Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

The labyrinthine alleys of the historic Souq Watif in Doha, Qatar are home to scores of stores offering gold, spices, traditional crafts, and more.

Over my past eleven years of round-the-world travel I’ve probably flown through Doha, Qatar, a dozen times. While I was intimately familiar with the airport at Doha, I’d never actually visited the city, so I decided to rectify that this summer. On my way from Jordan to Nepal, I stopped over in the Qatari capital for a few days. Aware of the brutal summer heat that Middle Eastern countries suffer during the summer, I had scheduled my visit for the first week of October. Unfortunately, that was still too early. I stepped out the front door of my hotel into temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Read More

The sun assaulted me at Baalbeck ruins in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Brilliant blue skies were perfect for viewing this world’s largest Roman temple, but in the 90-plus degree temperatures I soon ran out of water. I blinked sweat out of my eyes and headed for the nearest kiosk to buy another bottle. A middle aged man with a prickly mustache and a kindly smile walked up as I reached for my wallet. “You speak English?” he asked. When I smiled and nodded yes, he whipped out a 1,000 Lebanese Pound bill and paid for my water. I protested but he wouldn’t hear of it. “Welcome to my country. Welcome to Lebanon.”

Great Court of the Jupiter Temple at Baalback Roman ruins in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley

Great Court of the Jupiter Temple at Baalback Roman ruins in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley

It was just one of many kindnesses I experienced during my time in this oft-maligned country that many insist is a dangerous travel destination. After five days of traveling around the country, I believed a local woman when she said that Lebanon is the only country in the world where she feels perfectly safe walking home alone at 4 a.m. But “safe” wasn’t a word that I initially equated with Lebanon. Read More

Woman at a restaurant in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley makes fresh Lebanese saj flatbread, which is rolled out by hand and baked on a domed griddle

Google “Lebanese flatbread” and you will find more than half a million web sites, but the lion’s share of them discuss thicker breads that lie somewhere between a Middle Eastern-style pita and an Indian naan. Having traveled extensively in Asia and, more recently the Middle East, I have eaten poori, chapati, parotha, roti, lavash, and even tortilla, in addition to pita and naan. But until I visited Lebanon, I had never tried Lebanese Saj. My first ever exposure to Saj was at a Lebanese restaurant in the Beqaa Valley, where a woman sat cross-legged on the floor, pressing out balls fresh dough made from very fine flour, water, and a dollop of olive oil. Read More

Large palace at the Umayyad archeological site at Anjar, in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon

This large palace is one of the more impressive structures at the Umayyad archeological site in Anjar, Lebanon. The settlement, which was founded at the beginning of the 8th century, is located in the Beqaa Valley (sometimes written as the Bekaa Valley). Though today it is a dusty backwater, in its heyday Anjar was an important commercial center that sat at the crossroads of two important trade routes. The original city was completely surrounded by walls that incorporated forty watch towers. In addition to the large palace, the city had a Grand Mosque, public baths, and a small palace where the Caliph’s harem was housed. Read More

I’d come to Cyprus to wind down from my summer of travel. I was looking forward to a week of evening walks along the seaside promenade in Larnaca and days of lying on the beach under the warm Mediterranean sun. But I was soon diverted by the fascinating history and culture of the island, which today is partitioned between the Greek Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The city of Nicosia, Cyprus, roughly at the island’s heart, is split between the two, earning it the dubious distinction of being the only remaining divided capital in Europe.

Municipal Gallery in the historic center of Larnaca, Cyprus

Municipal Gallery in the historic center of Larnaca, Cyprus

Precariously perched between Asia, Europe, North Africa, Cyprus has been affected by all three continents during its long existence. The first people to inhabit the island came from the eastern Mediterranean during the Stone Age. The Greeks arrived 3,000 years ago and built Kyria, Larnaca, and Salamis. Down though the centuries, Venetians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottoman Turks invaded. In 1878 the Turks gave the island to Britain in return for their promise to support the Ottoman Empire against Russian aggression.

By 1931, Greek Cypriots, who comprised the majority of residents on the island, began promoting the idea of reunification with Greece. In a 1950 referendum, 97% of them voted for reunification, but Britain refused to accept the results. Instead, in an attempt to move the country toward independence, Britain drew up a constitution that proposed power sharing between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Both sides approved the constitution in theory but in practice it never worked. Britain finally gave up, granting Cyprus its independence in 1960. Read More

Icons of St. Barnabus, patron saint of Cyprus, are displayed inside the Saint Barnabus Monastery and Icon Museum near Salamis, Cyprus

Saint Barnabas was born in Salamis, the ancient capital of Cyprus, to a Jewish family that had emigrated from Syria. As a young man he witnessed some of the miracles of Jesus while pursuing a religious education in Jerusalem. Barnabas became a follower of Jesus and was appointed Archbishop of Salamis. In 45 AD he returned to Cyprus with the apostle Paul, where he preached in the Jewish temples. With the exception of the Roman governor of the island, he was famously unsuccessful in converting the Jewish populace to Christianity. During his second visit he was so reviled that he was stoned to death by a mob of Syrians, who threw his body into the sea. Read More