Favorite thing: Most travellers think that the possibility of travelling around the hot desert climates without a drink from time to time is torture or that they will not be able to access their favorite liquid. Many Middle Eastern countries have their own brewed beverages including beer and wine. Almost every single Middle Eastern country offers travellers or expats a chance to relax with a drink. The Arabian Gulf excluding Kuwait, Yemen and Saudi have Western pubs that sell foreign products while alcohol can be purchased in shops in Syria, Jordan etc. Lebanon, Turkey and the UAE have nightlife that would rival most European countries with Dubai and Beirut being better than most European cities. Most people obviously dont travel the Middle East to party but anything is possible and some countries will even shock you ;)
Where and When to Eat?
Favorite thing: One of my favorite things about the food situation in the ME is the possibility that you can find food just about anytime you want depending on the country. Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon offer loads of restaurants and stands offering kebabs and shwarmas while the Gulf states cater more towards the coffee shop crowd. Both experiences are cheap, quick and gives you a chance to eat on the move. Almost every country in the Middle East other than Syria and Yemen have KFC and Western chains. Places like Dubai and Bahrain have so many different chains of Western restaurants that the choice would be on par or better than your home country. The Gulf countries with their coffee shops offer up some great Indian dishes (due to sub continent expats) which is cheap and delicious. The Indian food is usually the cheapest and most reliable because due to the amount of Indian and Bengali expats, the food doesnt sit on a counter top in a restaurant during the heat so you have a better chance of not getting sick if you eat thalis rather than chicken dishes during mid day.
Most restaurants open around noon and the kitchens close when the last customer leaves during the night. The Gulf countries tend to shut down during the afternoon and open up after 5pm and shut down around 11pm. Middle Easterners are late eaters so chances are your eating habits will change during your trip. Note: Ramadan is an exception with shops closing down between sunrise to sunset.Related to:
- Budget Travel
"When we mention Persia or Persian Empire...
Favorite thing: "When we mention Persia or Persian Empire, we mean Iran after 559 BC, & by no means, it is necessarily wrong to say so.
So from 559 BC a beginning by Cyrus until 650 BC an end by Yazdgird III, The First Imperial Era has lasted. Despite all the braveries of Iranians including Yazdgird III & Ahura bless his great spirit Arteshbod "Rostam-e Farokhzad" head of Persian forces & the Grand General in charge of the defense of Ctesiphone, the great Sassanid Capital near Baghdad, Iran had lost the war. This was due to 60 years of war with Rome & Roman Empire, which had weakened the Persian Empire economically, militaristically, & spiritually. Another reason for this lost was the ever expanding distance between the social classes, unhappy lower classes, elite corrupt power of some Zoroastrian Clerics (Moobed & Moobede Moobedan), & last but not least "The Persian Traitors" & Infidels who always betrayed Iran & spied for Rome or Arabs. Persian Traitors were many low lives who sold Iran by the pound, & they are still doing it as of now!
IS IT ALLAH WHO COMMANDS YOU TO ...
Favorite thing: You tell me to stop my Fire Worship! Us, Persians see the Love of Creator & power of inventor in the light of Sun & warmth of Fire. Lights & Warmth of the Sun & Fire makes us see the light of truth & warmens our hearts to the creator & to one another. It helps us to be kind to one another, it enlightens us & makes us to keep Mazda's Flame, alive in our hearts. Our lord is Ahura Mazda & it is strange that you people also, just discovered him & named him Allah O Akbar! But we are not the same as you, we are not in the same level as you. We help other human being, we spread love among humanity, we spread Good throughout the Earth, we have been spreading our culture but in respect for other cultures throughout the whole world for thousands of years, yet you in the name of Allah invade other men's land! You mass murder the people, create famine, fear & poverty for others, you create Evil in the name of Allah. who is responsible for all this catastrophe?
Is it Allah who commands you to murder, pillage & to destroy?
Is it you the followers of Allah who do this in his name?
Is it both?
Favorite thing: Al-Jumhuriyah al-Arabiyah as-Suriyah, or else the Syrian Arab Republic is a mainly deserted country bordering with Iraq, Israel (but the border between the two countries is closed), Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Born on 17 April 1946 it's now ruled by the young Bashar al-Assad, who is trying to improve the qualitfy of life my many Syrian people as well as preserving their own national identity. One example? you will never find an American product in Syria... no McDonalds, no Pizza Hut, no Coca Cola! But try the local Ugarit Cola: it's delicious... better than the real thing!
Fondest memory: Syria is a country of contrast and hidden splendours - there's just so much to see - of everything. Abandoned old cities (Palmyra, Afamia) and the bizantine Dead Cities, "religious" sites like church and pillar of Saint Simeon, the villages where Aramean is still spoken (like Maalula), crusards castles (Ibn Wardan, Krak des Chevaliers, Bosra), and cities buzzing with life... with colourful and perfumed souks - like Aleppo and Damascus. And a lot more...
THE PERSIAN (IRANIAN,PARTHIAN) EMPIRE ...
Favorite thing: the persian (iranian,parthian) empire was a facinating periode of persian history closely connected to grecce and rome.
the persian empire revived the greatness of the achaemenid empire and counter balanced rome's,turkmenistan,afghanistan,tajikistan,pakistan,syria,lebonan,jordan,palastine and israel and contained portions of what are now modern iraq,turkey,armenia,azerbaijan and pakistan taht fell under persian rule.
the achaemenids ruled iran from 550 b.c to 330 b.c and their authority extended from the danube river to the indus river it's zenith.
The Five Pillars of Islam (Summary)
Favorite thing: Travellers should know a little bit about Islam before venturing into the area because I believe if you understand a little bit about the religion then you will understand the people better. Knowing about the culture before hand helps in this part of the world because you do not want to be mistaken for something culturally insensitive or offensive. Muslims believe that Allah decides everything and that they must submit to his will. Unlike the Torah or Bible, in which many different people record and interpret the many words and deeds of God, the Quran is said to be the exact words of god himself. The Five pillars are:
1. Shahada which means Muslims must declare pubicly 'There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet'
2. Salat means Muslims are expected to pray five times a day (sunrise, noon, mid afternoon, sunset and night)
3. Zakat mean that every Muslim has a duty to give alms to the poor. (1/40th of their income is given to the poor)
4. Ramadan - every Muslim must fast for the entire month of Ramadan.
5. Haj - Every Muslim capable of doing so must peform the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their life time.
Understanding and being informed is the key to having a great experience in this part of the world ;)
Favorite thing: Al-Jumhuriyah al-Lubnaniyah, or else the Lebanese Republic is a small country which is densely populated... sometimes, especially near beirut, it's hard to tell where one town ends and where another starts. It boders with Syria and Israel, but this border is closed. Born on 22 November 1943, it was once known as the Switzerland of the Middle East.. this at least until 1975 - where a civil war that went on until 1991 virtually tore down and apart the country. Lebanon has been quick at picking itself up - I must add - and like a phoenix it has once again risen from the ashes... if you were to judge it by its prices - it's again the Switzerland of the Middle East.
Fondest memory: Despite its diminuitive size there's a lot to see in lebanon - and of various interest. Like many other Middle Eastern countries there are interesting roman ruins - in Tyre and especially in Baalbeck (the legendary Heliopolis). There's an impressive castle by the sea at Sidon - very scenically located - and there's traditional-ish towns like Tripoli. The capital, Beirut, is buzzing with life - you'll see more mercedes and BMW cars there than in your entire life - it also doesn't feel like the Middle East at all. And then there is Qana... the most touching place in Lebanon.
Arabic Teaching Institute for Foreigners, Damascus
Favorite thing: In Damascus, I studied at the Arabic Teaching Institute for Foreigners,(known as 'the Mahad') which has quite a bad reputation as it is a fairly boring place to study. It is run like a primary school, complete with bells and black marks for being late, but this is ridiculous as the average age of students is about 30. They teach only Fusha (Modern Standard Arabic) which is the language used in newspapers, literature, and on news broadcasts, but not much use when haggling over carpets. Dialect is forbidden in the classroom! Classes are normally large, limiting speaking in class, but students come from all over the world - not everyone speaks English, so the only way to talk to anyone is through Arabic which speeds up the learning process. The institute's own textbooks are dire, no pictures, and all texts seem to do nothing but praise Syria (In 8 months, we studied the selected history of Syria, the ruins of Syria, the supposed lack of pollution in Syria etc...). However, the course is very good for learning grammar thoroughly.
Fondest memory: Lessons start at 9am, continuaing until noon with half an hour break at 10:30. Fridays and Sundays are holidays. The Institute observes both Muslim and Christian holidays, and a whole host of national holidays.
Other than language classes, the institute runs a few day trips to museums in Damascus, as well as some longer outings to Palmyra, Crac des Chevaliers and the coast. These are done in a decrepit old bus, and are usually accompanied by very loud music.
Studying at this institute is one of the only ways of getting a residence visa for Syria, and the first couple of days after registration are spent running between various ministeries with an armful of papers collecting signatures. They have classes for beginners, up to advanced level, and to become a Syrian citizen or enrol for a degree course at a Syrian university, you need to take the final course and exam to get the appropriate certificate. This is why the classes have such a wide range of language ability, as some people have lived in Syria for years, speak fluent Arabic, but need the certificate as a formality only! Another reason for the range of levels in one class is the joke that is the placement test. It is quite an ordeal (written and oral exams), yet the results don't seem to be taken into account when placing students in classes...if you take the test early on in the registration period, you'll be put in a suitable class, but if you do it later then you'll be bunged in any class with a spare seat. So near-beginners end up in the advanced class, while fluent speakers have to sit through excruciatingly slow lessons about the letters of the alphabet!
I would imagine, the beginners'classes are quite difficult as no language other than Arabic is used in class, although the beginners I met seemed to pick up Arabic fairly fast despite a confusing first few weeks.
For a course (Winter from Sept-May, Summer from June-August, same price) it costs US$450 for 'Westerners', US$200 for those from "elsewhere".Related to:
- Study Abroad
Sana'a Institute for Arabic language, Sana'a
Favorite thing: The Sana'a Institute for Arabic Language, surprisingly enough in Sana'a, Yemen, is much a much better place to learn Arabic than the Institute in Damascus. It is more expensive though. For a start, they limit classes to 6 students, although if there is no suitable class, you can have private tuition. You can choose how many hours you want to study per month (40, 80 or 120....that's roughly 2, 4 or 6 hours per day) and you can choose between having one or two teachers. The best thing though, is the fact that you can study things you are interested in, and they teach Fusha Arabic as well as Yemeni dialects (mostly Sana'ani). They are also fairly flexible when it comes to holidays - you choose your own!
Fondest memory: Classes can be as early as 8am or as late as 6pm - it's up to you and your teacher to choose a time. Fridays are holidays, and some teachers like to keep Thursdays free to chew qat (see my Yemen page for more on qat!).
They have a whole range of prices, so I'll just give an example - For 4 hours per day(80 hours in a month) private tuition it costs US$495, and in a class it costs US$285.
They can also provide accommodation on one of two renovated houses in the old city. If you don't like passport offices, the institute can handle all the paperwork for visas, travel permits, etc. for a small fee.Related to:
- Study Abroad
Favorite thing: Private tuition is another option, although you can't get residence visas in either Syria or Yemen this way. In Damascus, I found a teacher in the Palestinian 'Camp' (Mukhayyim) area, and I generally paid S£500 (about US$10) for a two-hour lesson. This is probably the best way to learn a dialect.Related to:
- Study Abroad
Alternative schools in Sana'a
Favorite thing: ALTERNATIVE SCHOOLS IN SANA'A. The Yemen Language Center used to have a good reputation, but recently it has had financial problems and the quality of teaching has plummeted. I met a few students from that institute, and none of them were happy with the course. When I went to look round it, I didn't hear a word spoken in Arabic - in fact it was almost like a piece of America. A Yemeni friend who came with me had to wait at the gate - not encouraging, how can you learn a language if isolated from native speakers?!
Prices are high (US$800 for 6 weeks of classes) but apparently negotiable!!!
CALES (Centre for Arabic Language and Eastern Studies in the heart of the old city is supposed to be very good, but the old city is such a rabbit warren that I never found the place!
For Muslims, there are some courses at the universities in Sana'a, and these are free, but class sizes are huge (50+)Related to:
- Study Abroad
Favorite thing: Syria is a great place to visit in the Middle East!
it is a rich culture country and very ancient and has many interesting places to visit!
I would like to tell you that more information about Syrian Cities you can find in my Syria page!
Favorite thing: Lebanon is special in the Middle East!
I am not saying that only because I am half Lebanese!
yes my Mother is from Lebanon!
ha ha ha
indeed Lebanon is a very interesting place to visit in the Middle East!
Please check my Lebanon Modest page and see the Must see activities tips to know more about this great country!
Hotels with focus on budget
Favorite thing: Standards range greatly between each of the Middle Eastern countries as well as the Gulf states. The Middle East generally has a good selection to choose from with the cheapest fundooqs being in Egypt, Syria and Yemen. The most expensive hotels are in the Gulf, Israel and Jordan. Hotels in the top range offer you everything you could ever hope for with AC, double beds and showers and Western toilets. Bottom of the bunch are ones with no AC, no TV and less than clean washrooms. The standards in the lower class are squat toilets as well as cold showers. The top end to mid range are suitable for female travellers but the lower end places should be avoided due to the presence of working girls as well as business men. The standards are what you may expect in this part of the world.Related to:
- Budget Travel
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