The heart of a nomad-where to go next?

It´s a year to the day that I have moved into my little place in Torrevieja on Spain´s Costa Blanca. Small but cozy, the ideal writer´s den, just steps from the beach. I can contemplate the sea from my balcony, enjoy warm weather year around and have made many new friends, Spanish and otherwise.

Beach in Torrevieja

Beach in Torrevieja

Considering, that I am on the right side of 70 but only just and am still laboring with the aftereffects of a cracked spine, my sensible angel who lives on my right shoulder, tells me, that it´s time to grow roots, to stop looking for greener pastures and to be happy where I am now.

The promenade

The promenade

BUT, there is the little travel devil which sits on my left shoulder. That one wears boots and always carries a small suitcase on wheels. The world is big, he whispers. There is so much yet to do and see, new cultures to explore, nature to marvel over, museums to visit. You aren´t an old age pensioner who is happy to just sit on a bench in the sun, you aren´t in a wheelchair and restlessness starts rising to the surface.
I have to acknowledge that I am a nomad at heart and after a year or so, feel the urge to move on. I am fighting an eternal battle between wanting to settle down and being compelled to move on. That urge isn´t satisfied by just traveling, I need to live in a new country, to become local.
I have done that all my life. So far I have lived in Switzerland, the UK, Miami, Turkey, Beirut and now, for the second time, Spain. My stays covered a period of anything between six months and 5 years and I loved every day as much as I love the prospect of going somewhere else.

London

London

In Beirut

In Beirut

Fasnacht in Basle Switzerland

Fasnacht in Basle Switzerland

View from my window in Miami

View from my window in Miami

Cappadocia/Turkey

Cappadocia/Turkey

The downside is that I don´t feel comfortable in rented accommodation which would be much more suitable to a nomadic lifestyle. I need a place of my own, just in case the sensible angel wins out in the end. So there is the hassle of selling, followed by the pleasure of house hunting. You see, there is always a balance. I also don´t accumulate possessions, they are only an encumbrance when the time comes to move on.
The question is: where next? Decisions, decisions. Right now I am inclined towards Italy. As a preliminary step, I have started to learn Italian, one never knows and another language always come in handy. But for once, I think I´ll be sensible and make forays into different parts of Italy over the next year, still keeping my base in Spain. Is that a sign of advancing old age, I wonder?
Whatever, the battle is raging on, but deep down I know who is, sooner or later, going to win.
I´m sure there are other nomads at heart around and I´d love to hear their stories and feelings.

So many words for one ‘necessity’

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another ‘necessity’ which has so many different words to describe it. I am talking about the good old toilet. Here are a few words:

 

Toilet

Rest room

WC

Powder room

Lady’s and Gent’s

There are of course some much ruder words in different languages which I will leave to your imagination. This is, after all, supposed to be and elegant and sophisticated blog, no bad language here.

 

Then, there are signs: from lipstick and fan to bowler hats and pipes. Or the stick men and women which sometimes can lead to confusion.

I often wondered if the distinction of ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gentlemen’ as opposed to ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ reflects on the presumption or snobbishness of the establishment or on the’ social class’ of the potential users. If you are a rather smelly bag lady, are you allowed in the ‘Ladies’ (because you are after all a lady) or are you relegated to the ‘Women’. If you are a man but don’t wear a suit and tie, can you still ‘go’ to the ‘Gentlemen’?

Or maybe, the distinction has to do with the quality of the amenity? Three layer loo paper in the ‘Ladies’, one layer in the ‘Women’?

Here are two pictures of very original toilets I found during my travel.

Feel free to add!

 

Toilet doubling as an art gallery in Jordan

 

Photo of the owner’s wife indicating the toilet in a restaurant in Beirut

Oman – my next destination

In 10 days time, I’m finally off to my often postponed trip to Oman. I guess, every traveler has a favorite part of the world which they will visit again and again. For me, it’s the Middle East. I like the heat, I like the desert, I like the many, many ancient sites, I like the culture, I like the food, I even like the sound of the Arabic language, although my mastery of it extends to about 5 words. I can read the alphabet but it doesn’t do me much good if I don’t have a clue what the words mean. No problem, I sail through smoothly with English and/or French.

So far, I have been to the Lebanon, Jordan, Sharjah and Dubai. I had made plans to visit Syria which, sadly,  is no-go as are my other dream destinations: Libya and Mali. Although it’s not the Middle East, I’m an avid visitor to Morocco  too. I have lost count of the times I visited, particularly when I was living in the South of Spain and hopping across to Casablanca all the time. Or to Ceuta for a  whiff of the exotic.

Pidgeon Rock/ Beirut

 

Petra/Jordan

 

Soukhs/ Sharja

 

Sunset in Dubai

Now it’s Oman with a short stop over in Bahrain. Apart from taking me back to my favorite part of the world, this trip is also a rarity for me, because, for once, I’m not traveling on my own. My dear friend Wendy is coming with me. Like me she will do anything,  go anywhere, try any food and poke her nose into every secret corner. We had a smashing time together in Morocco, the only other occasion when I was traveling in company.

Wendy cooling off in Marrakesh

Wendy has a little foible though which makes me laugh: being British she just LOVES animals. In Morocco she couldn’t pass any stray cat, dog or donkey without talking to it, stroking it or throwing it a morsel. She even fed a Polo mint to a donkey in Marrakesh. What did the ungrateful animal do? Spit it out, it didn’t want to have fresh breath!!

The donkey which didn’t like fresh breath

This habit however makes for very slow progress when you go exploring on foot. This time she is only allowed to pay attention to every third donkey and leave the dogs and cats alone. Do they have donkeys in Oman? Maybe I get lucky and they don’t. They do have fabulous horses though.

Nobody in their right mind goes to Oman in August because it’s the hottest months. Temperatures are well into the 100s and it doesn’t cool down much at night. But, like me, Wendy thrives on heat. When it’s cold, we just want to shrivel up and hibernate until the warm weather rolls around again. Inside there is plenty of AC, so we will be fine. And, of course, there is the big advantage of low prices. My  return flight from Istanbul costs all of $400. We have parked ourselves in the fabulous 5 star Crowne Plaza Hotel with private beach and all other luxuries for approx. $130 per night per person.

Crowne Plaza Hotel Muscat

You may think that this is rather stiff, but in full season it would cost twice as much. I have  also often found that people are under the misapprehension that Middle East equals cheap. Not so. You can eat cheaply if you are not afraid to venture into holes in the walls (we both just love to do that), get around by taxi if you bargain fiercely in advance, but otherwise it’s not what you would call a budget destination. We could have saved a few bucks by sharing a room, but some off time and privacy makes for a much more enjoyable trip if you travel in company. So, it’s well worth the additional money.

Oman is a much more traditional country than say Dubai and on top of it, it’s Ramadan. So, we are faced with a fashion challenge because, outside, we have to cover our arms, legs and head. Instead of seeing it as an inconvenience, I love the idea of putting light but cover all outfits together. And so does Wendy.

It is another misapprehension which I have encountered often: people think they will stay cooler if they wear as little clothes as possible. Again, not so: Wide, long sleeves and trousers, flowing long dresses or skirts allow what little air there is to circulate and prevent the sun from burning your skin. On top of it, you always look good and elegant, whereas halter tops and short  shorts don’t do anything for anyone over 25.

I haven’t told you much about Oman itself,  that is reserved for my upcoming stories once we are in situ. Our base is the capital Muscat with many excursions planned from there, among them to fly to Salalah in the south and to visit Sohar and Nizwa a bit closer to Muscat. The sound of the names alone makes me already dream.

Nizwa Castle/Oman

 

 

 

 

Do as the Beiruti – a Sunday in Byblos

If you want to get out of Beirut on a Sunday but still be by the sea, enjoy remarkable historic sites, savor particularly good fish, stroll around an old souk and feel like Frank Sinatra or Marlon Brando – then get in the car and take the Tripoli Highway north to Byblos.

It’s only about 38km from Beirut and the highway is in good condition, but even so, always bear in mind that driving in the Lebanon is a science all by itself. If you don’t feel comfortable enough, better take a taxi.

Byblos is believed to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world, founded around 5000 BC. The Greek word Byblos is also where the name ‘bible’ came from and the Arabic name  of the city is Jbeil.

Park the car in the parking lot, following the sign ‘port’ underneath the sign Byblos sur Mer and explore on foot. The ancient port of Byblos is today a favorite destination of yacht owners from Beirut and abroad and once you take a look, you can perfectly understand why the place held such an attraction for the likes of Frank and Marlon in the 60s and 70s.

History  fans can get an eyeful by visits to the temple of Baalat Gebal, Byblos Castle and the medieval church of St. John. Excavations and restorations are still under way and you can watch busy archaeologist carefully lift the tiniest shards out of the ground and cataloguing each find there and then.

Walk further on to the southeast section of the historic city and enter the partially covered souk, one of the oldest markets which sells souvenirs, trinkets and clothes.

Next stop should be one of the many fish restaurants all of which serve the freshest fish dishes, followed by a sun down drink in an open air bar before heading back to Beirut.

 

 

 

 

Two majestic Roman sites outside Italy

For lovers of Roman  history who can’t get enough of climbing around temples, walls and the remains of entire citied, a visit to Italy is a must. But, when you come upon some of these places in countries as far away as Jordan and the Lebanon you get a real  feel for how vast the Roman Empire was. You read about it in history books but it only comes alive when you stand in the shade of soaring columns and lay your hand on marble blocks which have been carved thousands of years ago in the Middle East.

My very own ‘discoveries’ are these two, with a little ‘unroman’ something along the way!

Jerash in Jordan

Jordan is full of stories about important ancient sites which had vanished from sight and were re-discovered by accident. I told you about Mr. Burckhardt and Petra and the same is true for Jerash. This time it was a German traveler by the name of Ulrich Jasper Seetzen who made his way around the Dead Sea. Like Burckhardt, he submerged himself into the Arabic world, converting to Islam ,making a pilgrimage to Mecca and traveling disguised as a beggar. His education allowed him to recognize parts of Jerash in 1806 and extensive excavations didn’t start until 1925.

What he had stumbled upon turned out to be the most important and best preserved testimony of Imperial Roman architecture outside of Italy.

Located among the mountains of Galead, Jerash is a massive city which came into being some 2000 years ago. It’s ascent to wealth and importance began under Alexander the Great but the golden age of Jerash  developed  under Roman rule of the emperor Pompey in 63BC. The city was the administrative and trade center of a very prosperous area and, as the Romans loved their traditions as well as their creature comforts wherever in the world they came to conquer, Jerash is an extensive area of colonnaded roads, soaring hillside temples, theatres, shops, baths, fountains and everything else you might otherwise only find in Rome.

 

The city got another boost when Emperor  Hadrian came to visit in 129 AD and a Triumphal Arch was erected in his honor.

As shipping began to prevail over the caravan trade, Jerash slowly fell into decline, helped along by the Muslim conquest in 636 and several serious earthquakes in 749. The city literally vanished from sight under layers and layers of sand until Mr.  Seetzen recognized several columns which were sticking out of the sand as part of the ancient city of Gerasa.

The fact that Jerash had been buried in sand for so long accounts for the marvelous condition the site is in today. Of course there is destruction but walking along the colonnaded streets you can clearly distinguish shops and even the toilets which were only recently discovered.

The Triumphal Arch still is a majestic sight and so is the theatre which in fact is the place where history meets Disneyworld. Because twice a day, Roman races are enacted inside the hippodrome for the entertainment of the visitors.

A bit of Disneyland thrown in

I didn’t watch the spectacle, but I saw the ‘Romans’ don their costume in nearby huts and amble over to the arena.

The site also has a museum and the exhibits are displayed with awesome skill. You can walk hours and hours and still discover yet another temple, another fountain or a particularly stunning view. This place breathes history and with a little imagination you can easily see how approx. 20.000 people went about their business in Jerash’s golden age.

Outside the complex is a quite nice café and there I made one of the side discoveries which make travel so interesting. It was a visit to the rest room which turned out to be a tiny art gallery! And, as the holiday season is nearly upon us, I was able to enjoy Christmas decorations Jordan style…in the most unexpected place imaginable, the lady’s restroom.

Mini art gallery in the lady’s room.

Baalbeck in Lebanon

On the occasion of a daytrip to the City of the Sun, I visited the monumental ruins of the Jupiter temple of Baalbeck. Located at approx. 53 miles northeast of Beirut and driving through the fertile Bekaa valley, the six remaining upright columns of the Jupiter temple in Baalbeck hove into view.

One of the largest sanctuaries of the Roman Empire, it  was constructed during the 1st century BC and since the conquest of the settlement by Alexander the Great the city was called Helipolis, city of the sun. The Gods who were worshipped here were Jupiter, Venus and Bacchus and many theories exist as how to the Roman architects were able to move the massive columns and statues from the quarry where they were hewn.

 

Head of a satyr in the museum

The temple ruins are the background for the world famous Baalbeck summer festival which takes place each year. A World Heritage Site since 1984 it’s necessary to dedicate several hours to visit the temple ruins and the entire complex as well as ongoing excavations nearby.

A must is the museum which is located to the left from the exit and displays outstanding Hellenistic statues and carvings.

Once you have left the site, you can stroll through a small bazaar which sells  reproductions of the columns as well as boxes and even jewelry made from cedar wood. Don’t be surprised if, in the parking lot, a ‘guide’ approaches you and opens his fist showing you ‘genuine Roman coins I’ve found myself’.

More genuine is a specialty which is only sold in two tiny ‘holes in the wall’ and is what’s known in the entire Lebanon as Baalbeck Pizza. It has nothing to do with pizza though, Baalbeck pizza are tiny parcels of fluffy puff pastry filled with minced meat and a unique mixture of spices which is absolutely delicious.

Oh yes, there are a few camels parked at the entrance too for tourists who want their picture taken sitting on a camel.