Naked diplomacy – digital in Beirut

Naked diplomacy – digital in Beirut

I was lucky to visit Beirut recently to make a documentary for BBC World Service radio about the remarkable outgoing British Ambassador, Tom Fletcher. You can listen to it here, or alternatively, download it as an MP3 podcast here (or via iTunes here). I wrote an accompanying piece for the BBC News website – click here to read it. Full…

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Stories from Qatar

Stories from Qatar

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be in Qatar, on assignment for the British Airways inflight magazine High Life. It was for an idea I’d pitched to them, trying to give a bit of insider perspective to the way Doha is usually covered in the Western media – which tends to be either PR-driven…

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A story from Gaza

A story from Gaza

Yesterday, I rediscovered a story of real life from the Shaja’iyya district of Gaza. The small tale was written twenty years ago by Diala Khasawneh for her book Memoirs Engraved in Stone: Palestinian Urban Mansions, published by the Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation (Ramallah, 1995) – and republished by the Institute for Palestine Studies (Beirut & Washington,…

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Amman’s new hotel

Amman’s new hotel

This week saw the launch of what is being touted as the first new hotel in Downtown Amman since 1927 – the Art Hotel. Can that claim be true? I guess it depends how you define a hotel (as opposed, perhaps, to a hostel). The Art Hotel is calling itself three stars – which would…

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Chaos theory

Chaos theory

Aerial shot of a particularly messy car park, right? Almost. That is, in fact, the main Nile Corniche road running north-south through central Cairo, as seen from my hotel balcony earlier this year. I watched for ages. Try and figure out what each driver is trying to do. Such spirit. Such a delicate dance between…

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By The Lemon Tree – a B&B in Amman

By The Lemon Tree – a B&B in Amman

I met Guido Romero for the first time 3 or 4 years ago, on a drive out of Amman with a mutual friend. Guido is from an Italian family inextricably linked with the 20th-century development of Amman. His grandfather, Dr. Fausto Tesio, founded Jordan’s first hospital, in 1921, and Guido’s mother, author, artist and gallery-owner…

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Postcard from Qena

Postcard from Qena

The Independent‘s sister paper, the i, has a daily “Postcard From…” strand. A month ago I wrote a short “Postcard from Qena” (a city in southern Egypt) for them, with a mini-profile of the dynamic but controversial local governor. I heard nothing back – and what with all the, er, changes in Egypt I thought it had…

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Light shed on mystery Beirut dig

Light shed on mystery Beirut dig

A few days ago, investigative journalist Habib Battah posted a report on his (excellent) blog, describing a nosy around one of the many fenced-off plots in central Beirut. Click the link to have a quick read, first, if you haven’t already. Since I read that, I’ve also been asking around, and have come up with the…

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First hotel for Jordanian town

First hotel for Jordanian town

This overly optimistic local news piece from Jordan last December – based on this press release – seems to have been accurate. Jordan’s Arabic papers are reporting today that the lovely old Ottoman town of Salt, west of Amman, is about to get its first-ever hotel. This can only be good. Anything that draws visitors…

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A Wadi Runs Through It

A Wadi Runs Through It

Late in 2010, a US magazine editor gave me a tip about an environmental scheme in the Saudi capital Riyadh that was up for a major international prize, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. They were keen for me to do a story. The scheme – which has transformed Riyadh’s main Wadi Hanifah watercourse from…

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Social media and the Holy City

Social media and the Holy City

In case you still think Twitter is just a bunch of narcissists discussing what they had for breakfast, a couple of months ago, while tweeting about pitching to editors, I got a public reply from Jane Knight, travel editor at the Times, asking why I never pitched to her anymore. Laziness? I um’d and ah’d…

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Libyans in Amman

Libyans in Amman

Last month I had an email from a hotelier friend in Jordan, bemoaning a drop in occupancy rates – down in his hotel from 64% in 2010 to 44% last year – and mentioning, in passing, the quantity of Libyans now staying full-board at hotels in Amman. Libyans? At hotels in Amman? When I got…

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Jerusalem in the snow

Jerusalem in the snow

I had to share this – an extraordinarily evocative image of Jerusalem, from an uncaptioned, uncredited collection here (well worth viewing) that was tweeted today by @IssaEB. Have a look: It’s one of the most beautiful, poetic images of Jerusalem I think I’ve ever seen. It shows the Dome of the Rock, half-draped in snow, viewed…

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Tracks of my tears

Tracks of my tears

I couldn’t resist the headline, sorry – even though I’m not crying and it means I’ve had two consecutive posts headlined with ‘tears’. Thrilled and delighted this weekend to have another piece on BBC radio’s From Our Own Correspondent, after ones earlier this year on Saudi Arabia and Cairo. This time I’m talking about Jerusalem’s…

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A minor gem

A minor gem

I was in Jeddah recently, and enjoyed a repeat stay at the Red Sea Palace Hotel. Built in 1959, and last renovated almost thirty years ago, this was for ages the only luxury hotel in the city (perhaps the whole country? The Khozama in Riyadh didn’t appear until 1978). No longer five stars – and of…

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Some Riyadh visuals

Some Riyadh visuals

Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, is famous (among other things) for two skyscrapers. The best-known is the Kingdom Tower, also known as the Potato Peeler – or the Vest – for, well, obvious visual reasons. It holds offices, malls, apartments, a hotel and a fancy restaurant at the top. People like to use it…

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From (Not) Our Own Correspondent

From (Not) Our Own Correspondent

Very chuffed today to have a piece from Cairo’s Tahrir Square on the BBC World Service radio programme From Our Own Correspondent – click on this link to hear it. The piece as aired was edited slightly and cut down to fit the running time. Here’s the original, as submitted. My favourite Cairo graffito of the…

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Be Beirut

Be Beirut

Really enjoyed my return visit to Beirut earlier this month. I don’t really like cities, but Beirut is always memorable. At the time I tweeted: “Beirut is a great place to try & figure out how cities self-perpetuate (and prosper) despite lacking sane central authority.” That’s what it felt like: more than any other city…

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Blue pencils and red lights

Blue pencils and red lights

A recent flurry of articles continues: after 48 Hours in Tel Aviv, something about the deserts of Abu Dhabi and the Traveller’s Guide to the Red Sea (all published in the Independent in the last month or so), my non-travel feature about gay and lesbian issues in Israel appeared in the Independent’s Saturday magazine over…

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Centenary cities

Centenary cities

Which is the most ethnically diverse city in the Middle East? Go on, have a think. What’s your best guess? Dubai? My guess might surprise you. If you discount Mecca during the haj – which hosts 3 million people from seemingly every country in the world – I’d say the answer is Tel Aviv. I…

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The age of the train

The age of the train

After a generation of inaction – and increasingly bad traffic congestion – the six GCC countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) have finally started to build decent public transport systems. Dubai’s metro opens in a few days’ time. Abu Dhabi’s metro is expected within five years, alongside an urban tram network….

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Squeezing Jaffa

First came this story, about how Israel’s UK tourist office approved a poster advertising tourism to Israel that included this map, which shows Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights as integral parts of Israel. Even in the most Israel-friendly reading, few could dispute the fact that there is at least some, well, uncertainty…

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Best airport in the Middle East

Best airport in the Middle East

Consultancy firm Skytrax surveyed 8.6 million passengers at 190 airports for its World Airport Awards 2009. Incheon (S Korea), Hong Kong and Changi (Singapore) led the list – but it was the regional award for best airport in the Middle East that caught my eye: Tel Aviv, followed by Bahrain and Dubai. Tel Aviv? Were…

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