How to get to our Riad

We will be more than glad to welcome you at our Riad, be it for a visit or for a stay!

We are located in the Fes Medina which might at times look puzzling and confusing. And it sure is! It will take you couple of days to make sense out of it, but it is also fun to explore the small and winding lanes where no cars have access.

Whether you are arriving by plane, train or a bus, you will have to take a taxi to get to the Fez medina. From the airport, you should not pay more than 150 dirhams. From the train or the bus station, it should be no more than 50 dirhams. Do not forget that you can always haggle if you feel that the price is too high.
Please, tell the driver to take you to Place Raceef, which is often spelled as Place Rcif. I would suggest that you write this down on a piece of paper and give to the taxi driver, as the pronunciation is a little difficult and you might be misunderstood or not understood at all.
When you arrive, please tell the driver to stop at “INWI” office – this is the mobile network provider, and its office is pink/violet color just next to the Raceef square. This will be our meeting point.
See you there!

 

 

 

The “Holy” Valley

There is not a place in Levant that would not bear holiness … from Jewish and Old Testament trees, rocks and memorable valley through the tombs of Muslim imams to Christ and places where he performed miracles … all of them are holy, some even duplicated, so you can have your preference. So it is not a surprise that there is a valley which actually bears the name of being Holy, and the locals call it Qadisha.

Qadisha is first of all the name of a river which springs in the Lebanese mountains and flows towards the Mediterranean. Then, it is the name of the valley which the river chose for its path. Wadi Qadisha is tucked away underneath the city of Bcharré and the surrounding villages, creating a unique environment for wildlife and flora, but also for the people who long ago decided to remain on its slopes and devote their life to prayer. Qadisha is the valley of Maronite Christian (for most part) monasteries and convents, and its soaked with prayer.

There are many paths that can be taken to explore the Qadisha valley, and I know well only one of them. So our trail goes like this: We start at Bcharré where we descend to the valley, go past the Mar Elisha monastery towards the bottom of the Qadisha valley, onward to Qannoubin monastery, and then to the hermitage of Hawqá. After Hawqá, we ascent one more and find ourselves at the Hawqá village, from where we take the vehicle on. It takes most of the day (about 8 hours) in a slow pace with the aim of enjoying the views and the monuments. The distance has been measured at 13 kilometers with about 250 meters of altitude changes (final ascent). Click on the pictures to see description.

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Four-by-four of the Levant (2)

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This is a continuation of my account of the most enjoyable moments and the most beloved aspects of four Levantine countries – Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. I have written about the first two in the last post, and now its time to think about four things I love and Syria and Lebanon.

Again, they will not be in any particular order, I write them as they come to my mind.

SYRIA

1. Old Damascene houses turned into restaurants

This is a big one! I love the renovated courtyard where music is played and the waiters come with the array of mezze, mmmm …. I have had so many sweet encounters with friends at these places, eating, drinking and smoking shisha for hours, enjoying the music and our conversation. Relaxing and refreshing.

2. Lemon juice with mint

Light, full of vitamins, shining green! Those are the attributes of this amazing drink that you can put as much sugar in as you like, according to how sweet you want its taste to be. I go for less sweet, rather sour version of it, and I enjoyed it most after a filling lunch or dinner in any place in Syria. I know they make this awesome drink in other Arab countries, but in Syria it has reached its perfection.

3. Sunrise in Palmyra

If something can beat the fabulous sunsets in Jordan, it is the sunrise in Palmyra. That moment, when the wind ceases and the first rays of sun kiss the ancient ruins … everything turns light pink, or rather apricot color. My last sunrise in Palmyra in 2011was the most memorable one, having some of my best friends around me and thinking of what is going to become of Syria in the years to come …

4. Breeze and pine fragrance by Qalaat Samaan

Oh, what a place! Hidden in the northernmost corners of Syria lies an early Christian ruin of a monk who lived on the top of the pillar. While I often thought this must be a made-up story, I understand that if it was for real, the pine forests with its amazing fragrance when the breeze moves must have given the pious man so much relief in his self-chosen physical suffering.

LIBANON

Moving just a bit to the west, we hit the tiny country of Lebanon, and these are the Lebanese top four:

1. The moment you see all of the country in once …

Lebanon is so tiny, that you can actually see it from west to eat from the same place, you just need to turn your head! This place is in the Lebanese mountains, above the Cedars of the Lord where the road first climbs up to the top of the mountais pass, and then slowly descends down to the Bikaa Valley. Turn right, and you have the Qadisha Valley in front of you, and beyond the mountains are retreating and giving way to a narrow strip of lowlands before disappearing in the Mediterranean sea. Now look left, and the Bikaa valley is first what you sea, with the Anti-Lebanon mountains marking the border with Syria following. This is a huge and big WOW, which I just cannot get over!

2. Living as a hermit

I wonder if I could do it – I guess I could, if I had the internet connection in the Hawqa hermitage in the Qadeesha Valley which is where Dario Escobar has been living since 1990. His little house with an adjacent little chapel and the gardens around looks like an ideal getaway for busy postmodern Europeans. Even a couple of hours in this place serve as a much needed relaxation.

3. Yummies of Em Nazih

And there is the food again! Each Levantine has its culinary attractions, and Lebanon is not an exception. When I think of good food, I think of Em Nazih, which is the mother of Nazih at the Saifi Language Institute, and this precious lady with her family prepares delicious while cheap dishes at the café of same name. Yum! The first that comes to mind is the biryani dish which caused me so much trouble in Iran and then there is mujaddara, lubyeh and of course the wonderful manaqeesh! Simply precious and priceless.

4. Anjar and its beauty

If I had to name one historical site and recommend it to visitors of Lebanon, it would definitely be Anjar. It is not well known and thanks to that, it is very rarely visited (compared to Baalbek and Byblos). Its uniqueness is in the fact that it is the only early Islamic city whose layout and most of the buildings have survived until the modern days. Set on the slopes of the Anti-Libanon hills and not far from the Syrian border, it is a great place to spend a couple of hours before sunset. Look for McDonalds sign when you are there!

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Four-by-four of the Levant (1)

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I got a question from a friend on the blog about my  preferences when it comes to the four Levantine countries – Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The question about which of the four I love the most comes from time to time, and I never know how to answer. Shouting out the name of one of them seems at least as unfair as saying one of the four children is above the other, and I love him more than the rest of them. At the same time, this question leads to the necessity of comparison of the uncomparable.

I love each one of the four deeply, and each one is unique and special to me

Just like with the children. It is because I have experienced both good and bad moments in each one, I shed my tears and rejoiced beyond measure at some point in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria as well. Let me, therefore, share some of those priceless moments and experiences from each one of them, and let us limit it to four items per each country. They will not necessarily be my favorite four sites in the country, though some of those ideas might serve as a recommendations on what to see there.

ISRAEL

It comes first in the alphabet, so I mentioned it as the first one, without making its primacy a statement of any kind. And these are four of Israel (again not in any particular order):

1. Dead Sea Nights

I used to be coming to the Dead Sea once in a week, but I never enjoyed it more than during Shavuot of 2009 when I spent three days (and two nights) at its Ein Bokek beach, sleeping at the lifeguards hut and keeping waking up to the noise Beduin youngsters were making while swimming in the darkness. The heat during the day (it was late May) was almost unbearable, while the nights were just lovely, air filled with salt and minerals.

2. When the Plane Approaches

Eilat. I prefer not spending Shabats there as no planes are flying during this day of rest. But just as the end of Shabat comes on Saturday night, a plane after plane keeps landing at it airport, located in the very heart of the city. Standing next to the Mall haYam, I feel like this huge bird is approaching to pick me up and carry me away. Scary and wonderful at the same time.

3. Negev Desert Highway

By far my favorite part of the country, with its amazing serenity and vastness. Knowing, that the highway to the right is already behind the Jordanian border, and I am driving while watching Jordan on my right hand side, is an amazing feeling. This one I guess is hard to describe, so you need to just believe me that it is cool :-).

4. Israeli Skirts

If Israel gave me any piece of life advice, it is this one: Wear a skirt, you will look much more feminine. I heed the advice, follow it, and I rarely put pants on nowadays. Skirts (and dresses) are amazing, and one place to learn about it is in Israel.

JORDAN

1. Where Bible Comes to Life

Jordan is MY Bible-land. Strangely enough, I do not feel it as much in Israel as I do in Jordan, and I cannot help but think of Moses and all his troubles with the disobedient Israelites as they were passing through in their quest for the Promised Land. I sense it in Wadi Musa where he stroke the rock to get the water. I imagine the sides of the Kings Highway being covered with manna when I ride by in the morning. I think of his last days and what he felt when seeing the land which his feet was not to ever stand upon.

2. Zaatar-o-Zeit

Mmm… the taste of the freshly baked bread, of which pieces I break and dip in the olive oil and zaatar spice. Nothing else to add, this one you just have to try on your own!

3. Amman Love Affair

This means love affair WITH, not IN Amman … I spent six weeks which I did not plan to spend, in Amman in 2011. Living in the west Amman and commuting to work every morning – it made me, for a short moment, one of Ammanis. I dearly and deeply love this city with its great little shops where bread rolls are not counted but sold by weight, and where oranges dry up on their trees on the balconies. If I had to live for the rest of my life in one of the Levantine capitals, let it be this one.

4. Jordanian Sunsets

The most stunning pink color I have ever seen is the pink of the desert sunset in Jordan. Period.

To be continued for Lebanon and Syria! Stay tuned!

Keeping Your Mouth Out of Trouble In the Middle East

kocicka (51)Middle East* is the most wonderful part of the world! Well, at least for me.

I know that many people come to the Middle East with certain expectations, and quite a few of the leave with mixed feelings. It is NOT the lack of beauty, monuments, sun and fun, that creates the feeling, it is the people. The locals, Jews, Arabs, Druze, Muslims, converts – they all can make you feel at least uneasy, unsure and confused about their attitute towards yourself if you cross certain borders.

The Middle East is a delicate part of the world, it needs to be dealt with that way

Everyone has an opinion about something, let alone about the Middle-Eastern political situation, which is in one way or another presented in the media almost on daily basis. For some reason, it makes lots, lots of people very upset, and they feel they have the long- awaited and long-desired and the best answer to offer. Given the fact that hundreds of learned, studied and experienced professors, specialists, politicians and religious leaders have tried to solve the “problem” for the last sixty plus years and have not reached their goal, you, my fellow world traveler are NOT likely to significantly to help either.

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I have been working, studying and travelling across the Middle East for the last nine years, have dated a Muslim, a Druze, as well as a Jew, have eaten meals in the homes of people of various ME countries, have visited mosques, synagogues and churches and have come to the following conclusions:

1. Learn as much as possible before your trip

It is nice to show some knowledge on the ME countries when talking to the locals, and they will appreciate when you don’t eat in front of the during Ramadan or don’t ask them for a ride on Shabat. Knowing the basics of the religions does not hurt, and can open doors. Learn what Baruch hashem and Inshalla means, it will save you some awkward moments.

2. Dress and behave accordingly

This one does not deal with your talking, but if you wish to get closer to people and get to know them/make some personal connections, try to approach them in the way that will not make the feel awkward. Middle East is for the most part a traditional region, and this goes for clothes and behavior as well. Modesty in the way you dress and act in the public can make the locals love you and not pay any attention as well. And if they do pay attention while wearing shorts and tank tops, it is not the kind of attention you were probably looking for.

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3. Listen more than speak

They love to talk, and once you make a contact you desired, they will talk and talk and talk. The Middle Easterners are lovely, friendly and cordial people who will want to share their lives and homes with you. They will sure be vocal about number of things, and they do have a lot of interesting things to say, so listen and learn.

4. BE CAREFUL WHEN PRESENTING YOUR OPINION

The most important one, and the reason why I am writing out this piece. They sure WILL ask you about your opinion on the political situation in their country. Opinion is what you think, and while you can think anything, they are definitely looking for the RIGHT answer, in line with what they believe in. What I have learned is that no opinion is the best opinion, and I excuse myself from having to answer any sensitive question by saying that it is something I either have not had a chance to build an opinion on, or something I don’t quite understand. Not saying anything and looking stupid is better than saying something that will spark a fire of an argument.

5. Don’t teach and preach

The worst thing, I believe, that one can do, is to teach them and preach to them. They have their opinion based on their life experience and sometimes religious propaganda, and they will NOT consider new, fresh ideas that you might feel are so revolutionary. If your opinion is contrary to their beliefs, they will most probably think you don’t understand the situation anyway.

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6. Beware of seemingly harmless comments

Even outside of voicing an opinion, you may utter something that the listeners will find utterly offensive. Don’t be surprised if the Israelis give you an evil look if your call their country a Zionist entity just because that’s how Lebanese refer to it. Likewise, let it not surprise you when Syrians treat Golan Heights as THEIR land when referring to it. On and on, the best (again) is NOT to make comments which have political content.

7. They don’t need to know your itinerary …

While in one of the four Levantine countries (Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan) it is OK to mention you have been to the other ones, in some of them it is recommended not to talk much in detail about your travels in the region – and you can definitely make out which is which. Even when you have two passports (or four if you are a citizen of Czech republic), you will be frown at if you praise the Tel Aviv beach too much in front of a Beiruti.

8. To sum it up – enjoy the trip!

Have fun in the Lebanese mountains, eat as much of waraq 3nab in Damascus as you can, ride the camels for hours in Jordanian desert and party like crazy in Eilat! Leave the political and religious issues aside as worthless stumbling blocks on your way to the best experience in the most amazing region in the world!

*When writing this out, I was most thinking of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Egypt. It applies less to Morocco or Algeria, though one can profit from following these guidelines in Maghreb as well. And Iran, of course, though it is a special case still.

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