On the slope of Jabal al-Madhbah, in the Valley of Moses (Wadi Musa), lies the ancient city of Petra. When Nabataeans took over the city from Edomites and made it into the capital of their kingdom, the city gained status as it stood at one of the most important trade routes in Arabia. Caravans passed through Petra, carrying spices and textiles from Arabia to Syria, allowing the city to collect taxes from traders. The Nabataeans also developed their own extraordinary water system, which enabled the city to flourish even during prolonged periods of drought. Petra continued to prosper after Romans took over and eventually declined due to the change in trade routes. The earthquakes that devastated the whole area also brought the Rose City to ruin. It was not until 1812 that Petra was revealed to the Western World. Since then, the site has not lost its spotlight and historical importance as it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. It is also the most visited tourist attraction in Jordan. This is a must-visit site if you happen to be in Jordan!
Before coming to Jordan, I tried to browse through a number of profiles in CouchSurfing and see if there are any interesting locals I would like to meet. When it comes to Jordan, though, I took an extra precaution in choosing a host to stay with. The amount of men registered on this site with a wrong purpose alarmed me. I encountered many profiles with negative references. After all, this is an Arab country with an Arab culture. They are not used to hanging out with women or having women sleeping in their homes. This is not their culture to say the least. Compared to Turkey and Iran, choosing an open-minded host with true travel spirit in Jordan proved to be difficult.
Stepping my foot in an airport named after the late Queen of Jordan, Alia al-Hussein, brings back a lot of childhood memories. This is the airport where I used to stay countless of hours on transit with my family on our way to other Middle Eastern countries. In the 90's — long before the existence of budget airlines -- Jordan used to be a getaway to neighbouring countries as its national carrier offered one of the best and cheapest price compared to other airlines. My family took advantage of it to travel to Palestine, Turkey, and Syria. Today, the fare of Jordanian Airlines may not be as cheap as Air Arabia or Fly Dubai, but it is still comparably cheaper than Emirates and the likes.
New Year's Eve in Istanbul seems kinda cool. I can picture myself sitting by the side of Bosphorus shores, drinking Turkish tea, and enjoying fireworks which beautifully illuminate the entire city. These are my ideal New Year's Eve that I have in mind.
Exhausted is the only word I can say about myself as soon as the plane has touched down at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen Airport. I did manage to sleep for a few hours, but it wasn't enough. All I want to do now is to rush to the visa and immigration section, take my luggage, hop into the last bus to the city, find my hostel that I already booked, and have a proper sleep. The visa on arrival process is smooth sailing -- to my surprise.
I have been looking forward to come back to Tehran after having such a memorable day with my host Reza and his family, and Saeede. I promised them that I would find a way to come back, even with my packed schedule. I am glad that I fulfilled my promise. The purpose of me going back is actually just one: to spend as much time as I can with them.
24-25 December 2011 The next two days of my stay in Shiraz is purely dedicated for sightseeing and meeting fellow CouchSurfers. As the amount of money I have for this entire trip is significantly reduced by USD 400 due to the unexpected change of plans, I cannot go beyond the city centre as travelling outside of Shiraz would be expensive. But it does not seem to be a bad decision either to stay in the city as Shiraz seems toRead more
Azin asks me if I have any plans today and whether or not I'd like to join her for a so-called Shirazi picnic in her friend's house. Since the first day I arrive in Tehran a week ago, my schedules were always packed with sightseeing and meeting CouchSurfing people. I did not have a single day of full rest and doing nothing. Somehow, I kinda miss that feeling. I figure, I have two more days before I come back to Tehran. That's enough time to do sightseeing and mingling with locals. Why would I want to miss out this golden chance? I finally say 'yes' to her invitation :)
Traveling to Iran would not be complete without visiting historic sites of the Great Archaemenid Empire. Since these sites are not too far away from Shiraz, I decided to visit them as soon as we arrive in the city from Yazd early morning. An Iranian guide, recommended by Lonely Planet, picks us up from the bus station to our ultimate destination. I'm hoping that by having a tour guide, we'd not only visit these places and be amazed with their architectures, but also learn about the history behind them.
When doing my research on Iran before this Middle East trip, there were two particular cities that particularly caught my attention. Yazd is one of them. Being the centre of Zoroastrianism and the main religion of some of Persian great empires, Yazd is the city I would not want to miss. Even though I would be spending only a few hours in Yazd, I wouldn’t mind taking a bit of detour, just so that I can catch a glimpse of Yazd. Upon traveling around Iran for few days, I came to realize that indeed, I made the right decision to come all the way from Esfahan to Yazd. Zoroastrianism has been one of the defining elements of Persian culture.
After dinner, Ikmal and I join Majid to discuss about Shia, the most misunderstood branch of Islam, merely because the majority of Muslims in this world are Sunnis. Our intention in starting such discussion is not to try to convince the other party that his view is wrong, but merely to know and understand Shia from a Shia's perspective.
Our tour around the Imam Square continues to Ali Qapu Palace, which is unfortunately closing earlier than we expected. This used to be the place where Shah Abbas entertained his noble visitors and foreign ambassadors
We arrive in Esfahan just after the call to a morning prayer. I managed to sleep a little bit during the 6-hour long train ride. It was noisy and bumpy, but this was expected as I was too used to the comfort of European trains. But I'm happy that I'm in Esfahan now! I've always wanted to go to this city, which is the former capital city of Persia. When I think of Iran, Esfahan is the first thing that comes into my mind. The famous Square is the reason why I am drawn into this place.
The minute we step into Sharaf El Islam Restaurant we know that this is indeed a perfect place to taste authentic Iranian foods. My host, Reza, recommended me this restaurant located right inside the Grand Brazaar of Tehran. The restaurant is packed with Iranians and the tables are arranged very close to each other. The place is quite narrow and it is quite tricky to find a place to sit.