Thursday, May 12, 2016

Oman : Nizwa Souq and Fort

The historical town of Nizwa is just a short trip from Muscat (just 1.5hrs for local drivers the way they seem to race though the roads, or can be reached in a normal 2-hour drive). It is not anymore a "small" town but a booming city.

Nizwa is divided into two sections, the area close to Birkat Al Mouz village seems to have ballooned into an urban area within just a few years. New residential houses, rebuilt and modernized government buildings, bigger shopping malls (Grand Mall will even have a bowling alley!), hospitals, etc.

As long as there is a KFC, I'll be
The older section of the town starts from the gateway arch that welcomes all visitors to Nizwa, a newly built structure which is made to look oldish to coincide with the old architecture in this side of the town. 

Nizwa Souq

Due to its proximity to the fort, the souq is like a fortress. I initially thought that it is already the fort when I was looking at the facade. 

The souq is divided into different sections; outside is an arena-like area for the livestock souq (where the popular Friday goat market happens from 7am - 9am) where locals barter for goats and sheeps, then there is also a fruits and vegetable souq where fresh produce are sold and at the end of this section is the dates souq where you can have your choice of dates and try a sample of the local sweet "halwa". 

For the more touristy area, the pottery and antique souq is more picturesque but thronged with daytrippers from Muscat and other areas. You can get your Oman souvenirs and khanjars from any of the shops here, although the prices can really be high. Expect to haggle!

The souq is open in the morning until about 12:30pm - 1:00pm and becomes virtually empty for about 3 to 4 hours then opens up again at 5pm onwards. 

When you come out from the Souq, you can walk towards the fort while passing by the Omani handicrafts house full of pottery items.

Nizwa Fort

One of the most beautifully preserved fort in a country full of forts is, Nizwa Fort.

The first credible estimate for construction of the precursor to the present structure is said to be in the 9th century (as their official tour pamphlet states) but the current 400-year old building was renewed during the reign of Imam Nasir bin Murshid Al Ya'rubi in the early 17th century. 

There is a 500-baiza entrance fee to the fort, collected after you get in through its wooden doors and before entry into the main fort area. The fort complex is composed of the walled residence / castle (where offices and residential areas for the Imams and their families are) and the towered citadel where you climb up and the upper section opens into the gunnery platform all set for battle against the enemies.

For those who are into history, you can visit the exhibits hall for some interesting info and display about Omani history and culture.

Better make sure to go for a visit in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is not scorching hot, otherwise you will really be toasted alive at the tower! 

But the views over the town of Nizwa is beautiful.

Oman : Saiq Plateau and the Al Jabal Al Akhdar Mountains

Having lived in this part of the Sultanate for more than a year now, I can be forgiven for being biased in saying that the "Green Mountain"or the Al Jabal Al Akhdar mountain is the most beautiful part of Oman.

Middle East conjures up images of barren, desert lands but Jabal Akhdar belies all that with its lovely villages, well-tended small farms of pomegranates, peaches, figs and olives with a falaj irrigation system providing water all throughout the year. It is definitely not your idea of a drought-stricken land.

During weekends, whenever I can rouse myself up from being lazy I sometimes go for leisurely walks around the small, picturesque villages around the Saiq Plateau (just a 20-minute walk from my flat). 

Famous for its rose farms and traditional rose-water distillation process (the father of one of my colleague still practice this till today), the villages of Al Qor and Al Ayn are my usual prospects. They are quaint little villages  with houses hugging into the cliffs, old and new houses co-existing side by side.

I love the door designs!

Its temperate climate (can go down to zero during winter, even was hail-snowed a couple of times!) is very ideal for farming, especially the famous Jabal Akhdar roses. It is unbelievably fragrant and gives out natural perfume in the air. Towards the end of winter (around end-March) and all throughout spring (until end of April or May) the roses are in full bloom, and can be so amazingly beautiful to look at.

Tourists also flock to this area during the "rose season" just to smell the roses....sorry for the pun! hehehe

I took this photo after the harvest hence only a few blooms are left.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Bali, Indonesia : What a fabulous welcome!

I never really had any intention of roaming around Bali for this trip (as I normally do with my usual itinerary-filled trips). I made the decision to join my sister's family at the last minute as they are celebrating my bro-in-law's birthday. But since its the tail-end of their holiday already, we agreed we will just sort of laze around and do nothing for the entire 5 days ---- I'm all game for it!

And so we stayed at the Alila Villas Uluwatu ---- it is a WOW from the lobby entrance, to the welcome drinks, and the resort intro...... We knew we were in for a treat! 

The view is truly superlative!!!!
With a fantastic staff!!!
Definitely looking forward now to my staycation at this 24-hour butler service resort.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Adelaide : Mt Lofty Summit

The perfect vantage point to get the best views overlooking the entire city of Adelaide is a trek or a ride up to the Mt. Lofty Summit, at least 727meters above sea level and it gives you a panoramic view of Adelaide. It can be a bit windy at the top, especially during winter, even if the sun is blazing hot you still have to make sure to bring a thick jacket as it can be chilly.

As Mt. Lofty was named by Matthew Flinders in 1802, the obelisk point placed in the summit was renamed as "Flinder's Column" in honor of him. 

Although in downtown Adelaide the winter temperature is just around 10 - 15 degrees Celsius, when we went up to the summit they said that the temperature in the early morning had gone down to 5 degrees and that they are expecting light snow in the next couple of days.

There is also a cafe/restaurant (and a souvenir shop) at the summit for those who needs refreshments, especially the ones who opted to do the uphill trek instead of just driving up (like we did hahahaha, lazy us).

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Adelaide : Glenelg Beach

Winter is not the best time to visit any beachfront areas but since I only have a week to go till I have to head back to work, I took my niece to Glenelg --- a very popular beachside suburb in Adelaide --- just to be able to feel the Adelaide sand on my toes hehehe....

Named after Lord Glenelg (a former member of the British Cabinet), this beachside settlement was first established in 1836 and had now morphed into a tourist destination with numerous pubs, restaurants, shops, amusement parks, and even an indoor skating rink right near the jetty.

The 140-year old Glenelg Town Hall 

Glenelg also is home to high-rise developments, condo complexes, and 3-star to 5-star hotel properties. The main road where the tram stops is also the main shopping area and have a lot of specialized boutiques and cafes. A nice place for a stroll, a little bit of window-shopping, stopping off for a cafe latte.....

Despite the cold winter breeze, we were at least greeted with a nice sunset at the jetty so it was all worth the long drive.

Adelaide : An Afternoon of Flea Market Shopping @ Port Adelaide

The streets of Adelaide on a weekend is so eerily quiet and you just breeze through the 20 kilometers  or so from our place in South Elizabeth to our weekend destination, Port Adelaide in less than an hour.

A normally buzzling port town, we arrive to a Port Adelaide with less tourists, a few locals walking about, and a few sea gulls.....hahahha

The foundation of Port Adelaide was established on January 1837 when the harbourmaster took up residence with his family in the area and eventually other settlers followed over the years. Today, the place still retained a lot of its 19th-century establishments and buildings.

We came here though for the Fisherman's Wharf Sunday flea market. For a little bit of shopping of course! 

Located near the waterfront side next to the Lighthouse, its a two-storey market housed in a converted warehouse, selling everything from old magazines, curios, paintings, books, to even potted plants and pet products!

I would love to have a whole afternoon to browse through. Once tired from shopping, you can grab a cup of coffee and sit near the waterfront, wait for the ferry (Port Princess Dolphin Cruises) to disembark its passengers and people-watch.....or you can just enjoy the breeze coming from the water.

A nice place to spend your Sunday afternoon.......

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Adelaide : Watching a Game of Footy at the Oval

Australians love sports, in any form, that much I can truly generalize from the people I met or worked with. They are so physically active and sporty.

One thing you have to really experience when you are in Adelaide (or anywhere in Australia for that matter) is to watch a game of Australian rules Football at the Adelaide Oval. It really is an amazing experience --- the mass of loyal fans who trek all over the country to watch their favorite team play in another state, the energetic cheering and boo-ing during the game.

The venue itself is HUGE! And since we watched during an AFL Final Series game, the place was jam-packed and tickets were sold out. We were very lucky to get free reserve seats (courtesy of my sister's office lol).

To understand the game, lets simplify the complex rules --- you kick the ball, you run with the ball, and you hit the ball towards the two goal posts. It is like a mix bag of everything, you can tackle opponents like they do in American football, and players must continually touch or bounce the ball on the ground to escape being penalized for "holding the ball". There's a bit of wrestling, running, martial arts (what with all the kicking, you need a little Jet Li spirit with you hahaha), and sometimes, boxing....when the players doesn't like the referee's call.

And since we were in Adelaide, we opted to cheer for the local team Adelaide Crows versus the visiting Richmond Tigers. We even bought AC scarves for authenticity hahaha.....

Cheers to my first AFL game!