The Drakes do Oman, Oct 6-9 2017

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 coastline 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.  

IMG_20161008_180645

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 white washed 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 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.  

first impressions.jph

First impressions from the room balcony

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.”  To give you perspective of this moment, the kids gave Tad a blue boat for his birthday.  

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 Maket 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 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 shy’d 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 spending 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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Advertisements

Dubai family weekend

PANO_20160903_165747.jpg

dubai-airplane

One of the perks, major perks, of living in Bahrain is the travel opportunity.  While some people choose to stay in the cozy land of sand, this girl and her family are committed to taking advantage of any little time-off Tad has to explore the surrounding countries…and continents. If you haven’t taken the time to look up where Kingdom of Bahrain is located, here is a link:  https://goo.gl/maps/KTqgmajsni42  Bahrain is so centrally located to so many countries within a 1-5 hour fly time, it makes the travel opportunities EPIC!  

When we first started talking about traveling we decided we’d start close.  After all, we did just fly across the globe with two toddlers.  Not quite sure how flexible Trace and Izzy actually were to airports, layovers, airplanes, and sleeping in hotel rooms as a family, we chose Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as our first trip.  Again, for those geographically challenged, this is where Dubai is located: https://goo.gl/maps/v7SmECooSmQ2  We figured this would be a good trial.  If all went well, we’d take another trip, and another, and just keep the ball rolling.  Fortunately, that is exactly what happened and ripping the proverbial bandaid off the idea of traveling with two toddlers was the best decision we’ve made so far…as parents.  Hands down.  Not joking.

In mid-August (just two weeks after moving into our new house, six weeks after moving to Bahrain) when Tad came home saying, “if we want to travel over Labor Day weekend I need to tell them tomorrow,” I initially panicked.  Seriously?  Tomorrow?!  There’s nothing like a little external pressure to spend money on traveling to a new country in one day that makes me feel alive.  My response to Tad, “Done.”  Luckily that day I had Googled “Dubai aquarium” on a whim and discovered that Dubai has a beautiful, modern aquarium (in a mall of course).  I had shown the kids at dinner.  They were sold.  I was sold.  And when I showed Tad, he was sold too.  That night after dinner I bought plane tickets to Dubai (a 45 minute flight from Bahrain) and booked our hotel room.  We were off to Dubai for Labor Day weekend.

I’m not going to lie, the day we were suppose to leave for Dubai was a little chaotic and stressful given I was trying to pack as a minimalist, be a mom, get us to the airport on time, and learned our hotel reservation had not been confirmed.  Yep, you read that correctly—no confirmed hotel the day of our flight.  As it was getting closer to GO time (go pick-up Tad at work and head straight to the airport), I was less than put together as a mom or human being.  Really, I was on the verge of, “I’m never doing this again.”  Luckily, as I’m pulling out of the driveway to pick-up Tad, he texts me “Oh, I see that email about the hotel room.  All I needed to do was click the link.”  Aaaaaah.  Exhale.  I was praying that THAT was the extent of the travel hiccoughs…but as a recovering control-freak with very high expectations, I knew I was walking the line of high-strung-mommia. Note: the kids call me “mommia” a lot of the time.  I love it.  

trace-on-shuttle-bus

Traces’s first airport tram ride.  Despite his tired face here, he was a huge fan.

Everything about this trip was new and a major adventure figuring out how travel in and out of Bahrain actually worked.  Luckily, despite what the imagination can come up with, it’s very similar to traveling in the United States.  There are well managed and well signed long term parking lots that seemed “relatively” secure.  Thank goodness we both have island beaters, so parking next to a Lexus SUV is the best theft prevention.  The shuttle bus was a HUGE hit for Trace, as was every part of the trip that included seeing or being inside an airplane, construction vehicle, bus, or taxi.  And despite the germaphobe in me totally freaking out as Trace drug is lovie across the Bahrain and Dubai airports, flying with the kids was really fun.  We learned that traveling with two toddlers comes with its perks, especially if they are crying…extra free snacks on the plane and most importantly being shuttled to the front of almost any long line.  Not that we can make our kids cry on demand (although we might need to start implementing a “travel only” cry command), but luckily Izzy cried at all the right times to be escorted to the front of very, very long immigration and customs lines.  Thatta kid.

We hit Dubai hard knowing we only had two full days.  The itinerary included: aquarium and Burj Khalifa (the tallest man-made building in the World).  For those who don’t have a visual in your head of Dubai or haven’t checked Google images of Dubai just think of the Jetsons cartoon.  You know the one with towering, space-ship like buildings, cars that fly, and everything state-of-the-art and robotic.  That is Dubai.  I didn’t see any flying cars (although I wasn’t going to be surprised if I saw one) but apparently you can now request a “flying Uber” to pick you up.  Totally the Jetsons.   

Day one in Dubai was checking off the must-do’s.  We went straight to the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo located in the Dubai Mall.  While Tad and I are not mall types, we definitely know a good thing when we see it and the Dubai Mall is ridiculous.  I mean, there is a full aquarium and the World’s tallest man-made building in it.  That should speak for itself.  

The aquarium started with a beautiful underwater tunnel with fish and sharks the size of cars and it only got better.  It was at the aquarium that we began to see the personality differences between Trace and Izzy.  While Trace was fascinated he was also very, very cautious and a bit scared.  Izzy, on the other hand, was our fearless, independent adventurer who had no troubles walking over glass bridges, feeding massive tuna, and walking up to the fish and crocodiles in the tanks.  This difference was even more glaring at the top of the Burj Khalifa.  

IMG_20160902_112903.jpg

Tad & Trace with the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa behind

The Burj Khalifa is omnipresent in Dubai.  You can see its needle like spire towering from almost anywhere in the city and it is BEAUTIFUL!  In a very luxurious middle eastern way the whole experience at the Burj Khalifa was over the top.  One can choose to buy a ticket to the first observation deck at level 125 at 456 meters or visit At the Top, the world’s tallest observation deck on level 148 at 555 meters. There was no way we were coming to Dubai and NOT going to the top, so that’s what we did.  It was worth every penny. If you’re going to be in Dubai, go big or go home.  At the Top was breathtaking and truly an experience to remember.  What seemed like a bustling huge city just moments below became a serene toy-like spectacle of a city plan, with no horns, no sounds, just the whisper of the breeze and classical Arabic music playing in the posh lounge.  It was here that Izzy, like her mother, had no problems running straight up to the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, while Trace needed to be carried until he warmed up to the idea that Izzy was not falling out of the building.

We did stop on the way down at the 125th level observation deck and yes, even that view was spectacular, but NOTHING like the top. Obviously if you do not like heights the top is not for you. In fact the 125th floor would be out of question too. But me, I love being so high. Insert giggles. I’m that girl who walks straight to the edge of the Grand Canyon and opens her arms wide to take it all in, maybe even throw myself on to my head for a glorious headstand or some random yoga pose to commemorate the view and vastness of it all.  

Day one felt so complete and overwhelming all at the same time but we were so proud of the kids for hanging in, chugging along even when mommy and daddy were dragging them up to the top of the world during their nap time.  We all celebrated the day with a fun swim in the hotel pool and a nice authentic German dinner at the only licensed Hofbrauhaus in the Middle East.  

Day two, our last full day, turned out to be as amazing and adventurous as the first day. What began as a simple idea to go see the indoor ski slopes at the Emirates Mall turned into a whirlwind tour of old Dubai, the spice market, gold souk, and a sunset dhow (traditional wooden boat) ride.  I have always scoffed at the tourist hop-on-hop-off buses because they seemed so obviously touristy, but that’s exactly what we decided to do.  It proved to be a win-win for the kids who were melting in the 100+ degree sun and didn’t want to walk anymore but allowed us to see a lot of the city in an air conditioned bus (even if we did decide to sit on the top level without AC).  It was a blast and we got to see more of Dubai and old Dubai than we would have otherwise.  Everyone was happy.  Trace was ecstatic to be on a double-decker bus.  Izzy got to nap on daddy. Tad and I got to learn a little history, take photos, and explore.    

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Needless to say, the kids crashed hard that night.  Lights out.  For Tad and I, our final evening of unexpected cultural surprises continued as we witnessed two wedding processions in our hotel.  Talk about over-the-top.  It was definitely fun to see another culture’s wedding reception.  It made me really happy Tad and I did a small wedding celebration in Kauai.  One last surprise for the day was spotting a Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay on the Marriott’s wine list.  Woodinville wines represent!!  I was so proud.  

Overall, our trip to Dubai was truly amazing and worth the initial freak out session.  Before we even departed Dubai, Tad and I were planning our next family vacation which would be approximately one month away.  In good ‘ole plan a vacation in one day because Tad needs 30 days to get clearance and approval, that’s what I ended up doing for our trip to Oman.  Until next time, keep your eye out for the hashtag #DrakesinBahrain on your social media feeds.  

And for those who didn’t get to see all our photos from Dubai on Facebook, here you go (I hope this works): https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10154191505733073&type=1&l=042b5c61c1

One last thing…Izzy is the best ice breaker and show stopper in the Middle East. #likeIzzy

img_20160904_125658

Izzy walking down the jetway in Dubai.