Wahiba Sands, Oman

Clicking on the image above will take you to my travel blog where you can read all about our trip to Wahiba Sands

Kuwait City

Pearl Island, Qatar

Al Balad, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Eurasian Kestrel, Yemen

On our way up the Harraz Mountains, we encounter yet another police checkpoint (one of over fifty I believe). A couple of young lads are hanging around, carrying two juvenile Eurasian Kestrels, and approach our car almost as soon as we stop. After some negotiations, we buy one of the birds for $5. Bargain. Emad, our Arabic speaking guide, names him Whisky, after his favourite drink.

Whisky travels in the car with us for the rest of the day, spending time on Emad's or my shoulders, arms or lap. He is absolutely adorable, and so trusting. Except of my long-suffering husband. Taking an instant dislike to him, the bird snaps and bites David as soon as he brings his hand anywhere near the bird.

When we get to al-Hajjarah, our destination at the top of the mountain, we hold a 'ceremonial blessing' for Whisky. Wishing him all the best in his future life, we release him back into the wild. Initially he just sits on Emad's shoulder, then suddenly he flaps his wings before soaring into the skies, and without a second glance he is gone.

East Meets West Art Installation, Qatar

Sunrise, Valley of the Kings, Egypt, taken from another hot air balloon

Always remove your shoes before entering a mosque. Sultan Qaboos Mosque, Muscat, Oman

Chetel Sotun Palace, Esfahan, Iran

Although architecturally a beautiful palace, it is not its 20 attractive columns reflected in the water, nor the frescoes adorning the interior halls that makes our visit to Chehel Sotun Palace so memorable.

As we arrive through the entrance, we notice the inner courtyard is full of young school girls – probably about 100-150 of them. Some of the braver ones want to test their English and shout out “Hello. How are you? Where are you from?”, followed by fits of giggles. Once we have established a repartee, they become adventurous enough to ask for a photograph with me (that's me in the white hat).

After countless photos with numerous young girls, one of them comes up with the idea that she wants my autograph. The plan spreads like wildfire, and soon everyone wants me to sign their little notebooks. Hence I spend the following twenty minutes writing autographs and posing for pictures.

It is totally surreal. I now know how celebrities feel!

Still slightly bemused by this unusual event, I am busy taking photographs of the interior frescoes in the palace when I am approached by another foreigner with the question: “Do you speak English?” She explains that she is in Esfahan with a film crew to make a propaganda film about tourism in Iran for the Iranian Government. Would I mind if she interviews me about my time in Iran? That is how we come to spend the next half an hour at a tea house, answering questions about politics, wearing the hijab, Iranian food and the highlights of our visit to Iran.

The day gets more bizarre by the minute, and I still can’t quite believe it happened.

As we continue walking through the palace gardens, still rather shell-shocked and dazed, we come across a group of younger girls and their teacher having a picnic under some trees. The teacher speaks excellent English, and tells us the children would love to sing to us. Which they do, in beautiful childlike harmony. We then have to share in their picnic, as each one of them offers us some snacks from their goodie bags.

This has got to be one of the strangest palace visits we have had on our travels. The palace? Oh, yes, it was beautiful. I think I remember the palace………?

Crescent Tower, Luseil, Qatar

Travelling between Al Mukhalla and Aden along the south coast of Yemen some years ago, there was some serious trouble ahead - the previous day cars had been attacked en route with over 80 shots fired. We tried to get a flight, but so did everyone else, so driving was the only option. The tourist police did not want us to travel overland, but eventually relented on the condition that we were in an 'escorted' convoy.

Escorted. I expected maybe an unmarked police car or something along those lines, not two of these army trucks with each officer carrying a Kalashnikov and what appears to be anti-missile guns on the back; plus a marked police car leading the way with flashing lights and sirens blazing. Talk about announcing our arrival!

It was pretty wild, but we made it to Aden without incident.

We were lucky. Two weeks later a convoy of Belgian tourists were ambushed by guerrillas - two Belgians and their Yemeni drivers were killed. Now, of course, the whole area is totally unsafe. I often think about all the lovely people we met there in 2007, and what their lives are like now.

Kuwait Skyline

Sultan Qaboos Mosque, Salalah, Oman

The National Museum of Qatar, Doha

Queen Hatshepsut Temple, Valley of the Kings, Egypt from a hot air balloon

Early morning balloon flight over the Arabian Desert, UAE

Shibam, Yemen

The Manhatten of the Desert

The settlement of Shibam dates back to the 2nd century AD, although few of the houses standing today are any more than about 300 years old. This is the most celebrated Arabian Islamic city built in the traditional style.

Shibam is a tight collection of some 500 mud-brick skyscrapers, five to eight storeys high, crammed into an area of just half a square kilometre. The tightly packed houses provide protection against climatic hardship and attacks from the outside. The city has a population of about 70,000 people.

For so many years I had wanted to visit this place. As we approached by car from the airport, my heart stopped as I spotted these skyscrapers in the distance, and I audibly gasped. By the time we'd climbed on top of a hill on the outskirts for a sunset view, I was moved to tears. A dream come true.

Doha, Qatar

Close-up of modern arc architecture. Kuwait City

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