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Omani Souvenirs – II

Incense Production

1Omani incense refers to the mixtures of natural incense resins, woods and herbs which are heated on smoldering coals to release their fragrant smoke and aromas – as opposed to the well-known frankincense ‘teardrops’ that are burned on their own. There is an ancient and proud history of incense making in the Sultanate, and the mixtures and various combinations of incense are held in high esteem by the Omanis that produce them.

 

Mandoos Design

2An Omani mandoos is a type of ornate wooden storage box traditionally crafted from rosewood, walnut, or other special wood. They are prized for their beauty, and are typically inlaid with brass, silver, precious stones, and even gold in geodesic designs that are inspired by Islamic art. They are traditionally used to store valuables, and are made in a variety of sizes – the largest being a meter or more wide, the smallest being jewellery box size.

 

Rug Weaving

3Most Omani rugs are traditionally made with woven sheep’s wool and goat’s wool. Many of them also feature colorful, striped designs, which are created with various selections of natural dyes. The people of the Sharqiyyah Sands region are especially well-known for their rug making ability, and their consistently high quality and very beautiful creations.

Oman Air is Readers’ Choice at Saveur’s Culinary Travel Awards

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Oman Air’s mouth-watering First Class and Business Class inflight dining has been praised to the skies by readers of US-based luxury food magazine Saveur.

The national carrier of the Sultanate of Oman has scooped the Readers’ Choice Award in the magazine’s annual Culinary Travel Awards, beating many of the biggest names in global air travel.

Announcing the award, Saveur magazine said: ‘The traditional Arabic greeting of dates and coffee is just the beginning of a dining service that focuses on the essential details that make a difference at 40,000 feet. It certainly set the right mood for our readers, who selected Oman Air’s first and business class dining as their favourite in 2014.’

Saveur’s readers were particularly impressed with Oman Air’s long haul dining, with the daily Heathrow to Muscat route being singled out for praise. The magazine’s description of First Class dining on this route includes a starter of caviar and champagne, followed by canapés, appetizers such as a winter pumpkin and apple soup, and entrées such as poached fillet of beef, Loch Fyne salmon, pan-fried sea bass and saffron risotto with grilled asparagus.

Saveur also highlights ‘A wonderful Arabic meze with traditional kibbeh, tabbouleh, spinach fatayer, olives, and labneh with fresh mint, followed by…king prawn kebab, steamed chickpea rice with pine nuts, and seasoned okra.’

Saveur magazine has a circulation of 325 000 and draws nearly two million unique visitors to its website every month. It offers readers information about food in all its contexts, emphasising heritage and tradition, home cooking and real food, and evoking flavours from around the world. Coverage of Oman Air’s success in the Readers’ Choice category of the Culinary Travel Awards can be found at

http://www.saveur.com/content/culinary-travel-awards-2014-winners-best-in-flight-dining-first-business-class

A Feast Of Chennai

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Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is the capital of Tamil Nadu. It is perched neatly along the Coromandel Coast, on India’s south-eastern coastline, and is considered the gateway to Southern India. The city has a thriving art and culture scene. Along with this, it is also a paradise for food lovers. South Indian food is something truly special, and in Chennai, travelers soon learn all about it! Here’s to a true Chennai feast…

Chennai culture is distinctly different from that of any other city in India. Their coffee is unique too. It would be a disgrace to begin any holiday in Chennai without a cup of famous Tamil Nadu filter coffee – which is made with dark roasted coffee beans; brewed to be strong; and often enhanced with chicory.

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The fact that Chennai is the biggest commercial centre in South India takes nothing away from the fact that it is also a major cultural centre – and a large part of this is represented by Chennai’s food culture. (By the way, while sipping that coffee, you can also comprehend the fact that Chennai is proudly celebrating its 375th anniversary this year).

The coffee is a necessary introduction to any day, but this not the only traditional Tamil Nadu and Chennai offering that you’ll need to get through when you’re here.

Chennai cuisine is made up of a variety of South Indian cuisines – including vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisines. It’s been said that one of the defining points of South Indian food is that it successfully combines the entire spectrum of taste senses – sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and others. Serving dishes on fresh banana leaves – as is traditionally done in many regions in South India – is believed to remove some toxins from the food. It just looks good too, and it is one of the many reasons why food experiences in Chennai are so memorable.

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Breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes very often incorporate rice. For breakfast, idli (steamed rice cakes) or dosa are served, along with coconut chutney or tomato chutney. Both these are made from a fine paste of rice and lentils. Upma, idiyappam or vada are also served.

In lunch, there is a variety of food served with sambar, rasam, kootu, buttermilk, chutney and curry. Non-vegetarian meals include curries or dishes prepared with chicken, mutton or fish. Pickle, salads and papad or appalam are also essential to complete the meal.

In the evening, traditional Chennai dishes have chilly or onion pakoda, vada, murukku – and this is often accompanied with filter coffee. Chettinad Pepper Chicken is a classic non vegetarian option.

Famous sweet dishes of Chennai are payasam rice pudding, kesari (a sweet made from semolina), and sweet pongal, which is made from rice boiled in milk, combined with jaggery.

Chennai serves up a never-to-be-forgotten selection of dishes. For travelling foodies, the place is paradise. It has also been said that the people of Tamil Nadu consider providing food to others a service to humanity and you can therefore always expect the food and service in Chennai to be first rate.

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Best Beaches?

Chennai was originally a fishing village. The close relationship that the region’s people have had with the sea is still evident today: Chennai loves its beaches!

Besant Nagar has a great vibe, and the Marina Beach, with its long promenade, is a popular spot to walk along. Edward Elliot’s beach is spread along the coast down south from Marina. It is well known as a hangout spot for Chennai’s youth during in the evenings. The peaceful Breezy Beach is located in the neighborhood of Valmiki Nagar in Chennai. Evenings are very pleasant and lots of tourists find time to come here.

Chennai Cultural

The allure of Chennai’s cultural offerings comes from the old being combined with the new: Though a modern city, it continues to be traditional and conventional in certain ways. Tamil Nadu cuisine is just one aspect of the Chennai experience. For the traveller exploring the city on a day-to-day basis, there’s no shortage of things to see and do:

  1. Watch Bharatnatyam dances: Watch a dance performance at the Krishna Gana Sabha.
  2. Walk the Dakshina Chitra: Check out the outdoor Dakshina Chitra, which is a home of the living traditions of folk performing arts, crafts and architecture of South India.
  3. See the Kapaleeshwarar Temple: This is believed to be one of the oldest holy places of the city. The most notable feature is its 37 meter high gopuram.
  4. Explore Pondy Bazaar: Leave the malls alone for a day, and visit Pondy Bazaar for street-style shopping, Chennai-style.
  5. Visit Guindy National Park: This is one of the city’s green areas – and home to a large population of deer.
  6. Enjoy Cafe culture: Chennai has some wonderful cafés to sample Chennai’s famous filter coffee.
  7. See Valluvar Kottam: This is a chariot temple built in the heart of Chennai in 1976 in honour of the Tamil poet and saint Thiruvalluvar, whose works included, among other things, writings on ethics and life.

Also, every December, Chennai holds a five week-long Music Season, which has been described as one of the world’s largest cultural events. The event encompasses performances of traditional Carnatic music by hundreds of artists in and around the city.

Art Work Of Oman

Cotton Production

Cotton Production

Originally, cotton was cultivated around the Nizwa area in the Sultanate of Oman. It was then used to produce a range of clothing items. These days, cotton production has declined, due to increasing production costs compared to modern industrial textiles. The availability of modern materials has also meant that the cotton making industry has reduced in size. However, a smaller range of cotton clothing and cotton products are still lovingly being made in certain parts of the Sultanate.

 Fishing Trap Design

Fishing Trap Design

Throughout history, the people of Oman have been experts in obtaining fish and seafood from the sea – and this has been illustrated by the unique selection of fishing tools and techniques that have been designed and developed through the years. Traditional dome-shaped fishing traps, which were originally made from palm fronds, are a wonderful example of this. After a fish enters through the trap’s one-way, funnel-like opening, they cannot return, and are captured later by a fisherman. The traditional palm-frond traps were expertly crafted and there was an innate beauty in their functional design. More modern versions of the traps are created with steel wire.

 Modern Ceramics

Modern Ceramics

While handmade, traditional-style clay pots and pottery items are still popular in the Sultanate of Oman today, there are also examples of ceramic and pottery products being produced in a more modern style. These modern styles make use of contemporary manufacturing and finishing techniques which enable the craftsmen to produce some exquisitely beautiful and detailed designs – that have both ornamental, as well as functional qualities.

Wadi Shab!

Latitude: 22° 50’ 12’’ N Longitude: 59° 14’ 28’’ E

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Getting to Wadi Shab is almost as fantastic as the gorge itself. Driving south along the Muscat– Sur highway, you’re offered spectacular views of the Eastern Hajar Mountains on your right, and beautiful vistas of the Sea of Oman on your left.

It is best to avoid Wadi Shab during heavy rains, due to the possibility of flash flooding.

Wadi Shab is home to a fascinating array of ‘small’ wildlife: Birds, crabs, lizards, butterflies, dragonflies, fish, and much more.

If you plan to explore the full length of the wadi, make sure you bring dry bags and a change of clothes, as you will be getting wet!

Good walking/hiking shoes (instead of sandals or flip flops) are advisable.

A trip to Wadi Shab isn’t complete without a prepacked picnic lunch and snacks – and plenty of drinking water.

A couple of kilometres south of Wadi Shab lies the almost identical Wadi Tiwi, which is another spectacularly deep and narrow gorge carved out of the mountains, and well worth exploring.

One of the main attractions at Wadi Shab is a secluded cave at the end of the gorge, which is reached after about a 45 minute hike and a series of swims through sections of deep rock pools. There is a waterfall in the cave’s main chamber.

From the entrance of the wadi, footpaths runs along the small rock ledges and stretches of sandy beach – and then past rock pools and huge boulders.

Swimming and cliff jumping is possible – and very popular – at many places along the wadi. The water is a beautiful emerald-green colour and often very clear.

To get into the gorge, you’ll have to cross a small waterway by boat and then make your way on foot through the gigantic rock-walled entrance into the gorge. There are always locals with boats happy to take you across for around OMR 0.500 (sometimes) less.

Access to Wadi Shab begins right below the Wadi Shab bridge on the Muscat – Sur coastal highway. There is a small parking lot, but you can also park your car on the side of the road under the bridge.

Besides being one of the most accessible wadi valleys in Oman, Wadi Shab, which is 140 kilometres southeast of Muscat, is also one of the most spectacular.

The Twin Delights of Southeast Asia – Manila and Jakarta

Mention Southeast Asia and most likely the names that will pop-up into most people’s minds are Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. But vying for equal attention are two other megapolises: Manila, of the Philippines, and Jakarta, of Indonesia. These are true hidden gems of Southeast Asia – and predicted to be the most likely cities to overtake Singapore and Hong Kong within just a decade or two.
Manila has around 21 million residents living in its metro area alone. Jakarta’s metro area is the 2nd largest in the world with 28 million people. A whopping 10 million of these live within its city limits. Not surprisingly, both these capital cities are the bustling epicentres of political, social, economic, entertainment and educational enterprises and endeavours. Amidst their many superficial similarities each city carries a very unique flavour true to its own. One has to feel and experience this to really enjoy the distinctiveness and diversity of Manila and Jakarta.

Makati skyline (Manila - Philippines)

Multicultural Melange
Manila is a rapidly developing city with a colourful multi-cultural heritage, a vibrant day and night life, an exciting mall and shopping culture, a fetish for food and lots more – which all make it a powerful magnet for visitors seeking good times Jakarta is a shining example of modern multiculturalism in its truest form. It has an excellent tourism infrastructure, a burgeoning economy, a vibrant art scene, a splendid selection of ancient cultural relics, an advanced education system and superior medical services. The character of both Manila and Jakarta has been largely shaped by their strong colonial influences, given the fact that both have been long-time colonies of Spain (Philippines) and Portugal (Indonesia). And to date, the local customs and traditions of these lively cities, their festivities, cuisines, arts and culture carry a very distinct and special individuality about them.

Colonial Creations vs. Modern Skyscrapers
Both Manila and Jakarta abound with an array of modern and massive skyscrapers which share space with quaint colonial buildings. Each of these colonial masterpieces speaks volumes about the signature architectural marvels of their creators. Historical areas like the Spanish fortified town of Intramuros, in Manila, and Jakarta’s Dutch quarter in Fatahillah Square are two examples of this. Manila’s claim to colonial fame is the erstwhile Spanish city of ‘Intramuros’, which was officially declared a historical monument way back in 1951. Intramuros was originally a fortress city, and the fort, now, has been converted into a museum. The soul of Jakarta’s architectural marvels can be found concentrated in the areas surrounding Monas Square, which was originally known as ‘Koningsplein’ (King’s Square).

Jakarta

Attractions Galore
Visitors to both these cities will be spoilt for choice when it comes to touristic attractions. In Manila, touristic interests abound. Located adjacent to the famous Rizal Park Square and close to the earlier mentioned Intramuros, is the National Museum of the Philippines complex. Within this complex are stocked a wealth of arts, crafts, artefacts and information tracing the evolution of its diverse people, and of the country. The National Arts Gallery, Museum of the Filipino People, National Museum of Natural History and National Planetarium are the assigned guardians of the country’s cultural and traditional heritage. The Baroque Churches (a collection of four Spanish built churches) are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of the other attractions include the Cultural Centre of the Philippines, The Agrifina Circle, the Manila City Hall, the Malacca Sultanate Palace and the National Library. In Jakarta, located in the Old Batavia of the Kota area and built way back in the year 1710 is the famous Jakarta History Museum, also known as the Fatahillah Jakarta Museum. First used as the administrative headquarters of the Dutch East India Company and later the Dutch Government, the Jakarta History Museum today displays the history of Jakarta from ancient days to the founding of the town of Jayakarta in 1527; and showcases the history of its Dutch colonisation from the 16th century onwards until Indonesia’s Independence in 1945. After this informative tour visitors can explore the other attractions such as the ‘Dunia Fantasi’ – a huge theme park, which is divided into eight global geographies, and has over forty main rides and attractions. For the culturally and artistically inclined, the Dutch-built concert hall ‘Gedung Kesenian Jakarta’ or simply ‘The Jakarta Art Building’ is a great place of interest.

Bali

For all bird lovers a visit to the ‘Bird Island’ should be a must see on their itinerary. Located in the Jakarta Bay area and a part of the ‘Thousand Islands’, a short ferry ride from the town of Banten is the Bird Island. Playing host to over 60 different species of migratory birds, this is a real haven for birdwatchers and serious ornithologists.

Oman Air flies three times a week between Muscat – Manila. (As from 2 December 2014)
Oman Air flies four times a week between Muscat – Jakarta. (As from 12 December 2014)

Bandar Al Khayran Highlights!

Longitude: 23° 30’ 50” N Latitude: 58° 43’ 57” E
The coves, coastal waterways, sea cliffs and beaches of Bander Al Khayran are a paradise for those that love the sea and its shoreline (and marine life)

Bandar Al Khayran

Here are some highlights to get you started:
• During summer, in the cooler late afternoon temperatures, Bander Al Khayran is an excellent venue to drive to for a sunset picnic or barbeque. (You can take a short hike down to the water’s edge for a quick snorkel session or swim before you eat).
• The long, sandy beach at As Sifah, which is a few minutes south of Bander Al Khayran by car, is perfect for long beach walks and refreshing swims in the Sea of Oman. There is also a popular seafood restaurant at As Sifah’s main parking area.
• On a boat trip from Marina Al Bandar, you’ll travel past the famous Al Bustan Palace Hotel and Barr Al Jissah Spa, as well as the iconic sea-arch formation that has naturally been eroded into the sea cliffs here over thousands of years.
• The mangrove growth that is part of the ecosystem at Bander Al Khayran provides a habitat for many living creatures – including many bird species.
• For first-time visitors to Muscat and Oman, the 45 minute drive to Bander Al Khayran is a spectacular introduction to the Sultanate’s arid, mountainous terrain. The last few kilometres of road run right next to Bander Al Khayran’s inland waterways and mangroves.
• Dolphins are often encountered on boat trips to Bander Al Khayran. At certain times of the year, Whale Sharks are also sometimes seen.
• There is a variety of underwater terrain – from shallow, protected coral reef gardens; to deeper 30 metre drop offs further offshore. The area is home to a vast array of tropical marine life. The wreck of the 3 000 ton Al Munnassir (sunk in 2003) also lies off one of Bander Al Khayran’s headlands.
• The coral reef systems here make the area popular for scuba diving and snorkelling. Dive charters can be arranged through various tour operators located in and around Muscat.
• For non-boat owners, there are a handful of ‘marine safari’ style tour operators that offer boat charters to Bander Al Khayran. (Many of them launch from Marina Al Bandar, just south of Muscat).
• Bander Al Khayran is well-known as a boating venue. Throughout the year, luxury yachts and powerboats of all kinds make their way to explore the area’s fjords, inlets and bays – or spend the day anchored next to the spectacular sea-cliffs and islands that rise straight up out of the sea.

All in all Bander Al Khayran is a scenic, easy hour’s drive southeast from Muscat. It is most popular as a boating venue, but certain parts of the area can be accessed by road. By boat or by car, it is well worth a visit!

Heightened Awareness: Adventures in the Mountains of Oman

Oman’s mountains offer a spectacular contrast to the flat, desert landscapes of much of the rest of the Arabian Peninsula. They are a sanctuary for those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of nearby Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah. And for travellers from all over the world, they represent the classic definition of ‘desert mountain wilderness’.

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Mountains have always had a profound effect on humans. These giant rock structures seem to inspire greatness in us, and there lies within humans an instinctive desire to climb them, explore them, and make our homes next to them. And even just see them (and pull out our smartphones to take photos of them).

Classic mountain experiences
Oman’s mountains, and the ease with which they can be explored, are one of the things that make the country such a memorable travel destination. Here are the not-to-be-missed mountain experiences and eco-travel adventures for those travelling through the Sultanate.

Four-wheel-drive trips: Oman is four-wheel-drive territory at its best. On the various commercially run and self-drive four-wheel-drive tours on offer, you’ll be taken through some of the most breathtaking switchback passes and mountain roads imaginable. The famous jeep track from Rustaq to Nizwa through Wadi Bani Awf has always been a classic among experienced four-wheel-drive enthusiasts, but commercially-run and privately organised drives up Jebel Shams, Jebel Akhdar and through many of the Oman’s mountain wadis are also popular.

Trekking: The trekking season in Oman runs from September to May. There are well-established trekking routes that cater to all fitness levels, in all the mountainous regions of the country. Trekking remains the best way to explore and get ‘up-close-and-personal’ with the Sultanate of Oman’s mountain environment. There are also a series of via ferrata routes – climbing routes with fixed wire cables and ladders – set up around Oman. The route at the Snake Canyon, near Balad Sayt in Wadi Bani Awf, is the most popular. These are regularly closed for routine maintenance however, so it’s best to check with local guides before planning your trip.

Mountainbiking: Oman’s mountain terrain seems to be made for mountainbiking. There are a handful of tour operators that offer guided mountainbiking trails through the mountains and wadis (often passing old villages, forts, traditional ‘falaj’ irrigation systems, and other cultural relics along the way). The Trans Hajar Mountain Bike Race, is an annual multi-stage mountain bike race that takes place in the Al Hajar range.

Rock-climbing: Most of the rock-climbing in Oman takes place on good quality limestone. There are a number of climbing sites, all within three hours drive outside of Muscat, with nearly 100 graded routes ranging in difficulty. There are also several multi-pitch routes up the huge mountain walls of Jebal Misht, near Ibri. What sets Oman apart from the rest of the world is the sheer volume of high quality climbing routes that are waiting to be ‘opened’. Climbers in Oman are spoilt for choice!

Photography: The unique natural lighting and colour palletes that accompany Oman’s mountains mean that they are a dream destination for photographers – like the Oman in Focus photographic expedition, who were a team of photographers that recently did a groundbreaking photo ‘safari’ around the Sultanate, and recorded some spectacular images.

Mapping Oman’s Mountains
There are two main mountain ranges in Oman – The Al Hajar Mountain Range, and Dhofar Mountain Range.

Al Hajar Range: This begins at the Musandam Peninsula in the north, and then runs in a south-east direction slightly inland, but parallel to the coastline. The awe-inspiring sea cliffs, mountains and fjords of the Musandam Peninsula are Oman’s northernmost mountains, and form the beginning of the Al Hajar range. They are only two hours away from Dubai by road, and the approach to Musandam and its main town, Khasab, is quite possibly the most dramatic and scenic coastal drive on the Arabian Peninsula. As the range heads south, it begins to rise to the highest and wildest terrain in the country, peaking at the Jebel Akhdar mountains, and then Jebel Shams, the highest point in the country (at 3,009 metres). From here, it heads in a southeast direction, closer and closer to the coastline, and ends up a few kilometers short of the fishing town of Sur.

Dhofar Range: In Oman’s southern Dhofar region, the Al Qamar, Al Qara, and the Al Samhan mountains collectively make up the Dhofar Mountain Range. The range extends from the Yemen border in the West, to an area called Sadah, about a 100 kilometres west of Salalah, and begins just inland as it rises up out of the Arabian Sea. At 1,821 metres, Jebel Samhan is the highest peak here. What sets this mountainous region apart from the rest of the Arabian Peninsula is its lush greenery – which is a result of Dhofar’s tropical climate, as well the annual monsoon ‘Khareef’ season that takes place during summer. This unique, tropical climate brings with it a unique set of wildlife and biodiversity to the mountains. For example, in the remote, inaccessible eastern part of the range is Jebel Samhan Nature Reserve, which is the last wild habitat for the highly endangered Arabian leopard.

Classic Desert Mountain Wilderness?
For anyone in search of authentic ‘desert mountain wilderness’, the Sultanate of Oman should be on top of your list. Muscat itself has dozens of smaller peaks dotted around the city. These serve as a constant reminder of what lies in wait – on a much larger scale – further afield. You won’t be disappointed if you find yourself heading off into the heights to explore them.

Swiss Land of Luxury

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It might have something to do with the fact that Zurich has around 1,500 world-class restaurants and a thriving nightlife scene; or that it has 15 cinemas, 150 or so museums and about 100 art galleries. It might be because of the city’s impressive list of high-end shopping boutiques and malls; or that it lies next to the much loved and picture-perfect Lake Zurich (the main source of drinking water for the city). It could also be due to its super-efficient public transport system; or even the Zurich Street Parade, which is arguably the largest techno-dance street party in the world, and which takes place in late summer. It might also have something to do with Zurich being one of the top financial centers of the world, and home to several global financial companies and banks including UBS and Credit Suisse. Or that a reported 43% of the city’s rubbish gets recycled. Whatever the reasons, Zurich offers some of the best quality of life in Europe and the world – not only for residents, but for travellers too.
The above are the big things that make the city a liveable and luxurious place to be in. There are some world-famous little things that also make Zurich a luxurious place to be, “Swiss Made’ watches, Swiss chocolate, Swiss Cheese, and Swiss Army knives? You won’t be travelling to Zurich just because of these, but as they say, the simple, little pleasures in life are very often the real luxuries, and in Zurich, the watches, chocolate, cheese and knives are luxuries that cannot be ignored!

Watches: ‘Swiss Made’ mark of quality
Swiss watchmakers have a reputation for absolute precision. The Swiss-made ‘Calibre 89’ Patek Philippe watch, which was made for the brand’s 150th anniversary in 1989, is a good example. It contains 1,728 parts, and four people spent nine years working on it from initial research and design to final assembly. In Zurich, most of the watch dealers are located on the Bahnhofsstrasse – the city’s exclusive downtown shopping street. At places like Türler, which is one of Switzerland’s oldest authorised watch dealers; and Les Ambassadeurs, which stocks the largest selection of timepieces and jewellery in Switzerland, you’ll find watches from brands like Patek Philippe, Piaget, and Omega. Swatch watches, with their popular, contemporary-styled designs, and more affordable pricing, are modern classics, and can be found in stores all around Zurich. The phrase ‘Swiss Made’ marked onto a watch face is a sign that whatever is around your wrist is a top class time instrument and a luxury piece of equipment. You’ll find hundreds of handsome and beautiful watches that you’ll dream of having around your wrist in Zurich.

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For the love of chocolate
‘If nine out of ten people love Swiss chocolate. Then the tenth person is lying!’ says a Swiss travel brochure. Swiss chocolate is as much a part of Zurich culture as, well, Swiss chocolate. Over the years, the Swiss have been responsible for several key advancements in chocolate making – like the invention of a special mixing device which combined sugar and cocoa powder; the invention of various techniques to create much smoother chocolate; and the creation of special flavouring combinations like hazelnut chocolate, milk chocolate and chocolate fillings. For Swiss chocolate to be officially referred to as Swiss chocolate, the actual production of the chocolate must take place in Switzerland (the ingredients can be sourced from other countries). And the ‘Swiss Chocolate’ reference is jealously (and legally) guarded by the Swiss. In Zurich, chocolate lovers can visit famous chocolatier factory shop outlets like Frey, who are responsible for the majority of Swiss chocolate being produced these days, and Lindt – the much-loved brand whose origins stretch back as far back as 1879.

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Swiss cheese: Zurich Foodie’s luxury
The most famous Swiss cheese is Emmental – the cheese with big, distinct holes in it, which are due to carbon dioxide gas bubbles that are given off by the bacteria in the cheese while it is being made. Different regions of Switzerland have their own regional cheese specialties and many of them are available in the delicatessens and food boutiques around Zurich (together with a delicious selection of freshly baked Swiss breads). Zurich is also famous for its cheese fondue, which is made from combinations of Vacherin and Gruyère melted cheeses, and used as a dip for small pieces of bread. You will be very disappointed if you don’t have some on your travels around the city!
Located in Stein, which is about 90 minutes by train and bus from Zurich, is the Appenzell cheese dairy – where you can witness age-old cheese making traditions being combined with modern technology to produce a range of top class cheeses. Appenzell also has a restaurant with a large terrace that serves regional specialties and hearty cheese dishes.

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Swiss Army Knives: Practical little luxuries
‘Swiss Army Knives’ – represented by the Victorinox and Wenger brands – are the ultimate in handy, practical luxury. These famous pocket knives have an infinite amount of uses – and have been saving the day (and even saving lives) for people since they first started being produced around 1891. They look good too – and all these attributes combine to make Swiss Army Knives one of life’s practical little luxuries. If you don’t already have one, many stores in Zurich stock a range of different kinds. Some have up to 80 functions, although the most popular model is the ‘Swiss Champ’ which has a very handy 33 functions.

Swiss-style street shopping
Normally, street shopping is equated with exciting bargain hunting and finding great deals on quirky consumer items, clothes, and street-style food. The complete opposite scenario presents itself in Zurich. The Bahnhofstrasse, for example, is where some of the most exclusive and expensive shopping streets in the world are located. Here, you can get anything from diamond rings to fur coats to luxury watches to high-end fashion accessories. Of course, Bahnhofstrasse is also just a popular promenade for locals and visitors to meander around – spending their time people watching from the numerous public benches, or exploring the parks and alleyways just off the main road. There are also restaurants, coffee shops and eateries in abundance here. During the day Niederdorf, in the Old Part of Zurich, is a pedestrian zone and a shopper’s paradise with lots of boutiques hidden away in the alleys. At night the many restaurants and entertainment venues turn the Niederdorf into an exciting centre for Zurich’s younger crowd. Lowenstrasse, which runs west of Bahnhofstrasse from the main train station, has a selection of department stores and shops, which are definitely worth a visit. Zurich really is a land of luxury.

Travel Token: Swiss Cow Bell?
Swiss cow bells have been used by Swiss farmers to locate their herds in the country’s open Alpine meadows for centuries. They are a symbol of Swiss culture and are often hung on walls inside homes as decoration. The cow bells that can be found around Zurich feature colourfully embroidered leather straps.

Oman Air flies four times a week between Muscat-Zurich.

Kuala Lumpur: Head East for Adventure!

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‘An established and emerging first world city with old world charm,’ is how one travel agent describes Kuala Lumpur. The description is just about spot on. Kuala Lumpur is a place where uber-modern high rise buildings, shopping malls, street markets, restaurants, and a constantly pulsating night life all combine with a beautiful ‘old world’ selection of historical and cultural relics.

But while many tourists see Kuala Lumpur as more of a city stopover for a few days – from which to explore the rest of Malaysia from – ‘KL’ should be considered a destination in its own right. It especially provides the chance for travellers to organise and be involved with some world-class outdoor adventure experiences – either in the city itself, or a short drive away. Here are a few of them. Malaysia is definitely worth doing – but don’t miss out on Kuala Lumpur. This is where the action is!

White Water Rafting
Just outside the city are some of Malaysia’s most exciting rivers for white water rafting and kayaking. Sungai Selangor, for example, contains sections of up to grade 4 whitewater rapids. It is just over an hour’s drive outside Kuala Lumpur, and the best sections of the river – with rapids, waterfalls, and rainforest scenery – can be rafted in a few hours, before you return to the city.
Also, a bit further away, but still within easy range of Kuala Lumpur, are the Sungai Telom River, which runs near the beautiful tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands; and the Jeram Besu River near Benta (where there are eco-tourism operators that also organise caving, trekking, and 4×4 off-road adventures).

Jungle Trekking
There are dozens of short and multiple-day treks in and around Kuala Lumpur. One of the highlights is the Bukit Tabur trek in Klang Valley, which is on the outskirts of the city. After three or four hours of strenuous (but not overly difficult) trekking and rock scrambling, you get a breathtaking view of the Klang Gates Dam and surrounding areas of jungle. Another top trek is the hour-long Broga Hill, which is also on the edge of the city, and a popular spot to hike up at dawn to watch the sunrise. Of course there are many outdoor adventure operators based in Kuala Lumpur that can advise where and how to trek in the region.

Paragliding
The hilly terrain surrounding Kuala Lumpur and the weather conditions associated with these lend themselves perfectly to the to the sport of paragliding – either for experienced pilots who want to fly by themselves, or visitors (with no previous flying experience) who can meet up with one of a handful of adventure operators based in Kuala Lumpur for a tandem paragliding flight. Flights from the hills at Bukit Sendayan, which are a few minute’s drive south of the city, are especially popular.

Kuala Lumpur Nature Trail Tour
Located along the Selayang-Kepong highway, about a 45 minute drive north from the city centre, the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) is a 600 hectare tropical rainforest filled with thousands of flora and fauna species. As much a recreational park as a forest reserve, its nature trails give visitors an excellent opportunity to learn more about the many plant species in this part of the world. Part of the tour includes the rather scary Canopy Walkway – a 200 metre long suspension bridge, raised 30 metres above the ground, that offers breathtaking views of the of surrounding forest flora and fauna.

Fireflies?
This might be more for the curious than the adventurous, but the best known attraction at Kuala Selangor (the coastal village an hour’s drive north from Kuala Lumpur) are fireflies. Locally known as ‘kelip-kelip’ these incandescent bugs are a truly beautiful sight as they glow and light up the night skies of Kuala Selangor Nature Park.

Skydiving
The simplest way to experience skydiving in Kuala Lumpur without the worry of training is by signing up to do a tandem skydive. After a short 20 to 30 minute briefing, first time skydivers hop in a small aeroplane with their jumpmaster, and head up to an altitude of 10 000 feet to do a tandem jump, which includes a long, 35 second freefall period and spectacular views during your canopy ride back to earth. There is more than one skydiving school that operates from Taman, just outside the city.

Rock Climbing
The 400 million year old Batu Caves, located 13 kilometres north of Kuala Lumpur is a popular Hindu site and boasts a beautiful temple in a cave within the 150 metre high limestone hill. The site is popular with tourists, but it is also a top class rock climbing destination, with over 170 established routes on the crags and cliffs near the caves. There are also a few well maintained and popular indoor rock-climbing gyms in the city itself.

Scuba Diving
While there are plenty dive schools based in Kuala Lumpur, most divers use the city as a base from which to explore other parts of the country. Tioman Island is off the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia, and very easily accessible from Kuala Lumpur. As a dive destination, it is famous for its big schools of fish, turtles, rays and reef sharks – and occasionally, whale sharks.
Redang Island, which is also off the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia (and easy to get to from Kuala Lumpur), is well known for its white sand beaches and superb water visibility. The coral reefs here are home to a huge variety of smaller tropical fish species and marine life. At the slightly more out-of-the-way Perhentian Islands (they are still close to Tioman and Redang) there are plenty coral and fish, but also sea turtles and many species of sharks.

Kuala Lumpur: ‘Urban Adventures’
Some of the more popular ‘city adventures’ and experiences in KL…
Markets: For street-market style shopping, the Central Market, near Chinatown, is a must-visit, as is the Petaling Street market. The modern Pavilion Kuala Lumpur mall sets the golden standard for mall shopping in the city.

Petronas Towers: At a height of 451.9 metres, these twin stainless steel towers represent the best of what modern Kuala Lumpur is about. The 421 metre high Kuala Lumpur Tower is another landmark mega structure in the city (and the highest viewpoint in Kuala Lumpur that is open to the public).

Islamic Arts Museum: Home to collections of Islamic decorative arts – with prominent displays of textiles, carpets, jewellery and calligraphy-inscribed pottery. (The building itself features beautifully decorated domes and glazed tilework).

Merdeka Square: The huge open square where Malaysian independence was declared in 1957 is the usual venue for the annual Merdeka National Day Parade.

Kuala Lumpur Bird Park: The ‘World’s Largest Free-flight Walk-in Aviary’ offers a literal ‘theme park’ of birds – and is located on just over 29 acres of green, verdant valley terrain.

Bukit Bintang shopping and entertainment district: The area has long been Kuala Lumpur’s most prominent retail belt that is home to many retail outlets, cafés, night markets, and hawker-type eateries.

MAP galleries: The MAP art hub consists of the ‘White Box’ gallery and ‘Black Box’ new media space, and provides a place for artists from the region from multidisciplinary backgrounds to share their works.

Oman Air flies seven times a week between Muscat – Kuala Lumpur.

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