Jordan: Before Petra

In April I returned to one of my favourite countries, Jordan, to write a story about its amazing Neolithic archaeology. Although most people know Jordan for Petra (and perhaps also the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum), not many visitors know that Jordan has some of the most important Neolithic sites in the world. I went to discover some of these sites, which bear evidence of the very beginning of farming and communal living. This is my story.

Photo: George Azar

Photo: George Azar

Autumn in Oxford

I’ve lived in Oxford on and off (though much more on than off) for almost 30 years, and although I know it inside out, I’m always surprised by new discoveries. This is what makes this gorgeous little city so special to me. So when the Telegraph asked me to be their ‘”Oxford expert” I was happy to oblige. As well as writing a comprehensive guide, the gig also involves regular ’round-ups’ of the city. Here’s my latest.

Cumin, Camels & Caravans: A Spice Odyssey

I was delighted to be invited to review Cumin, Camels & Caravans: A Spice Odyssey, the new book by the eminent food historian and ecologist Gary Nabhan. It’s a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history, culture and food of the Middle East and Europe, and was published in the September 2014 of History Today, the history magazine which has been going strong since 1951.

cumin

Discovering Jordan at the RGS

On 1 May this year I was invited to address an audience at the RGS (Royal Geographical Society) in London on the theme ‘Discovering Jordan’, for potential travellers to that fascinating country. Founded in 1830, the RGS has funded some of Britain’s most intrepid explorers including Darwin, Livingstone, Stanley, Scott, Shackleton and Hillary, so it was an honour to speak there, alongside Tony Howard who with his partner Di Taylor developed adventure tourism in Jordan. Here’s a photo of us both in action.

The audience at the RGS event 'Discovering Jordan'

The audience at the RGS event ‘Discovering Jordan’ © n.o.m.a.d.s.

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Londonderry & Northern Ireland with Van the Man

Having spent a few consecutive summers exploring Ireland in a campervan in the 1990s at a time before the Good Friday Agreement initiated the peace process in the north of the country, it was great to be back last summer for the Daily Telegraph.

So much had changed: in the 1990s the border between the province, which then was punctuated with checkpoints and watchtowers, is now completely open, and the only hint that we’d crossed between the North and the Republic was the miles turning to kilometres on the road signs.

Our campervan had changed too, but one thing remained the same – the soundtrack to our trip, never more apt than in his own country: the great Van Morrison.

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My Oxford: our expert’s favourite places

I’ve lived in Oxford over 25 years, and have loved it ever since I first visited it as a teenager from my parents’ home in the neighbouring county of Buckinghamshire. So it was a delight to be asked to write a comprehensive guide to the city for the Telegraph, which appeared in 2011 (see this earlier post). The Telegraph asked me to produce a compact version of this guide, which appears here. This was harder than you’d think, as there are so many lovely paces to choose from – and every Oxford resident has their own particular favourites (which might not be the same ones as mine). But as a travel journalist I had to write the guide for visitors rather than residents, which meant missing out a few of my personal favourites that are too far off the beaten track, or difficult to find. Despite this challenge, it was fun seeing my own city through the eyes of a first-time tourist!

 

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Game of Kings

In march I travelled to the UAE to write about the history of polo, a game which (probably) originated in the Central Asian Steppes or in Persia (modern-day Iran).  From here it migrated to China, Japan and India, where it was adopted by the British and brought back to the UK. When British farmers bought estancias in Argentina the game took off in this already horse-mad country, and in recent years it’s come ‘home’ to the Gulf, where it’s popular amongst the equally horse-mad Emiratis. I was luck enough to attend the Polo Gold Cup in Dubai, which forms the opening of my story…

A polo game in 18C India (Bridgeman Art Library)

A polo game in 18C India (Bridgeman Art Library)

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