Middle East Information:

The photographs in the Middle East section of the web site are the product of two separate visits to the area. I spent a week in Turkey in June 1998 (as a quick side trip on my way to Africa) and toured Istanbul and the Roman ruins at Ephesus and Pergamon. My visit was too short and I hope to return soon to see more of Istanbul and other parts of the country, especially the area along the Mediterranean coast.

I later spent almost two months in the Fall of 2000 visiting Egypt, Iran and Jordan.

On this page, I collect some of the resources I used to prepare for my trips and I would recommend to others.

Recommended Travel Company:

My Fall 2000 trip to Egypt, Iran and Jordan was organized through Geographic Expeditions of San Francisco, a company that I used in the past (for the Asia trip) and one that I have been highly satisfied with. The Iranian part of trip is offered by Geographic Expeditions as their "Treasures of Persia" tour. Arrangements on the ground in Iran were handled through Pasargad Tours in Tehran, who also did an excellent job throughout and receive my highest recommendation.

Recommended Hotels:

The hotel where I spent the most time during the Fall 2000 trip was the Cairo Marriott. I used the hotel as my "home base" to store luggage, check E-mail, have laundry done and generally relax between trips to other parts of Egypt as well as Iran, Jordan, Hungary and Uganda. It was always a pleasure to return to the Cairo Marriott. The hotel is built around a former royal palace, which is now used as the lobby area and space for at least half a dozen restaurants. There is a large and private pool and garden area behind the hotel which is a welcome oasis from the hustle and bustle of Cairo. The hotel is located on Zamalek Island in the Nile, so it is not a short walk to the tourist areas of Cairo, but cabs are readily available at all hours (make sure to agree on the fare BEFORE you get into the cab). You can make reservations through Marriott's web site. For some photos of the hotel, visit the Cairo page.

In Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt I stayed at the Ghazala Hotel. It was nothing fancy, but it was very clean, comfortable, and well-located to the beach and Sinai Divers, who I used for scuba equipment rental and dive trips.

Le Metropole Hotel in Alexandria was a pleasant surprise. Located along the corniche and Eastern Harbor, the hotel has been recently renovated and my room was large with high ceilings, well-decorated and quiet (no easy feat in Egypt). The hotel has maintained an old-style grandeur. The single elevator with a pull-aside metal gate is at once charming and occasionally frustrating (if you are in a hurry). The restaurant is nothing to get excited about, but was fine for breakfast. Unfortunately, the hotel doesn't seem to have its own website, but an Internet search engine will quickly turn up various third-party websites that provide information and reviews about the hotel.

The major standout hotel in Iran was the Abbasi Hotel in Isfahan, a converted caravansary. Where the large inner courtyard once gave refuge to caravans of merchants, it now offers a wonderful garden and tea house. The hotel is near a park and a short walk from the river. My room was small and nothing special, but the hotel itself made it all worth while.

The Movenpick Dead Sea Resort & Spa, although recently constructed, has been fashioned to look like an old village. All the amenities, however, are very much up-to-date. The hotel features a private beach on the Dead Sea and a fabulous swimming pool. There are several restaurants, including some outdoors. I wish I had scheduled more than one night here.

Recommended Books:

I am not ordinarily one to do much reading in preparation for a trip. Guide books, yes, of course, and in this genre I often find myself turning to the Insight Guides, one of the first to offer a lavish number of color photographs along with the usual travel information. For me, when planning a trip, I like to have some idea of what things will look like. But the Insight Guides' virtue is also their sin: there are very heavy to actually take along on the journey. After using them to plan a trip, it is usually some other guide that makes the trip.

A notable exception to my typical lack of preparatory reading was my trip to Iran. For some reason, I became utterly fascinated with this country. Part of it, no doubt, was the lure of forbidden fruit. The U.S. and Iran have had strained relations since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 overthrew the Shah, America's "man in the region" who could be counted on to stop Soviet expansion at whatever cost, even the oppression of his own people. But there was more than that. Iran is Persia. I wanted a better understanding of how this country evolved from a great empire, to a country known for its refinements in the arts and science, to a brutal monarchy and finally to the world's most notable experiment in theocracy. In addition, I wanted to understand more about Islam in general. I knew the image that we have in the U.S. of bearded radicals marching in the streets, terrorists and inhumane punishments could not explain why there are some one billion Muslims in the world today who stretch from western Africa to Indonesia, with growing representation in the U.S. and many other traditionally non-Islamic countries around the world. And so, you will find a disproportionate number of books below that deal with Islam in general and Iran in particular.

The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the 14th Century, by Ross E. Dunn (1989). At the age of 21, Ibn Buttuta, a devout Muslim, set off from his native Tangier to complete the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca that is the duty of all able Muslims. His journey lasted 25 years (from 1325 to 1349) and took him to all parts of the Islamic world, including Egypt, Syria, Persia, Iraq, East Africa, Yemen, Constantinople, India, Sumatra, China and many points in between. Professor. Dunn's adaptation of Ibn Battuta's own Rihla makes for fascinating reading.

Black on Black: Iran Revisited, by Ana M. Briongos (2000). This is a small book, both physically (176 pp.) and thematically. It is the story of a Spanish woman who had studied in Iran during the 1970s and returned many times since. The book explores the effects of the 1979 Islamic Revolution on Briongos' friends and acquaintances. The writing leaves a bit to be desired (it's a translation from Spanish), but it offers many portraits of the everyday lives of ordinary Iranians that I found no where else in my reading.

Daughter of Persia: A Woman's Journey From Her Father's Harem Through The Islamic Revolution, by Sattareh Farman Farmaian with Dona Munker (1992). This book covers the full sweep of twentieth century Iranian history. The author was born into a branch of the Qajar family, rulers of Persia until the 1920s. Their privileged world starting coming to an end when a soldier known as "machine gun Reza" led an overthrow of the Qajars and later installed himself as the new Shah. The author lived through Iran's tentative steps toward democracy and the later terror years of Mohammed Reza Shah, who reigned until the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The author, who founded the Tehran School of Social Work, soon found herself on the wrong side once the clerics took power. She was eventually forced to leave her homeland.

Iran, by Helen Loveday (1999). An excellent travel guide, filled with beautiful photographs. This was the preferred book of our Iranian guide.

The Iranians: Persia, Islam and the Soul of a Nation, by Sandra Mackey (Plume  1998). A detailed and very readable account of Iranian history from the Achaemenians up through the Islamic Revolution and beyond. In addition to facts and dates, the book places Iranian history in the context of its culture and the often conflicting influences that have shaped its destiny. The book offers particularly useful insights into the period of American influence in Iran under Muhammad Reza Shah and reasons behind the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Shah's eventual ouster in 1979.

The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transition in Iran, by Robin Wright (Alfred A. Knopf  2000). This book focuses on the causes and effects of the Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979, an event that often seems incomprehensible to Western observers. The author, a reporter, has interviewed key political and religious leaders, as well as ordinary Iranians trying to cope with the wrenching changes of the last two decades. The book gives faces and personalities to many of the names one reads in the newspapers every day about Iran.

Samarkand, by Amin Maalouf (translated by Russell Harris) (1998). This was a wonderful book! I was sorry to see it end. It is a historical novel that revolves around a manuscript of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The tale begins in the eleventh century, with Khayyam's meeting of Hassan Sabbah, who later founded of the Order of the Assassins, and Nizam al Mulk, the powerful vizier of Persia. The book continues in the early twentieth century with Persia's first failed democratic revolution. The book is highly readable and though a novel, offers the reader a rich tapestry of historical facts.

The Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam, by Omar Khayyam, translated by Peter Avery and John Heath-Stubbs (Penguin Books  1979). The poetry of Khayyam is still revered today throughout Iran, even though the subject matter of wine, women and pleasure is hardly endorsed by the religious hardliners.

The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, by Ian Shaw (Editor) (Oxford University Press  2000). A comprehensive history of ancient Egypt from prehistoric times through the Roman period (up to CE 395). The book is very readable and includes copious photographs and illustrations.

The Iron Wall: Israel And The Arab World, by Avi Shlaim (2000). While in Iran I spoke with a number of people and often the discussion turned to criticism of the U.S. Surprisingly, the criticisms had nothing to do with our support of the hated Shah, the 1979 hostage crisis and the subsequent freezing of Iranian assets, or the 1988 shooting down by the U.S. of an Iranian passenger plane killing all 290 aboard. Instead, the Iranians wanted to know how the U.S. could continue to support Israel in its military occupation of the West Bank and its seizure of land for building Jewish settlements. While I was in the Middle East, a U.S. warship was bombed in Yemen and the Palestinian intifada, which continues today, began anew. When I returned home, I vowed to learn more about the region. This very readable book, by a professor of international relations at Oxford University, traces the history of Israel from the early Zionist movement to the present day.

Islam: An Illustrated Historical Overview, by Walter M. Weiss (2000). There is far more to Islam, of course, than can be covered in this brief (180 pp.) book from Barron's "Crash Course Series." For the traveler, however, it is an excellent introduction to both the religion and how it has pervaded everything from the daily life of its adherents to the art and architecture the traveler will see throughout the Middle East.

Useful Travel Links:

It is always a good idea to check the U.S. State Department's Travel Warnings & Consular Information Sheets early on in your travel planning. You can learn which countries require entry visas and whether there are any safety warnings that apply to your intended destinations.

Another important web site to check early in your planning is the Travelers' Health page maintained by the Centers for Disease Control. They have up-to-date information on infectious diseases for all areas of the world, plus information about required and recommended vaccines.

Most countries in the Middle East require Americans to obtain entry visas. When you have decided which visas you will need, you can either obtain them yourself through a country's embassy or consulate or, for a fee (that I think is well worth it) you can have Zierer Visa Service, Inc. endure the bureaucracy on your behalf. I have used them several times over the years and have always been satisfied.

To get the latest exchange rates for 164 different foreign currencies, go to the Oanda.com FXConverter.

Egyptian Consulate General in San Francisco, for information about visas, etc.

The Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran (part of the Pakistan Embassy). U.S. economic sanctions against Iran have been recently (October 2007) ratcheted up as the Bush Administration beats the drums of war ever louder against Iran. For the latest information on what you can legally bring back to the U.S. and what you can't, and other forbidden financial dealings relating to Iran, go to the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Embassy of The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Washington, D.C.

Embassy of The Republic of Turkey