I had a busy day squeezing in all that I wanted to see, and I felt very rushed! I also did not plan very well, especially given that some places are closed between 12pm and 4pm. This program was made possible because I spent the money in car and driver to get to places as efficiently and possible. This is not the best approach for the budget-conscious traveler. Kuwait is expensive in regards to transportation. This has made a dent in my annual travel budget, but I felt the decision was worth every penny because this maybe the first and last time I step foot in Kuwait.
After the visa madness at the airport the night before, I woke up refreshed and roaring to go. I decided to stay in Salmiya to be able to see different parts of Kuwait City. Salmiya is convenient for walking along the Beach and the Marina Mall. The places I wanted to go, however, are in or closer to the downtown area and the Sharq area. Downtown reminds me of Old Dubai. It is where the city started. The Al Mubarakiya souq and the Grand Mosque are in Downtown. The famous Kuwait Towers are closer to the Sharq area where they are now building the modern high rises. The other areas I wanted to go to are Jabriya and Qadisiya which are in between of Downtown/Sharq and Salmiya.
My itinerary was as follows:
Grand Mosque – there is a tour in Grand Mosque every half hourly starting 9.30am to 5pm. For tours in English, advance booking is recommended. I did not book and was lucky enough to be able to join a group. They lent you the abayas and hijab to the female visitors. At the end, they generously give out English publications about Islam. I had a wonderful visit. The prayer hall is enormous (no. 6 in the world?). I love the wooden carving on the ceiling, kufti script around the mihrab (niche), and the generously adopted Moroccan carvings around the Mosque.
Al Mubarakiya Souq – the market is now quite modern. Similar to places like Dubai or Nizwa or Doha, they are divided into many sections: gold, food, souvenirs, and perfumes. The food section are divided into the fish, meat, fruit and vegetables, and dry food and spices sections. I particularly enjoyed the fish market. I am quite intrigued with one type of unidentifiable fish which is always displayed with the red gills showing. I was hassled (good naturedly) a little bit, but I think it comes with a package of being a solo foreigner anywhere. They were even more (good naturedly) aggressive in the meat section.
Kuwait Towers – the towers themselves just represent an icon of Kuwait, but it is not much actually. One got a 360 degree view of the sea and the city, but the glass of the ball is so dirty or its film damaged to allow for a clear photo. I went to the restaurant to drink, and it was pricy! I spent the same for a cheese pie for 3-4 people and a tea “chai” at the souq. It was painful to pay.
Marina Mall in Salmiya – I wanted to make a stop at Marina Mall cos I ran out of local money. (Yeah I spent that much in taxis!). It turned out nobody knew where the exchange was. So I strolled inside a little bit and then walked on towards my hotel where there is another mall nearby with Lulu Exchange. Exchanging USD (United States Dollars) or AED (United Arab Emirates Dirham) can be done at good rates in Kuwait.
Tareq Rajab Islamic Calligraphy Museum – while researching about Kuwait, I think most museums have mixed reviews, but I decided to go anyways. I chose this one because I had recently started Arabic lessons and the beginning course is all about the script. So I could say that being a recent interest of mine, it was natural that I picked the calligraphy museum. It did not disappoint. I saw beautiful artifacts (my faves are 16th century decorated Al Quran, 19th century giant cloth Al Quran from Indonesia, the 19th century Mecca kaaba cover commissioned by the different sultans/emirs, and artworks featuring both Islamic calligraphy and chinese characters! I highly recommend this museum. And the fact that it is privately owned kicks it up a notch. The owner has two museums.
The Mirror House – Lidia Qattan has channeled her energy and creativity decorating her home with mirror mosaics (thus the name, The Mirror House). After her famous husband passed away, she promised him to make their home a museum. She is a character. Her full tour is perhaps nt for everybody, but she is very engaging and talking to her is energizing in itself.
Local Dinner in Salmiya at Freej Swaeleh. The restaurant incorporates old Kuwait traditional decoration. They asked me if I wanted a private room or in the open family area. I could not care less. So they brought me to the family area. Zero hassle! I had the mutton majboosh. This is very typical Kuwaiti and of the middle eastern region (I had chicken majboosh in Ramallah as well) where basmati rice is served with the meat. The portion is humongous! Taste-wise, it was not that impressive. I have had better. One interesting thing to note is that they serve lugaimat (fried ball dough dipped in saffron syrup) when you first arrive, just like they always serve nuts in chinese restaurants. I tried one but I was quite afraid to ruin my appetite.
It has been a short visit in Kuwait. I felt like I have seen enough of the city and the country. I recommend it for a quick visit, but be prepared to spend for transportation.