I have such a soft spot for the Middle East; it can be the most ‘in your face’, noisy, chaotic and frustrating place in which to travel, but somehow, inexplicably, it just gets under your skin.
From Amman in Jordan, it takes less than an hour to get to the Dead Sea. This inland salty lake, over 430m below sea level, is a geographical oddity, its mineral-laden waters and unique climate are thought to have a wealth of health-giving properties. Within minutes of arriving I wade out, mud squishing between my toes, the weird soapy texture of the water soothing away the hours of travel and, of course, I read the obligatory newspaper as I float on, rather than in, the water.
I feel a quiet frisson of excitement as I walk through the narrow cleft of rock known as the siq, towards Petra. Nothing can quite compare to the first glimpse of al-Khazneh, the towering stone structure that magically appears, I pause for a moment as I gaze upwards, the sound of school children shrieking as they climb onto a camel fades to nothing and I am instantly transported back thousands of years.
In Israel the view from the Mount of Olives, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem add to my journey through the past before we are yanked back into the present with a very cool street art tour in the hipster and Bohemian Florentin quarter of Tel Aviv.
Egypt pulses with an energetic vibe, work continues apace uncovering new archaeological and cultural sites across the country. I have visited the pyramids more times than I can count, but I stand in awe of these magnificent structures, before travelling further into the desert to check out the prototype, or Step Pyramid of Sakkara. Then it’s on to Upper Egypt to cruise along the Nile: the temples of Abu Simbel, Philae Kom Ombo and Karnak fill my inner eye with pomp and ritual, the third tier of the Funerary Temple of Hatchepsut is open, so I take the opportunity, despite the 45-degree heat, to climb my way to the top of this weirdly modern looking temple built into a towering cliff-face.A visit to the Valley of the Kings reminds me the ancient Egyptians spent their whole lives preparing for death and reminds me of my own mortality.
Is it the truly remarkable beauty and symmetry of structures designed and built many thousands of years ago, the eclectic mesh of Mediterranean, African and Middle Eastern flavours of the food, years of history and trade and birthplace of numerous belief systems, the timeless quality of the slow waters of the Nile, the kaleidoscopic glory of desert sunsets or the genuinely charming and friendly people that make me love the Middle East so? Join our ‘Petra to the Pyramids’ small group hosted journey in October 2020 and your own reasons to love the Middle East will reveal themselves.