Maria talks about the Middle East, Germany, and how travel teaches us.
The latest in our "Talking Travel" series of interviews with Travellerspoint interviews is with Maria (aka. t_maia), a 29-year old German with a keen interest in the Middle East. Earlier this month, I chatted with Maria about her love for travel, the Middle East and her native Germany.
What do you love about travel?
Learning new things.
In a way my live is dominated by the drive to learn new and interesting things. I read a lot, not just simply fiction but also a ton of non-fiction about history, culture, religion, economics, geography, etc. I'm an addict for the aha-effect, when two more pieces of the puzzle that is this planet start to fit together in my mind.
I'm very interested in what makes societies click, how the daily actions of people on a very basic level shape the world as we know it. Socioeconomics, if you want to put it like that. The more I travel the more I learn about this subject, the people, the country I visit and the whole world in general.
That is also one of the reason why I like TP and other travel forums: Reading the questions and answers I learn more, and often when I research an answer I find that I gain more for myself than the person asking the question.
One of your favourite destinations is the Middle East. What originally attracted you to that part of the world?
That is a tough question. I really don't know, apart from reading a lot about Islam from when I was about 10 years old. You cannot look at European history (and world history) without looking at Islam. Another attraction might have been the old Orient-Occident divide. Middle Eastern culture is so close and yet so different to European culture, I think it fascinated me.
Although, reading the books of Karl May (especially the Shadow of the Padishah series) might have played a big role too.
Many people have a negative perception of the Middle East, considering it too dangerous to travel around. How have you found it?
Hmm, the Middle East is the Middle East. If you arrive there with little previous information about the countries you travel in (package tourists come to my mind) you are in for serious culture shock. And even if you know what to expect, it can still blow your mind.
I don't think it is dangerous to travel in the Middle East, provided you are willing to accept that it is not your granny's backyard and that you need to keep your eyes and ears peeled, watching the news and listen to the radio whenever possible.
Information is the key to survival in the Middle East, without it you drown. Especially as a single woman travelling alone you need to know how to act, how to dress and what rules to follow or you run into problems. (And if you think that just bc you are with your boyfriend or husband or family or travelling on a package tour that this doesn't concern you - think again.) Decent knowledge about recent history (from 1850 on) of a country and about sensitive issues (political and otherwise) also helps.
Following the above advice you can easily deal with the two main risks of travel in the Middle East. The first one is political unrest and the other harrasment (especially for members of the female sex). The latter is something you can influence by how you act and dress, the other you can deal with by being able and ready to change plans on short notice. Say if you are in Syria and plan to travel to Libanon, listen around before you go and if things look bad go to Jordan instead. Same for Israel, don't plan on visiting the Dome of the Rock on a certain day. Stay flexible instead and go to Tel Aviv if there is trouble brewing in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Basically: Accept that the Middle East is a crazy place, that things are often "ma fee mushkeela, bukra, inshallah" (ie "no problem, things will be allright - tomorrow, if God wills it"), so best go with the flow, pack an extra sack of patience and politeness and your travels in the region will be much easier.
What are some of your favourite places in Germany?
To my shame I must admit that I don't really know my country as well as I should. I've spent the first 11 years of my life in the GDR (=Eastern Germany) and my parents dragged my all over that part. For this reason I know places in this area best. But after not being able to travel internationally until 1989 I (like many other East Germans) got this gigantic itch to scratch, deciding to travel all over the world and that Germany was something to explore when old and infirm.
It is only now with my relatively new interest in cycle-touring that I really get to know Germany. Germany is a great country not just for beers, but also for cycle touring, watersports and long-distance canoeing. With a dense network of cycling trails and water channels there are very few places you cannot reach by canoe or bike, plus there is excellent infrastructure catering to these tourists as well as hikers.
Places I really like:
- Baltic Sea coast
- Harz mountains
- Spreewald area
- Saxon Switzerland
- North Sea coast
- Lueneburg Heath
- Swabian Alps
Do you have any future trips planned?
Waaay too many.
Countries that are still missing in my "Middle Eastern collection" are Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Libya, Algeria, Pakistan and all the countries on the Arab peninsula. And while I already have been to Iran I feel the urge to go back, there is so much there that I haven't seen yet. I also intend to complete the "Istanbul to Cairo" trail - I've already covered large parts of it, but the Sinai and Syria are missing.
I've also made half-serious plans to go to Africa (Tanzania and Mali), India, Yucatan peninsula, Central Asia and South East Asia (Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia).
Where I'll go next will be probably determined by my finances and where I can get cheap flights to. I like to use last-minute-flights that are normally part of a package deal, you can get great deals if you are willing to travel all over Germany to a flight that leaves in less than 48 hours.
I also got a couple of cycling trips planned, the next longer one is probably going to take me to Austria, either the Danube cycling trail or the Drau cycling trail, I don't know yet.
Check out these past interviews in the Talking Travel series: