"Ehlen wa Sehlen! Hoº geldiniz! Mirë se vini!" maykal's Profile
I decided this page was due an update, but now that I've pressed EDIT and deleted all the old rubbish, I don't have a clue what to write...hmmm...suppose I should start with a little about me.
I'm Michael, originally from a place near Birmingham, slap bang in the middle of England. I managed to escape at 18 though, and came up to the north east, to study in Durham...and have been here ever since. Well...not quite...
What did I study? Arabic and Turkish.
Why? hmm....a difficult question. If I'm honest, there's no reason at all. I usually say something like "I like languages" or "I'd always been fascinated with the Middle East"....but the truth is maybe closer to "I did it to annoy my parents and my teachers". Anyway, it was the best decision I ever made.
I'd always wanted to travel though. One of my favourite toys as a little boy was one of those jigsaw puzzles where you had to match the flag with the country. By age 4, I knew every flag, every capital...could pinpoint every country on a map.
My older brothers didn't help with this "illness", as they were always off inter-railing around Europe, sending me postcards from exotic-sounding cities. I wanted to go along too, but at age 7, most backpacks were bigger than me, so I had to settle for family holidays abroad by the beach.
Before leaving home, my travels were mainly restricted to Western Europe, apart from a school trip to Arctic Canada and a beach holiday in Tunisia. But taking Arabic at university gave me the chance to explore a whole new continent...September 1999 was when I was first infected by the travel bug, and saw me board a plane headed for Damascus, Syria, with a smattering of Arabic, a few clothes and books, and no idea what to expect in the year ahead. Since then, I've lived in Syria, Yemen, Sudan and Turkey, and travelled in many more...eaten raw intestines and rotten fish...chewed narcotic leaves in remote villages...smoked nargile in backstreet cafes...found severd sheep heads on Georgian mountaintops...swum in the Nile, the Euphrates, the Red Sea...got lost in the souqs and bazaars of Istanbul, Sana'a, Kassala, Damascus, Tbilisi...drunk coffee with nomads, tea with monks, wine at a deathday party...encountered scorpions, snakes and vicious goats...been arrested more times than I care to remember...and not once have I ever missed England.
Yet somehow, I ended up back here again. Durham. Teaching in the same classrooms I used to study in. How did that happen?!
First and foremost, I'm a slow traveller. I like to take my time, stick around long enough to get a real feel for a place....where other travellers may spend an afternoon, I stay a week. I hate to rush or be rushed.
I'm independent. Apart from a temporary lapse in Luxor, I steer well clear of organised tours. Nothing wrong with them, but they're just not for me. I'd rather be on my own, doing as I please.
I'm budget-conscious. I stay in cheap hotels, I eat street food, I take buses not 4WD, I walk instead of taking taxis. Luxury hotels may be great for some people, but do you really need all those facilities you pay for? Give me a bed, a shower, clean sheets and a lockable door, and I'm happy enough. That said, I don't aim to travel as cheaply as possible, always looking to knock a few dinars off the price, save a few lira...Dingy, dirty smelly hotels may be the only choice in some towns, but if there is a cleaner, safer alternative for a little bit extra, I'm happy to pay the extra.
I like the road less travelled. The idea of going abroad and being surrounded by thousands of other people just like me is my idea of hell. Venice is pretty enough, but too crowded with tourists and expensive...take me to Trieste instead, just up the road but much less well known.
I like underrated cities. Guidebooks often write off places as industrial, places to change buses, ugly, not worth the effort. If I had listened to that, I would never have enjoyed spending time in Trabzon, Alexandria, Baku, Khartoum, Koper, Sfax, Prishtina...all special places in my book.
I like to twist my tongue round the local language, be it obscure dialects of Arabic, Turkish, French, Farsi, Somali, Georgian, Albania, Slovene, Azeri or Tigrinya...I may be no good, I may say it all completely wrong, I may make a complete fool of myself...but people generally appreciate it if I try at least a little phrase or two.
I'm a musical traveller. No...that doesn't make me a guitar-toting hippy dripping in beads...what I mean is that the perfect souvenir for me is a CD or three of music from that country, whether traditional or modern, folk or pop, jazz or throat singing...
BEST PAGES: If you're in a hurry, and want to see a couple of good pages, rather than trawl through the many mediocre ones on my site, then here are my recommendations:
- WILAYAT KASSALA...this is where I lived and worked, a smallish city in Sudan near the Eritrean border. I've scanned lots of photos (including a couple of the recent floods) and the page is pretty much complete now...please take a look ;@P
- YEMEN...my favourite destination of all, I've enjoyed creating this page. The layout is a bit of a mish-mash, but there are several travelogues (in the process of being moved to other pages)
- DAMASCUS and SYRIA...I spent a year studying in Damascus, and visited nearly every corner of Syria, so I have plenty to say on both pages, and lots of pictures too (with more on the way!)
- GEORGIA...Not a well known destination, so I've tried to give a general introduction to Georgia, as well as plenty of anecdotes about the difficulties of travelling in this fascinating country.
- BAFFIN ISLAND...although this page is still under construction, it includes photos from a 6 week expedition to the remote Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island in Canada's Arctic, as well as pictures from some of the Inuit communities there.
- SUDAN...after two years in Sudan, I've got lots to say and hundreds of photos to scan...it will constantly be under construction, and contains many odd notes about life in Sudan.
- MIDDLE EAST...now this is a page for those with an interest in studying Arabic. Not many photos, but a fair amount of info on places to study and a travelogue with useful phrases in many Arabic dialects.
- TUNISIA...two successful trips with a digital camera to the less explored sides of this fascinating country mean that my general Tunisia page has quite a lot of information and loads of photos. It also links to all the more detailed pages about various Tunisian towns.
- PRISHTINA...after my recent trip to Kosovo, I have plenty to say about the newest capital in Europe, a city of Ottoman buildings and bizarre concrete monstrosities and a lively cafe scene.
- PRIZREN...the highlight of my trip to Kosovo, three days lazily working my way around the sights has now transformed into one of my larger pages.
- IRAQ...an index page about my recent trip to Iraqi Kurdistan, with links to individual city pages too.
Prishtina and Prizren pages are now up and running, as well as new pages about Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and some writings about Montenegro. Western Saharan cities have been added, and I'm currently working on Moroccan and Iraqi pages...
A note about my pages....the ones with the camera icon next to them are the ones I've finished and the ones worth viewing. These are basically my thoughts and opinions of various locations, but also contain some practical information, such as hotel and restaurant recommendations, transport and visa info. The pages with just text (mainly European pages) contain only silly stories from my holidays when I was a young child. They contain absolutely no useful information, so some might think they are completely pointless!
MY LAST TRIPS:
TURKEY & IRAQI KURDISTAN, Jan 2013: Again, tempted by cheap flights to my favourite city, I stopped off in Ankara again for a few days, before flying to the newly opened airport of Şırnak, close enough to the border to hop over into Iraq the same day. Retraced my footsteps a bit in Iraq, visiting many of the places on my 2010 trip, but loved every minute and discovered a couple of new places too. A few hours in Cizre on the Turkish side of the border, then back to Istanbul.
TURKEY, Jan 2013: Cold, cold, cold. Turkish Airlines have started direct flights from Edinburgh, so that was an incentive to fly to my favourite city, Istanbul, to revisit friends and rediscover old haunts. Snow was a feature of this trip, as was a nasty cold that persisted until the very end. I abandoned my plans to head north east, as temperatures had plummeted to -28 in places, and instead went in search of warmth, Arabic and kunefe in Adana and Antakya, via Ankara and Beypazari, and ended the trip visiting friends in Amasra on the Black Sea.
MARSEILLE, Aug 2012: Not an ideal time to travel anywhere, August, but a family celebration in Provence had been timed around school holidays, so I decided to start the holiday with a brief city break on my own in Marseille.
MOROCCO, Mar/Apr 2011: A return to Morocco, this time to the north to see the big cities, Casablanca, Rabat, Sale, Fes, Meknes, Chefchaouen, Volubilis...Came away with mixed feelings on this trip, as Morocco managed to delight me and enrage me in equal measure. Some pages are up...
IRAQ & TURKEY, Mar/Apr 2010: After rediscovering Istanbul, I took a train down to Diyarbakir before crossing over into Iraqi Kurdistan, a beautiful and safe mountainous region in an otherwise volatile country. Zaxo, Dohuk, Erbil, Slemani, Halabja, Akre, Amediye...all fascinating places. Two weeks later, I re-entered Turkey, pausing in Mardin for a few days before the long bus journey to Istanbul. Pages are under construction.
MOROCCO & WESTERN SAHARA, Jan 2010: A year without any form of travel drove me mad, so I was easily tempted by some budget flights to Morocco. Instead of visiting all the classic Moroccan cities, I headed south to the disputed Saharan territories, discovering Laayoune, Ad-Dakhla and Smara, as well as spending time on the beach in Sidi Ifni. Pages are in progress.
MY NEXT TRIPS: Who knows? Algeria maybe...the Caucasus again...Albania again...Djibouti & Somaliland...Eritrea...Whitley Bay? It all depends on money :( But one thing's for sure....if my lottery numbers ever come up, you won't see me for dust!
If you'd like to read more of my writing, then I've written a number of reviews so far on the websites epinions and dooyoo, all about travel. The reviews include Yemen, Syria, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and of course Sudan. You won't find pictures there, just more of an account of my trips...they are not brilliant, but they are a start! Find out more at epinions or dooyoo
Parlez-vous francais? J'avais ecris quelques avis au sujet de mes voyages en francais sur le site Ciao.fr...allez les lire: Kassalawi a Ciao.fr! mais ne ris pas a mes erreurs en francais svp!
I'll freely admit that i am not a good photographer...I'd like to be one, but my best photos are only mediocre. All photos on my pages are taken by me (with a few rare exceptions taken on family holidays many years ago...) and belong to me. If you use Flickr, you can find me and my snaps by clicking HERE
I've had a couple of e-mails from people wanting to use some of my photos on their own websites, which i find flattering if rather bizarre (I mean, why would anyone want a mediocre holiday snap?!!)
Strangely, one or two people seem to think it is OK to "borrow" my photos for their own websites without asking. Apart from being against the copyright of VT, it also makes my blood boil! I have no objection to anyone getting in touch to ask for a photo or a quote or whatever, but please don't just take them without asking, passing them off as your own with no link to my homepage and no credit to me whatsoever...yes, that includes you lot at the Sudan Tribune :)
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