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Büyükada Island is the largest of a chain of small islands known as the Princes Islands in the Marmara Sea, about an hour by ferry from the country’s largest city, once known as Constantinople. In the 19th century wealthy Ottomans built summer houses here and many of those distinctive wooden mansions are part of the island’s appeal to tourists today. Motorized vehicles are prohibited on the island, which adds to its slow-paced, old-world atmosphere. 

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Sharqiya Sands, also known as Wahiba Sands after the local Bani Wahiba tribe, is roughly 4,000 square miles of sandy dunes in the north-east of our mystery country, about a two-hour drive from the national capital of Muscat. Along with several indigenous Bedouin groups inhabiting this desert, the high moisture content of the sand supports a surprising variety of flora and fauna. Heavy fog regularly rolls in off the sea and is absorbed by the sands.

There are lodges and tent camps in the Sharqiya Sands, but tourism, which has taken off across the country in recent years, may soon be limited to designated areas in order to preserve the unique and sensitive ecosystem. 

 

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The Paseo del Prado in Cienfuegos is the longest pedestrian promenade in the country. It stretches about 2km across the city to the malecón, the waterfront promenade. Developed by French settlers in the 19th century, Cienfuegos is much younger than the Spanish colonial cities of the country and its abundant Neoclassical architecture gives it a distinctive feel. Many of the city’s beautiful buildings can be seen along the Paseo del Prado.

 

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Ancient Gadara was a Decapolis city, one of ten Greco-Roman city-states on the eastern fringes of the Roman Empire. Matthew 8:28-34 in the New Testament tells that Jesus cast demons from two men into a heard of pigs at Gadara, sending them running down the hill and into the Sea of Galilee. Today the Sea of Galilee is just across a national border from Gadara.

 

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The blue men of the Sahara get their name from the blue robes and scarves that they traditionally wear. They are Tuareg, an ethnic group of the native Amazigh or Berber. About 2 million Tuareg live in the Sahara region today. The largest populations are in Niger and Mali, with a relatively small number in our mystery country.

The Tuareg are traditionally semi-nomadic traders, moving goods across the Sahara Desert to Mediterranean and Atlantic ports. They also carried enslaved people from West Africa to coastal markets and kept slaves themselves well into the 20th century. Slavery is still practiced in some communities.

Tuareg society is matrilineal and women generally have more autonomy and power relative to other Arab communities. Traditionally, Tuareg men veil their faces and women do not.

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This is the so-called Avenue of Rams or Ram-headed sphinxes leading to the 1st pylon (monumental gateway) of the sprawling Karnak Temple in Luxor. Like the famous sphinx at Giza in the north of the country, these sphinxes have the body of a lion. The figures between their legs represent Ramesses II, one of the country’s most influential ancient kings.

 

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This is Phaistos, remains of a Minoan city on the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Phaistos is one of five Minoan palatial centers on the island, the best-known of which is the flashy Knossos. The Minoan civilization dominated the eastern Mediterranean for several hundred years in the 2nd millennium BCE and their sophisticated culture significantly influenced Western Civilization.

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