Trevor Mostyn joined us in November 2011 for our cruise from Jordan to Cyprus via the Suez Canal. A Middle East Expert and writer for a number of UK papers, Trevor had happy memories of earlier visits to the region.
Warm winds carried Trevor and our guests down the Red Sea to Safaga and an overnight trip into the Valley of the Kings. Unfortunately there were riots on the day we were due to travel from Suez to Giza for the Pyramids. As the safety of our guests is always paramount, we decided to move through Suez a day early causing the programme to be reshuffled and an extra day in Cyprus to be added.
Please read below Trevor’s experiences and how he re-visited many places. Lebanon especially is unique -it holds so much ancient history and the people, as you will see from Trevor’s experiences, are most welcoming.
“From our starting-point, the enormous arcaded folly of a hotel in Sharm El-Sheikh, we were bussed to St Catherine’s Monastery in the high mountains of Sinai. I had known the monastery and its monks some years ago and met the archbishop as soon as I entered the high walled village. He put his arm round me and told me that my friends, Fathers Justin (American) and Nilos (English, Cornish) would be in the beautiful Church of the Transfiguration by noon; sadly the hour when we would be back on our busses. We still had time to walk around the site and observe how the Monastery functions each day.
St Catherine's Monastery, Sinai
From here the ship sailed across the Red Sea to the port of Safaga, before a coach trip to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. Much as we marvelled at the beauties of the tombs of the Kings and the Nobles at Thebes, across the Nile from Luxor, the following day, we were saddened to see how the local villages had been demolished so that the mountain could be lit up for the haunting son et lumiere at the Temple of Karnak.
At the temple of Karnak
Sailing through the Suez Canal is always an extraordinary experience, as one is sailing through modern history, but the rioting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square had taken a violent turn and the visit to the Pyramids at Giza was cancelled. The ship had to ignore Suez and sail on to Beirut, whilst disappointing we knew this was for the best.
I have known Beirut before, during and after the 1976-90 civil war. On this trip, I took a small group all over the city to the memorial tent to the late Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, and to his huge, Ottoman-style, Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque.
Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, Beirut
From here we went to almost ‘Disneyland Downtown’ area he had preserved with its belle époque buildings, restored as new with its trendy design and perfume shops and Parisian-style caves. We crossed Martyrs Square, where massive demonstrations are held, to the Bohemian cafes and nightclubs of old Gemeize and from there up hundreds of steps to the great Christian enclave of Ashrafiyyah. The walk took us across borders which would have once been deadly. We visited my Lebanese friends, the family of Lady Cochran Sursoc who lives in a huge, 19th palazzo overlooking the sea.
The following day we took a taxi to the Hizbollah area of Sabra, with flying banners of the Shia martyrs, Ali and Hussein. We also drove past its neighbour, the Palestinian refugee camp of Chatila, festooned with portraits of the late Yasser Arafat. This is where the Christian Phalangists, under Israeli auspices, had carried out a terrible massacre in 1982. In the desperately poor, squalid and heart-breaking camp we were invited to tea and treated with great courtesy.
Our lost day in Cairo was made up by an extra day in Cyprus. We tried to cross the Green Line into northern, Turkish Cyprus but were turned back because a census was being carried out. Instead we went up to a beautiful, alpine village in the Tordos Mountains and had a delicious Greek lunch served by a very jovial hostess.
Finally, I have lectured on the Middle East on many ships but never one so cultured and with such pleasant chemistry as Aegean Odyssey. Alison Lewin and the staff did a wonderful job. Instead of games, we waltzed to an excellent Ukrainian orchestra called the Cafe Concerto, straight out of a set for Poirot, which played classical music and lively Ukrainian songs. A wonderful cruise.”
Trevor Mostyn writes on The Middle East for several British national newspapers and lectures at universities and schools and on ships. He writes obituaries of Middle East figures for The Guardian. He hitch-hiked to India via Iran and Afghanistan in 1965 before reading Arabic and Persian at Edinburgh University. He has lived in Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where he was deputy correspondent for the Financial Times. As Macmillan Publishers’ Middle East manager he travelled throughout the region for several years.
He has published eight books on The Middle East. After the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords he created and ran Med Media and Peace Media for the European Union and created a media blueprints for the UN (Media Palestine) and the EU (Gulf Media). His Egypt’s Belle Époque, Cairo and the Age of the Hedonists was re-published in English in 2006. His other books include The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the Middle East and North Africa (ed.) and his autobiographical Coming of Age in the Middle East. His novel The Girl from Katamon, set in Israel/ Palestine, is published next year.