In 2019, approaching the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I found a timely book in a secondhand bookshop: The Berlin Wall, 13 August 1961 – 9 November 1989 by Frederick Taylor. The book inspired me to write about my contrasting visits to Berlin as a backpacker in 1987 and 1995.
My wife and I spent ten days backpacking through Syria in 1995. Former U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig once described Syria as the world's worst state sponsor of terrorism. We had our difficulties along the way. But in Damascus, I met a tailor who asked me to tell the world, Syrians love peace.
It was a flight of fancy, inspired by a newspaper ad: "Moscow and St. Petersburg, 7 nights with Jules Verne Travel". It sounded exotic, impossible. But this was 1993, Leningrad was St. Petersburg again, Boris Yeltsin was Russian President, Russia was opening up. Glasnost made all things seem possible.
Slept soundly, only waking whenever our train ground to halt and there was no comforting clickety-clack. Guard woke us at 7 AM, leaving the compartment door open. Music blaring from corridor ensured we didn't fall back to sleep. As did serving of hot, sweet tea, in glass tumblers with pewter handles.
Dahab sits on the southeast coast of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, 80 km northeast of Sharm el-Sheikh on the bottom tip, 148 km south of Israel and Jordan, and across the Gulf of Aqaba from Saudi Arabia, whose desert hills are visible from the beachfront at sunrise and sunset.