Mention the Middle East and multiple
opinions arise about the wisdom and worth of traveling there. When
the opportunity arrived, I jumped at it.
offers spring and fall itineraries to the United Arab Emirates,
Oman, Jordan, Egypt and a daylong Suez Canal transit, an itinerary
I sailed in late March.
I joined the
Silver Whisper in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where I didn't need
a visa to enter the country. A Silversea representative greeted us
and arranged for transportation to the ship.
into our suite, we went to Deira, a warren of streets where the
world's goods are exchanged along Dubai Creek. Traditional Arab
dhows, or boats, take on cargo here, while sacks of basmati rice,
boxes of housewares and automobile tires are transferred from
trucks to the backs of porters.
The next morning,
a Silversea coach tour took us along the coast to the Burj al Arab
Hotel with its billowing sail design.
Taking a 12-lane
highway, we passed through a towering residential, hotel and
commercial center where the world's tallest building, the Burj
Dubai, or Dubai Tower, is being built.
At noon, we
sailed toward the Strait of Hormuz and into the Arabian Sea to dock
at Muscat, the capital of Oman.
What a difference
a day makes.
in Oman conforms to an approved Arab design executed in white or
beige with no building exceeding six stories. The city seemed as
safe as it did when I was last there in 1970.
excursion highlight was a visit to the Carrara marble Sultan Qaboos
Grand Mosque, completed in 1979 for up to 20,000 worshippers and
set amid beautiful gardens.
Over two nights
cruising the Indian Ocean, we settled into a daily routine that
started with breakfast in the suite, a morning read in a sheltered
deck location, lunch on the after deck, a nap and a swim in the
pool before dinner.
Dinner was open
seating in the main restaurant or reservation-only La Terrazza,
which offered a changing Italian menu.
Silversea is tops; the staff often greeted us by name. Breakfast
and lunch buffets offered wonderful variety, and dinners were well
prepared. Silversea's prime rib was the best I had ever tasted.
Some repeat passengers remarked that meals were not especially
memorable but expressed no complaints.
provides both a social and a private experience, and tables for two
are nearly always available.
In the Omani port
of Salalah, located near the Yemen border, a tour visited the
frankincense market, which seemed to be the only reason to stop in
We stopped at Al
Baleed to wander through the ruins of a 12th century trading center
and explored a 12th century castle in the town of
along the way gave us the middle finger, but otherwise we
experienced no anti-Western incidents anywhere.
Americans made up
the largest group of the 21 nationalities represented onboard but
were less than half the total number of passengers. British and
Australians were the next largest groups. A few Europeans remarked
that the lack of Americans was due to their poor sense of
geography, thinking that the Middle East as a whole was unsafe.
Americans I encountered felt that if Silversea chose to cruise
these waters, that was all they needed to know.
During four days
at sea, the onboard lectures were popular. An entertaining rabbi
and professor talked about Islam, Middle Eastern history and
politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A prolific New York
author gave talks about his writing life and the history of the
east African safari.
In advance of the
two-day excursion to the Nile Valley, we received a detailed
itinerary and some historical background.
Egypt, three half-filled motor coaches, accompanied by the Silver
Whisper's nurse and security officer, set out under police escort
for a three-hour drive through the desert to the Nile Valley for a
visit to the temples of Karnak and Luxor. The next day, we visited
the Valley of the Kings and Queens.
The guides were
terrific, but the tourist crowds in the tombs did try one's
patience. Military and police checkpoints were encountered
everywhere. For the trip back to the coast, our three motorcoaches
joined the mandatory 2 p.m. escorted convoy.
overnight to Aqaba at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba where Jordan,
Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia meet. Most passengers booked the
one-day excursion to Petra, Jordan, a 2,000-year-old trading center
built by the Nabateans in the second century B.C.
walking through a narrow, mile-long gorge, the "treasury," a burial
chamber carved out of the sandstone cliff, suddenly appeared before
us. The valley opened up to reveal more tombs cut into the
hillside, an 8,000-seat stadium, and the remains of temples and a
After a long ride
over a bone-dry landscape, we arrived at an intersection just short
of Amman, Jordan's capital, where road signs pointed ahead to
Lebanon and Syria and to the right to Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Most
passengers expressed a sense of excitement by our location rather
than concern about the proximity of these other countries.
During the day at
sea en route to the Suez Canal, the New York lecturer related the
canal's history, which was more interesting than actually cruising
the canal itself, a 100-mile, well-fortified ditch in the
On the 15th
morning, the ship berthed at Alexandria, an Egyptian city that
exudes a faded grandeur apart from the new, architecturally
Alexandria by car for Cairo, we threaded along a busy, one-way
street only to find trams traveling in both directions.
proved to be a nail-biting experience, the only nervous moment
during the entire two-week cruise.
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