A New and Popular Travel Destination – The Middle East

Once called the Middle East, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel have become popular travel destinations. Visited by themselves or in combination, most travelers return satisfied and surprised by their travel experience. For many, they have been on a truly remarkable holiday with a difference. So why is this so? To best answer this, we need to know a little more about these countries and how to travel to and within them.

*How to get there

Most travelers come by air. The national capitals of Damascus, Amman, Beirut and Tel Aviv all have international airports that are serviced by a range of international and Middle Eastern carriers. Both bus and private car travel is possible between most of the countries. Generally these are via a number of single crossing points like Syria-Lebanon and Syria-Jordan (at DerĂ¡ on the new highway that links the two countries). Land routes exist to bordering countries. Land travel into/from Israel is more restricted. The most common point of entry is via the King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge from Jordan. Syria has a somewhat dated rail network. Some services only run weekly but those on the popular central routes operate several services each day.

*How to get around

Trains, buses and taxi’s form the centerpiece of Middle Eastern travel services. Car hire with a guide is provided by many local tourist operators. They generally are cost effective and worth considering. Use Google to find them and always ask for (and check) references. Most will require half of the booking fee wired to them before they will confirm the bookings. A number of international companies including the overland companies offer tours. Again check with Google. A number of universities offer summer archaeological digs. Many of these are fee based and no experience is required.

*When to go

The Middle East enjoys a Mediterranean climate but the summers are hot and the winters cold, especially in the north. March to May is the best time to visit. Those who want to soak up the sun will find the coastal areas mid summer comfortable as temperatures are often influenced by cooler coastal breezes. The area suffers from winter rainfall that can make sightseeing difficult and snow covers the mountains between Lebanon and Syria mid winter.

*The Countries

Syria – Syria is modern, easy to travel in and relatively safe. It’s affordable if you keep away from the more expensive five star international hotels. It has a myriad of charms with excellent food, breathtaking scenery, tons of places of historic interest and friendly people. English is generally spoken in most hotels and markets in the major centers. Damascus is the major attraction with its wonderful markets and historic mosques and palaces. The Umayyad Mosque and the nearby mausoleum of Saladin (one of the greatest heroes of Arab’s history), are a “must see”. Plan a couple of days to enjoy Damascus. Consider at staying in one of the renovated boutique hotels that have sprung up in the past ten years. Many of these are ancient palaces in the Old City and are well worth the little extra cost. Do take the time to drive out to Palmyra for the site of the city that built to rival Rome. Homs with its water wheels in on the road to Apamea. This has an avenue of two kilometers of granite columns. Both are worth visiting and are part of 20 or more major archaeological sites that can be visited by tourists. Wandering around ruins of forts, mosques, churches and palaces provides a wonderful insight into what life was like two thousand years ago. Looping back towards Damascus is the most famous of the Crusader castles, Krak des Chevaliers. It is remarkably intact and it will be enjoyed by castle enthusiasts.

Jordan – Jordan has a huge selection of fascinating history to offer the tourists. It is steeped in the history of the Old Testament. The ancient cities of Petra and Jerash date back to Roman times when they were great trading cities along the Silk Road. Jerash is the “Pompeii of the East” and needs a little background reading to fully appreciate the historic context of the site. Take your time to explore it; you are walking through centuries of history. Although Amman is the relatively modern capital of Jordan, you’ll find the satellite city of Salt with its narrow streets and quaint houses is worth the visit. Jordan has a fascinating history of craft, Bedouin weaving, embroidery, pottery and ceramics, jewellery and glassblowing. These crafts are still very much part of Jordanian life today. The Bedouin hospitality and wonderful local cuisine is legendary.

Driving south from Amman you’ll find the now spreading town of Petra. To walk down the half mile long suq, you will be surprised by the beauty of the pink stone Treasury at the entrance of the old city of Petra. It will take your breath away. Read about Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, who discovered Petra in 1812, before you go. His is indeed an amazing story. South of Petra is the now modern port of Aqaba made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. West of here you’ll find Wadi Rum where the film of Lawrence’s war-time exploits was made. Here, an option is to stay with the Bedouins in their cloth covered black tents. They are remarkably comfortable. Take a camel ride out to the secret camp where Lawrence planned his desert campaigns. You might return a little saddle sore but you will have really “ridden” in the footsteps of history.

Lebanon – Lebanon is a relatively small country. The highlights are generally along the coast. Here is the colorful coastal town of Byblos and further north is the ancient Crusader city of Tripoli with it’s interesting souqs (markets), mosques and hammams (baths). Turning inland, you will pass through the picturesque villages of the Qadisha Valley, through the Cedars and on to historic Baalbeck which has magnificent Roman ruins said by some to be the best preserved in the world, The route continues through the vineyards at Bekaa and then Umayyad ruins of Aanjar. Nearby is the charming village of Deiral-Qamar and the Beiteddine palace with its wonderful gardens.

Israel – Don’t ignore Israel as a possible travel destination. Access difficulties can be overcome by careful planning or with the help of an experienced travel operator. It’s the Holy Land and steeped in history. Most visitors head for Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho but there lots of little know archaeological sites like the old Roman capital of Galilee called Tzipori. In Jerusalem, the old City of David, The Citadel and Church of the Holy Sepulcher with the nearby Wailing Wall, draws the most tourists. What is believed to be the oldest church in the world is in Bethlehem. A silver star marks the place where it is believed that Christ was born.

Some tourists choose to visit the Dead Sea. It is off Highway 90 west of Jerusalem. Personally, although unique, I think that it is overrated. Those with more time might consider visiting Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Further a field you’ll find Masada with its spectacular ruined fortress.

Take care in Israel photographing or showing interest in border and military installations or personnel. You’ll get used the very obvious security presence.

*Visas

All these countries have different visa requirements. Generally Israel does not require a visa for most western countries. Tourists are allowed a stay of up to 90 days. However, it is necessary to avoid getting your passport stamped upon entry or exit as this causes problems of entry into Lebanon and Syria. Ask the border officials to stamp your entry permit instead. Better still, put Israel last on your itinerary. Jordanian visas can be obtained upon arrival at the airport and at most border crossings. It is best to get Syrian visas in advance. USA, most EU, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand passport holders can get a visa to enter Lebanon at the border. Jordan allows entry/exit to Israel via the King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge without a multi-entry visa.

*Recommendation

The countries of the Middle East are attractive and exciting travel destinations. The people that you’ll meet are friendly and if your leave politics aside, you’ll have a very enjoyable travel experience. Middle eastern cooking is a highlight and in all countries you’ll find an amazing array of low cost local restaurants. Try the local beers and wines and few of the specialized drinks like Arak (Lion’s milk) which is commonly served with mezze. Talk to your travel agent or check out travel sites on Google. You are guaranteed to have a holiday of lifetime.

Be Remarkable – Stick Out Like A Sore Thumb And Multiply Your Exposure

Today’s marketplace is crowded with smart and talented business owners. If you want to hook your business on to the fast track, your first step would be to increase the exposure of your business to the market. Let’s just agree that without exposure, your market wouldn’t even notice that you’re there among the other smart and talented business owners. So how is it possible to get yourself spotted? The answer is, ‘be remarkable’.

Have you wonder how can you become remarkable?

Be A Sore Thumb

Sticking out like a sore thumb is one of the ways, just take a leaf out of William Hung’s book. He is definitely one hell of a sore thumb and everyone was scouring the Net just to find more video clips of him, be it spoofs or interviews. He was not expecting any fame from the American Idol but it did gather him the most popularity votes among the other misfits. I would say that his fame is fueled by his remarkability because most people have the habit of sharing the latest interesting news with their friends. His remarkability travelled by words of mouth and the media decided to feature him to boost their own rating. In the end, the man had enough exposure to shoot him to fame. He had received marriage proposals from strangers around the world, he was cast in a Hong Kong movie and he had his own music video with gorgeous babes dancing around him.

You would want that for your business, don’t you? Note: I am talking about the exposure.

So how can you add a touch of ‘remarkability’ to your business and be 100% sure that everyone will glance at your business at least once?

Here’s how one guy who is remarkable in his own ways:

The One Million Dollar Man

I can still remember a particular Monday night when my partners and I attended a networking session for online marketeers. The entire social event was a frenzy session of exchanging business cards with as many people as we can say ‘Hi’ to, but one man distinguished himself among the rest by handling out black-white copies of US 1,000,000 dollars. He went around giving out ‘cash’ freely and extending his well-wishes to everyone. You can expect everybody to welcome his ‘gifts’ with open arms. Best of all, they are cheaper than conventional business cards and yet they are more remarkable. In fact, they are so remarkable that I even see people willingly introduce their friends to him!

When you are remarkable, words about you will naturally spread and your amount of exposure becomes viral. The Million Dollar man has so much attention that he stood out among the rest of us, just like a sore thumb. People just had to see what was the buzz around him.

Another way of generating remarkability is to boost your presence in your market. In other words, your name should be synonymous with your targeted market.

Get A Bigger Slice Of The Mindshare Pie

In the past, businesses built this presence by buying advertisements spaces on the magazines, newspaper, billboards, etc. These media were deeply rooted in the daily life of consumers for they were the popular places where consumers look for solutions, education and entertainments. So, when they were facing some problems, they would turn to the advertising companies as they were the most prominent then – remember that the companies had been advertised in the major media. The media had helped companies to capture a large mindshare of their targeted market. The companies brand had become remarkable in the eyes of their market.

However, the mindshare landscape has started to change. More and more people are searching for their solutions, entertainment, alternative income, education and even groceries from the Internet. But our focus should be on the social networks such as Facebook which has over 66 millions of active users and online forums, or anywhere else where people seek for answers everyday. Instead of the companies using the media to spread their names, they used existing social network to do the same! Netizens who find the companies’ products to be interesting and remarkable will be very likely to spread the words to their friends. Likewise, their friends will introduce the same products to their own networks of friends.

This is also known as web 2.0 marketing, where buzzworthy news are spread like wildfire among groups of friends with similar interest. Every business owner would want this kind of viral exposure, it lends remarkability to their businesses.

Web 2.0

Web 2.0 actually refers to the current trend of the Internet. It basically means the proliferation of user-generated contents, compared to contents from authoritative sources such as universities. The use of web 2.0 marketing is a very cost effective way to generate the remarkability for your business.

For example, when a company wants to sell high-end cameras, they can easily find their targeted market in online photography forums and social networking groups. They just need to create a buzz in those particular areas and will start seeing potential customers discussing about it in the forum. These potentials will multiply when the discussion is carried on into other forums too. In other words, instead of paying a huge cost to get your products in front of TV viewers, you can spend a tiny fraction of the same cost to create a buzz in web 2.0 and see how the exposure for your products grows!

The Internet has already become an integral part of modern life and it has garnered an even larger mindshare than conventional media. If you are serious about growing your business, there is no doubt that you should start to consider building your business presence on the Internet and be nothing less than ‘Remarkable’ in your targeted market.

In fact, these companies and organization have already done it and had seen great feedback:

Ogilvy & Mather – Used Facebook to promote the Motorola Q mobile phone last December. They said “much more money” would be needed to achieve the same level of consumer awareness and interest using traditional media.

Mediaedge:cia – Used MSN Spaces to promote Canon digital SLR cameras. They said “The campaign exceeded expectations with over 3 million… and 30,000 comments… in just two months”

Paramount Pictures – Used Facebook and MySpace to promote the monster-flick, Cloverfield.

The buzz that these promotions had seen is a testimony to how low-cost advertising using Web 2.0 can deliver huge exposure to your targeted market and boost your online presence. You can start learning the ropes immediately by googling ‘Viral Marketing’ and ‘Social bookmarking’.

If you own a business and really want to distinguish yourself from everyone else, you have to be remarkable in your very own way. You can either stick out like a really sore thumb that attract attentions every way you go – which is a good thing for business – or you can start building your online presence with web 2.0 and attract global attention right in your home sweet home. Which is a better way to gain exposure? You choose.

Travel to Learn

Many would love to believe that one of the purposes of living is Travel, exploring new lands, expiring different cultures, listening to different music and tasting different cuisines. Our planet has so many beautiful places which is probably God’s gift to Mankind. The incredible and magnificent natural beauty of mountain ranges, lakes, waterfalls, and forests are unbelievable. Even the man made structures built by human being throughout ancient times are remarkable. The efforts that human being is putting towards preserving these monuments as well as preserving nature are also truly remarkable.

When you see all the beauty that surrounds you when you go to visit a place it leaves a lasting impression on minds, it opens new doors and new dimensions to people. Traveling also makes it possible for us to meet different people, see different sights and do different things. The most important part is not what we see but what we learn from visiting these places. Although the whole human kind is kind of similar with the same need and desires, there are small things which are different form one community to other. While traveling we meet new people of different communities and learn form them. Traveling to new cultures and interacting with strangers teaches one as much about oneself as it does about other people. The challenge of new experiences will push one’s personal barriers back.

Coping with situations that have not been previously encountered can show you that you are capable of achieving, or succeeding at so much more than you had thought. Learning about different cultures can teach you things about your own culture – things you had erstwhile neither appreciated nor understood. Spending time with friends from another culture will challenge stereotypes that may be held by both parties. Some of the greatest joys of travel are gleaned from knowing that your preconceptions were wrong. Some travel to escape, others to explore. While traveling you may feel that you are just an onlooker or alternately when you visit a new place you learn the vagaries of their life and culture. Traveling gives you an opportunity to experience different foods, arts and language and helps bring you so much closer to people.

To make the most of you travels and to learn the most one should plan to travel to different places in the world. One shouldn’t just travel to the nearby beach or the neighboring hill resort or just one or two favorite destinations of yours. There are many countries in Europe which are rich in cultural history and have beautiful scenery and relaxing activities. Places like Greece and Rome, Berlin and Munich and the picturesque villages of Black Forest prompt travelers to come to these places again and again. Winter sports enthusiasts find snow covered mountains of Austria and France enthralling enough to show off their skiing and snowboarding skills. Asia and Africa with their vast natural sceneries and historical and cultural heritages have made their tourist sites attractive to woo international visitors. The top animal reserves of Africa are found nowhere else. So you have bag full of options to spend your vacations at some of the stunning locations of Asia, Africa and Europe.