A few days back I found myself arriving in Bahrain after an exciting business trip to Toronto and London over the previous 10 days. I arrived in Manama (BAH Airport) Wednesday Jan 25 around 11PM to visit my friend Brice and kick-off a 10 day vacation through the Arabian Peninsula. If you’re interested about my complete itinerary and how I was able to book all the flights for under $500 out of pocket, read my tripchi blog here.
Arriving in Bahrain was so easy. After a wonderful 6 hour flight from LHR-BAH on British Airways (where I had a window seat and the whole row free), we touched down around 11PM. Bahrain offers a visa on arrival for many passport holders, including those from the US. So getting the visa was super easy, took about 15 minutes queuing up, and I didn’t even have to withdraw cash in the local currency (the dinar), because the immigration agent allowed me to pay with a credit car. The visa entry fee for a one-time visit was 5 BD – which is about 11 USD. I was in and out in no time, and Brice was even nice enough to pick me up from the airport.
Uber is prevelant in Bahrain, and since he had a local SIM card (and BAH even offers free Wi-Fi), we were easily able to book one back to to the Diplomat Residence Hotel (an arm of the Radisson Blu). It’s in the diplomatic hotel area in Manama, right across the street from the Grand Mosque and the Bahrain National Theater.
The hotel was a 15 minute drive from airport, which is across the bridge in the upper right corner in the area called Muharraq. I got to the hotel around midnight and stayed up for a few hours catching up (it’s a late night culture here), and finally crashed.
The next full day we started with a great breakfast and a spot of Earl Grey tea, and taking in the city with this spectacular view.
Then Brice and I set out to the Grand Mosque. It was beautiful.
After the prerequisite taking the shoes off and getting into an Abaya (and the heard scarf I brought), we joined a cruise tour already in progress with a wonderful guide. I had my “Bitches get stuff done” socks on which was fantastic, since I had to take my shoes off while touring the Mosque. It was a perfect juxtaposition which was not lost on Brice.
The guide was academic, but also bordering on proselytizing, but not in an overbearing or annoying way. She explained that Christianity was 90% the same as Islam – except for the principle of the Trinity and the worship of Prophets like Jesus. Muslims revered and admired the prophets, and tried to live like them, but worship was strictly forbidden, because the Prophets were just men. Only God was to be worshiped. I thought that she did a good job of painting Islam in a friendly and accessible way to foreigners, and clearly the Mosque had an agenda of a “brand makeover” to the outside world. One or two things struck me as patently false though – for example, her explanation of how men and women prayed. She said that women were revered, but the reason they prayed in the back and men prayed in the front was because women didn’t want men to be looking at their backside while they did the prayer gymnastics (bending over and so forth). Yeah, I’m sure that’s why.
We saw a few people in prayer and study while we there, like this man.
There were books set up all over to study, read, and reflect. There were also free copies of literature and the Koran to take with us when we left.
Beside the mosque was the National Library – which, while beautiful, was just a library. It did not apparently offer tours and there was not much to see (Brice had checked it out earlier).
After the Grand Mosque, we headed to the Manama Suq – called Bab al Bahrain (Gateway to Bahrain – باب البحرين). My Arabic was starting to come back to me – at least reading it. We walked around for a few hours checking out the Gold Suq, perfume shops (I was on the hunt for a jasmine oil that reminded me of my time in North Africa), and sunglasses. We had a few good haggles over fake Rolexes and fake designer sunglasses, but we ended up leaving empty handed this time around. I still had a few more days to keep at it. I got this shot of a beautiful mosque with intricate mosaic tile work buried in the heart of the Suq.
After a brief stop at the hotel to shower and change, we headed to dinner in the Arts, Dining and Nightlife district called Adliya (العدلية). We had reservations at 7PM at a place called Nicole’s, a Mediterranean restaurant (I wanted to take Brice out for his birthday and say thank you for hosting me). We decided to dress up just a bit – after all it was a “Friday” (Thursday) night.
It was a really nice place but was totally empty, even though we even arrived 30 minutes late (Ubers here are unreliable and frequently cancel!). Apparently people didn’t eat until 9 or 10PM in the Middle East (I knew that once and had forgotten). After 10PM, Nicole’s upstairs had a DJ spinning and a dance floor, and offered more of a loungy atmosphere. On the ground floor was an elegant dining area with large tables (which actually made it hard to talk to the person sitting across from you).
We got a little confused around the format of the meal. We were immediately presented with a “menu” that contained 10 food items on it. When asked what we would like to drink, we were handed a cocktail menu including 5 basic drinks – things like mojitos, capirinhas, and the like. I asked for a Cosmopolitan, and the waiter said that it wasn’t included in the price of the dinner. I said that was fine and I didn’t mind paying extra. The waiter scurried away, super confused.
That got us thinking…were we in for a prix fixe sort of thing? So we tried asking the Indian waiter what the price was with and without alcohol and what the format of the menu was…but we were having some serious language barriers. After going back and forth for about 20 minutes without really understanding what the system was, the manager (an Alabaman, at that) came by and explained that once a month the restaurant does a fixed price specialty themed menu inclusive of drinks (if desired), and that we would actually be sampling everything on the menu. With that cleared up, we ordered red wine, which was kept flowing generously throughout the evening and we thoroughly enjoyed every dish brought to us. We had no idea we stumbled in to the special menu Greek night evening!
After 10 courses of delicious Greek fusion dishes like moussaka, kofta, labna, lamb chops, pork, and even some nice small desserts, we were stuffed. It turned out to be an absolutely wonderful experience despite the confusion in the beginning and despite the fact that one of the waiters (I believe accidentally since he apologized) touched my butt as I was walking up some stairs. It happens right?
After dinner we walked around Adliya for several miles, visited the fancy Gulf Hotel, and window-shopped many of the art galleries that had closed for the day. We noticed a lot of fancy cars and people strutting their stuff on the streets (it kind of reminded me of the Bahrainian Sunset Strip). Our favorite part was this art gallery with a painting front and center of two chickens having sex, the male (which was wearing a fez) on top of the female. This led to a heated conversation about how chickens had sex. Apparently the picture was accurate, as we later learned through Google. In case you’re wondering, there is no penetration. It’s bizarre.
The Adilya neighborhood was a really neat place, and obviously was the hipster part of town, holding graffiti with messages like the one to the right. Very live-able and appealing to the expat community, clearly.
There were a number of outdoor art exhibits and things to catch one’s eye as one walked as well.
Back at the hotel around midnight, I quickly fell asleep having just completed my first day after arriving in Bahrain. I really felt like a made it count, and I didn’t even need a mustache and a cigarette!