Bah-bah-bah, bah-bah-bahrain

Bahrain Travel Blog

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We spent three days in Bahrain on the way back from India.  

We left our Delhi hotel at 6:30 AM on Wednesday for the quick ride to the airport; traffic was nonexistent.  However it was still quite cold and foggy and we hoped that our flight wouldn't be delayed.  Checkin and security only took about 20 minutes; we then had over an hour to wait in the lounge.  The Delhi airport was pretty basic once past security; I hadn't changed any of my rupees and there wasn't a bank.  We plopped in the lounge for awhile, where someone had just grabbed the only computer.  We soon boarded the Gulf Air flight to Bahrain; biz class was full with families.  They served either an English breakfast or an Arabic breakfast with fuul and arabic bread.  The flight was pretty uneventful and we arrived in Bahrain on time.  We picked up the rental car, which took awhile as they hadn't yet received my reservation details!  I had made a hotel reservation at the Best Western, but I couldn't remember which one!  It took us quite awhile to find, given Bahrain road layout which makes it impossible to get where you're going, everything is always on the other side of the road.  Also the hotel sign can't be seen from the side of the road where the exit is.  That being said, driving in Bahrain wasn't so bad, the roads were in excellent condition and there weren't so many crazy drivers.  We finally found the right hotel, more by luck than anything.  Bahrain was quite a change of pace after being in India for a month, there are western chain restaurants everywhere, and all the buildings and cars are brand new.  We ate at McDonalds for lunch, of all places!  I think our bodies were craving junk food in a big way.  It was a lot chillier in Bahrain than I had expected but the sky was gorgeous blue.  Our hotel was very close to the Bahrain museum where we headed that afternoon.  The museum is quite impressive with great English-labeled exhibits on local history.   Bahrain has thousands of burial mounds from ancient times, they have full scale models of several burial chambers in the museum along with artifacts that were found in them.  For dinner we found an Iranian restaurant where we shared appetizers.  It was an odd place, the tables were sectioned off by walls and curtains, just the two of us were in the room and the waiter would say 'excuse me' behind the curtain everytime he came in.

The next day was spent touring the northern half of the island.  We got an early start at 8 AM but didn't like the look of our breakfast buffet.  The book had recommended Jim's restaurant for breakfast, but it apparently didn't open until 11.  We started driving west out of town and decided to check out the Ritz-Carlton hotel.  Just driving up to the place they made us open our trunk and checked underneath the car with mirrors!  The parking lot was full of Mercedes and Lexus and we pull in with our POS Toyota!  The buffet was quite a splurge at $25 each, but well worthwhile as they had a huge variety.  Most of the breakfast guests were businessmen working on deals.  Next we headed to the Barbar temple, getting lost along the way.  Well not too lost, Bahrain isn't that big!  The temple was rather anticlimactic, just a few piles of stones, with a bored looking guard sitting outside.  We drove through Saar trying to find some of the remaining burial mounds, but there is so much house construction going on we were unable to find any. The handicraft center was next on the way to Al-Jasra house.  We decided to go to Al-Jasra first as there were about 5 tour buses parked outside the handicraft center!  The traditional Bahrain house was where the former king was born and was worth a stop.  Next we went back to the handicraft center as the hordes had died down.  The handicraft center has a dozen or so stalls of artisans maintaining traditional Bahrain crafts such as dollmaking or basketmaking.  We fell in love with some of the Bahraini dowry chests which were covered in brass studs, and were about to buy one when we found out how much it would cost to ship back to the US!!   My wife did buy some dolls with traditional costume.  The Saudi border beckoned to us as we drove onto the King Fahd causeway, a 30-mile long bridge connecting Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.  We didn't have visas and could only go as far as the island in the middle, which serves as the border between the two countries.  There are observation towers on either side which offer a great view back along the causeway and across to the Saudi border.  It can get quite busy at sunset, but was almost deserted when we were there at 14:30.  On the way back to the hotel we stopped at Fuddruckers for lunch (mmm, beef).  My wife decided to have a nap, but I still had energy and headed over to Muharraq island.  Muharraq is where the airport is located, but the old town is quite scenic and has a few interesting places to see.  I first headed to the Sheikh Isa house, another traditional Bahrain house with a windtower.  The windtower acts as a natural air conditioner, catching the slightest breeze from any direction and drawing air through the house via convection.  The Siyadi house was a short walk away but had already closed for the day.  Arad Fort was a quick drive away, it was originally built by the Portuguese overlooking the harbor.  The sun was setting as I drove back across the causeway to downtown; such a great photo op was hard to resist and I turned around at the end of the causeway and headed back just in time to catch the sun setting between the downtown buildings.  There was a nice park there along the water where families were playing and relaxing.  I stopped at the Hard Rock cafe and got my shirt before going back to the hotel.  That night my wife and I drove downtown and wandered around the cloth and gold souqs for awhile.  We had trouble finding a place to eat, it being Thursday night.  All of the restaurants we checked out either had hours wait, or were closed for private functions.  Traffic/parking in the area was crazy as well!  We were starving by the time we found a place that would seat us.  The waiter seemed quite surprised when we told him we were tourists!  Most of the people that come to Bahrain are here to work, the ex-pat population here is 30-40%.  After dinner we found someone had double parked, blocking in our car.  We had to wait in traffic over 20 minutes just trying to turn around to get out!

Our last day in Bahrain; our flight back to the US didn't leave until evening and the hotel let us have a late checkout at 4PM.  We drove to the Bahrain fort, which had lots of police and Mercedes cars parked outside.  Apparently one of the ministers was visiting and videotaping something, but the guards let us inside the fort anyway.  The fort has been recently renovated and is quite large.  We drove back to Jim's restaurant which was finally open.  They serve a huge English breakfast there.  The book had said the place was popular with ex-pats and to get there early on Friday mornings, we were there when they opened and still were the only ones there for nearly a half hour!  The Tree of Life beckoned to us, it was a 45-minute drive south of town in the desert.  It's not very well labeled and we managed to get lost along the way, driving through an active rock quarry and nearly ending up on a military base.  The southern part of Bahrain is truly desolate, with only oil wells and pipelines.  The Tree of Life is a lonely mesquite tree in the middle of nowhere, it's a mystery as to where it gets its water and how it survives the graffitti.  It is quite the hangout spot, there were several people there already as we arrived and SUVs and cars continued coming and going while we were there.  The air temp was perfect but the sun was quite bright.  It was time to head back to the hotel, which was much easier getting back into town than it had been getting out to the Tree.  We checked out of the hotel and got our bags, but still had several hours to kill so we headed over to the Al-Seef mall. Bahrainis love their shopping, there are shopping malls everywhere.  The mall was packed and quite nice, they had tons of shops and a large food court, they even had a Marble Slab ice cream!  We sat around awhile just people watching, it was interesting the difference among the crowd.  There were girls wearing short shorts, and Saudi families with fully veiled women, foreigners and locals.
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