When you think of the Middle East, it’s hard not to see sand and not the good kind. Deserts are wastelands that are hot and humid and where nothing lives. It’s no wonder the area has a PR problem!
However, look under the hood and you’ll find a fascinatingly unique world. From souqs to bazaars and traditional markets, there are sights, sounds and smells to behold. Plus, there is an array of countries, cities and towns to visit. Forget staying in one place because this region has Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. That means it’s home to culture, history and opulent luxury if that is your thing of course.
Not everywhere is perfect and there are downsides. Let’s face it – you could do without the troubles between Palestine and Israel on holiday. Still, the positives tend to outweigh the negatives, and here are the reasons why.
Although the Middle East is a brilliantly original place, we should focus on the status quo for now. The reason is the hundreds of beautiful and awe-inspiring tourist attractions that call the region home. Within Jerusalem alone there are three of four major religious monuments, the Wailing Wall being the highlight. And, Israel is just one small country in a vast area of sprawling history. Iraq, for instance, has a history that spans centuries back to Mesopotamia. As a result, the mosques are some of the most revered and well-maintained in the world. If that isn’t enough, there is a Seven Wonder of the world. In Jordan, you will find Petra, a Unesco World Heritage site. Nicknamed the ‘Rose City,’ Petra is an archaeological attraction that dates back to 300 Before Christ. Only accessible via a small canyon, the pink cliffs house tombs and temples, making it a must-see.
You won’t often look at the clock and think ‘I can really go for Lebanese food.’ But, it’s your funeral because the Middle East is home to a selection of the finest cuisines in the world. Sure, they don’t have the marketing ability of a France or an Italy, but it doesn’t make them any less delicious. Starting off with a couple of recognizable dishes, hummus and bread is an excellent starter that gets the taste buds buzzing. If you think you have tried this yogurt-based dish before, just wait until you sit down at a humble shack by the side of the road. Falafel is another meal that is quite popular among western tourists and it’s well worth a try. However, the pièce de résistance is shawarma. The Brits call it ‘donner’ and we see it as a hangover cure, but the truth is the succulent pieces of meat are a delicacy in Asia. Served with garlic sauce and pitta bread, there isn’t a better way to enjoy a glorified kebab. If kebabs are your thing, then Shish Tawook should also be on the menu.
The Yearly Events
History and culture are amazing, but there has to be nightlife and excitement. The rulers of some Emirates understand this and are trying to find a balance between religious life and westernization. Locals may say they have gone too far the other way, yet you won’t complain when you land in the UAE. During November, the masterpiece of the world-renowned Formula 1 Championship takes place at the Yas Marina and it’s a sight to behold. It’s also incredibly loud so don’t forget to bring earplugs. Twinned with the F1 are nightly concerts involving the likes of Mumford & Sons and Pink, too. Okay, they may not be to your liking, yet the stadium should blow your mind considering the sheer size and scale. If modern art is more your thing, there is a host of events. Syria has a photography gathering in Aleppo; just remember the flak jacket! Palestine, on the other hand, has an international art festival while Lebanon is home to a dance festival in August.
It’s impossible to mention the Middle East without talking about the United Arab Emirates. Quite simply, the UAE is a place where the rich, famous and wealthy cavort and live the good life. It’s not all picnics and rainbows, but it isn’t bad if you have the spending money. From racing in Meydan to camel racing, there are betting opportunities to double your money. Or, you can learn to drive a seaplane over the coasts of Dubai if you fancy yourself as a Sully Sullenberger. Should that be enough, just hire a car and go rallying in the desert. Don’t worry about the cost either because there are deals on activities in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Even when there aren’t, the Emirates are in such fierce competition that haggling is a cakewalk. Finally, a five-star hotel should be on the cards thanks to the rise in budget-luxury. A tip to keep in mind is to fly to Dubai and drive to Abu Dhabi as it’s cheaper and only a one-hour journey.
You may think that the likes of Dubai, Bahrain and Kuwait are the hotspots, but Beirut is the jewel in the crown. Considered to be the ‘Paris of the Middle East,’ the capital of Lebanon is incredibly lively when the sun goes down. Please don’t listen to the people that say they need a vacation in Beirut like a hole in the head. They don’t know what they are talking about because the city has been quite peaceful for years. Yes, there is violence and you have to be careful as a western tourist, but this logic applies to every foreign town. To this day, Beirut is attracting the hottest DJs in the world and providing people in the region a chance to unleash the shackles. Just tell the cabbie to drop you off anywhere in the Mar Mikhael district and you’ll be fine. Be aware that Beirut is a playground for the rich and beautiful and it may be expensive. However, your fears will soon disappear after a couple of large gins at the Mothershucker.
The Mix Of Tradition And Modernity
Newspapers reported that Saudi Arabia was finally allowing women to drive. Now, it’s a law that is long overdue and showcases the treatment of ladies throughout the region. But, it is also a monumental step forward for the communities within Riyadh. To them, the idea of women driving, as backward as it sounds, was never realistic. Today, the girls are finally behind the wheel and cruising around the city. The Middle East is definitely different to anywhere else in the world, and that is good and bad. However, for tourists, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to witness history take place. When you mix modernity with the historical traditions, you get an experience that isn’t available anywhere else in the world.
For the most part, Islam is the predominant religion in the area. And, this fact is one reason to visit the Middle East. At the moment, the West is having a hard time viewing the practices with objectivity and balance. Why? It’s because the majority of people don’t understand the religion. Going to a mosque and watching and speaking to the people will transform your thoughts and feelings. The truth is that the average person just wants to worship God and live a simple, stress-free life. In many ways, existence in the USA is symmetrical. Considering Allah impacts the whole region, it’s a legitimate reason to visit.
What do you think about the Middle East? Is it on your bucket list?