Thursday, June 2, 2016

Weekend in Bahrain: Manama and Muharraq

Bahrain is just a short flight away from Abu Dhabi. The flight times are nice and so we took off on a Thursday evening and got back on Saturday late afternoon.

If I am honest then I knew close to nothing about Bahrain before going there. In some ways I enjoy travelling like this - without preconceptions. The opinions I form on these types of trips are pure and mine. Bahrain was a great discovery. I would wholeheartedly recommend a weekend trip there to anyone looking for a quick getaway.

My research into what to do came up pretty empty. I have long lost confidence in Tripadvisor and use it as the last resort. So I looked at TimeOut, LonelyPlanet and my best source turned out to be from Brownbook. Now, that's a magazine I would love to work for.

- How to spend a weekend in Bahrain? - 

We landed on Thursday evening (start of the weekend). The airport was full and the passport control lines rather long. They did go fast though. A hefty visa entry fee later - c.50 euros per person - we were through and in the taxi line. We only ended up taking taxis a handful of times as über seemed to work beautifully in Bahrain - the cars were clean and the drivers very nice. Although the über drivers seemed to be bullied by the taxi drivers and we were often let out just around the corner. We did not mind.

Thursday night we had a snack at one of the hotel restaurants and snoooozed! We got a sweet deal with an Entertainer voucher and stayed at a hotel in Seef region. In the end it ended up being far from where we liked to go and I would recommend staying in Manama, maybe near the diplomatic area. The driving times to go anywhere took much longer than I originally expected when looking at the map.

Friday morning we made our way to the old capital - Muharraq. It is a place filled with rustic beauty, messy side streets, bubbling life and a beautifully restored old town area. For breakfast/ brunch we visited Saffron. This restaurant has 3 locations and I must say that the Muharraq one is the one to go to! You can find it easily on google maps by googling 'saffron bahrain' - the one on Boomaher ave is the one! The interior is fantastic and the place is small and cosy.

As far as I could find out, it is the only place offering an arabic breakfast. There is no menu - you just get 'the breakfast'. Easy. I am not going to rewrite the menu here as they have done it so beautifully in the Brownbook article. But here are some photos just to get your mouth watering. 

After this breakfast I also have finally figured out how I like my eggs - scrambled and with tomatoes. The way it was prepared was heavenly. I do not think P got any of that dish...

The bread was delicious and I also really loved the noodles.

We ended the breakfast with a saffron shot (no alcohol).

After breakfast we decided not to get a taxi but to wander around. It was lovely. A little messy but a very welcome change from Abu Dhabi where there are few areas to walk around in the same way with low rise buildings and a history of organic development of life instead of purpose built highrise buildings.

We stumbled across the restored heritage houses. You can find directions and more information here. Also check out their official site here. You are in for a treat! In addition to amazing restorations there are artefacts and modern art exhibitions as well as lectures, discussions. Only thing is - on Friday it's all closed. We were blessed as as we passed the first house a guy had pity on us and said he has keys to some of the houses and was willing to let us look around. It was fantastic!

Some eye candy:

He really was the sweetest man - while keeping a watchful eye on us :) . Had we known before, we would have definitely done Muharraq on Saturday and the rest on Friday. 

After the short tour we walked around some more until we were in need of a snack. Local bread seemed the obvious choice. 

 They make the dough and then, using the white cloth covered thing (to the left of the oven) place the bread on the side of the oven. I tell you, this furnace is burning! Hot hot hot!

and the bread is amazing!

 An über ride later and feeling  refreshed and stronger we decided to go and visit the Bahrain National Museum.

A beautiful space where the exhibits are not only by different time periods but also by categories. I was most intrigued about the exhibitions regarding local life. 

Next to the museum is the National Theatre. For some reason we were not allowed to get too close, which was a shame, as it was a beautiful building.

- Time for a rest and refresh before dinner - 

We recommend heading down to Block 338 for dinner. It is a place to be. Many international restaurants and some art galleries. Plus the area does not seem anywhere to be finished yet. It was full of life at night and reservations are a must at restaurants there. We ate at Meat and Co. Loved it! Lilou is supposed to be the best though but it was fully booked the night we were there. 

I love walking around after dinner so we circled the block. We loved Al Riwaq art gallery and cafe. We were in luck as we managed to still have a chance to look around before they closed.

The rest of the walk was lovely. Filled with people and nightlife and decorated streets.

- Saturday - 

We are breakfast people and not clubbing people so I cannot recommend any good late nightlife places. What I can do, is recommend another awesome breakfast/ lunch place. This time near the souq Bab al Bahrain. 

Haji cafe. Serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Traditional food. A little hard to find but do not give up! (If I remember correctly it was more towards the Gold souk as indicated on google maps even though when you google the address it shows the other direction).

The restaurant was established by his father. The walls are decorated with historic photos and stories. 

Where it all started
And now:

Our lunch: Curry, salad, bread and dates.
Delicious food for amazing prices. 

Followed by tea:

We decided to walk off our lunch and look around the souq. It was colourful.

One green - one blue

And it was already time to make it back to the airport to catch our flight. 

You have got to love business class :)
 A last view on Bahrain.

How I would do the weekend now, knowing what I know:

 - Friday - breakfast at cafe Haji. Walk around the the souq. Visit the National Museum. If you have energy - visit the Bahrain fort (we were too tired). Dinner in any of the hip restaurants at block 338. Walk around and visit the galleries there.

 - Saturday - Muharraq. Early breakfast at Saffron. Visit the heritage trail houses.

There are many many other places to visit from old burial grounds to the tree of life in the desert to the mosque and camel farm. We decided to have a relaxing taster weekend so did not try to cram everything in. Also, coming from Abu Dhabi I was more into seeing things I cannot see and experience here. Coming from other parts of the world, the heat, sea and the desert might be just what makes your heart miss a beat....

Sources in addition to the ones mentioned above:

Maps -
Heritage trail overview - From a blog. Found later.