons, preparing halwa in the traditional fashion. The full-bodied taste of fresh, hot halwa is something else again…
Al Mudhbi: Besides the many authentic and popular local dishes, one of Oman’s all-time favourite foods is ‘Al Mudhbi’, which is nothing but marinated meat grilled to perfection over smouldering stones. Especially when out camping, hiking or, simply enjoying the great outdoors, pitching a camp, setting a campfire and grilling some tender meat over the preheated stones must rank among the top of Oman’s authentic delicacies. This particular dish is said to be a speciality of the Sultanate’s southern region of Dhofar.
Treasures of the Sea: In the old days, the bountiful seafood of Oman’s Arabian Sea coast added variety to the rice, goat and vegetable diet of the interior. The festival time ritual of delivering dried fish to a wadi (fertile valley area) by camel may not be so common nowadays, but you can still find dried shark meat – often in soups – that tastes so exquisitely briny as to be almost smoky, locally known as (Owal). Samak pablo (fish in a turmeric and coconut milk gravy) is harder to find, but equally as appetising, recalling the exotic mellowness of certain Indian dishes.
A Three Day Event: You’re more likely to find showa in a family home than in a restaurant, partly for reasons of practicality: it can take up to three days to cook. Another Eid favourite, it’s essentially an entire lamb, pungently-spiced and cloaked in banana leaves cooked over charcoals to tender perfection. It’s often served with lemon chutney and salt-dried shark.
A first-time visitor’s guide to the major landmarks and draw cards in London, England.
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” So said 18th-century English author Samuel Johnson. He was man of strong opinions. But what is it about London that so inspired Johnson, and still inspires millions of overseas visitors every year? Partly it’s the sense of recorded history, dating back at least 2 000 years to when the Romans first arrived, and the subsequent waves of Saxons, Danes, Vikings and so on. Everyone recognised the geo-political and trade importance of the port city on the River Thames. Out of this cultural melting pot London has grown to become one of the most important financial and cultural capitals of Europe, if not the world, being birthed anew out of multiple fires, plagues, a civil war and the Second World War bombing. It is perhaps this sense of history, of having their backs against the wall, that makes Londoners the delightfully quirky bunch they are!
There is a world to explore in the massive city, and different districts reflect differing national characteristics. A survey in 2005 revealed that there were more than 300 languages and 50 non-indigenous communities in London. Indeed, part of London’s character and strength lies in this very cultural dynamism.
If you are a first-timer to London, here is a breakdown of the most famous tourism spots.
Right, so you have landed in London and are raring to go. What to do first in this incredibly busy city? It is worth drawing up a day plan to cover your stay in London. For example, dedicate two or three days to seeing the sights and soaking up the sheer weight of history. Do not forget to fit in a visit to some of the famous art galleries and museums. Then allow for some serious shopping time at world-famous venues such as Harrods, Hamleys and Oxford Street. Finally, soak up some culture with a visit to Covent Garden, Carnaby Street and Camden Lock. For a hair-raising day out, take in the Tower of London and the London Dungeon, and then relax with some laughs at lifelike replicas of some of your favourite celebrities at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.
If you are only going to be in London for a short time, say a week, it makes sense to stay in Central London and use public transport. This will save you time and money in getting around, and most of the major tourist attractions are in the central area anyway. It is very easy to use buses and, of course, the London Underground, and it is worthwhile investigating ticket options, such as the London Pass which is a fixed rate sight-seeing pass that allows you to visit more than 50 attractions.
Double Decker bus
In England, double deckers are either a chocolate bar, or a big red, double layered bus. We are talking about the buses here, which are an iconic feature of London, almost as much as Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. They are a fantastic and fun way to get around the city, whether you just want to go shopping or be taken on a guided tour. For open-top sight-seeing tours, book at http://www.theoriginaltour.com. Tickets are usually valid for 24 hours and allow you to hop on and hop off whenever you want.
If the top deck of a bus just isn’t high enough for you, aim for a bird’s eye view of London with a ride on Europe’s biggest Ferris Wheel, the 135-metre high London Eye. Once described as London’s Eiffel Tower, the Eye has 32 eggshaped passenger capsules and one complete rotation takes about 30 minutes, so no stomach-churning rush here! However, it carries more than 10 000 people every day so make sure to book your trip. It is situated on the south banks of the Thames in Jubilee Gardens, Lambeth. Book at http://www.viator.com
Where better to start than with the seat of royal power, Buckingham Palace, the official residence of British kings and queens since 1837. Check to see if the Queen is home by looking for the royal standard on the flagpole on the roof! The Palace was actually built in 1702 by the Duke of Buckingham as his London pad! The Palace – one of the few remaining working palaces left in the world – has 775 rooms, including 19 State rooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms, many of which contain priceless works of art, including paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto and sculptures by Canova. During summer months visitors can tour the 19 State rooms, the Royal Mews and the Queen’s Gallery. Entrance is by timed ticket so book at http://firstname.lastname@example.org, or ring +44 (0)20 77667300.
A must-see if you are going to Buckingham Palace is the famous Changing of the Guard, which is when the soldiers who guard the Queen, called the Queen’s Guard, come off duty and are replaced by the new guards. They wear a full-dress uniform of red tunics and bearskins. When mounted, they wear white riding-breeches, black leather boots, which are called jack boots, having been “jacked” or reinforced against sword blows. Changing of the Guard takes place at Buckingham Palace every day between May and July at 11.30am and last for about half an hour. It also takes place at Horse Guards Arch, daily at 11am, and 10am on Sundays, at the Horse Guards Parade by the arch of Horse Guards Building. Be advised, there is no Guard Mounting in very wet weather. Be sure to get a photo taken of yourself standing with one of the Guards. Their discipline is legendary and the Guards are under strict instructions not to react to the public, so please do not taunt or annoy them. After all, they are guarding the Queen! It is a short and easy walk from Buckingham to other major landmarks, for example, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, St James’ Palace and 10 Downing Street, the British Prime Minister’s official office.
Houses of Parliament
Also known as Westminster Palace, the Houses of Parliament are the seat of government, containing the House of Lords and the House of Commons. A royal palace was first built on the site in the 11th-century and the area was the residence of the first kings of England until the 16th-century. Major reconstruction work has been repeatedly carried out after damage from several fires and bombing during the Second World War. The Houses of Parliament are open to the public and guided tours are available most days. For more information, visit www.parliament.co.uk.
The clock tower, built in 1288, on the Houses of Parliament houses a main bell known as Big Ben. Although the clock tower is a symbol of London and all things English, and a massive tourist draw card, the actual interior of the tower is not open to the public. It has featured in countless films and TV programmes, and is the largest fourfaced, chiming clock in the world. Did you know that when the clock tolls, a person listening to the sound on the radio in Sydney, Australia, will hear the sound before a person standing at the bottom of Big Ben. Thanks to the speed of radio waves.
Every year, more than a million people are drawn to this beautiful 700-year-old Gothic architectural masterpiece, which stands next to the Houses of Parliament. Over 3 000 people, including kings, queens, scholars, authors, poets and musicians are buried in the building and it is indeed one of the country’s supreme honours to be buried here. It is believed that the first structure on the site was erected in around 624AD, although the first proven records indicate that a community of Benedictine monks were housed here in about 960AD. Westminster Abbey is where kings and queens have been crowned since 1066. The Abbey also features in Dan Brown’s bestseller, The Da Vinci Code! It is open to the public daily from 9.30am-3.45pm, except Wednesdays when it closes at 7pm. Saturday opening hours are 9am-1.45pm. Closed on Sundays. 90-minute guided tours start at the North Door several times a day. Visit www.sacreddestinations.com/england/london for more information and costs.
There are more than 300 art galleries and museums in London and most are free to enter. If you are on a short visit, be sure to visit the Tate Gallery, which houses British art. Fascinating museums, great if you have kids, are the British Science Museum and the Natural History Museum, both of which have informative, interactive displays. For more on art galleries and museums, A great way to spend an evening in London is by going to the theatre, whether you are in the mood for fringe entertainment or classical hits like Phantom of the Opera, Cats or Oliver. For a great website offering bookings and guides, visit www.londontheatre.co.uk
In many ways, London is a string of villages each with their own characteristic high streets, shops, restaurants and parks, all of them reflecting the flavour of their immigrant communities. It would take a lifetime to properly explore all that the city has to offer, but even just spending a week or two there will probably have you agreeing with old Mr Johnson!
Know before you go
For valuable information on accommodation, tourist spots, shopping, fairs, theatre, visit the following websites: