A tale of two cities: Muscat and Dubai

A visit to Muscat and Dubai on the Dawn Princess World Cruise truly highlighted the diversity of the Middle East.

One day we were in the small, almost hidden city of Muscat wedged between the sea and the mountains. A historic port and legendary trading center of the Near East, connecting Europe and Asia since the days of Pliny the Elder, Muscat is a city straight out of the Arabian Nights, complete with Grand Mosque and spice markets.

Entering Mina Sultan Qaboos, Muscat’s main trading port, the first thing you see are the two historic 16th century fortresses that once guarded the city from invaders. Between the old fortresses is the modern Al Alam Palace, the official residence of Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Blending classical and contemporary Islamic architecture, the palace highlights Muscat’s efforts to combine old and new.

On a hill overlooking the city and the sea, Riyam Park features an enormous watchtower shaped like an incense burner.  Like many Middle Eastern cities, Muscat has turned its numerous beautifully landscaped roundabout into outdoor art galleries statues of animals and giant reproductions of traditional Omani artifacts such as incense burners, coffee pots, and ceremonial daggers.

This amalgamation of old and new makes it easy to imagine earlier times when Roman merchants and Indian traders mingled in the city’s streets and markets.

But while Muscat manages to blend old and new, Dubai is another matter altogether.

Missing out on the old, Dubai focuses instead on being as new and futuristic as possible. With its famed sail-shaped hotel, indoor ski field, manmade islands shaped like palm trees and the world map, Dubai just keeps on growing. Even a little thing like being broke doesn’t seem to faze it.

Everywhere you turn in Dubai, there are new buildings being built.

 But it’s the Burj Khalifa, the newest and tallest building that’s getting all the attention these days.

And everyone, including me, wants to check it out.

After all, how often do you get the chance to get a bird’s eye view of a city from the 124th floor? A  quick one minute elevator ride will get you onto the viewing platform.

Standing there, it was hard not to break into a chorus of “I’m standing on top of the world, looking down at creation” or in this case, a matchbox version of Dubai.

Makes you wonder what’s next for Dubai.

(Photo credits: Liz Lewis)

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