Intrepid traveller Ali Hussain Mushaima is well-known for his unique Friendship Arabia tours - journeying by road from Bahrain to various corners of the world. The message has remained the same right from the time he launched his first trip, a 3-month drive to Europe, many years ago: spread the word about Bahrain, its people and all it has to offer. Ali's newest tour, a two month journey from June 23, 2010, is titled: "Tylos to Thassos, Voyage of Discovery".


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Questions at the Greek border
Written by Ali Mushaima   
Saturday, 14 June 2008 08:06

While fuelling the car in Greece, Ali made friends with a family who told him they were avid Formula 1 fans who followed the race in Bahrain, and offered him free coffee. 

With the Friendship Tour wrapping up its Turkey leg and entering Greece, it was time to bid adieu to three members of the team - David, Nizar and Ammar. 

It's always hard to say goodbye after going through so many experiences together, and just as with other team members who were with the tour on various legs of the journey - Maria, Rebecca, Petra, Haider and Taha - it was sad to see them go. But it's a long tour and not everyone can get that much time off.

It was also sad to leave Istanbul, which deserves at least a week to really take in the sights. 

On the other hand, going to Greece is like going home for me since I know the country so well – I spend my holidays here every summer.

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It's the end of the road for me
Written by Ammar Hammad   
Thursday, 12 June 2008 23:07

Dinner with Defne, Elvan and Ahmet

It's been a wild three weeks since our journey started. There's been something new to experience everyday, places to see and people to meet in what has seemed like a never ending journey. I was fortunate to be chosen as a photographer for this amazing trip. It was definitely worthwhile and exciting. While it could not be at par with other events in terms of grandiosity, the whole trip was certainly a blast

Today I leave Friendship Arabia, though I will catch up with Ali on his way back from Britain, sometime around mid July.

We had only one full day pencilled in for Istanbul and today was that day. We tried to make the best of it. 

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The long journey to Istanbul
Written by Ammar Hammad   
Wednesday, 11 June 2008 21:14

 On the road to Istanbul

Early this morning, we left Alanya, a town that most of us never heard of  before but came to love. The good times we had in the town along with our Finnish friends will stay in the memory for years to come.

The distance between Alanya and our next destination Istanbul is 800km, clearly not a short stroll. We had to leave at the crack of dawn to make it before nightfall. It was an enjoyable drive - the scenery and the weather were perfect to say the least.

Once we started to get closer to Istanbul, the traffic got slower and slower until it reached a complete halt. We learnt later, while we were stretching our legs in the middle of the highway and mingling with other drivers, that there had been an accident on the bridge that separates that city's Asian and European sections and traffic had to be stopped in order to clear it. 

An hour or so later, we started moving again and headed to our hotel while mesmerised by the beautifully lit grand mosques scattered around the city. The trip took 12 hours, thanks to Ali and David who made the long ride seem shorter with their excellent driving skills.

We checked in at our hotel and left soon after to have dinner. Turkey was playing Switzerland in the European Cup soccer tournament and everybody was on edge because the score was 1-1 heading into injury time. As we got up to leave, Turkey scored its second goal and everybody - Turkish and tourists - were jumping in joy. Even police cars turned on their sirens to celebrate the win. 

Right there and then we felt at home. We're looking forward to visiting Istanbul's historic sights tomorrow.

 
Farewell to friendly Alanya
Written by Ali Mushaima   
Tuesday, 10 June 2008 22:54

Mr. Browning, second from right, with the Friendship Arabia team 

We were very pleased today to meet Richard Browning, CEO of Riffa Views, one of the Friendship Arabia tour's major sponsors, who happened to be on a visit to Turkey. Mr Browning was kind enough to make some time to meet the expedition team and spoke about the importance of this trip to promote Bahrain.

He was very encouraging and we appreciated the time he gave us.

Upon our return to the villa, we had an invitation from Ismet Saz, a Turkish merchant, who hosted the team for a very nice dinner in one of the finest restaurants in Alanya.

Tomorrow, we leave Alanya and our many old and new friends, and drive to Istanbul early in the morning.

 
A Finnish welcome in Turkey
Written by Ammar Hammad   
Tuesday, 10 June 2008 00:14

Ali, Estella, Dr. Nazar, David, Dura, Mika, Vega and Iry, with Ammar behind the camera 

After a long drive through Syria, the Friendship Arabia has reached its latest  destination: Turkey!

It was in Syria that we had to say goodbye to four members of our team: Petra, Rebecca, Haider and Taha. All are being missed greatly as each one of them had contributed a lot of effort into this tour, and not forgetting the joy of their company. 

On the other hand, Dr. Nazar Al Haddad from Gulf Air has joined the team on its latest leg, and will accompany the team through Turkey as a photographer.

Crossing the Syrian/Turkish border went smoothly. The weather was nothing short of perfect (for photography at least). 

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So hard to say goodbye
Written by Rebecca Torr   
Sunday, 08 June 2008 15:39

It was our last day in Syria and you could feel everyone's disappointment to be leaving. We packed our bags and headed to our last destination - Aleppo. This city is not to be missed; it is full of character and charm and is steeped in history.

On arrival we checked into Planet Hotel, located in the heart of the suq, and headed to Citadel of Aleppo. This grand castle was built between 12 and 16AD on a 50 metre high hill. It contains everything a city needs including a mosque, dungeons, amphitheatre, baths, water cisterns, store houses, a school and so on.

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A taste of Syrian hospitality
Written by The Friendship Arabia Team   
Friday, 06 June 2008 23:26

Friendship Arabia team members being interviewed on Syrian TV

 
Today we went for a leisurely drive in the cool coastal mountains of Latakia. The sights from here are truly breathtaking!

As we climbed the mountains we got to take in a panoramic view of the city and its deep blue lakes and golden and green countryside. Once when we stopped to get a close-up of the scenery we were spotted by a Syrian family who invited us to their house to share chai (tea) and stories of our trip. Jalal Abu Mohammed, a minibus driver, and his family were charming and typical examples of Syrian hospitality at its best.

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An air of excitement
Written by Rebecca Torr   
Thursday, 05 June 2008 23:23

We were all very excited at breakfast today as we knew we had two glorious days by the sea ahead of us.

Making our journey from Tartous to Latakia we stopped to visit Al Marqab Castle. The castle is perched on a 380 metre volcanic mountain and overlooks the city of Banias. It was built in 1062 by the Arabs and taken over by the Byzantines in 1117. It was then transferred to the Hospitallers in 1187 and later used by the crusaders. It was made into a prison by the Turkish between 1554 and 1914 and the French used it as a base from 1918 to 1946.

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More journeys into the past
Written by Rebecca Torr   
Thursday, 05 June 2008 13:36

We bid farewell to Palmyra today and headed for Tartous. On our way we stopped for lunch at Noria Restaurant in Hama. This is a beautiful pit stop since it overlooks a 14th century waterwheel which is still in operation to this day. 

It was originally built to provide water for the village but nowadays it is used to irrigate the land. The restaurant has superb food and I was particularly excited that they had Fata, a dish I am told is a must if you are visiting this area. 

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History is alive in Palmyra's ruins
Written by Rebecca Torr   
Wednesday, 04 June 2008 23:25
The coffee shop that provided basic internet across from our hotel in Palmyra. Mahmood, who runs the place, was very helpful. 
The coffee shop that provided basic internet across from our hotel in Palmyra. Mahmood, who runs the place, was very helpful.

 

It was a bright sunny morning in Palmyra as we headed out to explore the ancient city and its treasures. 

Our first stop was to see the Palmyra ruins, which cover about six square kilometres. We could feel ourselves being transported back in time to as we fixed our eyes on the Grand Colonnade, which was built by the Romans in the second century. 

It's a magnificent looking street, defined by its grand granite and limestone columns. Close to the street you can see Queen Zenobia's Baths. 

The tour led us on to the Temple Bel, which as its name suggests, was built for worshipping the god of Bel - you could still see the place where they use to sacrifice animals. In the 10th and 11th centuries the temple became a fortress for the crusaders. At different times it was also used as a church and then later as a mosque in the 12th century. (Click here for a 360º virtual tour of the temple). 

Near the temple is a Roman style theatre which was used for plays and animal wrestling – it is still a remarkable place and if you close your eyes tight enough, you can imagine the cheers and roars from the crowd.

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A taste of the Bedouin life
Written by Rebecca Torr   
Tuesday, 03 June 2008 14:24

Rebecca, Haider and Taha try on some Bedouin costumes

 

Before we left Damascus, Haider and Taha treated me to a brief tour around 18th century Suq Al Hamediyeh and Omayyad Mosque. The suq is a shoppers’ paradise, especially for women. It has boutique after boutique selling bags, shoes, clothes, jewellery and perfume. 

What makes this suq different from others is its ancient heritage and dynamic atmosphere. It’s full of hustle and bustle, with men dotted about pouring grape juice into glasses for tens of thirsty customers. 

Nearby you will see people of all ages walking around holding biscuit cones full of Arabic ice cream – we of course had to try some – the taste is amazing because it is so fresh. If you catch the ice cream makers at the right time you can even see it being fashioned and pressed by hand – it’s fascinating! 

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