Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
The deli bar at Basher Fromagerie (cheese shop) at Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, Israel

Deli bar at Basher Fromagerie (cheese shop) is one of more than 250 shops and stalls found at Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, Israel. Machane Yehuda is a traditional Middle Eastern style shuk where customers can find everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, to freshly butchered meats, to upscale restaurants. The shuk dates back to the late 19th century during the Ottoman occupation of Jerusalem. Arab traders set up ramshackle stalls on an empty lot outside the walled city. The shuk that we see today began to emerge during the British Mandate period. Some Arabs sold their shops to Jewish immigrants and permanent infrastructure began to emerge. Read More

Last fall, I met an Omani man at my guest house in Delhi, India. When he learned I was a travel writer, he began to gush about Oman. “You must go! It is so beautiful. Muscat is gorgeous and people are so friendly.” I was sold. I added Oman to a list of Middle Eastern countries to visit this spring.

I arrived in Muscat, the capital of Oman, on a balmy March evening on the heels of visiting Dubai in the UAE. I’d thoroughly enjoyed my time in Dubai and, if reports I’d read on the Internet were any indication, I’d be even more wowed by Oman.

A walk along the Corniche passes between this rocky promontory and the giant incense burner perched on the hillside, which is a nod to Oman being the world's major producer of Frankincense

A walk along the Corniche passes between this rocky promontory and the giant incense burner perched on the producer of Frankincense

My first inkling that Oman might not be all that I hoped came a few minutes later. The driver of the taxi who met me at the airport started asking what I wanted to do in Muscat. I replied that I’d begin by taking the hop-on, hop-off Big Bus in order familiarize myself with the sprawling city. “Oh no! You don’t want to do that. It’s really expensive and you have to wait a long time between buses.” His warning was quickly followed with a sales pitch. He could show me everything I needed to see in half a day and it would cost only $65. Read More

Omanis stroll down the middle of the street in Old Muscat, the original village that became the core of greater Muscat, Oman

Click on title to view photo in large format. On my first day in Muscat, the capital of Oman, I hopped in a taxi at noon and told the driver to take me to Old Muscat. He pulled up in front of Al-Alam Palace, home to the country’s leader, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said. “Do you have water?” he asked. “No, but I’ll be OK,” I answered. “I can buy a bottle if I need some.” As I reached for the door handle he made one last attempt. “Everything is closed…” I waved him off and stepped out of the taxi. Three seconds later, a suffocating wave of heat rose up from the asphalt and engulfed me. I looked up just as he sped away. Read More

Interior of the lavish Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman

Click on title to view photo in large format. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman, is named for the country’s leader. The main prayer hall alone (above) can hold up to 6,500 worshipers, and 20,000 worshipers can be accommodated when the women’s prayer hall and exterior courtyards are included. Read More

Visiting Dubai had never been high on my travel wish list. I didn’t even expect to like it. Not a fan of big cities to begin with, I figured it would be noisy, crowded, pricey, and impersonal. My assumptions were based on the stories I’d heard about this city of excess. In 1965, when the United Arab Emirates (UAE) gained independence from Britain, the site where Dubai now rises was little more than a fishing village on the banks of the Dubai Creek. But with the discovery of oil a year later, a modern city began to emerge from the barren Arabian Desert. When Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum became the ruler of Dubai in 2006, he set about make Dubai bigger, better, taller, faster – a city of superlatives that is today unrivaled on the planet.

Let’s Begin With Tallest…

More than just a city of skyscrapers, Dubai is home to the 2,716.5-foot high Burj Khalifa. Not only does it claim bragging rights as the tallest building in the world, it is also the tallest free-standing structure in the world, has the largest number of stories in the world (according to their website, “more than 160”), has the highest occupied floor in the world, the highest observation deck in the world, the tallest service elevator in the world, and its 57 elevators have have the world’s longest travel distance from lowest to highest stop.

Viewing Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, is a must-do when visiting Dubai, UAE

Viewing Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, is a must-do when visiting Dubai, UAE

The spiraling “Y” shape of the Burj Khalifa is an aesthetic wonder, but the design is functional as well, reducing wind forces on the tower. The building is topped by a 700-foot telescoping spire comprised of more than 4,000 tons of structural steel. It was constructed from inside the building and jacked to its full height using a hydraulic pump. The exterior of the Burj Khalifa is clad with reflective aluminum and stainless steel panels, into which 26,000 individually hand-cut glass panels were fitted.

While visitors are welcome to visit the observation decks located on levels 124/5 and 148, it is the exterior that most excites tourists. Wherever the tower is clearly visible on the skyline, there is sure to be someone posing in front of it. The only difficulty is finding a spot from which to capture its entire soaring height as well as the person standing at its base. Read More

Dhow cargo boat on Dubai Creek in Dubai, UAE, is loaded down and ready to haul anchor

Click on title to view photo in large format. A dhow cargo boat on Dubai Creek in the Deira neighborhood of Dubai, UAE, is loaded down with merchandise. These old wooden boats carry cargo from the UAE to destinations as far flung as Iran, Pakistan, India, and Somalia.

The spectacle changes from day to day. My first walk along the wharves took me through the world’s largest Bed, Bath and Beyond. Impossibly high mountains of bedspreads, pillows, sheets, draperies, and towels teetered and threatened to topple. Another day, Read More

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