As the capital of Oman, Muscat is as different to the better known and glitzier cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as Oman is to the Emirates. The trappings of modern life sit very lightly over deep-seated traditions and a revered history.
In the older part of the city, called Mutrah, a wonderful corniche runs along the water, reminiscent of the corniche I enjoyed years ago in Abu Dhabi before that city’s exponential growth. There are some modern stores on one side, but no buildings are more than a couple of stories tall, and the anchor remains the wonderful Mutrah Souq.
It would be possible to spend hours meandering through the somewhat chaotic lanes of the souk, and I would have if not for a nagging husband and a time constraint. My purchases ended up limited to pretty shawls and scarves (a weakness in any country I visit), and only longing glances at all the interesting jewelry and beautiful fabrics. However, I did make one important purchase—prime quality frankincense. Oman is where the finest nuggets of the resin are found. With this purchase, with my purchase years ago of traditional myrrh in Yemen, plus the proper charcoal for burning, I can now fill my house with the sweet fragrancies of the Middle East.
Beyond the beautiful waterfront and interesting shops to explore, Muscat has a proud history on display in its museums. These are not the huge, modern, sensory-overload museums of Qatar or Abu Dhabi, but smaller, intimate, and accessible displays of proud Oman history and culture. My favorite is the Bait Adam Museum, once a private house, where the owner-curator-historian enthusiastically regaled our little group with stories of the paintings, photos, weapons, and currency carefully collected and displayed. Visits must be pre-arranged, and an assistant opens a little café (with delicious coffee) and a table of local jewelry and sweets for purchase. (I decided I needed two rings to go with my outfits.)
Another popular little museum is the Bait al Zubair, the private museum of the Sultan’s advisor. Larger and more imposing, the museum is filled with old weapons, furniture, traditional furniture and handicrafts. A day trip in Muscat often ends, as did ours, with a view of the Sultan’s palace, an architectural masterpiece, and a reminder that in Oman the past and the present exist together in a unique blend.