Places with photo galleries in Middle East
Middle Eastern capitals often sell themselves as modern and exotic, but very often they are little more than a collection of supermalls, construction sites, and shinny office buildings in geometrical shapes. At first sight, Manama isn't anything different – it even lacks of any flamboyant twist, contrary to like Dubai and Doha – but when you venture into the winding lanes of downtown Manama or the neighbourhood of Muharraq (near the airport), you will see a very less modern and lively city. Here the traditional dressed Arabs are easily outnumbered by migrant workers from all over Asia. In these quarters there are always a scent of spices and it's possible to have a brilliant meal for a few dinars. Bahrain's liberal attitude to their expats also mean you can find a cold beer (legally), if you look hard enough.
Dohuk is probably the first real Kurdish/Iraqi town (not counting the border town of Zakho) you come to when arriving from Turkey. It is a small city with a big and lively souq - and not so much more. The neighbourhoods on the hills in the east end of Kawa Rd. can be fun to wander through, getting lost in the maze of living quarters while greeting curious kids. The Money Exchange Centre on the west end of Kawa Rd. is, besides a good place to change money, another place to have a look at. Here street dealers sit at cardboard boxes stacked with big wads of money, a lot of money - a reminder that Iraq is not a budget destination.
Erbil (also spelled Arbil or Irbil) is a very spread-out city. The heart of the old part is the citadel that crowns the city from a hill. The old building stretches right to the edge of the hill and all the facades facing the city have been done up, but otherwise the citadel is pretty much left in ruins. Below the citadel entrance is the newly rebuilt city square with illuminated fountains and a clock tower. To the sides you find the real Erbil in shape of the covered souq to the west and the rowdy market street of Handren St. to the east. For a different experience, head for the Christian quarter at Ainkawa, a taxi ride away - the rows of liquor stores will indicate when you are there.
Though Erbil is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Sulaymaniyah (also spelled Sulaimani) has a more modern city feel. The city center has a selection of cafes and shopping malls for the liberal minded girls and boys which the city seems so full of. The souq area in Sulaymaniyah is also more impressive than the one in Erbil with a fine covered part (nuts, shoes, clothes, lingerie, etc.) and a chaotic outdoor part (fruits, vegetables and meat). In the cooler evenings, do like the locals and drive up the hill outside town and enjoy the view over the city while the sun sets.
The old town of Jerusalem deserves more than this single article. There is so much history and religious important places packed into one spot that it's hard to do more than scratching the surface. By being the holiest place on earth for Christians, Jews and the third holiest for Muslims (after Mecca and Medina) it's a place of controversy, something we won't dwell with. Go there as a traveller and just suck up the atmosphere. It's pure madness; hordes of tourist getting charmed by vendors, strangely outfitted religious characters rushing trough the narrow lanes and teenage soldiers with pimples and guns. With all the most-see sites like Western Wall, Temple Mount with the Dome of Rock and the church of the Holy Sepulchre taken the attention, there are a lot of wonderful strange sites that are half hidden. Try to find where the last supper took place, the birth place of Virgin Mary or the Ethiopian Monastery Deir-Sultan. No matter what your belief or expectations are, Jerusalem will blow you away.
The huge gorge of Wadi Mujib ends at the Dead Sea. This lower bit is a part of a nature reserve where different guided treks and canyoning is possible into the narrow and beautiful gorge. A trip where a guide isn't necessary is the 2km long Siq trip. Depending on the water level you walk, swim and pull yourself upstream, climb boulders and smaller waterfalls before you reach a big dramatic waterfall plunging from the higher canyon. Here you turn around and go the same way back. It's a surprisingly wild trip where everything gets wet and you might earn some bruises (bring only camera if in dry bag).
Petra will no doubt be one of the highlights of any trip to Jordan, maybe even the reason to come here in the first place. Spectacular imposing tombs carved right out the rock face dating back to the civilisation of the Nabataeans about 2000 years ago. Winding narrow canyons leads into the area, and magnificent views over the desert and the tombs will reward you from the top of the surrounding mountains. Petra is taken right out of Indiana Jones, literately. But all this "amazingness" attracts a fair share of, let's face it, annoying fellow visitors. By arriving early, leaving late and general doing the sights in a non-obvious direction not only will you catch the best light, but you will also pretty much get the place to yourself. Off-the-beaten-track places not to be missed are the monastery Al-Deir with its many viewpoints, the viewpoint above the Treasury and the winding canyon trek through Wadi Muthlim (see photo gallery).
This is a stunning desert setting with red sand dunes and amazing pink rock formations raising straight up from the valley floor. Throw in several sites with ancient rock carvings and a few newer historical sites from the time when the British officer T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) passed through (in early 20th-century) and you have one of Jordan major attractions. The area is inhabited by friendly Bedouin tribes, who runs the adventure tours into the desert. Most sites can be reached with a four-wheel drive within a full day, but stay overnight at a "Bedouin camp" and enjoy the clearest night sky you might ever experience. If you fancy a camel ride (and a sore bum) or want some trekking add an extra day, the serene scenery only becomes better in a slow pace.
Kuwait City was actually also a city before the oil boom, with palace, souq, and harbour. It still have those things today, in addition to the mandatory glass-and-steel skyscrapers the Gulf State capitals are so known for. But skyscraper-wise Kuwait is a bit behind the UAE and even Doha, though it's undergoing constant transformation and now has its first super skyscraper, Al Hamre Tower (412 m). However, downtown still has a lot of funky office buildings from the early oil boom days in 70s, which match well with the well-known landmarks of Kuwait Towers and lesser well-known mushroom water towers.
The most impressive ruin in Lebanon. Besides being located in the middle of "modern" Baalbek town, the site can offer several magnificent Roman's temples. The one for Jupiter is the grandest, unequalled in the world, with columns soaring 23m into the air, where six still stands today. The foundation consists of some of biggest building block, some weighing about 800 tonnes. It is thought that it have taken more than 120 years to complete the temple complex, though different Roman Emperors still added to the complex centuries after. Another temple is the one of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. Smaller than Jupiter's, but still bigger than Parthenon in Athens, it's one of the best preserved in the world with beautiful decorations, where you can still make out the fine details - along with semi-ancient graffiti.