Kuwait an urban spectacle
Kuwait is widely-considered as the cultural capital of the Gulf. And there are little surprises why.
The country has a strong tradition in theatre and the arts, including Al Arabi magazine and its soap operas. Its progressive spirit is perhaps due to its cosmopolitan and commercial heritage.
Historically, Kuwait provided the link from Iraq and the rest of the Middle East to the Indian subcontinent. Ships sailed from Kuwait and it became a trading hub and a home for merchants.
Later on, pearl exports became an important source of money. In the modern era, oil became the main source of wealth and has been used to build the modern city.
A recent visit to its capital Kuwait City, revealed its resilient transformation post the First Gulf War.
Today, its skyline is distinguished by the pearl-shaped Kuwait Towers and Liberation Tower, a communications tower built after the war.
A corniche runs along the beachfront, which has been well-developed for tourism and leisure, along with amusement parks, restaurants and gardens. Kuwait City is centralised and dense, with everything built outwards from the beach-side tip giving way to ring roads.
For a place to stay, the four year old Symphony Style Hotel (part of the Quorvus Collection) has emerged as one of the most luxurious in the city. It is located next to the corniche in Kuwait City’s upscale Salmiya neighbourhood, which is home to a large number of expats. Prime ministers and celebrities, including the Emirati singer Hussain al Jasim are said to have stayed in the royal suite.
It’s also a popular venue for women to celebrate during weddings.
The hotel has a colourful Italian design, which has been inspired by the local environment.
It is designed so that every room offers a view of Kuwait’s magnificent skyline against the sea. There are two restaurants offering buffets and one café. One of the restaurants is reserved for couples at night time. A wide array of Middle Eastern and Western food is available.
For things to do in the city, the fish market (in Sharq) sells a variety of seafood. Some are local and others imported from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Turkey and as far away as Norway. Fishing boats are anchored right outside.
Nearby, the National Museum showcases relics from Kuwait’s glorious past.
This includes coins from the ancient Greeks, who settled on Failaka Island, just off Kuwait. Failaka was first excavated in the 1950s by Dutch archaeologists and research continues till date. For more recent history, you may glance at record-keeping books once used by pearl divers.
The Amricani Culture Centre (Gulf Road, next to the National Assembly) also displays antiquities. Most of those are collections bought and displayed in Kuwait, but there is also a collection from Failaka Island.
The Kuwait Grand Mosque is strikingly similar to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, but boxier.
It was completed in 1986 after seven years of construction. It is said to be the eighth-largest mosque in the world and can accommodate 10,000 people in the inside prayer hall. It conducts tours for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Kuwait’s most famous landmark is the Kuwait Towers. Located on the edge of the corniche, the towers are easily accessible.
One of the globes is a water tanker, and the other a revolving restaurant, similar to the Seattle Space Needle. The spear that divides them is a power connector. It is most spectacular when seen from the outside by virtue of its turquoise colour and intricate patterns.
To shop or hang out, one can visit Avenues Mall. In fact, it’s more of a covered city than a mall, similar to those in Dubai.
It is replete with tree-lined streets and even a section for live music. The presence of two Starbucks within short walking distance inside the same mall gives an idea of the scale of the place. At night, the mall is full with Kuwaiti families, who are eating out or shopping.
Alternately, one can choose to take a stroll along Kuwait City’s boulevards or corniche. At night, the corniche comes alive with people walking, riding bikes, playing music or just sitting to relax. It is well-developed, offering a wide walking space.
For eating, Mais Alghanim is an exquisitely-designed Leba-nese restaurant with a long history going back to 1953.
To get around Kuwait City, taxis are readily available and you can pay without the meter.