Archive | October 2013

Mesmerising Munich

Munich

 

In a sense, Munich (München) is a city of contrasts. On the one side, you can notice prosperity flourishing in its various forms, while on the other there is this typical calm Bavarian Gemütlichkeit (coziness) that can be enjoyed.

Antiquity and modernity mingle seamlessly side-by-side as ancient castles and classical music rub shoulders with stylish sedans and haute couture. Above all, despite the glitz and glamour, what is truly charming about Munich is perhaps its seemingly provincial simplicity that the ‘Müncheners’ pride themselves on. In reality, Munich is a modern day ‘Weltdorf’, a global village that is home to over 1.5 million residents.

One of Germany’s major cultural and economic centres, Munich, also known as the ‘secret capital of Germany’ is actually the capital city of Bavaria. Located in breathtaking picture-postcard settings at the foot of the great Alps, Munich is one of the better-known festive cities in the world, and among Europe’s most vibrant, colourful and not-to-be-missed holiday destinations. A reticent candidate who seems fastidious to occupy the coveted seat of an international megalopolis, Munich has in reality vigorously pursued its commerce and industry, without giving up on its good life in any small measure. Even a short visit to this city will reveal that in spite of its economic muscle, Munich is a place that is inhabited by simple folks who cling passionately to their folkloric roots.

For the tourists, Munich, founded on June 14th, 1158 by Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, throws up an amazing array of mindboggling entertainment and excursion options. Home to over 45 museums, ancient castles, grand palaces, modern opera houses, haute couture shopping arcades, spellbinding art galleries, breathtaking parks, a vibrant nightlife, Munich has all that and more a visitor would ever need to carry back as pleasant and happy memories to last a good lifetime.

The ‘Neuschwanstein Castle’ featured on the cover is incidentally the most photographed building in Germany. It is located in the German state of Bavaria close to Germany’s border with Austria, not far from the popular ski resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The closest airport is Munich, 128 kms to the north east.

For starters, the central area of Munich has what is known as the ‘Marienplatz’, a ‘Pedestrians Only’ zone. With its famous onion domes, the 15th century Gothic ‘Church of Our Lady’ is Munich’s unmistakable landmark. This building is a great place to catch a birds-eye view of Munich and an awe-inspiring view of the majestic Alps. Not very far away the carillon plays three times a day. Just a stone’s throw from here is probably the most famous tavern in the world, the ‘Hofbräuhaus Beer Hall’. Just for the record, every day, over 10,000 litres of beer gets served in the taproom, restaurant, banqueting hall and in the beer garden of this quaint establishment. Further strengthening its strong image as the ‘fun-loving’ and ‘festival-addicted’ city, ‘Oktoberfest’ is a living symbol of this sentiment. Today the festival has become an annual pilgrimage for the fun loving, from around the world. One can experience mini-Munich in all its glory with old buildings, authentic restaurants, famous museums, shopping malls and festive settings dotting the thoroughfares, sidewalks and bye lanes around town. The popular ‘Olympic Park’, another big touristic attraction which hosted the 1972 Summer Olympic Games is located a stone’s throw away from this neighbourhood. Just across you will find the BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke) Museum and behind is the world-renowned architectural marvel of the BMW headquarters with its unique and ubiquitous steel cylinders that made the building world famous. A short stroll down the road will lead you to the address of 30, Tierpark Street along the Isar River that houses the ‘Hellabrunn Zoo’. A big difference between this zoo and any other zoo that you may have seen is that here most animal enclosures are nothing but vast open grounds with moats and trenches standing in for the cages and fences. Another imposing Gothic architecture that can be seen around here is located on 8, Marienplatz which is the ‘Neues Rathaus’, which translates to ‘New Town Hall’ in English. An interesting fact about this artistic structure is that the construction commenced way back in the year 1867 and was completed only in 1909.

Munich is a place shopaholics cannot just get enough of and ‘Maximilianstrasse’ represents all that is synonymous with luxury and opulence. The tree-lined boulevard is Munich’s address for some of the most exclusive and expensive designer brands like Gucci, Armani and Yves St. Laurent. Even if you are visiting Munich on a shoestring budget, this exclusive shopping district is still a great place … for window shopping! Other top of the line boutiques can be found in ‘Fünf Höfe’ shopping centre. The exterior of this massive shopping complex features the fully restored historic façades of the Archiepiscopal Palace, the ‘Palais Portia’ and the former ‘Bayerische Hypotheken-und Wechselbank’. Inside can be seen some of the finest retail outlets, restaurants and cafés. While ‘Gärtnerplatz’ quarter is known for trendy fashion and jewellery, authentic German souvenirs and so much more can be found at ‘Am Platzl’ next to the ‘Hofbräuhaus Beer Hall’. In short, Munich is the ideal place for an enjoyable shopping holiday, any time of the year. Given its plethora of exciting activities to indulge in and the numerous touristic spots to be seen and enjoyed, Munich is a true dream destination irrespective of the season. Owing to its distinct geographical features, Munich enjoys a mix of different kinds of weather. You can soak in the warm sunshine during April and May, September and October months. Between November to March it snows and gets chilly. You would need enough winter clothes to keep you warm. And remember, it can rain almost any time of the year!

Munich’s largest food market goes by the name of ‘Viktualienmarkt’. Located around the city’s maypole, the market sells posies of freshly plucked fragrant flowers, mountains of juicy fruits and garden fresh vegetables. Herbs, cheeses, different types of sausages and fish varieties can also be bought here.  Because of its wide range of produce on bargain sale, this market is invariably packed to the brim with shoppers – even on weekdays. So picture for yourself how it would be on weekends! After the frenetic action of the day quietly settles down, the adventures of the evening begin. Munich takes on a totally different hue as the pulsating nightlife kicks in! Clubs, bars, dicotheques and eateries come alive with their own signature and unique specialities. Given Munich’s very cosmopolitan crowd comprising of locals as well as visitors, be it music or food, every conceivable variety and choice is available for the mere asking. ‘The Nachtwek’ happens to be one of the oldest party halls around. ‘185, Landberger Street’ is a busy place during Friday nights and the weekends. ‘The Taxisgarten’ located at 12, Taxi Street was started by the World War I veterans. The locals enjoy this place for their drinks, the somber company and its authentic Bavarian fares. ‘Café Glockenspiel’, at 28, Marienplatz located on the top of one of the building offers a new grand view of city lit up with a million lights. No wonder Munich is called ‘the best-lit city of Europe! Munich is a medley of many things magnificent! With Oktoberfest and Opera, Hofbräuhaus Beer Hall and Pinakothek Art Galleries, this city smoothly merges the timeless Bavarian traditions with its vibrant modern achievements making Munich truly mesmerizing!

Wheel Spinning in the Sultanate

Cycling Off Road

The caress of the wind in your hair and the tang of the countryside on your lips, calves like coconuts and iron-hard wrists, even the excuse to wear Lycra or get out into the fresh air once a week! If these things sound appealing, then chances are you are a natural convert for mountain biking. And the Sultanate of Oman is a superb destination for one of the fastest-growing adventure sports in the world. You only have to Google mountain biking and Oman to see that for yourself. There are superb off-road trails just a short drive from the capital, Muscat.

Track Suit: There are also plenty of routes in Oman’s diverse countryside, and if you are keen on joining in or starting up then it is wise to join a local cycling club. The main club, the MTB Ride club has around 15 different routes which can vary in distance between 15km to 42km, depending on the area and terrain which varies from graded tracks, single tracks, goat tracks and in some cases prepared specific tracks.

Whether you want climbs, downhill, rocky and gravel terrain, easy flat areas or technical rides, there will be something for everyone. Most areas have long established trails that were or are used by local villagers, plus some of these trails/areas were used by off-road motorbikes and rally cars in the past.

First of all, a quick scene-setter, Oman’s jagged mountains lie in the north and south of the Sultanate. The northern peaks are composed of hardest sedimentary rocks. In the Jebel Akhdar range these are very dense limestone in thick beds. Below the mountains there are wadi beds where you will see huge boulders. Several major wadis drain Al Jebel al Akhdar: Wadis bani Awf, Sahtan and bani Kharus north to Al Batinah, and Wadi Ghul to the south.

The way of life remains traditional with scattered communities growing date palms and fodder crops fed by groundwater and springs. In the more sheltered areas, a variety of tree crops are grown, such as almonds, walnuts, apricots, peaches, figs and pomegranates. Stunning scenery, great cycling, and the friendliness of the local people make this an unforgettable experience.

Slow as you go: Mountain Biking Oman’s policy is “to ride as fast as the slowest rider”, and there is plenty of scope to get yourself accustomed to cycling in the area. One of the members is Oman’s top triathlete, Suleiman Alalwi. The riding levels of club vary, but the focus is on the social side to mountain biking. Of course, you do have to be reasonably fit, and there are areas where newcomers can practice safely.

The Mountain Biking club ride in the following areas: Al-Amerat, Al-Hadja, Al-Nahda, Al-Ansab, Hammam, Jiffnain, SQU area, Al-Khoud, Marbella, Ghalla, Bowsher, Nahfa, Sa,al, Jiffnain, and a little further away, including Yiti, Al-Hillo, Arqi and Quriyat. All the day rides with support cars have included Nahkl to Rustaq via Wadi Abad, plus Wadi Bani Awe/Wadi Sattan loop, Jebel Shams, Jebel Akhdar, Rustaq to Ibri, (pre-tarmac) Quriyat to Sur to Quriyat (pre-tarmac) return over two days, and many others. The popularity of mountain biking in Oman is shown by the increased number of regular meetings and day rides. For example, the MTB Ride Group meet every Thursday afternoon all year round in many different areas. There are also day rides during the year as well an annual MTB Race, plus new special events like downhill racing and the Trans Oman MTB event. The easiest and quickest place to go for a ride is opposite Muscat Private Hospital. There are a lot of good single tracks and you will end up in old Bousher village. From there you can follow the blacktop back which brings you out at the stadium or you can go right on the highway under construction.

Jebel Akhdar range: If you love fast cross-country and like to test yourself on back-country trails, this is the ideal ride for you. The riding conditions are excellent, on broad paths and sometimes on rough 4X4 roads, including sections of technically demanding single and doubletrack, some tough climbs and some exciting descents. Altitude is not generally a problem as the biking is mainly below the 2000m mark.

Hajar Range: Travel deep into the Hajar Mountains on remote trails through traditional Omani villages where the locals show true Omani hospitality and provide a welcome resting place with platters of fresh fruit grown on the green plateaus of the mountain range which reaches some 3000m. Stunning single track, challenging terrain, beautiful scenery and seldom visited villages, that’s what this holiday is all about. This is pure Omani mountain biking at its very best.

Rules of the road: There are of course rules! Riders must wear safety helmets, and be self-sufficient in terms of carrying ample water (one good way is to use a backpack), some energy food, spare inner tubes, pump and basic spares.

Boeing 787: The newest member of the Oman Air Family

Oman Air 787 Artwork K65483

It is often said that if one does not change with the times then the times will change without you. We at Oman Air has always strive to be at the fore front of the changing times and bring our passengers the very best that the world of aviation has to offer. The latest of these efforts will be the introduction of the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner into the Oman Air family.

Boeing, the centerpiece of the crown jewels in American aviation has developed the new 787 Dreamliner, promising new cutting edge features, comfort and an industry leading fuel economy.  The Dreamliner ushers in a new era of lighter and more fuel efficient commercial airplanes as it consumes  20% less fuel than similar sized aircrafts.  This would be a huge benefit to the airline in age of rising jet fuel cost and would act as a deterrent in increasing ticket prices.

Apart from the fuel efficiency the 787 is also equipped with a state of the art flight deck, which would allow the pilots to see the data while looking out the window and the new electronic flight bags would completely eliminate paper manuals, charts and other data traditionally recorded on paper thus helping us reduce our carbon footprint.

For passengers the 787 provides a host of benefits as well, thanks to the on board sensors the pilots can measure and more easily adjust to turbulence and reduce the on air dips and lifts that cause motion sickness, also the in-flight entertainment system is tested to ensure that it can handle the multiple electronic gadgets that passengers would plug in during the flight.

Some of the other treats in store for our passages while using the 787 include a larger window which allow for a clearer view of the sky outside and dim at a simple button, an A/C system which pumps in more oxygen and less dry air is specially designed to ease your journey with us. Additional care has been taken when designing the passenger area, with vaulted ceilings and adjustable soft lighting the 787 is sure to feel less claustrophobic than traditional aircrafts.

The business class seats have also been redesigned to be adjusted to a sleeping position for maximum comfort and the traditional economy class now comes along with an individual IFE (in-flight entertainment) system monitor in the arm rest.

The 787 is expected to enter into service by the beginning of 2015.

The Turtle Beach of Oman

Tortue Ras Al Jinz

Sea turtles are fascinating creatures; they’ve been around since the time of the dinosaurs, can live for hundreds of years, can survive in freezing waters below 40˚F and have actually orbited the moon before man ever did!! Sadly 6 out of the 7 species of sea turtles are on the endangered lists due to loss of nesting and feeding sites and costal development. One of the last few nesting sites in the world lies in the small coastal region of Ras Al Jinz, Oman!

In 1966, a Royal Decree was established by creating a safe haven in a small fishing village with a 45 kilometre coastline as a sanctuary.  These majestic sea turtles can now safely come and lay their eggs throughout the year and thus giving them a chance to survive in a rapidly human developed world.

Under the cover of darkness for the past 7000 years, over 20,000 female turtles of all species (loggerheads, giant green, olive ridley, hawksbill etc) make the harrowing journey from all over the world’s oceans (including the red sea and the Somali waters). The mother turtle, braving storms, predators and fishermen drag their heavy shells across the beach to lay their eggs in a safe place on the shores of Ras Al Jinz.

This my friends is truly a once in lifetime experience to watch this miracle of birth up close and personal as this is one of the few places in the world which allows tourists and unobstructed peek into the sea turtles natural habitat.

Sadly out of the 100-200 eggs that the female turtle lays , less than half will survive and make it to adulthood as many will be eaten by  predators or will simply be rendered infertile due to climatic changes.

Turtle Shangrila 1

But the experience does not end here guys, 45-55 days later in the wee hours of daylight the little baby turtles hatch and then after taking several hours to dig their way out of their nest. They instinctively crawl towards the ocean to re-join their family waiting for them in the sea. This small journey is once again fraught with danger as predators line up to eat the ones who do not make it to the sea quickly enough.

To the nature enthusiasts willing to take the time out of their lives to watch this amazing journey, we recommend you to book your reservations well in advance as thousands of tourists visit each year. Because of this, the rooms and knowledgeable guides and are snapped up quickly. (to find out more information call the Ras Al Jinz turtle reserve at +968 96550606,+968 96550707 or email them at reservations@rasaljinz-turtlereserve.com)

Another few things we’d like to point out include:

–           Please keep in mind that the sanity of the reserve lies in its pollution free environment to be mindful of the  things you carry and don’t littler

–          Don’t carry torches or lit mobiles. The mother Turtles find their way around the beach by moonlight. Too many lights can lead her to the wrong direction making her lose her way back to the water and thus be exposed to predators

–          Most importantly, please maintain silence. If you disturb the mother turtle while she’s laying eggs, she’s likely to retreat into the water causing her to lay them in the water, each time this happens it’s the destruction of about 100 eggs!

Enjoy your stay!!

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