Tag Archives: History

Oman Day 2 – The Cattle Market

Friday Feb 22. It was a chilly dawn; the wind that had whistled and moaned during the night had dwindled but not desisted, so our early (0600!) breakfast, while excellent, was taken quite hastily. Ironically, the tea we were offered by default was – you guessed it – Twinings Earl Grey, which made something of a mockery of our smugly eschewing packing it so that we could experience the mystery of the Arab world. However, the free supply of Earl Grey was always very welcome.

Very soon after breakfast we bundled ourselves into the relative warmth of the car to take us to our first item on the day’s agenda – a cattle market in Nizwa.

The sunrise, though cold, was pretty

and led to some lovely views over the mountains.

So, off we bumped (honestly, neck and core muscles get a thorough workout travelling these tracks; even with the expert driving of Rashid, I was still banging my head on the window pillar occasionally. I hereby apologise to Hud Hud Travels for the resultant damage to their motor).

We had to make an early start in order to get to the Nizwa cattle market (which happens every Friday, that being the start of the weekend in these here parts) whilst there was worthwhile action taking place. And action there was – a central platform around which sheep, goats and cattle were paraded with auction staff trying to conclude deals with the surrounding crowds. Here are a couple of photos, but to understand the dynamism and noise of what was going on, see the video below.

Nizwa Cattle Market Scene, Oman

Nizwa Cattle Market Scene, Oman

Nizwa Cattle Market Scene, Oman

A video gives a much better idea of the considerable bedlam quotient of the market.

Then Rashid took us around the souk which adjoins the cattle market site, which has many conventional types of market stall,

Nizwa Souq scenes, Oman

but also features racks of dates (of which there are some 38 varieties in Oman):

Buying Dates, Nizwa Souq, Oman

(and there’s a booth where visitors are offered coffee and dates);

Coffee and Dates, Nizwa Souq, Oman

a local sweet called halwa;

Buying Halwa, Nizwa Souq, Oman

which always contains saffron, alongside a selection of other sweet ingredients;

Halwa flavourings, Nizwa Souq, Oman

live birds and other animals (some for eating, some for pets);

Buying and Selling animals, Nizwa Souq, Oman

Buying and Selling animals, Nizwa Souq, Oman

even guns are for sale

Selling guns in Nizwa Souq, Oman

Buying and Selling Guns, Nizwa Souq, Oman

though one wonders, sometimes, if people have the right idea!

Buying and Selling Guns, Nizwa Souq, Oman

It’s not at all clear why the trade in guns is so brisk, since hunting is forbidden in Oman. Still, boys will be boys, eh?

There are plenty of stalls selling tourist fodder,

Nizwa Souq scene, Oman

and we spotted this group of old chaps sitting around and talking among themselves.

Nizwa Souq scene, Oman

All in all, Nizwa on a Friday morning is a busy and buzzy place.

Another major tourist attraction in Nizwa is its fort. Many towns had forts to repel bands of maraudings Riffs (often, it seems, coming from Nizwa itself) but in most cases thes forts are disused and in a poor state. Many are being recontructed, and the one in Nizwa is a shining example – so much so that it was formally reopened by Oman’s ruler, the widely loved and respected Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said.

Castle courtyard outside Niwa Fort

The fort itself is the circular tower, and the building which encloses it is Nizwa Castle. The castle courtyard beside the entrance to the fort proper plays host to a variety of things – occasional displays of dancing and singing

an elegant display of the local air conditioning technology,

Aircon, Oman style, in Nizwa Fort

(porous flasks filled with water, which slowly seeps through and evaporates in the wind, cooling the remaining water in the flask – which has a cup in the neck to allow for drinking and to keep the flies out – and also the room inside);

and demonstrations of the making of Omani bread, which is wafer-thin. The making of it is very interesting – the sort of skill that years of practice makes look easy.

Inside the fort there are several exhibit rooms, including some interesting photos of before, during and after its reconstruction. If you’re not careful, you come across singers and dancers in the corridors.

At the entrance to the fort can be found four patches of light on the floor, like this one

Bottom of the defensive shaft

If you stand on one and look up, you see that there is a shaft going straight up to the top of the tower.

Looking up the defensive shaft

It turns out that these shafts guard every entrance to the fort and defenders can use them to pour boiling date syrup onto intruders. This is very nasty stuff which sticks to the skin as it burns it, so it’s a powerful deterrent.

If you go to the roof of the fort you can see the tops of the four shafts (as well as wells and access hatches to high security prison cells)

The roof of Nizwa Fort, shoing the four defensive shafts

The roof is an attractive scene

The roof of Nizwa Fort

and offers good views over Nizwa, including its Grand Mosque

Nizwa Grand Mosque

an idea of what cannon might have once fired on

Defensive emplacement

and a panorama across its huge date plantation.

Lunch was taken in Wadi Tanulf, which was (yet) another dramatic setting.

Along the sides of the wadi are some openings which have been used by people living there and tending goats – good choice of domicile, since it’s close to water, if there is any.

Wadi Tanulf Scene

There are also openings much higher up. Anyone who lived here must have been pretty fit!

The afternoon’s activity was a walk up Wadi Ghul, which we had looked across yesterday. Now we had the opportunity to walk along part of it. Rashid took us as far along as the car would go, and then sent us off to explore. As ever the geology was quite epic, with huge boulders litering the bed of the wadi

and impressive rock formations.

Wadi Tanulf Scene

Wadi Tanulf Scene

Wadi Tanulf Scene

For a country which is so dry, rain seems to cause a lot of problems. We came across this car, which (we know) is a rental car and (we think) must have been caught in a flash flood – it certainly wasn’t going any further!

It seems to be routine that after rainfall some tracks and roads are badly disrupted by rockfalls. The rainfall doesn’t even have to be torrential. Because the land is so dry, whatever rain falls just runs off immediately, hence creating a perpetual danger of flash floods. If you find a decent road surface, you can be sure that there’s a storm drain beside it to funnel the water away; and among the hills there is a lot of evidence of the erosion that shapes the landscape, even in this dry country.

After the walk, it was time to get back to our camp on Jabal Shams. The wind had died down a bit, but this was merely going from icy chain saw to freezing scalpel. I attempted to do some writing (these blogs don’t write themselves, you know) and Jane wandered off to look for – and found – some rock drawings that Patrick had mentioned (and some he hadn’t found, too!). These have presumably been done by the people living up in the mountains in times gone by, although it’s difficult to get any kind of detail.

A donkey? (above) and a camel (below)?

and a horse? (below)

But the cold drove us, after another excellent evening meal, to another early-night-with-hot-water-bottle. At least this time we weren’t having to get up at 5am, but in a more leisurely fashion so that we could depart for the next stage of our holiday – two days by the beach at Barr Al-Hikman. The promise was of warmth, which sounded great to frozen ears. Read the next gripping instalment to see how things went.

Afterthoughts: So…..Croatia, eh?

In the midst of dealing with the fallout from being away for a fortnight (laundry, mainly, though having lots of nice cups of tea also features heavily), I think it’s worth gathering our thoughts about the last couple of weeks and sharing them here, just in case it helps others planning something similar. Generally, both Jane and I thoroughly enjoyed our experience of Croatia and would heartily recommend it (particularly the Dalmatian coast) as a walking and/or sailing destination.

Timing. July and August can be fiercely hot all over Croatia. The best time to visit is May or (like we did) September. This is the second time we’ve visited in that month and the weather we experienced was, by and large, lovely. The Croatian tourist season runs out at the end of September or very early in October and things start to wind down quite markedly, so getting hotel rooms later than September might be challenging.

Walking. Our experience of walking in Dalmatia is very positive, but it was definitely a good thing to have thoroughly researched the level of difficulty in prospect, and the levels of fitness required, before booking the walking tour. We were operating towards the top end of our range with many of the group younger (and fitter) than us… Anyhoo:

  • The tracks are plentiful and well-marked (though I wonder how many of them we would have found without having an expert guide to do this for us).
  • Most of the routes we undertook were short on shade, which means that the walking can be pretty hot work, and taking lots of water is essential.
  • The tap water is perfectly drinkable, so take your own bottles and refill.
  • Very few of the walks we did passed any outposts of civilisation, so it’s advisable to take some food with you as well.
  • Mobile signal appeared to extend over much of the terrain we covered.

Sailing. This is big business along the Dalmatian coast. There are lots and lots of sailing boats, even some small towns sport large marinas and generally this part of the Adriatic is a good place for sailing, with or without an engine (take note, however, of the section below about the weather).

Landscape. The Dalmatian landscape tends towards being mountainous and scrubby – the land is difficult to farm, being stony. So the trails through it are pleasant enough and will occasionally offer great views from the tops of hills, but are otherwise not particularly scenic and are in some cases quite challenging. Our admiration for the local people who used these trails simply to get from A to B (often with their livestock, and often despite advanced age) grew day by day! We followed a couple of trails through woodland, which were more rewarding.

Townscape. The cities we visited all had old towns, which are all worth looking around. The towns and villages are by and large somewhere between pretty and handsome – well-maintained, tidy and picturesque.

Money. Croatia is no longer the cheap destination it was, but it’s not too expensive, either. In the towns, debit cards were widely accepted in shops, cafés and restaurants, and it was easy to find ATMs. You might find places that will accept Euros, but it’s best to have local currency (Kune) available. If you’re off the beaten track, you’ll need cash to be able to buy anything.

Eating out. Tourism is an important industry in Croatia and so there is usually a plentiful supply of cafés and restaurants in the towns, with English spoken and good service.

Cuisine. As you’d expect, there’s some good fish on offer, and seafood (especially squid and octopus). But emphasis tends to be towards meat and potatoes – the vegetarians in our group had some difficulty getting anything more imaginative than a plate of grilled mixed vegetables on occasion. For non-vegetarians, a couple of traditional dishes are worth seeking out: Pašticada, a slow-cooked beef stew; and Peka, a baked dish of meat and, yes, vegetables, cooked under a dome in barbecue coals. But there’s no problem finding more cosmopolitan fare such as steak, pizza or burgers – the burgers I had were very good, and served without bread, which I prefer.

Drinking out. You’ll find that most restaurants have a limited selection of wines and what is offered is likely to have been made locally or nationally. Croatia has a well-developed wine-making tradition and the local wines are perfectly good without being stellar. Local beers tend to be of the lager persuasion and are perfectly good.

Liqueurs. Something of a Croatian speciality is the production of liqueurs based on local produce – one we found to be very nice is based on sour cherry, but you’ll also come across walnut liqueur and something called Prošek, which is grape-based and quite sweet, among other variations such as olive and cornelian cherry. These are quite often offered as a welcome drink and I think it’s polite to sample at least one…

Bloody Cruise-Ship Tourists. Many of the larger or more attractive towns in Croatia are magnets for the big cruise liners – Dubrovnik and Split have a constant stream of them during the holiday season, for example, and Trogir during the height of the season is reportedly an utter zoo. So you may find that such towns are crowded during the day.

Bloody weather. Actually, for the most part our weather was pretty much perfect – a bit hot for me for going uphill, but sunny, warm and lovely for sitting outside when eating or drinking. But the Bura wind that we experienced is capable of wreaking havoc on sailing boats and travel itineraries. I was grateful for the experience of our captain to know it was coming (it took many others by surprise) and plan accordingly; if you’re considering sailing in the Adriatic, this is the sort of thing that can become very suddenly of very great pith and moment. Having said all that, and with the benefit of hindsight and no havoc having been wreaked, we’re glad to have experienced it; apart from anything else, the Bura clears the air and the visibility after it died down somewhat was vastly improved.

For anyone interested in sailing, walking, history, archaeology and/or pretty places to visit, the Dalmatian coast of Croatia is somewhere that we think should be high on the list. We hope that these thoughts, along with the descriptions of our various vacation days, help in understanding the possibilities that Croatia presents to the tourist.

Day 14 – Trogir; the unexpected bonus

28th September. The bura wind, although it only actually blew strongly on one day, had a considerable impact on the overall itinerary for the week, right from the start:

  • The threat it posed meant we had to leave Dubrovnik as soon as everyone was on board, which is why we had our visit to the Old Town before we boarded. This gained us a day, since the Dubrovnik tour was supposed to take place the following morning, by which time we were already under way.
  • Its threat still loomed over us after a day on Brač, making it too dangerous to move out, thus meaning a second day’s entertainment on Brač. This lost us the day we’d gained, but enabled me to fly my drone for some photos and video.
  • The fact that we were still on Brač meant we were unable to get to the furthest island, Vis, simply because of the distance involved. So the planned visit there was abandoned, which gave us the day back.
  • This enabled Filip to suggest the town of Trogir, near to Split, as a candidate for a visit.

So, Trogir it was. The above goes to show how uncertain things can be when cruising the Adriatic, and I commend Filip and the crew of Perla for thinking ahead, planning accordingly, and being flexible enough still to make the programme for the week interesting, entertaining and varied.

The journey to Trogir was short, so we tied up once again to a handy piece of rock that was in the environs so that those who wished could go for a swim.

Then, because we couldn’t tie up near to Trogir’s old town island, we made our way to Trogir marina, which is (at least to my inexperienced eyes) absolutely vast and really emphasises the importance of yachting, sailing and cruising as an activity in the Adriatic – more on this later.

From the marina, we took a water taxi towards the old town. I was hoping to get a great photo of it from the water, but it’s not easy; the most striking feature is a fortress at the edge of the town

and you’ll be able to see the view from the top if you just control your impatience and read on. You do get a sense of the character of the old town from the water

and, if you look to the left, a small idea of the sheer number of visiting (small) cruisers – again, more on this later.

Our guide for the day was Igor (supplemented, as ever, by the energy, enthusiasm and knowledge of Filip) and he conducted us into the old town, taking us past charming alleyways

to the central square. Like most space in the old town, it was full of cafes and umbrellas, so difficult to capture as a photo. It features a loggia which was being used to showcase another group of Klapa singers (I got a very short snippet of a similar group in Split). So, here’s a longer video of this lovely a capella style of singing.

As well as the general charm of the place, there are some interesting things to occupy the historically-interested tourist. There’s a museum which has a lovely courtyard

and which enabled Filip to wax lyrical about some of the archaeological and historical aspects of the town. Frankly, it was a level of detail that was too much for my limited attention span, so I took the opportunity to have a short kip when I found a nearby chair. From a photographic point of view, the only item that I found really interesting was the ceiling in the library they have there, the Garagnin – Fanfogna library.

It’s a lovely example of trompe l’oeuil painting.

After the museum, Igor and Filip took us to the Benedictine convent of St. Nicholas, which has in it something whose historical and archaeological pith and moment had Filip at his most rapturous. It is a bas-relief which dates right back to the beginning of the 3rd century BC. It depicts Kairos, son of Zeus, and God of the Fleeting Moment.

This bas-relief was almost certainly modelled on a bronze statue of Kairos made by the (apparently) famous Greek sculptor Lysippos from Sikyon.

Kairos is permanently running or flying, and hence the favourable opportunity (his tuft of hair) must be grasped swiftly, otherwise he has passed you by, and all you can see is the bald back of his head.

After all of this culture, the only thing for it was to take coffee in the cathedral square, after which we visited the cathedral itself. It’s not particularly large or impressive in and of itself, but it has a couple of items of note. The carving of the choir stalls is very detailed and intricate.

And a chapel off to the side has a really intriguing ceiling

which shows God actually poking his head through the sky to keep an eye on proceedings. The cathedral also has other intricate carving, for example in the baptistry ceiling

and in the door itself, which depicts many scenes from the bible around it.

Since the cathedral has a bell tower, it seemed only reasonable to climb up it. Getting to the top gives you a fine view over the town

and also makes you glad not to be up there on the hour as there are two enormous bells there

which are active, as you can see from the electric striking mechanism.

We had a little free time, and Filip recommended another good viewpoint, the tower of the Kamerlengo fort which is such a striking sight as you arrive to Trogir. So we paid our 25 Kuna each to climb the tower and were indeed rewarded with a fine panorama.

The old town is to the left of this picture, with its waterfront in the centre. It is notable that the boats on the waterfront are triple-parked, so visitors on these sort of cruise boats might have to walk through two other boats to get to land. You can also see the number of smaller yachts that are moored here – further evidence of how important yachting is in the Adriatic.

As we walked to catch our taxi back to Perla, I took a couple of shots of the handsome waterfront buildings

to try to capture a bit more of the vibe of this very pleasant town. It was our last destination as tourists, and an agreeable place to spend time, all the more so because it was unexpected – I believe that we were the only tour group organised by Peter Sommer actually to visit Trogir, which makes up for missing out on seeing Vis.

Back on the boat it was time for packing and the Last Supper on board. Boško, our chef, had prepared us a lavish meal and we took the opportunity to try to drink the boat dry. We failed, of course, but it was fun trying and made for an agreeable Last Night feeling to the whole proceedings.

This is the last blog entry to describe the fortnight’s relentless tourism. Assuming we get home safely, I might be moved to some philosophical musings about the holiday in general, in which case there might be another blog entry. You’ll just have to keep an eye out to see, won’t you?