After visiting Qatar and Oman for Christmas, I had to fly back to the States to return to work. Chris stayed in the Middle East to do a little more exploring. Here’s an interview with him about his six-country tour:
So, tell me about Bahrain.
“Well, it’s a small island and most of it is one big city. A lot of bars, nightclubs, and nightlife catering to the Saudis coming over on the weekends. I visited Bahrain fort using public transportation, as well as the old souq, but mainly it’s a lot of skycrapers. The city is pretty spread out, not a very walking friendly.”
What was Kuwait like?
“Kuwait was pretty similar to Bahrain. The main downtown has skyscrapers and businesses, with a big souq/mall area in the center. The biggest tower is closed to the public, but you can go up inside the iconic Kuwait Towers, which look like giant balls skewered on sticks. The view from the inside is very nice. Public transportation is readily available but not all the places I wanted to get to were on a bus line. I went to the Al Qurain Martyrs Museum, where a bunch of Kuwaiti resistance fighters tried to hold off the Iraqis in 1991. It was closed when I got there, but the caretaker let me in after I told him I was in Desert Storm in 1991. The fish market and the corniche are a really nice area to walk around. ”
Eritrea is a hard country to visit- tell us about it.
“Getting the visa prior to going was difficult but I finally managed one from DC. The visa only gets you into the capital- if you want to visit another area of Eritrea, you have to get a permit from a government official in Asmara. Asmara is a sleepy town with really nice people who are eager to speak to the few tourists they get. It has some nice old Italian buildings and a coffee culture. You can visit the tank graveyard from the war with Ethiopia (you will need a permit). I took a 3 hour bus to Massawa- spectacular scenery as you go from 9000 feet to sea level. Hardly any guardrails on the road so I was glad the bus was pretty slow. Massawa was practically deserted- it took “sleepy little town” to a whole new level. Very few tourists, a few business owners. I was able to do some snorkeling with their dive center but since there wasn’t any other tourists, we couldn’t organize a dive. Even right off the island of Massawa the coral was pretty good. A lot of the times the restaurants didn’t have much available on the menu but did generally have spaghetti and injera.”
What did you do in Jordan?
“In Jordan I visited the city of Amman, and then went up to Umm Qais to see the Roman ruins right at the intersection of Golan Heights, Syria, and Jordan. Then I went to Jerash to see other ruins. I took a public bus down to Petra and hiked all around- get the two day pass, it’s worth it. I went very early in the morning and there were no other tourists yet. I met a Swedish guy in the hostel back in Amman so after taking the public bus to Petra, he and I wound up sharing a taxi on the way back to the capital so we could see the Dead Sea. Jordan was great- the food, the beer, the people. A little chilly in the wintertime but not freezing like up in Europe. Definitely worth a visit”.
Did you go to Lebanon just because Deah has already been?
“(Yes). I spent all my nights in Beirut and used it as a base- I did a winery tour in Bekaa Valley where we visited three wineries, and saw the Roman ruins at Baalbek- the local microbus system is easy once you figure that out. Byblos is just a short hop up from Beirut and it’s cool to see the Phoenician ruins and crusader castles, as well as where the alphabet began. Also north of Beirut is Tripoli, kind of like a border town, so close to Syria. They have some crusader castles up there too. South of Beirut there’s Tyre and Sidon, and you can see where soap was originally made. There’s two UNESCO sites down in Tyre- it’s easy to take public buses from Beirut down to the sites. In Beirut itself it’s fun to wander through the various neighborhoods- the walking tour was really nice, and you can visit the big mosque. I stayed at Saifi Urban Gardens hostel, which also has a bar and a language institute, so it’s a nice mix of locals and tourists, and of course great beer.”
“From Beirut I flew Cobalt Air into Larnaca, which felt like an off-season beach town. I wanted to get to Nicosia, so I took a public bus to get there. Nicosia is a nice walled city, but it’s split in half with a UN-guarded line between the Greek southern part and the Turkish northern part. There’s no problem getting back and forth, as long as you enter Cyprus from the south (the southerners consider it illegal to enter the northern part first). The two sides of the island have a different vibe- Greek food versus Turkish food, lira versus euro, Keo beer versus Eres. While on the Turkish side I took a bus over to Girne, which has a big castle that was variously controlled by all the different empires over time. It has a nice little harbor and locals there spending a day at the coast. I also visited Limassol, which felt like a beach town with a small Byzantine crusader castle.”
From Cyprus, Chris flew Aegean Airlines to Frankfurt, and then Wow via Iceland to Washington DC, taking advantage of their $99 one-way fares. Overall, he says, the hardest part of the trip was the variable weather with lots of rain, but still a fun, off-season foray into an area he’d always wanted to visit.