Middle East Express - Adventure Trip
3 ½ weeks: Istanbul to Dahab (OVC-MEEX)This Middle East Express tour is ideal for those people that do not have the time to participate in our full 5 week tour to Cairo, but still wish to visit Turkey, Syria, Jordan and the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt.
Starting in Istanbul we travel to Gallipoli and the straits of the Dardanelles. On the beautiful peninsula of Gallipoli we visit the various battlefields of the 1915 campaign where ANZAC and British forces struggled unsuccessfully for nine months to dislodge Turkish troops. There are numerous memorials to the Australian, New Zealand, British and Turkish forces who tragically died there. ON our departure dates that coincide with Anzac day on April 25th we will attend the dawn service on ANZAC day (specific departures).
From Gallipoli we then follow the Mediterranean coast south to the legendary city of Troy and the magnificent ruins at Ephesus. Built by the Greeks a thousand years before Christ and then rebuilt by the Romans, this immense ancient city boasts an amphitheatre that can seat 24000.
Onward then to Cappadocia to visit the spectacular Goreme Valley, with its stunning lunar landscape. Here we can explore the bizarrely shaped churches and \'\'fairy-chimneys\'\' carved in the sandstone and volcanic rock by years of wind erosion.
Crossing into Syria we begin to experience the Arabian Middle East. The first city we come to is Aleppo, dominated by its 12th century citadel, offering unparalleled views of the city and desert backdrop. We then drive to Crac de Chevaliers, a well-preserved Crusader castle dating back 850 years. We explore the ancient trading point and oasis of Palmyra, with its temples, tombs and Roman ruins, set in the heart of the desert. Then a couple of days in the capital Damascus, reputedly the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, before crossing the Jordanian border.
In Jordan, you can bathe in the buoyant Dead Sea, with its famous curative powers, which, at 400 metres below sea level, is the lowest point on Earth. Nearby lies Mount Nebo, where Moses was laid to rest, overlooking the Biblical Promised Lands.
The best-known attraction of the Middle East is the \"Rose Red City\" of Petra. Lost to the world for 1000 years, this Nabataean stronghold with its elaborate temples and buildings is carved entirely out of the rock, and stretches for miles.
We then cross more barren desert plains to reach Wadi Rum; these spectacular landscapes were once the desert headquarters for Lawrence of Arabia.
The lively port of Aqaba is our last taste of Jordan, as a ferry takes us across the Red Sea for our first night under African skies. The Bedouin town of Dahab is where our journey ends, but there are great opportunities for diving and snorkelling in some of the best diving waters in the world. From Dahab you have an option to travel inland, to the desert to climb Mount Sinai, gaining views of the spectacular desert landscape, and visit St Katherines Monastery. You can also combine this tour with a diving course to obtain your Padi Open water dive certificate. The Overland Club tour rep will assist in transfer arrangements to Cairo or Sharm el Sheik for your onward flights at the end of the tour, however please allow 1 day from the official end date before your outbound flight.
Our Pre Departure meeting takes place at 9am on Day 1 of the tour as advertised. We expect that many of the sites and highlights are visited prior to the expedition commencing, such as Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, Topkapi Palace, Turkish baths and the Grand Bazaar. We have some time on Day 1 to take a city tour, however we prefer to depart Istanbul directly.
ISTANBUL TO THE GALLIPOLI PENINSULA and ANZAC TOUR
Without doubt one of the musts of this tour is the visit and tour of the Gallipoli Peninsula. The memory of Gallipoli is marked with a commemorative anniversary of the Allied Landings on the peninsula in 1915 on 25th April. Our group has the opportunity to attend the Dawn service at B point as well as tour many of the 31 cemeteries. The Gallipoli campaign lasted 9 months until January 1916 by which time there were more than half a million casualties. The principal battlefields took place on the western shore of the peninsula at Anzac Cove. We will visit Kabatepe Beach where the Anzac''s were supposed to land and also Anzac Cove where they actually landed. The difference in the 2 regions gives a stark reminder too the difficulty they faced with Turkish Troops atop the cliffs. At other times of the year visitors can make a much more solemn commemoration to the Anzac''s as we tour the front lines, trenches and the memorials.
GALLIPOLI TO EPHESUS
Selcuk will be our base for visiting Ephesus, the largest and best-preserved classical ruins on the Mediterranean. Once the capital of Roman Asia, most of the ruins are from this period including the impressive Library and Theatre. In Selcuk is the Artemision, a huge pillar and the last remains of the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. We also have time on these days to relax by the pool and also to visit some of the fabulous carpet shops of which Turkey is famed.
EPHESUS TO PAMAKKULE
( Or alternative visit to the coastal locations of Oludines in the summer months )
When people see the classic photograph of gleaming white calcium formations they immediately ask: where is that?…it''s Pamukkale, in Turkey. It was formed by warm calcium rich mineral water cascading over the cliff edge. The calcium has built natural shelves, pools and stalactites in which tourists delighted to soak, but sadly no more it is a world heritage sight and you can no longer bathe, however we can do so at the Pamukkale Motel. The area is a national park open 24 hours a day and makes for good photo opportunities at Sunrise and Sunset. This area is also the site of the Roman town, Hierapolis with scattered tombs and a 48-tier theatre.
PAMAKKULE TO GOREME
The region Cappadocia is home to Goreme; it is the region between the Black sea and Taurus Mountains. It is another must on any tour through Turkey, the landscape is Lunar like….this area was formed by the eruption of 3 volcanoes that spewed out hot volcanic ash over the region, which hardened into Tufa a soft porous stone. Over time, wind, water and sand erosion have carved the Tufa into elaborate and unearthly shapes Boulders caught in the Tufa stone protect the Tufa from further erosion and the result is a column or cone with a boulder perched onto, called a fairy chimney.
The entire valley is filled with these phallic formations. Later inhabitants of the area learnt that dwellings could be carved into the Rock. We will spend 2 days in the area. We will also visit Derinkuyu one of the underground cities built by the Christians, between the 6th and 10th centuries, to avoid persecution by the Muslims. Communities of up to 5000 people lived here in an area covering four square kilometres and reaching 70 metres below the ground.
GOREME ONTO THE SYRIAN BORDER and ALEPPO
A days drive finds us at the Syrian border we choose to free camp in the country side on this night.
Syria represents our first taste of the Arabian Middle East, and exotic it is. The country has a rich and exotic history with the Egyptian, Roman, Babylonian and Persian Empires having formally been housed here. Aleppo will be our first port of call in Syria. It is the second largest city of Syria and since Roman times has been an important trading centre between Asia and the Mediterranean. We have the chance to explore the covered Souqs, the citadel, museum and caravanserais (merchant inns).
ALEPPO TO KRAC DE CHEVALIERS
The Krak de Chevaliers is described by many to be the finest castle in the world; it is definitely one of Syria''s prime attractions. Built by the Emir of Homs in 1031 it was the crusader knights around the middle of the 12th century who expanded the Krac into its present form. Built on a hilltop for strategic reasons the views stretch out over Syria and the Lebanese Mountains. We can take a guided tour of this impressive castle and judge for ourselves whether it is possibly the best castle in the world or not!
CRAC DE CHEVALIERS TO PALMYRA
Our journey south takes us along the desert fringes to the Oasis town of Palmyra. Palmyra is Syria''s prime attraction and one of the world''s greatest historical sites. The ruins of this 2nd century AD city cover some 50 hectares. In its heyday, Palmyra was an important trading post. Forgotten for centuries, the ancient city was re-discovered, excavated and found to contain extensive Roman ruins. We can take a guided tour of this fascinating and almost forgotten city.
PALMYRA TO DAMASCUS
Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. It is also one of the friendliest and safest of capital cities. From here it is possible to take a one day guided tour into Lebanon and Beirut. For those not wishing to visit Lebanon then a historic and interesting day tour of Damascus is undertaken.
DAMASCUS to the BORDER of JORDAN
The Jordanian border is only a few hours drive from Damascus and we continue immediately to the Dead Sea region. The Dead Sea is 400 metres below sea level. The water is warm and salty so you can only float and there''s lots of sticky, slippery mud, which is apparently very good for the skin. Close by is Mount Nebo: Church of St Lot, St Procopious. It is here that "the Lord took the elderly patriarch Moses (aged 120 yrs) to show him the land of Israel that had been promised to his forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (Deuteronomy XXIV v4) - i.e. it overlooks the "promised lands" and the views "extend to the imaginary 4 corners of the earth" in the valley 1000km below.
DRIVE TO PETRA The Rose Red City
Leaving the desert we arrive in the village of Wadi Moussa from where we explore the ancient capital of the Nabataeans, Petra. The city grew rich from the trading caravans that passed through between the 6th and 2nd centuries BC and magnificent buildings were carved into the rock. The most famous of these is the Treasury, the first building encountered after passing through the narrow corridor between the cliffs, the Siq. The Treasury is also renowned for being the film location for the final scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Eventually Petra fell to the Romans but was uninhabited for centuries until re-discovered only 180 years ago. The impressive facades of the rock-hewn temples, homes and tombs are still intact. You can trek up the cliffs to see the huge Monastery and the Place of Sacrifice. Our itinerary allows us 2 full days in Petra.
We leave the desert highway and venture into the Jordanian Desert to Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum has some of the most spectacular desert scenery in the world. It is an unusual landscape formed by the massive rock islands and sheer sandstone cliffs that rise from the tide of sand. It makes for some intrepid exploration and we do so by 4wd drive jeep into the remote regions of the desert. Many of the scenes of Lawrence of Arabia were shot here. We will spend at least a day and a night in the desert staying close to a Bedouin camp. The nights are silent with a stunning blanket of stars. It is an unforgettable experience.
Our last stop in Jordan is the touristy little port town of Aqaba. It is from here we board the ferry to Nuweiba and the Sinai peninsula of Egypt.
We will be stationary at Dahab for 3 or 4 days while we take the opportunity to do some diving or snorkelling in the clear blue waters of the Red Sea; there is abundant coral and sea life. There are also camel safaris and jeep safari''s available and for those less energetic you can while away the hours in the many beachside cafes. Additonal night''s accommodation can easily be arranged to extend your stay at Dahab. Alternatively transport can be arranged locally to Cairo.