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Jordan

Flickr/Jhong Dizon PhotographyA quick glance at Qatar Airways’ current “Bigger World Promotion” will tell you two things: the folks at Qatar are really excited to join up with Oneworld Alliance (which will place them alongside British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Royal Jordanian, in addition to offering shared mileage among all the member airlines); second, the flight deals being offered right now aren’t just East Coast-focused – they’ve got love for Texas and the midwest, too. Fares like Chicago to Addis Adaba for just $934, or Houston to Hanoi for $1,002, certainly grab our attention. And in addition to the rates themselves, we’re also liking the focus on non-coastal cities – a trend we picked up on earlier this year.

In addition to these far-flung fares, we’re loving some other routes that are currently on sale, and not just from the right and left coast. For example, we priced some choice fares to the Middle East (Qatar Airways, after all, has its main hub in Doha), and here’s what we found:

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US Travel Alert Syria Lebanon TurkeyFrom a traveler’s perspective, the idea of a trip to Damascus right now (and pretty much anywhere else in Syria) is clearly out of the question. With constant headlines about possible U.S. air strikes and uncertainty surrounding additional chemical weapons attacks on civilians, you’d have to be living under a rock not to be aware of the current situation. But what if your travel plans concern one of Syria’s neighboring countries? Read more

City Tours to Take at NightIf you tend to stay away from cheesy double decker bus tours while on vacation, well…we can’t blame you. Often, the only real way to get to know a city is to just walk it, unguided, and let the adventure unfold as you go. But there’s something irresistible about surrendering to a nighttime tour: cruising down busy avenues, letting yourself be dazzled by marquee lights as they whiz by, and getting a birds-eye view of a city just as its restaurants, bars, and nightclubs begin to come alive. Just remember to put down the camera once in a while; for posterity sake, you won’t want to let the whole evening go by with your face behind a lens!

Though not as well known as its neighbor to the south, the city of Sharjah in the UAE has managed to carve out a reputation independent of Dubai and Abu Dhabi – for starters, it is a burgeoning art destination, with over 15 museums to its name, and even has its own observatory wheel. Now, thanks to a brand new night tour, visitors can now be guided through the city’s most dazzling features after the sun goes down. The Buhaira Corniche, Al Qasba (a prominent theater and exhibition space), Mega Mall, the Central Souk, and Al Noor Mosque (a destination in its own right) are just a few of the spots accessed on the new tour, which runs from 8pm to 11pm every night. $25.75 per person; for more information, click here. Read more

US Embassy MadagascarTwenty-six days. That’s how long the Department of State’s current Worldwide Travel Alert in the Middle East and North Africa is projected to last. As of Friday, US embassies in a number of countries (UAE, Jordan, Madagascar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya, to name a few) were ordered to close temporarily, prompting fear and uncertainty around travel to these places. As per the State’s dispatch: “Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond.”

That unfortunately means that the warning applies to U.S. travelers everywhere. But for those passing through major Middle Eastern and North African hubs like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Doha, Muscat, Manama and Kuwait City, the question hangs in the air: What does it mean – as a U.S. citizen – to travel where a U.S. embassy is closed? Read more

Petra, JordanVenture down a narrow gorge between two cliffs towering at 263 feet high and you’ll encounter the Lost City of Petra, Jordan. Petra was mostly unknown to the western world until it was “discovered” in 1812 by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a Swiss traveler. The Nabataeans settled within the rose-colored rocks over 2,000 years ago and the architectural detail of the tombs, temples, sacrificial alters, and obelisks survived for travelers today to marvel at. Though the Nabataeans were conquered by the Romans around 100 AD, the city remained a junction on the silk and spice trade routes, that linked China and India to Egypt, Syria, Greece, and Rome. Featured as a backdrop for Hollywood’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade like other beautifully preserved temples, the combination of outstanding architectural achievement and the vibrant color of the red mountains made this must-visit place one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Read more

Hotels and hideaways have long provided a great base and an idyllic backdrop for romance, illicit or otherwise. Once in your own private oasis, away from the demands of everyday life, romance is on the rise, and senses are easily aroused. Whether it’s a romantic rendezvous, a destination wedding and honeymoon, or an anniversary, we found six top notch properties – one for each of the senses (the sixth included).

SIGHT: Aman at Summer Palace; Beijing, China

If you were in search of a palatial Asian estate to call your own, look no further than Aman at Summer Palace. This picturesque property away from Beijing’s bustling city center is adjacent to the 250-year-old World Heritage site, The Summer Palace. The stunning aesthetics and design are a mix of original dwellings used for guests of the Summer Palace at the turn of the 20th century with Ming Dynasty-inspired design, recreated to seamless perfection.

After a week of touring in China’s must-see cities (Beijing and Shanghai), retreat for a few days to an exclusive deluxe or imperial suite with private spa treatment rooms, enclosed internal courtyards, spacious bathrooms with island bathtubs, private dining areas, and bedrooms with a four poster bed and a Ming-style armoire.

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The desert has long provided a profound feeling for spiritual seekers, travelers, and explorers alike. From the silkiness of the sand to the stillness that surrounds you and the beauty that abounds, it easily entices.

Couple that with the mere mention of The Dead Sea, which immediately conjures up evocative mud-riddled images of vacationing bodies floating effortlessly in the ever-still waters. No place is better positioned for an otherworldly float and a stunning Dead Sea sunset than the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea in Jordan.

Once you’ve explored Jordan’s breathtaking scenery, natural resources, vast deserts, and historical and religious centers, the likes of Wadi Rum, Petra, and the Jordan River, it’s time to rest those tired tourist toes and go float at the lowest point on earth for quite possibly the greatest high of your life.

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I have been to Jordan twice, and both trips were memorable experiences filled with natural wonders. The highlights for first-time travelers include Wadi Rum, Petra, and the Dead Sea. The beautiful red, desert sands of Wadi Rum are impressive, and one cannot help but think of Lawrence of Arabia while traversing the dunes. I enjoyed its sunsets and would recommend being there at that time.

On my first trip, my friend and I hired a guide to take us to Wadi Rum, and he included a stop at a typical Bedouin camp for tea. Judging from their attire, Bedouins might, at first glance, appear to be out of a different age, but don’t be surprised to see a satellite TV dish or mobile phone nearby. After viewing a sunset, we continued on to Petra and overnighted at Taybet Zaman (from $95/night), where Bill Clinton once stayed. This very simple boutique hotel has a Turkish sauna that is enjoyable after a day of touring.

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jordan-flag_flickr_betta-design-resize.jpgThis may sound odd, but Amman is a bit like L.A.: everything is a car ride away. You need to know where to go (unlike Beirut which is a more meanderer-friendly town). People say Amman is the newest up-and-coming cosmopolitan city in the Middle East, after Beirut, Tel Aviv, and Dubai. And there is no doubt that an expat educated and moneyed class have come back to energize this city.

The people of Jordan are exceedingly nice and hospitable (like the Lebanese and Syrians), and most in Amman speak English. The society does have conservative cultural aspects. You will see many more covered/veiled women here than in Beirut. But there is a stylish set just the same; just go to one of the new nightclubs.

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deadsea_istock-resize.jpgIn my last post, I noted that Amman is a good jumping off point for visiting sights in other parts of the country. In my case, I had been to Petra and the Wadi Rum before (combined with a trip to Israel two years ago when I crossed into Jordan from Israel’s Eilat and stayed over at the Taybet Zaman Hotel near Petra). So this trip focused on other attractions in northern Jordan and exploring the newly emerging cosmopolitan scene of Amman.

Following my day-long city tour, my guide, Moawi, arranged a subsequent day trip to explore the north including Ajloun Castle (a medieval fortress), Umm Qays, and Jerash. That’s a lot of ground to cover in the North and driving distances between sights were about an hour. I recommend trimming it down to just Umm Qays (a Roman ruin with an amazing view of the Jordan Valley including Lake Tiberias in Israel and the Golan Heights) and Jerash.

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petra_istock-resize.jpgFor visiting Amman and elsewhere in Jordan, my guide was Moawi, the owner of Travel Club Jordan. He had a car to take us around Amman, which is always a good idea for the first day of exploring a new, exotic city. We visited the Citadel, the Roman amphitheater, and the Royal Automobile Museum. We also stopped for a lovely traditional Jordanian lunch.

For dining and nightlife in Amman, I recommend several options, including Yoshi (super sushi – better than most in New York!), books@cafe (for drinks and dessert), a stroll around Rainbow Street, and meandering around Abdoun, a chic part of town with shops, restaurants, and cafes. Read more

amman_flickr_premasagar-resize.jpgFlying from Beirut to Amman, a short one-hour flight, you cross the vast expanse of desert. The rolling desert hills and valleys are beautiful.  Then rising from the Earth you see white dots which begin to outline the city of Amman.
 
When arriving in Amman airport, one is struck by how matters are just a bit more chaotic than in Beirut. (I was in Beirut for the weekend and planned travels onward to Jordan). A new airport is under construction and this will no doubt help. Entry requires a visa, which I didn’t know beforehand, but one can easily obtain it at passport control. Change money into dinars first; the visa costs about 10 dollars.

I do recommend a hotel pick up since otherwise you run the risk of getting a taxi without A/C and the airport is a good 40 minutes from Amman (much further out than with Beirut’s airport). Read more

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