It’s cliche, but a first visit to a new country in the Middle East doesn’t really feel complete if we don’t visit a mosque and a souk. So, with our first day on our own in Bahrain we decided to check off those boxes.
Our first stop was the Al Fateh Grand Mosque. Opened in the mid-1980’s it’s a replica of the mosque in Alexandria, Egypt. We didn’t make it to Alexandria when we visited Egypt so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the copy, but I can say that this one is beautiful.
In it’s description of the mosque, the Lonely Planet mentions that they are very welcoming of visitors and have taken it upon themselves to be ambassadors of the Islamic faith for the westerners who visit. This was definitely the case for us. They were incredibly welcoming and we were happy to take them up on a tour.
Ella and I both enjoyed the mosque, albeit for slightly different reasons. Ella loved taking advantage of a large carpeted area to run laps and do some jumping. She particularly liked jumping between the lines on the ground where people would line up to pray. In addition to the building itself, my favourite part was related to those same lines.
When the volunteer who was giving the tour was discussing that everyone faces Mecca when they prey and that these lines help with orientation, he also mentioned that if you think about it there are people all around the world on those same lines, that they actually form circles around Mecca. There’s something about that thought that I find fascinating.
Art to tease preschoolers
After the mosque we decided to stay on the culture train and headed over to the Bahrain National Museum. The museum may not have the beautiful architecture of the Islamic Art Museum in Doha, but it does offer an interesting overview of the history of Bahrain. With less focus on the post-oil discovery period, it was a nice compliment to the Oil Museum that we visited the day before. It’s not a large museum which was a plus given that Ella’s tolerance for grown-up activities was starting to run low. To be fair, we do drag her along to a lot of things that aren’t all that kid focused.
Ella was much more at home outside the museum while we waited for our taxi.
I don’t want to say it souks but…
Our last stop of the day was the Manama Souk. Like many of the souks we’ve visited, this one is densely populated with shops selling all kinds of things with the stores loosely grouped into sections, e.g. gold, spices, fabric, etc.
I have to say though, this one lacked the old world charm of many of the others. Less gold and spices, more trinkets and trash. Interesting for a quick look, but not somewhere we wanted to spend a lot of time. More importantly, there weren’t really any restaurants.
Opening a 5 star hotel
Ella’s bed time makes her a little ticking time bomb when we’re looking for dinner in the evening. As we also needed cash we headed toward an ATM and noticed that there was a rather nice looking Rotana hotel next door. Rather than keep wandering we decided to ask their concierge for a restaurant recommendation in the area. His response, “we have the best restaurant here” – not typically how a concierge would help but we decided to check it out anyway. The only problem was that it didn’t actually open for another 45 minutes. The upside, the hotel lobby had a bar so we had our first glass of beer and wine of the trip to help kill the time.
The restaurant itself was oddly empty and everyone seemed super attentive, if occasionally confused by little details. Eventually we figured out that the hotel had just had their official opening a couple of days earlier. Essentially Ella’s plain pasta with butter was kind of christening the kitchen.
One trend that’s become apparent on this trip is people spoiling Ella, besides us. The restaurant at the Rotana took it to a new level, by giving Ella a massive desert platter. Needless to say, she liked this even more than another pack of crayons.
With Ella all fired up with sugar it was time to tie her down to her bed and get some rest before meeting up with Birgit again in the morning for a guided look around Muharraq and the Bahrain Fort.