I spent Spring Break 2001 in Oman. Not the most sought after Spring Break location but I was just about to turn 21 years old and studying abroad in Kenya. Back then, never did I imagine 1. I’d return and 2. with a family (I was that girl who was never going to have kids). Not that I didn’t like Oman. My memories of it are beautiful, quieting to my Soul, shawarma (yes, I had my first shawarma in Oman), and the people lovely. But just because you have fond memories of a place doesn’t mean you’ll go back, more like, get the chance to go back and THAT is the difference.
Part of my initial shock and excitement of learning we were moving to Bahrain was flooded with memories of Oman. It felt like the experiences of my past were surely being connected to the present. I mean really, who goes to Oman on Spring Break? And then who moves to another Middle Eastern country 16 years later? Clearly, my past was preparing me for my future as a globe-trotting military spouse…or not and I’m trying to find meaning in something much larger than myself.
When Tad informed me of his interest in going to Oman, I was super excited. Truly, I never thought I’d ever get the chance to return. It’s not like I had major connections or people to visit, it’s just one of those places I never thought I’d ever visit again. But here we were planning a trip to Oman. From the little I could remember (my excuse is that my frontal cortex was in its infancy of full development in 2001), I knew we would head to Muscat and see some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. Luckily with the help of TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Facebook planning our trip was relatively easy. Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, specifically Al Waha “The Oasis,” it was. And yes, the photos on their website are real. It is THAT beautiful.
Our second international family trip was similar to our first in Dubai, a long four-day weekend. While that doesn’t sound long, when traveling internationally with two toddlers, it’s LONG. It’s just long enough to know you’re not at home and long enough to feel like you’ve been away a long time when you return. The great thing about something as simple as a bus or shuttle ride is that Trace loses his mind with excitement. The saying “the journey is the destination” comes to life when traveling with Trace and Izzy. The little things, a bus ride, shuttle ride on an open top trolley, walking sidewalks, are huge monumental experiences. This is why traveling with toddlers is TOTALLY worth it. What Tad and I may consider boring or just a means to get from point A to point B becomes the experience. Every detail of a four-day vacation is epic for someone in the family.
When we arrived in Oman it was nighttime. We hired a pre-paid taxi at the airport to drive us to our hotel 45 minutes away. While I was trying to stay calm and relaxed, inside I was really hyper and excited to be in Oman again. Would I recognize anything? I was staring out the windows pretending not to care but internally I was straining every strand of my poor-night vision to catch a glimpse of something familiar.
As we approached the hotel the hills were rolling and there were a few whitewashed middle eastern looking villas glowing in the backdrop of date palm silhouettes. As we exited a long beautifully lit tunnel the hotel entrance hit every sense of curiosity and luxury. I’m pretty sure all four of us spontaneously said, “aaaaawwwwww.” We had arrived and we knew we were in for a treat. Not only was our room beautiful, clean, and welcoming, we actually got an adjoining room just for the kids. WHAT?!!!! Are you frickin’ kidding me?! Hallelujah!!! I was beyond excited and probably jumped over the counter to hug the receptionist while exclaiming, “this is already the best hotel we’ve ever stayed at.” OK, that’s what I was doing in my mind. Being close to midnight we were all exhausted and the kids happily jumped into their hotel beds. Izzy refused to sleep in the pack n’ play they had provided and got the opportunity to sleep in a real big-kid bed a.k.a twin size bed. Clearly, she felt like a queen too–the little things.
The kids were asleep in their own room and the surrounding mountains and nearly full-moon beckoned me to sit outside on the balcony–no book, no drink, no phone, and just sit. It was glorious. I may have cried. Tad drained the mini-bar of its beer. Retrospectively, I now realize the mini-bar raid is a ritual he practices upon arriving at a hotel. Probably has something to do with traveling with kids but I giggle inside celebrating that he’s just enjoying himself.
We really didn’t have any plans for our trip except to just play it by ear. While I have a lot of enviable friends in Bahrain who are super-planners for their family vacations, our approach is one of “let’s see what happens.” Truthfully, I wish I planned more for our vacations but where does one find the time to research, call, hire, and plan all this stuff??? So really, our vacation style is out of laziness or what I like to tell myself, going with the flow.
We spent our first of two full days at the hotel. I know, this sounds so lame if you’ve never been to Oman. I hear the questions now why didn’t we hire a guide, take a jeep safari, go to the wadis, do anything besides stay at the hotel? To be honest, Tad and I just needed a day of doing nothing. The hotel was the perfect place to vacation and do nothing. Between the pools, splash pad, lazy river rides, beautiful beaches, amazing customer service, and delicious food it was a perfect day. We seriously spent hours just floating around and around and around on the lazy river ride. Post-nap time we somehow got our act together to go to Old Muscat on the hotel shuttle.
It was the first time we were actually seeing Muscat during the day and it was just as beautiful as I remembered it. One of the biggest differences between Oman and Bahrain is that there are hills. No trees, but there are still hills. Cafe colored desert hillsides with pure white houses flowing into a brilliant turquoise blue ocean is a photographer’s dream. Izzy decided to string together her first two-word phrase on this bus ride pointing out the window yelling with toddler excitement, “Blue boat! Blue boat!” No, there were not actually blue boats outside. After twenty minutes of excitedly exclaiming “blue boat!” and every passenger quickly turning their heads thinking maybe this time there actually was a blue boat, or dhow, we drove into old Muscat where, to everybody’s surprise and delight, sitting in the middle of the bay was…no joke…a blue boat. Tad and I laughed hysterically. I know, you’re not laughing as you read this last part but Tad and I will look back at this entry one day and smile with joy remembering “blue boat.”
As the bus drove through Old Muscat, specifically the area of Mutrah, we drove past the hotel I stayed at in 2001. I couldn’t have told you anything about it before we drove-by but the minute I saw it, I knew. It was a huge de ja vus moment. I remembered where the shawarma truck was parked, where the souk was located, the memories came flooding back. It was surreal.
Mutrah Market is just as lively as the Bahrain market. Again, the phrase “same same but different” applies to the Mutrah (old Muscat area) souk. Souks are both tourist traps for their sensory overload but also where locals do their shopping. Spices. Gold. Fake gold. Brass statues. Shoes. Kids clothes. Fabric. Food items. Gems. Rocks. Jewelry. Imagine what a “mall” would be like pre-mall times with no air conditioning, no outside structure, each stall slammed up against each other creating one giant maze, uneven ground, with the smell of not Auntie Anne’s cinnamon pretzels but of thousand-year-old sweat. Aaaah, it’s so hard to describe. If it’s intriguing to you, just come to visit. The “souk” is something that needs to be experienced not read about.
That night we ventured back to the hotel for dinner. The highlight was when Trace was accosted in the bathroom by two beyond tipsy young ladies (late 20’s I’m guessing). They thought he was the cutest boy they’d ever seen. I agreed. He shied away when they asked for an Instagram selfie with him but then he was jumping up and down when they each gave him a kiss on each cheek. Tad was perplexed by the perfectly shaped red lipstick marks on Trace’s cheeks when we returned to the table. This is probably an appropriate place to point out that this trip was our first trip with a “potty trained” Trace. Most potty-training “experts” say don’t make any big changes when you potty-train, routine is everything, yaddah yaddah yah. Supposedly any big move, stressor, or travel can throw off a child’s sense of comfort and lead to potty-training “regression.” Well, since Trace had been a full week into his potty-training graduation, we took a trip to Oman. That’s the type of parents we are. But Trace chose us as parents and HE DID MARVELOUS!!! Not one accident! When they’re ready, they’re ready.
The next day, day two of two, we hired a guide to take us around Muscat to show us some of the big highlights of the city. Still being a million degrees outside, it was a good way to explore the city–from one AC place to the next. We saw the fish market (again, same same but different as any other outdoor fish market in a coastal town in the middle east), the Al Alam Palace, the fortressed bay behind Al Alam Palace and near Al Mirani Fort, and then toured the Bait Al Zubair Museum. With the help of a full complete Trace meltdown, we decided to spend the rest of the day at the hotel was best for everyone.
Enter Izzy’s first ice cream experience. Thank goodness we had our phones with us to capture her unforgettable joy and cuteness. No words can describe the initial bite. The mix of, “What is this? Wow! I like it…I mean love it! Wait a minute, you guys (parents) have been holding out on meeeeee. More more.” This photo series may be my favorite of all photos taken of my children.
That night, we had the best family dinner at the hotel’s seafood restaurant overlooking the ocean. I can’t tell you why or how it worked out so well but the kids behaved like they were 27–no yelling, no screaming, polite, ate everything on their plate, and allowing us to eat like adults, not Neanderthals with our hands. Maybe the key is taking them to nice restaurants instead of family joints? So much for their college fund. Needless to say, Tad and I left the restaurant feeling like we’d won the lotto. And really, we have. It was a perfect family vacation. It wiped away any remaining hesitations about traveling with the kids. Exploring the world with two amazing kids who embrace the people, the smells, the foods, the languages…we are so grateful for all the blessings in our lives.
Upon leaving Oman we knew we had Nana and Grandpa’s visit, as well as the holiday season quickly approaching so we did not know what our next travel would be. Luckily, with a little help of the Universe making it nearly impossible to get to India for the New Year as I had hoped, we found ourselves looking forward to a week in Sri Lanka.
Side note: Sorry this post is nine months late. I literally have been working on it since last October. Oh, Life! Hopefully, I’ll have our Sri Lanka, India, Dubai/Abu Dhabi, and Georgia (the country) trips soon. Fingers crossed. Don’t hold your breath.
Until next time…Aloha & Namaste