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.
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.
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.
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.
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.