A couple of weekends ago my housemate, our friend and I went to Bahrain for a bit of an escape from Saudi and for my housemate’s birthday. We flew at about 6pm on the Thursday night, landing at 7:15pm. I hired a car for our weekend as we thought it would be cheaper and freer than getting taxis everywhere (as it turned out, for silly reasons, it was not – ie accidents!). Our car rental was through Budget Rentals and we were provided an upgrade for our duration. Check out the section below for more details about our ‘experience’ with them! We stayed at Somerset Al Fatah Hotel in Manama, about 20 minutes away from the airport. I am so surprised at how close everything is in Bahrain! During our stay we went to a couple of bars, a couple of malls, and the museum (my favourite part). Here’s how the trip broke down:
Random Irish Bar
We went to an Irish bar near our hotel that was playing live music. I have to admit I can’t remember the name and I sure as gosh wouldn’t go back there. I didn’t think the atmosphere was that friendly, but each to their own. We had one drink and decided that this wasn’t the place for us, so we moved on…
Sherlock Holmes Bar
We got a taxi (about £6) to Sherlock Holmes Bar, which is next to the Golf Hotel. The atmosphere in this bar was much nicer and didn’t feel as daunting (remember living in Saudi means we get out of practice of the bar scene). We ordered some food, which was all pretty British but nothing to write home about, and set about enjoying our cocktails. We spotted that the next night was salsa night, and used that we should make our way back to get our dancing shoes on. The cocktails were flowing and we had a great time before making our way back to the hotel.
We had a leisurely morning, as should be had in Bahrain, and took ourselves off to breakfast at the hotel. It had all the usuals of warmed up croissants, toast, cereal, some bread and meats, a small Asian breakfast section and an omelette station. It was adequate for our requirements, but nothing special.
Bahrain National Museum
Now, this is a museum. There are lots of reviews here, if you care to take a look, but honestly I’m going to tell you to just GO! The exhibits are comprehensive and have brilliant English translations; in fact they might be the best I have come across yet! There weren’t that many people around, so I never felt as if I was being shuffled, bumbled or pushed around. There was a lot of information about history, culture and country. After finishing the ground floor, we made our way to the café, which was a delight to the senses. They had an aroma of fresh cinnamon sticks and vanilla. It was so calming and kind. The staff were friendly and very helpful and the pieces of cake were huge. We all had a drink and some cake to sustain us for the rest of the day. After this the others were done with the museum (I think I could have stayed there for the rest of the afternoon) so I quickly peeked the Spitfire exhibit and joined them outside for some fun photos with different statues and a rather uncomfortable stone ‘sofa’!
Bab Al-Bahrain Souq
Have a look here for any reviews there are. It comes up at the fifth most popular thing to do in Bahrain, but I have to say, I was not convinced. Of course markets are dirty and sometimes smelly, but the atmosphere was not comfortable or inviting. We saw some stunning abayas that we would never get away with wearing in Saudi, though. And while I was tempted to shell out the overpriced money for one, I thought that it simply wasn’t worth it. Possibly because it was a Friday, there were only men around, which meant lots of stares (something we’re all used to by now) but it just isn’t a place I would recommend going to.
This was a quick pit stop in order to pick up movie snacks and water for the aparthotel. The mall was packed and parking was a nightmare. We did, however, pick up some interesting chocolate in Carfour. It was dark chocolate with lemon and black pepper – I have searched Amazon to no avail; but I will find that chocolate and write a whole post just on it! Yes, it was that good!
Situated about a kilometre away from Somerset Al Fatah, it was a hot but enjoyable walk. We didn’t have to don our abayas while in Bahrain, so it was much more comfortable walking around in the heat and humidity. This Bennigans is next to Cucina Italiana, which looked beautiful but we wanted to go for the down and dirty American bar rather than civilised cuisine 😉 The aircon was playing up in the non-smoking section so we wondered into the smoking section and ordered our first round of drinks. I would have to say that the cocktails were nothing more than juice, but the Hogarten was solid. We ate there as well, ordering ribs for myself while the others had veggie fajitas. Everyone was happy with the food. It was nothing to write home about, but it was a good solid meal for the night ahead of us. We didn’t stay long after finishing our food as the drinks were weak and we were ready to try something else. We found a taxi and made our way back to Sherlock Holmes.
Salsa Night at Sherlock Holmes
We arrived very early, so we shared an overpriced bottle of wine, that was actually pretty delicious, followed by a few cocktails, as the night headed into itself. We played Scrabble and cards and then finally the salsa stared. We moved closer to the action and watched and drank a little before the other two were whisked onto the dance floor for some action. Sherlock holds these nights every week and pays teachers to come and teach others how to salsa. It wasn’t traditional salsa, but bachata that they were doing, but it was fun all the same. After a while it was my turn and I was whisked to the floor by a small Filipino man, whose name escapes me at this present moment. We got chatting while talking and he told me he’d lived in Bahrain for 17 years and works as an accountant. He likes his job but dancing is his passion, and boy was he a good teacher. Before long we were twisting and moving and laughing. It was brilliant. The music changed to a group dance, and I was told not not leave the floor but to join in with the group. It was hilarious and so much fun. I never envisioned an evening like the one we had. When I’ve been to salsa evenings in Spain before it was a lot more serious, so having a light-hearted evening of dance was perfect.
After a while I was relinquished of my noble steed and placed back on my stood for another fresh cocktail. I looked up after a deep drink to find my two companions surrounded by Saudi men. This is where the evening really gets interesting. In Saudi it is very rare and inappropriate to speak to people of the opposite sex in public. So, while I have had very brief conversations with men who have helped me with something here or there, I have never had the opportunity to actually speak to them properly. I had joined at a good time, when they were being asked all sorts of questions about why they visit Bahrain, where their wives were, how often they come over, what their opinions of westerners and western women are, and all sorts of other probing questions. The answers were interesting, if not a little too long-winded, but I was glad to have met them.
In the early hours of the morning we made our way back to our aparthotel and crashed for the night.
Well, none of us were really up in time for breakfast, not that we were hungry. We relaxed all morning; one of us sleeping, the other listening to music and pottering around and me watching Spiderman on the huge TV in the living room. I contacted another friend who just so happened to be in Bahrain at the same time we were there, and arranged a little meet up in the mall in the afternoon before driving to the airport to fly back to Riyadh.
We found parking pretty easily on the top floor of the parking, out in the sun. I didn’t mind as it was less crowded and easy to park out there. We made our way through the mall the Starbucks and ordered and waited patiently. It was a nice place to people watch and enjoy the sights and sounds of normal people going about their daily business. It is so different from Saudi that I could not stop myself from watching and men and women interacted and look at the stunningly colourful abayas that the ladies were wearing. We met my friend and went to the food court for some Just Falafel – yum!
I have to say the airport is well laid out and easy to get around. But enough about that – we found a bar! Yes! After some car issues I needed something to calm my nerves and we found a bar! It is hidden on the upper floor of the airport, opposite the drinks duty free area, near the Costa. If you walk away from Costa toward the Italian restaurant and keep going a few more metres, there is a set of lifts ust after the bathrooms that take you up to the bar and restaurant. Enjoy 😉
Review of the bigger things:
Somerset Al Fatah
We got a hotel apartment as there were three of us. It had a beautiful open kitchen dining room, living room arrangement that would have made it the perfect place to stay for a week or two if you were inclined. From the balcony you could see a harbour where a few water sports were being played and jet skis could be spotted splicing through the water. There was a spacious bathroom with a shower (with a leaky door so the whole floor became a puddle), a double bedroom and then another double room with an en suite. The en suite had a bathtub with water jets so you could make yourself a little spa (music and candle optional). Oh, I have to tell you about the beds. The beds! The beds! They were like cushions that enveloped you like a soft warm bear hug and cradled you until you fell into one of the most delicious sleeps of your life. The pillows did not disappoint either. I would pay for those beds alone. Not too hard, not too soft; in fact, maybe they should be called the Goldilocks of beds!
As well as all of this, the hotel sports a very basic breakfast buffet (free), an outdoor swimming pool, a nice outdoor area where you could spend the evening reading and relaxing if it so took your fancy, a gym, yoga room, a film and book swapping or borrowing area and lots of friendly messages left around for people. I would have to say it was a happy place and one that we all wished we could have spent more time exploring.
The only real downside was the construction. This is a very up and coming area that sported a couple of building sites nearby. With the windows closed we could still hear some bits and pieces but the construction noises were a little too noisy for open windows. Especially after a night of drinking!
I would definitely recommend this place for some quality down time. It’d be a great place for the family as well; lots of space and things to do. Although, it might be a little expensive if you use taxis to get around.
Honestly, the car they gave us was not all that good. It was a little banged up, which didn’t bother me too much until I bumped into another car while reversing and the back bumper buckled and broke. There was barely a scratch on the other car. I was backing out slower than usual as the way the Saudi’s drive around car parks in Bahrain was awful and I thought I would have to stop suddenly. So, imagine my surprise when my bumper basically disintegrated. Honestly, I believe it was not my bad driving so much as the car being old, battered and bruised Honesty meant that I had to pay almost £300 in repair costs for the bumper. To top it all off, the guys at the rental counter tried to insinuate that I had done more damage to the car, until I reminded them that I had filmed the car when we took it out for rental and if they wanted to charge me for damage that someone else had done then I wouldn’t be paying for anything. They quickly apologised and I paid them the money for the bumper. So, women beware. People beware. Take videos and pictures of the car you are renting. And always file a police report if something happens (we didn’t have time) to avoid hassles like this. In fact, spend the few pounds more and go with a more reputable company like Sixt – never had a problem with them at all!
Have you been to Bahrain or anywhere mentioned in the blog. Would you recommend anything in particular? Do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve stated? Why? Please share…