The rise and rise of Jordanian cinema

A wonderful recent assignment in Jordan, writing about the growth of independent cinema. Here’s what I wrote on Facebook: Copy/pasting the FB status here: I had such fun writing this article on Jordan’s emerging film industry, and the work of the amazing Nadine Toukan as creator, mentor, guide and inspiration. It’s an article I’ve been wanting…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

BBC Front Row on Theeb

BBC Front Row on Theeb

After a few tweets and a bit of pestering, I was lucky enough to be invited by presenter Samira Ahmed onto Front Row, the main daily arts programme on BBC Radio 4 in the UK, to talk about Theeb, a new and – in my entirely humble opinion – brilliant film by Jordanian director Naji…

Read Full Post

Jordan Pass – don’t pass on it

Yesterday – oddly, yesterday in the late evening, Jordan time – I spotted, by chance, this Facebook status by Adel Amin, director of marketing at the Jordan Tourism Board. It announced the Jordan Pass, a unified ticket for many of Jordan’s historical sites that is an attempt to help revive the country’s desperately struggling tourist trade. Looking…

Read Full Post

The churches of Dubai

The churches of Dubai

When I knew I would be stopping over in Dubai on a recent trip, I began casting around for story ideas. I wouldn’t be there long. Food? No, kind of done it. Old Dubai? Well, maybe, but what, on a short trip? I’d never yet made it to the Hindu temple which I knew stood…

Read Full Post

Jordan visa changes – update

A brief update to my post yesterday on Jordan’s visa changes. The Minister of Tourism, Nayef Al Fayez, tweeted me shortly after I posted to say the changes will come into effect between this month (May) and September 2015: Thank you @matthewteller some will come into effect this month and all by September. And there will…

Read Full Post

Jordan changes visa regulations

Jordan changes visa regulations

Yesterday (May 4th, 2015) Jordan announced it was changing regulations surrounding tourist visas and taxes. On the face of it, this is very welcome – Jordanian tourism is in a terrible state, and Jordanians are suffering because of it. However, the changes raise some questions, which as yet remain unanswered. Here is a link to the…

Read Full Post

Tales from the British Library

Tales from the British Library

Back in August, I got a call from a PR at the British Library. They said they’d read my piece on Qatar in High Life magazine, and wondered if I’d be interested in something else to do with Qatar. What followed was a heads-up about something which I’d already been vaguely aware of, but hadn’t properly…

Read Full Post

BBC stories: hot (Doha) and cold (Antarctica)

BBC stories: hot (Doha) and cold (Antarctica)

A couple of my stories went out on the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent programme this summer. First – a hot place. My story from Doha looked at how sudden extreme wealth hasn’t necessarily been a wholly positive experience for Qatar and Qataris. Radio 4 audio here starts 17’27” (a slightly edited version went out on World Service…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

Sandhurst and the Sheikhs

Sandhurst and the Sheikhs

THE CHASE: My half-hour documentary for BBC Radio 4 on Britain’s contradictory military relationship with allies in the Gulf was broadcast August 27th, 2014. Full audio here or here, related article here.   BACKSTORY: On March 5th last year, 2013, while discussing possible ideas for the BBC Radio 4 commissioning round, I sent an independent production company,…

Read Full Post

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,…

Read Full Post

New unique tour of Jordan

I’m really delighted to announce my latest venture, a unique tour of Jordan, led by yours truly and promoted via the Daily Telegraph here in the UK. Click the links for more. It’s all pretty self-explanatory, and there is full extra detail and the complete itinerary on the Mosaic Holidays site (they are the ones handling bookings – apologies…

Read Full Post

A historic flight along the Nile

Late last year, I was tweeting with Tom Fletcher, Britain’s ambassador to Lebanon – that’s the great thing about Twitter, it’s such a leveller: anyone can tweet with anyone. He mentioned in passing that his great-grandfather took part in the first-ever aeroplane flight along the River Nile, exactly one hundred years ago. That sounded like…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

Jordan visa fees rise for 2014

I’ve had it confirmed to me from several independent sources today (March 31 2014) that Jordan’s government has decided to double the cost of a tourist visa to enter Jordan with immediate effect – from 20JD to the new price of 40JD (which equates to £35 or US$60). The new, higher rate applies from tomorrow, April…

Read Full Post

Travel in southern Iraq

Travel in southern Iraq

Géraldine Chatelard, a friend from Jordan, sent me a write-up of her recent visit to southern Iraq. She has kindly allowed me to reproduce parts of it here, with her own photos. Names have been removed or altered and I have skipped over some parts that could identify people who might not wish to be identified. Géraldine…

Read Full Post

EasyJet drops Amman, favours Tel Aviv

EasyJet drops Amman, favours Tel Aviv

EasyJet is pulling out of the Jordanian capital Amman. The route, which launched in March 2011 with flights from London Gatwick, will be withdrawn in May 2014, with the last flight departing Amman on Sunday 4th May. It was the only route easyJet maintained to Jordan. UPDATE: Venture, a Jordanian business magazine, covers the story…

Read Full Post

The beauty of ice

The beauty of ice

I was blind. Alone. Before I started I knew it might be bad. People were saying the buses weren’t running. When the bus drivers can’t make it, it’s bad. Petra is high. But every road out of Petra is up. To the north and to the east, you have to climb to the crest of…

Read Full Post

The Round Trip

The Round Trip

I’m not sure when I first read Yuval Ben-Ami‘s travel writing. It was almost certainly on a recommendation from my friend Lisa Goldman, who I met one motor-mouthed evening at a pavement café in a mildly hipster part of Tel Aviv during the pre-hipster autumn of 2009. I was there to research this story for the…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

CNN, Anthony Bourdain and me

CNN, Anthony Bourdain and me

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain launched the new series of his ‘Parts Unknown’ travel cookery show on CNN this week with an episode titled ‘Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza’. You can watch it here: It’s had pretty positive reviews. The Washington Post thought it was “so good“. The Open Zion blog called it “groundbreaking reporting“. Amer Zahr,…

Read Full Post

CNN’s Israel-Palestine travel intro

See backstory here. . 10 Things To Know Before Visiting Israel and Palestine (original) By Matthew Teller – my original below, CNN’s version here . The Holy Land makes for inspiring, depressing, fascinating, confusing travel. To some, the chunk of territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is all Israel. To others, it’s all…

Read Full Post

“God Is Shy” – a story from Syria

“God Is Shy” – a story from Syria

Last night (29 July) the news came through from Syria that Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, a highly respected Jesuit priest who has lived in Syria for thirty years, had been kidnapped. Rumours began to swirl on social media, first about his kidnapping, then about his supposed late-night release. At this writing (30 July) it’s not clear…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

Hope Floats – a cruise up the Nile

Hope Floats – a cruise up the Nile

“Hope Floats” is the title Wanderlust have given to my article about the revived ‘long cruise’ along the Nile between Cairo and Luxor, published in the current issue (July/Aug 2013). I’m posting the text below – but they’ve done a beautiful job on layout, with lots of striking images, spread over 12 pages. Here’s a…

Read Full Post

Discontent on the Nile

Discontent on the Nile

On the back of my recent visit to Egypt, BBC radio’s From Our Own Correspondent programme recently ran a piece I wrote from Minya, a town in Middle Egypt newly opening up to foreign tourism. Click here to listen to the audio from BBC Radio 4, or click here to download the podcast (MP3 file: 13MB),…

Read Full Post

New flights to Jordan (from the UK)

I know this looks like link promotion, or a hamfisted attempt at DIY SEO, but it’s really not – there have just been some recent innovations on flights to Jordan from the UK, which I thought I’d highlight. Nothing in this post earns me a penny. For years, two aspects of air travel from the…

Read Full Post

Watching the watchers

Watching the watchers

I just got back from a cruise up the Nile in Egypt. These have long been a common tourist fixture in the south, between Luxor and Aswan, but it’s been almost twenty years since cruise ships have been seen in Middle Egypt, between Cairo and Luxor. So when people on the banks caught sight of…

Read Full Post

Is Egypt safe for tourists?

Is Egypt safe for tourists?

[UPDATE – 3 July 2013: Since May, when I wrote this post, the situation in Egypt has changed for the worse. However, I’m not providing updated info on this page. Read on for a general overview of travel safety in Egypt, but also follow the news, ask travel companies and check your governmental travel advisory…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

End of the “Israeli stamps” issue?

End of the “Israeli stamps” issue?

For years, Israeli passport stamps have bedevilled “Western” tourists visiting the Middle East. It seems, though, that a new Israeli policy – apparently only just launched – could signal more freedom (for some) to move around the region. [NOTE: All of this applies only to holders of “Western” passports who are exempt from applying for…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

BBC World News interview

Last night I was on BBC World News and BBC4 in the UK, interviewed by Philippa Thomas on the aftermath of the Luxor balloon disaster and its immediate impact on the Egyptian tourism industry. Video here and below:

Read Full Post

Rough Guide to Jordan

Rough Guide to Jordan

A shade late (sorry about that), this is to say that the new edition of my Rough Guide to Jordan is now out, buyable anywhere in the world as a printed book (yay!) – ask for ISBN 978-14053-89792 – or downloadable as an e-book (boo!) here. Rough Guides (in fact, the amazing Martin Dunford; how many…

Read Full Post

Journey to the mountain

Journey to the mountain

Even now, weeks later, I’m not sure why I cried. The tears were flowing before I reached the summit: I remember looking up into the blurry blue. I also remember, further back down the trail, when the old, familiar voices started to sing to me about weakness and tiredness and failure – but even then…

Read Full Post

BBC Wild Arabia

BBC Wild Arabia

After the epic that was David Attenborough’s Africa series, which ran on BBC TV in the UK recently, their next big nature extravaganza is Wild Arabia – due later this month on BBC2 in the UK (episode 1 airs 9pm on 22nd Feb, I believe). The three-part series was filmed over almost two years in…

Read Full Post

A short flight between worlds

A short flight between worlds

A travel story with pictures – shot on a veteran iPhone 3GS (sorry for the dimness). I was recently in Amman, and had to visit people in Tel Aviv. I used the bus to cross westwards but then, for complicated reasons, shelled out for the short flight back. It’s absurdly expensive – about 100km (60…

Read Full Post

A tourism revolution

A tourism revolution

Last weekend I was invited to speak at Destinations, an annual consumer-facing travel show in London. My subject was “Reshaping Middle East tourism” and, gratifyingly, if rather amazingly, something like 100 people came to listen – a vote of confidence in the idea of going on holiday to the Middle East, at a time when…

Read Full Post

Stateless in Kuwait

Stateless in Kuwait

My latest for BBC radio’s From Our Own Correspondent aired a couple of days ago – a report about Kuwait’s stateless bidoon (or bidun, or bedoon, not to be confused with bedouin). Before I went to Kuwait I was given a contact to bidoon activist Abdulhakeem Al Fadhli, and during my short visit to the country was able to…

Read Full Post

“Satan stays away”

“Satan stays away”

Had a wonderful return visit to Dhofar in southern Oman a couple of months ago, on assignment for the Times, who wanted a frankincense story for their pre-Christmas travel pages. I happily obliged. Here’s the link – but it’s behind a paywall, so in case you’re not a Times subscriber I’ve pasted the text in…

Read Full Post

“Of course the government is reading my tweets”

“Of course the government is reading my tweets”

My latest for the BBC radio programme From Our Own Correspondent, from Oman, looking at issues of protest, self-censorship and social media. Audio here (my bit begins around 11’25”). Transcript as BBC news feature here. I woke to the roar of total silence. Issa, an Omani bedouin of the Al-Maashani tribe, made tea as the…

Read Full Post

Free to you. But not to you.

Free to you. But not to you.

It was clear, and unambiguous. On 13th September the Jordan Tourism Board posted on its Facebook page: In celebration of World Tourism Day on September 27th, entry to tourist sites in Jordan, including Petra, will be free of charge to ALL visitors (NO entry fees on September 27th & 28th). They linked to this article…

Read Full Post

Egypt: a response to Arthur Frommer

Arthur Frommer, founder of Frommer’s Travel Guides, has posted a short blog advising US citizens not to visit Egypt, because of – for want of a better name – the embassy riots. He says “the government of Egypt’s President Mohammad Morsi has whipped up anti-American sentiments among the Egyptian population” and has been “silent” on…

Read Full Post

Flag carrier

Flag carrier

A couple of months late (sorry about that), here’s news of the latest Middle East aviation start-up – or perhaps that should be restart-up. After many years of inaction, Palestinian Airlines have begun flying again – just one route for now, linking the West Bank and Gaza. However, since neither territory has a functioning airport,…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

Mad and bad

Mad and bad

Mad (and bad) tourism news out of Israel, talking about a mammoth proposed development on their side of the Dead Sea, encompassing an unstated number of new hotels and spas. Read it and weep. A couple of points. The Dead Sea is collapsing. Because of the desperate shortage of water in the Middle East (Israel’s…

Read Full Post

Independent travel in Israel

Independent travel in Israel

After my piece on independent travel in Palestine, published last month in Wanderlust (UK), here is my follow-up article on Israel. You can click on each page to see a close-up version. I meant the two articles to be read in tandem, and I tried as best I could to match experiences in both places…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

Independent travel in Palestine

Independent travel in Palestine

I was lucky enough, last year, to be asked by Wanderlust magazine here in the UK to write two features for them on independent travel in the Middle East – one on Palestine, the other on Israel. The Palestine one has just been published; here it is, scanned from the printed pages. The Israel one…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

Power and responsibility

Power and responsibility

There’s a firestorm over on David Whitley’s industry-leading travel blog Grumpy Traveller, where he savages bloggers involved in the ongoing Visit Jordan social media campaign that’s been running all year (2011). David’s post is here, but also read the comments – they’re a fascinating glimpse into the travel blogging mindset. After what I wrote there, Nathan…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

Gospel truth

Gospel truth

Here’s a story of David and Goliath. In 2007 and 2008, US outdoor adventure specialist David Landis and Israeli tourism entrepreneur Maoz Inon developed the Jesus Trail, a 65km walking route linking Nazareth – the town where Jesus grew up – to sites of pilgrimage around the Sea of Galilee. David and Maoz, with David’s…

Read Full Post

Green green grass

Green green grass

Pioneering guidebook writers Di Taylor and Tony Howard have done it again. After their amazing work over almost thirty years in the Wadi Rum deserts of southern Jordan, and their expertise trailfinding long-distance paths in Palestine – and Tony’s record-breaking conquest of the Troll Wall, Europe’s tallest rock face, back in ’65 – plus countless more achievements…

Read Full Post

World first for Martin Randall?

World first for Martin Randall?

In what (to my knowledge) is a world first, luxury tour operator Martin Randall Travel – known for running fully escorted cultural and historical tours on highbrow themes, chiefly to destinations in Europe – has announced a tour for March 2012 focused exclusively on Palestine. Click here for tour details. The eight-day tour’s key selling-point is that…

Read Full Post

Room at the inn

Room at the inn

A word of congratulation for the wonderful Fauzi Azar Inn, a guesthouse in the Old City of Nazareth, in northern Israel. Already lauded by every guidebook out there (Lonely Planet author pick: “One of the highlights of a stay in the region.” Bradt: “By far the best midrange option in town.” Jesus Trail: “The perfect base…Best budget…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

Get on the bus

Get on the bus

News via Alternative Egypt of an interesting little tourism start-up on Egypt’s south Sinai coast – the Bedouin Bus, run by a small group of community entrepreneurs who’ve clearly put their heads together, done some thinking and are ready to fulfil a need among their existing clients (both tourists and, intriguingly, locals) for decent, reliable…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

News from the edge

News from the edge

A mini-roundup of some interesting news from the fringes of Middle East tourism. Iraq An interesting story by Gulf News mentions more than a million visitors a year to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, with the authorities targeting a Dubai-style five million by 2015. My favourite line? “The recent surge in arrivals is…

Read Full Post

Small country, big mistake?

Small country, big mistake?

Eco mayhem. A while ago we had Tanzania proposing to build a major highway straight through the Serengeti. That idea was quashed. Then we had Egypt proposing to build a hotel in a pristine wilderness. That might still happen. Now, up steps Jordan – a poor country with few natural resources and a faltering economy. 85%…

Read Full Post

Jordan off-off the beaten track

Jordan off-off the beaten track

Here’s a conceited bit of blogging for you. I just saw this post at WorldNomads.com, written by Megan Czisz, about going “off the beaten path” (or track!) in Jordan. Megan defines this as Amman, roast chicken, the King’s Highway, Dana, Petra and Wadi Rum. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it is kinda remarkable how the…

Read Full Post

Syria: the only way is up

Syria: the only way is up

Journalist Tom Gara recently wrote this article (registration required) for FT Tilt – a short piece which takes info from a blog post by Syria analyst Joshua Landis, which in turn digests 2008 figures from the Syrian Central Bureau of Statistics. In summary: • Syria’s entire hotel industry employs just 11,224 people. This represents 0.05% of the Syrian population of 22.5 million. Even…

Read Full Post

Wadi Rum gains World Heritage status

Wadi Rum gains World Heritage status

On 25 June, UNESCO announced that Wadi Rum, a protected area of desert in southern Jordan, had been added to the list of World Heritage Sites for both its natural drama and cultural significance. For Rum background, click here, here, here and here. Few outsiders know Wadi Rum as well as British climbers Tony Howard and Di Taylor. Since their first visit 27…

Read Full Post

Dignity departs

Dignity departs

Rant time, I’m afraid. A few months ago in Tunisia, hundreds of people died and thousands more were injured during a popular revolution against a hated dictator. Now, it seems, the Tunisia tourism authorities regard all that as a subject for (literally) naked commercial exploitation. The image in that BBC story shocks me, and makes…

Read Full Post

Still not a correspondent

Still not a correspondent

If I was chuffed a fortnight ago to have my radio piece from Cairo aired on From Our Own Correspondent on BBC World Service, I’m even more chuffed today to have a follow-up piece aired so soon – and this time on the BBC’s domestic Radio 4 network as well. For my schizophrenic tale from…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

No longer deserted

No longer deserted

Jordan doesn’t often get into Wallpaper, the leading international magazine on fashion and design. But this is an eye-opener, revealed in the last couple of days – a scheme for super-luxurious, environmentally sound lodges in Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert, designed by US architect Chad Oppenheim [profile] [website] for completion in 2014. Reading Wallpaper’s brief article,…

Read Full Post

A thing of beauty

A thing of beauty

This is a blog about travel, but every so often it’s nice to take five minutes out for a thing of beauty. I came across the work of British-Jordanian-Palestinian photographer Tariq Dajani back in 2007, when he won First Prize in the International Color Awards for his images of Arabian horses. They blew me away….

Read Full Post

Last Out, First In

Last Out, First In

Five weeks since I blogged. It’s a new world. Tunisia was amazing. Egypt is astounding. Bahrain boggles the imagination. Libya is off the scale. At the time of writing, none of those 4 revolutions is resolved. And there is also Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, even – staggeringly – Syria. Of a different character, but no less…

Read Full Post

From Black to Red

From Black to Red

Last week the Jordan Times reported that the tourism ministers of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey were proposing a common tourist visa valid across all four countries. From the Black Sea to the Red Sea, from Istanbul to Damascus, and from Ephesus to Baalbek to Palmyra to Petra, one visa would fit all. A great…

Read Full Post

Tunisia free – Brits moan

Tunisia free – Brits moan

This is a travel blog, not a political blog, so although there’s been intense activity over on twitter tracking the extraordinary Tunisian revolution, I’m not going to dwell on the implications here. Instead, I’m going to focus in on my own country’s unerring ability to miss the big picture in favour of pushing its own…

Read Full Post

Top Gear, sour grapes

Top Gear, sour grapes

It was last January – Jan 2010, that is – when I first heard that a BBC researcher from Top Gear was interested in having a chat with me about a Christmas special they were planning, where the three presenters – Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May – would drive across the Middle East….

Read Full Post

easyJet opens up Jordan

easyJet opens up Jordan

After last week’s news about the swingeing increases in Jordan’s visa fees for independent travellers comes the startling announcement that easyJet – Europe’s second-largest low-cost airline – is launching flights to Jordan, starting on 27 March 2011. easyJet is intending to operate three flights a week from London Gatwick to Amman’s Queen Alia airport, with…

Read Full Post

Jordan decides to deter individuals

Jordan decides to deter individuals

From 1st January 2011, visa fees to enter Jordan as an individual traveller will go up. At the time of writing only the Jordanian Embassy in Australia has publicly posted this information officially; no doubt more will follow. The cost of a single-entry visa is doubling to 20JD (or US$30 equivalent; roughly £19). A new…

Read Full Post

Oman Air: “the challenge of being first”

Oman Air: “the challenge of being first”

Oman Air is quietly working wonders. From a standing start in 2007, when Oman pulled out of the then-multicountry Gulf Air to focus on developing its own national carrier, the airline has gained a reputation for excellence, even while facing down competition from the ‘big three’ Gulf carriers, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. Peter Hill,…

Read Full Post

Sixteen times round the world

Sixteen times round the world

I had the privilege last weekend to meet Peter Greenberg, travel editor for CBS News and a legendary figure in travel journalism. I was in Jordan and he’d stopped in for a couple of days – he did outline his week at one point: it ran something like Tokyo, New York, Amman, Mexico City, Los…

Read Full Post

Walking the line

Walking the line

Catching up after six busy weeks – and I just wanted to write a short post, to follow up my previous posts on walking in Jordan and Turkey, to talk about the Jesus Trail, a linked series of walks through northern Israel. The walk has been developed by Anna Dintaman and David Landis – lovely…

Read Full Post

On the sofa

On the sofa

Plenty to blog about – no time to do it. In the meantime, make yourself a cuppa, put your feet up and have a giggle at me on the daytime TV sofa, talking about how wonderful Jordan is – David Symes of the Jordan Tourism Board in the UK recently commissioned a web TV show…

Read Full Post

Decisions, decisions

Decisions, decisions

Another bad news story out of Dubai – a British woman goes into a shopping mall wearing a low-cut top; an Emirati woman objects; in response the British woman strips down to her bikini and carries on walking through the mall; is arrested for indecency, then released, with all charges dropped. A tide of follow-up…

Read Full Post

Mett?

Mett?

This press release from Cooperative Travel has just arrived. I’m going to ignore the spurious nature of the “research” – no sample size given, no date of survey, no indication of sample selection or basis on which figures have been collated – and the meaningless use of random numbers to create a false impression. I’m…

Read Full Post

CNN’s error of judgement

CNN’s error of judgement

CNN has fired its Senior Editor of Middle East Affairs of twenty years’ standing, Octavia Nasr, after she tweeted this: Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot. The reference is to Fadlallah, a prominent Lebanese Shia cleric, who died on July 4th. Nasr…

Read Full Post

PR fail – or refreshing modesty?

PR fail – or refreshing modesty?

UPDATE: See the end of this story for an update. Pictured right is Khasab Fort, a small, 17th-century Portuguese-built castle that sits on the waterfront at Khasab, a tiny Omani town overlooking the Strait of Hormuz at the head of the Gulf. Last month Khasab Fort won the International Award at the 2010 Museums & Heritage Awards…

Read Full Post

Journalist as communicator

Journalist as communicator

Acknowledgement for a worthy award-winner. Yesterday Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, was presented with the Charles Wheeler Award 2010 for achievements in broadcast journalism. Amid the screech of grinding axes that characterises much coverage of events in the Middle East, Jeremy Bowen has, to my mind, always maintained a calm, old-school approach to reporting –…

Read Full Post

Weather or not

Weather or not

Ahead of a forthcoming trip to Palestine and Israel, a couple of days ago I went to check the weather on my iPhone’s preinstalled Yahoo weather app. Tel Aviv loaded fine, but it was when I did a search for Jerusalem that the oddness began. I started by typing “Jerus” – waiting for Yahoo’s database…

Read Full Post

Tourism is not the only way

Tourism is not the only way

I caught a report on CNBC’s Business Arabia show this week that Qatar has set aside $20 billion for tourism investment over the next three years. Sorry, but I couldn’t help thinking why. To replay some of the numbers – Qatar is the world’s richest country by per-capita GDP, according to the IMF. It is a…

Read Full Post

“Five-star tourism is a blip”

“Five-star tourism is a blip”

Last month I was lucky enough to hear a talk at the Destinations travel show in London by Kate Clow, creator of the Lycian Way long-distance trekking route in Turkey. It was a great presentation. Kate is very passionate about discovering and preserving these walking routes through the hills, spending thousands (from her own pocket) on…

Read Full Post

Local talent

Local talent

A brilliant opinion piece in Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper by one of my favourite Middle East commentators, Sultan Al Qassemi (who blogs at Felix Arabia), remarking on how the United Arab Emirates – despite its name – lacks a unified identity, either in corporate branding or in many of the practical aspects of government….

Read Full Post

Blog will eat itself

Blog will eat itself

It started with writing for print – books, magazines, newspapers. Then it seemed like the print world was losing impetus, and online was where things were happening. So I got a blog. Now, in what I think might be a world first (please tell me if it isn’t!), a print magazine has devoted a page…

Read Full Post

And the winner is…

And the winner is…

When Kathryn Bigelow stood up to accept the Best Director Oscar yesterday – for The Hurt Locker, a movie about a US army bomb-disposal unit in Iraq – she dedicated the award to the people of Jordan, where the film was shot. For a modest, often-overlooked country in a region of big headlines, such a…

Read Full Post

An old friend

An old friend

The last time I saw Toufoul was in Amman in 1998 – and, to be honest, I don’t really remember her that well. Back then I was washed up after a year in Jordan, suddenly single again, and she was one of a bunch of friends I was roaming around with, trying to keep real…

Read Full Post

Crossing Qalandia

Crossing Qalandia

I was recently in Ramallah, and turned down the offer of a lift to Jerusalem in favour of taking the public bus – just to see what it was like (the luxuries of being a tourist). All traffic between Ramallah and Jerusalem has to pass through the Israeli military checkpoint at Qalandia (or Kalandiya, Qalandiya,…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

Brand Oman

Brand Oman

I’m not much into branding – especially for countries – but even I quite like this logo, devised to promote Oman and unveiled late last year. The beauty of it is that it doesn’t need any explanation: the swirls and shapes have an arabesque feel to them already, so even without the text you could…

Read Full Post

Premium-priced Petra

Premium-priced Petra

It’s been a(nother) phenomenally busy time. After a string of writing deadlines, which filled the Christmas/New Year break, I’ve just got back from ten days in Lebanon and Jordan to discover that work lined up for Jan and Feb which would have paid almost £3,500 has fallen through – and then today I’ve also had…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

To the Max

To the Max

Very interesting to see this teaser in ArabianBusiness.com for a forthcoming exclusive interview with British PR supremo Max Clifford. Dubai needs a “softer image”, apparently. The place is “obsessed with money and wealth” and – worse – it’s also expensive. Well, hold the front page. We’ve been here before. A hundred years ago, a certain…

Read Full Post

Extraordinary images

Extraordinary images

Every so often something comes along which knocks you sideways, out of your ordinary day and – even if only for a few minutes – into a place of wonder. I don’t intend this blog to be a regurgitation of stuff I happened to come across online, but today I’m making an exception. The image…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

Landmark achievement

Landmark achievement

Back in June I blogged about how a tour-guide friend from Jordan, Yamaan Safady, had been shortlisted for a major award – the Paul Morrison Guide Awards 2009, run by Wanderlust magazine in the UK. I was at the awards ceremony last night, at London’s Royal Geographical Society, and I can report that Yamaan took the Silver…

Read Full Post

Red Dead

Red Dead

Ferociously busy at the moment, ahead of a trip next week – I’ve got several stories I want to blog about, but only time now to post this BBC news report from Jordan by Natalia Antelava about the plans to build a Red-Dead Canal, linking the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, and thus (a) providing…

Read Full Post

Low-cost Middle East

Low-cost Middle East

Expect a price war on flights to the Middle East this winter. On 2nd November, easyJet launches a new route from Luton to Tel Aviv, joining a host of airlines including BA, bmi, El Al, Thomson and jet2 flying between the UK and Israel. More significantly, the highly successful UAE-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia has…

Read Full Post

Excess Baggage

Excess Baggage

Chuffed and delighted to have been invited to appear as a studio guest on this week’s Excess Baggage, the Saturday-morning travel show on BBC radio’s speech network Radio 4 – recorded, thankfully, instead of going out live, as it usually does. All rather nerve-wracking, but I was on to talk about the plans for rail in the…

Read Full Post

Frankincense Trail: travel notes

Frankincense Trail: travel notes

I blogged in detail here about Episode One of the BBC’s travelogue The Frankincense Trail, where Kate Humble travels across the Middle East. Episode Two was, I thought, much better – an absorbing (and probably unique) hour of prime-time terrestrial TV devoted to showcasing Saudi Arabia as a tourist destination. There was, fortunately, much less…

Read Full Post

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….

Read Full Post

Frankincense and camel-jumping

Frankincense and camel-jumping

I settled in last night to watch the BBC’s new travel series The Frankincense Trail, in which presenter Kate Humble lugs a sack of frankincense fresh from the tree in Dhofar, southern Oman, all the way along the ancient trade routes across Arabia to the Mediterranean port of Gaza (or tries to). I had high…

Read Full Post

World’s five-star airline?

World’s five-star airline?

Something’s been bugging me about Qatar Airways. If you’ve ever watched any of the global English-language rolling news channels – chiefly CNN International, BBC World News or Sky News (all of which keep me company in hotel rooms around the world) – you couldn’t fail to have seen an ad or a sponsor’s message from…

Read Full Post

Last price

Last price

I recently came across this article, where the editor of Dubai-based HotelierMiddleEast.com bemoans the practice of bartering (aka bargaining or haggling). He’s making a serious point, about the madness of hotels’ imposing absurdly inflated “rack rates” on walk-in customers while offering cut-price “corporate rates” to agents, but I’m more interested in why one of the…

Read Full Post

Congrats Aleem!

Congrats Aleem!

Just wanted to acknowledge the fact – a few weeks late, sorry – that BBC journalist Aleem Maqbool won the Gaby Rado Memorial Award at the 2009 Amnesty International Media Awards last month, for his reporting from Gaza after taking over the BBC’s bureau there following Alan Johnston’s kidnap. I was going to link to…

Read Full Post

Oryx tale soup

Oryx tale soup

Yesterday, twenty Arabian oryx – a kind of white antelope, native to the Middle East – were released into the wild at Wadi Rum in Jordan, as the latest step in efforts to reintroduce the animal to the wild after its near-extinction in the 1970s. A bit of background: oryx once roamed widely from Egypt…

Read Full Post

Gimme shelter

A great story out of Dubai, where the transport authorities – to their credit – are trying to get people out of their cars and onto public transport. As well as the new metro – which opens on 9th September (9/9/09 – don’t ask me what the significance is, other than a good headline) –…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

Wind and spiders

It’s been a scatty week, with not much chance to think straight, let alone blog straight. I’m now back in Switzerland, on the final research trip to update my Rough Guide to Switzerland, looking out at the Baroque facade of the cathedral in Solothurn – it’s a humid summer evening and there’s an electric storm…

Read Full Post

Gulf of understanding

I was lucky, a couple of years ago, to have been put in touch with Andrew Humphreys – formerly an author with Time Out and Lonely Planet (Egypt, Syria et al), ex-freelancer for Condé Nast Traveller etc. He’d just been appointed editor of Gulf Life, the new inflight magazine for Bahrain’s Gulf Air, to be…

Read Full Post

Back to the land

A fine article in the Independent on Sunday by Joy Lo Dico about the resurgent interest in Lebanon in organic food, local food producers and traditional artisans – exemplified by the weekly Souk El Tayeb farmers’ market in Beirut. Slightly odd to find it in the Travel section – it feels more like a food piece,…

Read Full Post

On the waterfront

Another Middle East megaproject trundles on, this time the $10-billion Marsa Zayed (‘Zayed Harbour’) development in Jordan’s Red Sea resort city of Aqaba. For years Aqaba’s beaches played second fiddle to its port – which, during the 1990s, was the gateway for goods trucked to and from sanctions-bound Iraq. Since the creation of the low-tax Aqaba…

Read Full Post

Grand plans

What’s missing from this press release, announcing InterContinental Hotels’ investment in Oman’s Al-Madina Az-Zarqa (“Blue City”) development? Eagle-eyed readers will notice that there are no dates anywhere, other than a reference to Oman’s “Vision 2020” project. From what I understand, Blue City – a Dubai-style megaproject – has been hit unusually hard by the downturn:…

Read Full Post

River dance

A fascinating article from 7iber.com (pronounce it “hibber”) about the difficulties for travellers attempting to use the King Hussein Bridge/Allenby Bridge border crossing over the River Jordan. The author, Daoud Kuttab, is a renowned Palestinian journalist, and writes in detail about the tortuous border problems – and financial corruption involved – from a Palestinian perspective….

Read Full Post

Tourism 2.0

It’s the perfect venue for a revelation – St Ethelburga’s, a 15th-century church in the City of London which was partly destroyed by an IRA truck bomb in 1993 and which has now been rebuilt to serve as a centre for reconciliation and peace. I was there yesterday for a meeting about raising the profile…

Read Full Post

RAK rate

RAK rate

Just picked up this story about a new luxury resort in Ras Al-Khaimah, to be run by Banyan Tree. I saw it under development when I was in RAK earlier this year, on the back of a trip to Arabian Travel Market. RAK’s an odd place – but I rather liked it. It’s the most…

Read Full Post

Go Yamaan!

Just heard that Jordanian tour guide Yamaan Safady has been shortlisted for the Paul Morrison Guide Awards 2009, run by Wanderlust magazine in the UK. Fantastic news! Yamaan is a great guy, and he knows Jordan’s backcountry like nobody else. Looking forward to the awards ceremony in October… UPDATE (12 Sept 09): Check out this…

Read Full Post

Walking the walk

It’s been a few days since I had a chance to blog – not least because I’m now away updating my Rough Guide to Switzerland (writing this on the TGV from Zurich to Basel). I’ve had it in mind to put down something about this BBC story profiling a group calling themselves the Jerusalem Peacemakers…

Read Full Post

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…

Read Full Post

A little less lonely

Just picked up the new Lonely Planet Middle East book, 6th edition, May 2009. Pretty much exactly the same page-count as the previous edition (700-odd), but coverage has shrunk to the core Turkey-to-Egypt countries plus Iraq – there chiefly for the Kurdistan section. Libya and Iran have both been left out this time – quite rightly;…

Read Full Post