Catlantic Travel: Minneapolis, Minnesota to Athens, Greece

Due to an unexpected change in our family life we had to move our cats, Zeeko and Misha, from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Greece where we spend a good deal of time. Since we became a family, most of our feline companions had to adapt to a mobile lifestyle, except for Zeeko and Misha who had only known Minnesota as a home. Suddenly we were faced with the daunting task of taking them on a transatlantic trip that included a transit stop before reaching the final destination. In the past, traveling with pets was relatively easy and all that was required was a vaccination book and a certification by the destination country. As the years went by, the regulations became increasingly demanding with the introduction of microchips, additional vaccines, blood tests etc. However, the post COVID era is a different ballgame. Flying with our cats from Minneapolis to Athens via Amsterdam required weeks of preparation and paperwork that involved the veterinarian, the US Department of Agriculture, [Read more...]

Jezzine to Marjayoun: 4-Day Trek along the Lebanon Mountain Trail

Day 1: Jezzine to Aitanit For the past few years, we have been meaning to hike the southern portion of the Lebanon Mountain Trail (LMT) in spring, but life always got in the way. Finally, this year, for Norbert’s 65th birthday, we decided to put life on pause and make this a priority. The four-day trek, amounting to approximately 77 km (48 miles) starts in Jezzine in the Chouf Mountains and ends in the southern town of Marjayoun. The trip was led by one of Lebanon’s finest guides, Jorge Abi Saad of Libantrek. After the taxi dropped us off in Jezzine, we started the steep climb up the Chouf mountains to 1900 meters (6235 ft). As we made our way up to the top, we walked through fields of grass and wild flowers along a gurgling stream, and crossed pine groves until we reached a rocky landscape which stood in stark contrast with the greenery below. Somewhere along the way, a handsome and well-mannered white Labrador joined us on our journey. The dog had a collar but no [Read more...]

El Gouna: Style, Beauty and a State of Mind

In its budding years el Gouna was a low-key resort town, flanked by the Red Sea’s azure waters and its jagged mountains, that trailed behind glitzier destinations in Egypt such as Sharm el Sheikh, favored by foreign tourists, and the country’s northern coast mostly frequented by locals. Yet, in its three decades of existence el Gouna has steadily climbed up the ranks earning an unrivaled reputation as a classy international resort as well as a home to thousands of residents who have relocated here seeking an alternative lifestyle. Despite its fast-paced growth and increasing popularity, el Gouna still maintains its raw beauty accentuated by the powerful winds that blow here the greater part of the year. From a tight-knit seaside community, 20 km (12.5 miles) north of the port city of Hurghada, with a handful of hotels, one marina, and a spatter of residential compounds, el Gouna has grown to a sizeable town with a distinct identity shaped by the vision of its founder Egyptian [Read more...]

Lebanon’s Last Surviving Train Driver Passes Away at Age 93

Assad Namrud, Lebanon’s last living train driver, passed away on November 18. We were fortunate to interview him in June and record his memories of an era of Lebanon’s history that couldn’t be further from the country’s present state. When we arrived at Namrud’s modest home in the town of Rayyak, once a hub on the rail line connecting Beirut and Damascus, we weren’t sure if the 93-year-old was fit to receive us. As he sat at his kitchen table nibbling on some food and sipping on a glass of 7 Up, Namrud looked frail, haggard, and confused. Still, we decided to go ahead with the interview as his first-hand account of his travels along the Beirut-Damascus railway as a driver was essential to the article that we were working on for AramcoWorld. As we were setting up the camera, Namrud shuffled into the living room where the book Lebanon on Rails featuring a cover photo of a much younger Assad, was prominently displayed. The same picture hung on the wall in a frame where he had [Read more...]

Massacre at Saint Mary of Zion Church in Axum, Ethiopia

Reports are just emerging of a horrific massacre of hundreds of civilians in Ethiopia’s holiest church, almost three months after the deadly attacks. The deacon of the Church of Saint Mary of Zion, believed to house the ancient Ark of the Covenant after it disappeared from Jerusalem, and other witnesses described a horror scene of bodies littering the streets and hyenas feeding on the dead. The killings are blamed on the Eritrean military, arch enemy of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, which has been locked in armed conflict with the Ethiopian government since November. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a member of the Oromo ethnic group, came to power in 2018 ending three decades of Tigrayan dominance over Ethiopian politics. Additionally, he signed a peace treaty with Eritrea which won him a Nobel Peace Prize. However, his push to impose the central government’s control over the Tigrayan areas in the north sparked tensions which eventually led to conflict. It didn’t take long for [Read more...]