Day Two in Mystical Muscat

Well mother and I didn’t make it up for the white party, but it was nice to wear my Dishdashah to dinner nonetheless. We booked at one of the nicer restaurants on the ship, Chops, and had a fantastic steak-a-thon. I somehow got very drunk and don’t remember how the evening ended, but mother said nothing spectacular happened since we were in bed by 10:30. Alas!

But day two in my favorite little town was majestic. We walked back to the souk and I got mother into the silver store where she began to shake with excitement. It really was a site to be seen, silver from floor to ceiling: picture frames, handbags (yes!), jars, boxes, incense holders, fish, conch shells, canes and of course jewelry. Sadly silver is at an all time high these days and the sweet Indian man said he is hardly selling any of it since it is just so much pricier than usual. I was dying for one of those articulated catfish with turquoise eyes (my great aunt had some and Vreeland had piles at her Park Avenue home) but they weighed in at $480 a pop. Sigh. Mother quivered over a rococo designed purse that also went for around $500. Double sigh. But we found some bits and bobs before heading onto the next spot.

It was a great time to be at the souk since the tour buses hadn’t yet arrived so the vendors were not at their peak screech level trying to get you into their stores. It was mostly local families buying spices, clothes and perfume. We spent some time in an Indian gold shop where I bought piles of bindis and bangles for my upcoming Bollywood themed 35th birthday. The owner of the store was dazzled that I had real Indian friends in New York City and that I was buying these things for an Indian party. I asked if he worked at the store for long and he proudly raised his hands and said, “I come from south India and this is my store!” Then bobbled his head and smiled. Adorable.

Once we were souk sauced we headed next door to this little dive where I ordered a fresh squeezed lemon, mint drink that was beyond refreshing, then headed to the cab area where we asked a driver to take us to The Chedi. He has just Frankincensed his car and it smelled like the Holy Roman Empire in that little thing!

The Chedi is one of those hotels that you just go to. It’s on the ‘must’ list of jet setters if one is in Muscat so we did it. My friend Megan, whose family lives in Saudi but are from Texas said, “Oh Muscat? The Souk, the mosque, The Chedi, done.” See?
                                (fried cauliflower, baba ganoush, saffron rice and grilled fish)
It was a 30-minute drive through the most manicured landscape I have ever seen. This country has serious money. Every part of the highway was bordered with three tiers of pink, purple and white flowers, there were hedges cut into French formal garden shapes and massive sculptures, fountains and mosque every 10 feet. Neither of us could get over it. Especially if you remember this is desert world so all of those lawns and flowers have to have an underground irrigation system running through them.

The Chedi was a modern affair that reminded me a lot of the new W hotel in South Beach. Soaring ceilings, lots of wood and stone, fountains trickling out of pots. It really was a bit soulless, just another 5 Star hotel with posh people rolling about. But it was beautiful and I can see why it’s on ‘the list’. And the food! The food was a dream! Especially after days on that ship food. I felt like Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love, I savored every bit of hummus, every crunch of a dolmades, and every pop of a grapefruit slice over my grilled fish.  We both experienced total gastronomy glow.

After rubber necking around the place for a bit we called a car and headed back to the ship. Our time in Muscat had come to an end. I cannot wait to come back. The ship sailed at sunset and we leaned over the railings and watched as the old town faded from view and the Sultan’s palace stretched along the coast.
                                                              (The Sultan's Palace)
We then dressed for dinner, headed to the champagne bar like we do every night where Suzy and Rusty (both Philippino, she is always freakishly excited to see us and he is a petite old school, fly swatting, queen) greet us and make mother some fruity champagne cocktail and make me a Knob Creek Manhattan. Hence how I barely remember the end of every evening. And they always give us half a glass full of more booze so one drink is really like two and a half. Everyone was in a spirited mood and looked so nice. Where are these people when I’m sitting poolside sandwiched between two whale monger Germans hacking and smoking?

After dinner we looked around the shops and all of a sudden I noticed some 10 foot blond German man staring at me. What? Oh! He was giving the ole gay cruise stare! He kept looking at things and then giving the coy slow head turn in my direction. How exciting! The old boys still got it! So I introduce myself and all of a sudden he is a babbling, shy mess who says he has to go because he has friends and family waiting on him. Clearly I’m not looking for love but he could of at least joined me and mom for a nightcap.

It was 10pm and I told mom we should really try to stay up just a little longer and have one more drink. She looked at me and just said, “Why?” Indeed. We were in bed at 10:30 after a photo shoot with our swan towel.

Tomorrow, a day at sea. My dream come true!

Manic for Muscat

Today was the day. I finally feel like I am in the Arab world! Muscat is everything I wanted in this trip. We pulled into port this morning and the glorious mountains, blue sea and white buildings were a majestic site. And what the hell is that 60’s looking acid hut? I would come to find out it is a sculpture of an incense burner! Since they are so popular here they decided to build a gigantic one.

But that is the only gigantic thing in this harbor. Unlike Dubai, residents aren’t allowed to build their homes higher than three stories.
And put your fears to rest, we have not seen any violence here. There was talk of some protests against the Sultan recently but everything in Muscat is perfect from what we can see.

We took a tour with the cruise ship and had a delightful day seeing the mosque, souq and museum. Our guide, Kallil was terribly informative (and cute!) and told me all about the male national dress of Oman. He even taught me how to tie a turban Omani style! Get ready this summer people.

First stop was the Sultan’s mosque. He had it built in 2001 with his own money and nobody knows what he spent but whatever it costs, it is astounding. The grounds reminded me of the Taj Mahal with fountains running in every angle and beautiful grass and flora. Women of course have to be robed. Luckily I had an Abaya that was a gift from a friend from Dubai when I was living in London so mother had that. Kallil taught her how to tie it around her face for maximum discretion.

The inside of the mosque was spectacular. It is the largest in Oman and the third largest in the Middle East. The chandelier is Swarovski crystal and weighs eight tons. The rug was woven in Iran by 400 women in sections, then brought to the mosque and sewn together. It weighs 21 tons. I could have stayed in there forever. I wish one day I could pray along with the other men in such a place but I don’t think that day will come. Such a spectacular place to be at one with God.
(Kallil showing us how they wash up before prayers)

Next stop was the souq. It’s right on the lovely Corniche and I went hog wild buying the local hats, head wraps, Frankincense incense and oil (divine!) and other assorted gifts. This was the best souq I have ever been in. Not only were there loads of interesting things to look at and buy, but everyone was so nice. I will never forget the harassing I experienced in Istanbul.

Next stop was a former home that was converted into a cultural museum. There was a whole section dedicated to the men’s dress.  Who knew those things that look like bullets on necklaces were actually full of kohl and used as eyeliner to protect from the sun! (Same as Football players just much chicer)

The last stop was the Sultan’s palace, which is only used for formal occasions. I want an invitation! It looks so swinging 60’s.

Finally it was back to the ship. As soon as we were in our suite I had peeled off my western wear and slipped into my dishdashah and scarf. I am finally in my element. Mother and I had a quick lunch and then I glided back out to the city in my new attire. It was so lovely just strolling the Corniche, watching the fish, bird and boats bobbing.

I went back to the souq and spent two hours just strolling around, talking to vendors, touching fabrics and inhaling the thick scents. Everyone loved my native embrace and kept yelling, “Salaam Said!”
                                                                   (The Sultan's yacht)
Finally I ordered a freshly made juice and just sat staring at the sea sunning. This is my heaven. Relaxation and wind whipping up my drawers.

I came back to the ship to rest before drinks and dinner. It’s a ‘white party’ tonight on the ship so I guess I’ll be staying in this dishdashah for the duration!