At the crossroads of continents and a melting pot of culture and religion, this region posses a long and rich history. We explored Israel, Palestinian Territories, and Jordan before flying to Turkey. After a trip around Europe we stopped in the United Arab Emirates for a week to explore Dubai on our way to Australia. From hot air ballooning in Turkey to seeing Petra to belly dancing in Dubai, we ticked off a lot of items from our bucket lists.
From the thousands of photos taken in 2013, here’s my favourites of the Middle East.
The Orthodox Church on the apparent site of Capernaum. The domed ceilings were adorned with some of the most intricate and emotive religious paintings I’ve ever seen. The lush green gardens on the compound were a stark contrast to the surrounding dry scrubland.
St George’s Monastery
Nestled in the side of a the dessert valley, this centuries old retreat was designed for solitude. It literally felt like a million miles from anywhere, except a few Bedouin men and a boy trying to sell us hand-made jewellery. Instead I gave the boy the sunglasses I was wearing and his enormous smile would have easily made you think he won the lottery.
This natural wonder in the Negev desert is a rare phenomenon that can only be found in Israel and Egypt. It blew me away as I didn’t even know it existed until it was in front of me. The rich warm hues at sunset made this desolate wilderness seem almost alive.
There was a bit of climbing involved in getting to the top of this remarkably well-preserved ancient fortress from the Arab era. But every step was worth it.
On top of the dessert fortress looking down the cable car line with the Dead Sea on the horizon. On the right was part of the “Snake Path” which winds up the side of the mountain. Before the cable car, it was the only way to reach the summit. I could see why it took the Roman army years to conquer this final stronghold of resistance.
Overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the top of Mount Arbel provided stunning vistas. A few lone, dry trees stood out in the arid, rocky landscape at the peak. A hot, yet memorable, summer day.
Looking up Mount Carmel at the Bahá'í Temple. An unmissable icon on the Haifa skyline.
A walk along the beach at sunset was the perfect way to end the day in Haifa. But this shot was taken in the middle of winter so there were few people game enough to take a dip in the chilly waters.
Prayer candles at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The traditional location of the tomb of Jesus. Pilgrims travel from all corners of the world to converge on this holy Christian site.
The most sacred site in the world for Jews. And probably the most disputed piece of land throughout history. The devout pray here at least once a day.
Mount of Olives
An ancient olive tree with the one thing so sought after yet so elusive - peace.
With such cute kids, they had to make at least one of the photos. There's always something to smile about, and these 2 remind me of that every day.
These grottos etched out by the ocean felt like a gateway to another world.
A Mediterranean sunset doesn’t get much better than this. The beaches at Natanya are perpetually packed and its easy to see why.
In a store selling ornaments and decorations made from local olive trees, this sculpture of Jesus stood out. Fragrance from incense and the abundance of fresh olive tree wood filled the room.
On the outskirts of Bethlehem the West Bank wall is decorated with messages such as this one. What surprised me was the overwhelmingly large proportion of messages of peace and unity rather than hatred.
Petra and Camels
The world renowned “Treasury” building etched into the side of the mountain leaves evidence of the mysterious yet incredibly intelligent society that lived here thousands of years ago.
Winding Road to Petra
This narrow path at the bottom of a steep gorge was the only entry point for the ancient city of Petra. The reds and browns, shadows and curves, made for a visually impressive walk.
Sunrise in Cappadocia
Watching the hot air balloons float silently in the sky from the Taskonaklar hotel. I normally don’t like waking up early, but this magnificent sight inspired me to rise before the crack of dawn again and again.
This hand-carved city, the highest point in Cappadocia, was one of my favourite photos of 2013. I’m not sure how it missed a spot in the top 7.
Climbing The Castle
The winding stairs to the top of the Khalesi (Castle) was the best lookout you can imagine. It felt like being on top of the world.
Top of the World
At the top of The Castle we could see the town of Uchisar and magnificently mesmerising landscape of Cappadocia.
Cappadocia From Above
Hot air balloons at sunrise in one of the most naturally spectacular places on this planet. The only sound piercing the silence was the occasional “whoosh” from the burner of a nearby balloon. The landscape was incredibly beautiful on the ground and even more so from above.
Cappadocia From Above
A patchwork of roads, fields, scrubland and houses. The warm sunrise colours and patterns from the fields looked like a design by a master artist.
Mopeds and Cobblestone
The roads of the old city in Alachati were lined with mopeds, cute cafes and small art galleries. The relaxed atmosphere was almost tangible.
The best dessert in the world
To call this dish a dessert was an understatement. It was actually a work of art on a plate. The Four Seasons in Istanbul delivered a momentously memorable lunch that I can’t rave enough about.
Probably the most iconic mosque in the world and arguably the most recognised building in Turkey.
United Arab Emirates
The residential skyscrapers along the edge of the Dubai Marina looked almost like they had been drawn by an architect on the backdrop of a bright azure sky.
Atlantis, The Palm
View from the top of the waterslide tower in this world-class waterpark built on a made-made island. The Dubai city skyline can be seen on the horizon along with the 7-star Burj Al Arab, arguably one of the most iconic hotels in the world.
Regardless of how spectacular the human achievements of a man-made island in the shape of a giant palm, the simplicity of an effortless sunset puts nature's brilliance into perspective.
Surrounded by the world’s largest single piece of acrylic and thousands of fish inside the world’s largest shopping mall is really as impressive as it sounds.
The largest skyscraper in the world is, well, pretty big. It makes all the other regular sized skyscrapers around look small. Would you expect anything different in Dubai?