Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
Mountains of Halva at Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, Israel. My favorite? The sugarless coffee bean.

I’ve never been a fan of Halva, a popular sweet in parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. To me, it has always seemed overly sweet and grainy, leaving a strange aftertaste in my mouth. So when I happened on this Halva stand inside Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, I was understandably hesitant to sample their wares.

The owner was patient and encouraging, so I decided to try some just to be polite. As a coffee addict, my obvious first choice was their coffee bean Halva. I was surprised when it melted smoothly in my mouth, with none of the off-putting graininess that I expected. But it was still too sweet for me. No problem, the owner beamed. He handed me a sample of their sugar-free coffee bean Halva, and Read More

Old City of Jerusalem from viewpoint at the Mount of Olives, with golden dome of Temple Mount at center

The Old City of Jerusalem, seen here from the Mount of Olives. The Jewish cemetery is located directly below the viewing platform. On the opposite side of the valley, the Muslim cemetery snugs up against the walls of the Old City. Temple Mount, with its golden-roofed Rock of the Dome, is seen at center left within the city walls. The modern city of Jerusalem is visible on the horizon.

In the early 16th century, the Ottoman Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent built the walls that surround the Old City. They stretch for 2.8 miles, rising as high as 49 feet in places, and encompass less than half a square mile. The walls were very necessary; since its founding in the 4th millennium BC, Jerusalem has has been attacked 52 times and destroyed twice. Read More

Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, Israel

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, pursues education, documentation, and research about the six-million Jews who were murdered during World War II. The main exhibit hall, with its gut-wrenching displays and photos, ensures we will never forget this grisly time in our history. Read More

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