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…. which is in Bahrain, before you ask! And Bahrain is of course a different country from the UAE; it’s the Kingdom of Bahrain and it has its own currency, etc.

We docked at Khalifa port at just before 9 o’clock. As before I didn’t have an excursion booked, I just went ashore using the shuttle bus. This was advertised as providing a transfer to Manama Souk, which is somewhere in the centre of town. We were also informed that the transfer would take 45 minutes. This seemed to be rather long but in fact it was accurate – the port really is a long way from the town.

I noted that in the “currency” section of the port paper that the only currencies mentioned were UAE Dirhams and US$; no mention of Bahraini Dinars. I queried this with Guest Services, and I was told that they had been advised by the port agent that Dirhams or Dollars would do, and that therefore the ship wasn’t offering Dinars for exchange. More on this later.

We were dropped off more or less outside the souk, which is in an older part of the city centre. However, other than a quick “there’s the Souk and this is where the pick-up point will be”, there wasn’t much other information. There was port leaflet that contained a simple sketch map, but it wasn’t helpful – it’s a map of the whole of Bahrain and the city just occupies a small section in the top 10%. It’s so large-scale that there’s no indication of the location of either the port (although you can guess that, of course) or the Souk. So I didn’t really know where I’d come from or where I was going…. (Val would say that’s not unusual.)

I had been hoping to get a bus from the city centre out to the National Museum, but I was unable to locate the bus station. And the data plan I’d bought at Dubai airport wasn’t valid – I was in a different country, of course. I did some exploring locally, just to see if I stumbled upon anything useful, but I didn’t. Finally I decided that I needed a map so I bought a data add-on for my UK EE account – £5 for a whole 15Mb! Before I activated it I turned off data for all my applications except Google Maps, and then turned on Roaming. A scary moment….

I discovered that I had a 35 or 40 minute walk to the National Museum, so I set off. Most of the walk was along very busy roads, but I did take a shortcut through a much older part of the town – a traditional residential area, and that was quite interesting.

I got to the museum eventually, and then found that there was an entry charge – 1 Dinar (about 50p). Unfortunately I had no dinars – I had decided to believe Guest Services – but the Bahraini Arab on the entry desk just waved me through, which was good of him. (Being an official site, they weren’t interested in taking any other currency; and why should they?)

I enjoyed the museum, although I only spent an hour there. I mainly spent time in two display rooms – one on the ancient history of what’s now Bahrain, but which in prehistoric times was known as Dilmun. There are no written records from these people themselves, but there is evidence of them, in trading accounts and other administrative records from states in Mesopotamia, with which Dilmun apparently had trading relationships. This civilisation flourished from about 2000 BC or a little later down to 300 BC or so.

The other display I enjoyed was a look at traditional occupations, and also how life was lived in old Bahrain, especially 19th and early 20th centuries. This was very evocative – re-creations of rooms with dressed and posed figures to illustrate the points. Then I walked back into the city, found the pick-up point, and came back to the ship by about 2pm.

My conclusions are that Bahrain will be difficult for DIY passengers, and I’m not sure there’s much there even if you make the effort. I did enjoy the Museum, but that fits with my interests. Other people I spoke to on the bus back to the ship had explored the Souk, and a nearby Gold Souk, and they had enjoyed them. They did say that the outlets in both of those souks seemed prepared to take other currencies – indeed, prices were displayed in £, $, and € as well as Dinars. I also didn’t see any taxis on the roads, although some other passengers had seen lots of them waiting outside some of the big hotels. But I didn’t see flocks of them circling and scouting for custom.

The general conclusion was that this isn’t a great port. It seems to be very much a work-a-day city. Nothing wrong with that – I live in one such – but it’s not a great destination for tourists, and it’s not easy to get around. This may be one to either do an excursion or even stay on board.

2 Responses to “Going ashore in Manama…”

  1. Jason Hayes says:

    Thanks for the updates as always Tom. Really appreciate the information on this cruise as it intrigues me but am always counting it out for one reason – security! I must say you are brave wandering along under your own steam! Will you be giving your impression of Oceana in a later posting? My wife and I are sailing on her in April. Just a bit concerned as its our first time on her after previous trips on Azura, Arcadia (our favourite) and Britannia.

    • Tom Burke says:

      Thanks for the comment, Jason.

      As regards safety, I actually think that these are among the safest places in the world. They’re the sort of place where criminals can expect to be caught… I know that people can be tripped up by the laws, but that’s a different issue. The UAE, Bahrain and Oman aren’t Iraq or Afghanistan. I certainly feel at any risk while I’ve been walking around. In Dubai, of course, you’re actually unlikely to encounter an actual Emirati – 80% of the people are expats, there for the money, and have no axe to grind. Don’t wear the wrong T-shirt, be respectful, learn the basics about what behaviour they expect, and there won’t be a problem.

      As regards Oceana, have a look at the review I did for our cruise on her last September – I think I covered some general points then.

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