Posts Tagged ‘travel to the middle east’

Splendors of Morocco

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

What comes to mind when someone mentions Morocco? Bogart and Bacall? Colorful street markets? The Sahara Desert? Here’s a few things you might not know about this fascinating area of the world.

A Moroccan textile market.

1) Morocco’s population of donkeys is key to its economy. Appalled by the condition of these animals, in 1927 a wealthy American woman donated money to found a free veterinary clinic that still operates in Fez today, which is called the American Fondouk.

2) People love to journey to Morocco for the food, a mix of European, Middle Eastern, native Berber, and other African cuisines. Pastilla, a meat pie encased in a phyllo-like dough, is a popular national dish. Click here to learn how to make your own.

3) Marrakech’s Koutoubia Mosque is also home to the first book bazaar in world history. Almohad Caliph Yaqub Al-Mansur, a great lover of books, built the mosque during his reign between 1184 and 1199. The books and manuscripts the Caliph collected, from the bazaar at the mosque and from other sources, eventually became the collection for Morocco’s first public library.

4) Morocco spends 20% of its national budget on education. Children aged 7 to 13 must attend school, and there are a variety of trade schools and public universities available for further education.

5) Morocco is world-famous for its intricately embroidered textiles. Click for an interactive online exhibition on Moroccan textiles from Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.

Now is a great time to visit Morocco. Click here for more on travel to Morocco with Smithsonian.

What inspires you to travel? Please share.

Photo: Skyline in Doha

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009
Woman overlooking the skyline of Doha, Qatar. Photo: Alyssa Bobst

Woman overlooking the skyline of Doha, Qatar. Photo: Alyssa Bobst

Originally a fishing and pearling village, Doha, Qatar is rapidly becoming an important city for education and art in the Gulf region. With the government’s help, the economy is diversifying and the real estate sector is booming, with new towers and hotels constantly joining Doha’s expanding skyline. The Museum of Islamic Art, located on the Corniche surrounding Doha Harbor, houses an extensive collection of artwork dating from the 7th to the 19th century. Doha is also home to Education City, an initiative to provide resources for students.

What part of the Middle East most intrigues you? Share below.

See Doha for yourself on our Arabian Gulf cruise.

Petra: A Journey Back in Time

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Leah Ibraheem joined Smithsonian Journeys in 2006, and manages the Journeys Blog, research, analysis, and a number of other projects for the organization. Leah is a graduate of Syracuse University and has accompanied Smithsonian travelers to Holland, Belgium, the Middle East, and across the U.S. Here, she shares her reflections on a recent visit to Petra with Smithsonian travelers.

Our group makes its way down the Siq at Petra. Photo: Leah Ibraeheem

Our group makes its way down the Siq at Petra. Photo: Leah Ibraeheem

I am always curious to know what piques our travelers’ interests, so whenever I staff a tour, I make sure to ask what brings people to a particular tour during our opening reception. During a recent voyage covering Jordan and Egypt, as we stood holding our wineglasses aloft and basking in the lovely breeze off the Dead Sea, I was expecting a variety of answersafter all, this two-week tour promised many unique experiences. This time, however, the answer was simple. One wordPetrawas nearly unanimous.

Petra sits along several ancient commercial routesto Gaza in the west, Damascus in the north, south to Aqaba on the Red Sea, and east across the desert to the Persian Gulf. As we made our way down towards the Siq, we came upon a small shop, stopping to hold frankincense and myrrh in our hands. Our guide Raad helped us to grasp the full significance of these commodities, explaining the true difficulties of transporting them by caravan, resulting in their phenomenal expense.

In Egypt, we later learned about Hatshepsut’s journey to Punt (exact location still disputed), and how archeologists believe she cultivated her own frankincense and myrrh trees after this trading voyage. Back in Petra, we started to make our way down the deep slice in the sandstone called the Siq to discover the first of the caves and aqueducts. (more…)