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…

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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…

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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…

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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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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,…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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“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…

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“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…

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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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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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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…

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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…

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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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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,…

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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….

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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…

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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,…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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….

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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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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…

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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…

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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…

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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) –…

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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…

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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…

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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:…

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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…

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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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