“Are you really going on holiday to Kuwait? You are crazy! There’s nothing to see, no one does it.” Many people told us this, including my dear friend Momo, a Saudi living in London who travels constantly to the Middle East and the Gulf for work. To be fair, he had been wrong about Bahrein before, so we decided to ignore him, booked flights and hotel, and off we went.
You should have seen the face of the guard at the customs at Kuwait airport when we claimed that our family was “on holiday”. His jaw dropped and we started to think that Momo could have been right. And he was! I had prepared a long list of sights I was interested in visiting, and one day was sufficient to realize that it could not be done: we soon found out that many attractions are closed, and no one knew why or for how long. Bummer!
Our holiday plans were simple: two visits a day… but rarely did we manage to find both doors open. Kuwait City, where 95% of the population lives, is mostly new, modern and somewhat grey – for sure it does not look cheerful, except for the Marina Mall area. Roads are wide, flashy cars speed by day and night, social life mostly rotates around fancy malls, which we do not really like much; on top of this everything costs a fortune – much more than in Switzerland. And yet, my son had a ball and keeps asking to go back.
Day 1: our first visit is to the Kuwait Scientific Center, a nice building shaped as a sail and a great place to spend a few hours, in the Salmiya district. Inside you can find several attractions and an IMAX cinema.
The Discovery Place is an area all dedicated to science, with interactive temporary exhibits and a permanent one about energy.
The aquarium is very nice and leads you to discover three different environments, not necessarily marine. Each day, at set hours, a diver dives in the shark tank to feed these “animals”, and it’s quite a fun sight (sorry!) to see sharks turn away from this “forced” feeding. If you have teens (well, actually kids over 14 years old), the aquarium offers the opportunity to dive with sharks, with the supervision of a professional diver. Finally you can go and take a look at the Dhow Harbor, a little harbor which houses the only traditional dhow still existing, dating back to the times where oil had not yet been discovered.
Day 2: the Kuwait Towers are the symbol of the city: three towers with interesting architecture in the Sharq district; they look like large white pins, two of which are adorned with enormous spheres; these spheres are not decorative but act as a water reserve. One of the three towers, the tallest one (187 meters high), should reopen in 2017 thanks to a rotating panoramic terrace on the 120 floor. Even if it does not, do not worry: it’s a must-go place to take your classic “I am in Kuwait City” photo.
Day 3: a nice ancient-looking souk is the Souk Al-Mubarakiya in Madinat-al- Kuwait, but do not be mistaken: it was built recently and there’s even air-conditioning inside. The souk is quite interesting and well done, and it gives you the feeling that time has stood still. Contrary to many souks, this one is very neat and uncrowded, therefore suitable for small children. It sells everything from meat, to souvenirs and to houseware. We loved it, with its characteristic colors and scents, and little Stefano enjoyed the sight of the many colorful spices, pointing at them continuously and randomly choosing them for us. There are also fall stalls if you are hungry…
Day 4: The Grand Mosque, which is the most important mosque in the city… its size make it look imposing, though the architecture is not very suggestive. Apparently it is stunning inside, and it is open to the public in the morning, by guided tour only. We went there well before midday and they told us to come back the following day, at an earlier time – and guess what? They told us to come back (again!) the next day at an even earlier time. We did not bother showing up for the third time! Eventually we took a stroll around the area and ended up visiting Al Seif Palace, which is the representative seat of the Emir and boasts a beautiful tower covered with blue tiles and a shining roof made of (solid) gold.
In the afternoon we saw the Kuwait Marine Museum, a small museum that really caught the attention of my son. What he found mostly captivating was not exactly the museum itself (pleasant, anyway) but the huge dhow moored right next to it. A dhow is the traditional wooden vessel that was used in this part of the world a long time ago. This peculiar dhow is called Al Hashemi II and it is the largest wooden vessel in the world: 80 meters long and 18 meters wide. The ballroom will leave you speechless. The Al Hashemi II is located on the premises of the Radisson Blu Hotel.
Day 5: the National Museum, a huge complex of four museums in one, turned out to be not such a bright idea. We had planned to visit the Planetarium but due to major restoration work, only the Kuwait Heritage Museum was open. This section is dedicated to the history of Kuwait and focuses in particular on all aspects of traditional life, as well as past professions. Each profession has its own “recess” with full-size puppets: definitely unsuitable for the adult public but children seemed to like them.
Sadu House is located a few steps away, it is a cooperative of artisans which has its “home” in a traditional Kuwaiti home. It is the right place to discover the ancient art of Bedouin weaving and learn what techniques were used; moreover there is a shop that sells hand-made products. Day 5 was born under an unlucky star: the Kuwaiti state television was filming a program and only a tiny part of the cooperative building was open to visitors.
Day 6: our last day, with an evening flight. We were clueless about what to do so we spent the morning in the swimming pool, where we met some Italian engineers that were there for work. Thanks to their suggestion, in the afternoon we took a taxi and left the city, to view the Al Minaa Oil Fields (and the tiny oil flame on top), from a distance. What we all found most impressive was the length of these oil fields: we drove past them for 30 minutes before we reched the end. And what about the sights on the other side of the road? The desert, flat, grey, ugly…