Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THIS WEEK’S U.S. foray into the world scene prompts me to follow along, armchair style, by way of my Baedeker’s Handbooks for Travellers. I rather doubt that these books would have been consulted by a really, like, smart guy; and, anyway, Karl Baedeker was German as is Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Most of my Baedeker’s sources predate World War I. But, as I’ve often noted, if something was noteworthy back then, it still is. And old intel is better than none at all.

The itinerary includes the Middle East, Belgium, Italy and the Vatican City. Indeed, my armchair travels (and, here and there, its occupant itself) have already discussed Belgium, Italy on several occasions including Dante’s Destination Guide and the Vatican in Papal Highjinks.

Thus, today, let’s concentrate on the Middle East, as described in my Baedeker’s Palestine and Syria, 1912. I grant that plenty of things have occurred in the region since 1912, but suspect that the fundamentals might still be of interest.

A two-part panorama of Jerusalem’s old city as seen from the east. These and other images from Baedeker’s Palestine and Syria.

Notes Baedeker, “The cost of traveling in the East is considerably greater than in Europe. Europeans will find so many unwonted requirements absolutely essential to their comfort that the most economically arranged tour cannot be otherwise than expensive.”

I’d conjecture this goes double-down gold for the current trip. At least it’s being accomplished at the right time. Baedeker writes, “Spring, from the beginning of March to the middle of June, and autumn, from September to the end of October, are the best seasons for visiting Syria.”

Of course, Syria isn’t on this particular itinerary. And, if you do go, I’d check first with Jeff Sessions or maybe one of his permanent staff.

Continues Baedeker, “The towns on the great tourist-route are the only places which boast of hotels properly so called, managed by Europeans or native Christians.”

Yep, information like this will get the trip off on the right foot.

Hospices and convents are much cheaper than hotels, as Baedeker explains: “The Latin monks are for the most part Italian Franciscans. When no fixed charge is made, travellers should give at least 8 fr. [$1.60 in 1912; $40 in today’s dollar] for their bed and much more for supper and breakfast. Fodder for the horses is extra.”

Franciscans have to make a living, after all.

Baedeker notes that the Maronites also provide for travelers, but adds ominously, “in these cases the food and the beds are in the Arabian style.”

The guidebook includes a section on “Intercourse with Orientals.” But before getting one’s groping urges aroused, remember the word’s broader meaning: dealings with other people.

“Most Orientals,” Baedeker observes, “regard the European traveller as a Crœsus, and sometimes as a madman….” He also warns, “In every village the traveller is assailed with importunate crowds of ragged, half-naked children, shouting ’bakhshish, bakhshish, yâ khawâja!’ The best reply is to complete the rhyme with, ’mâ fîsh, mâ fîsh’ (there is nothing).”

And let’s follow Badaeker’s advice on this matter: “The custom of scattering small coins for the sake of the amusement furnished by the consequent scramble is an insult to poverty that no right-minded traveller will offer.”

Agreed. Only a bumbling, boorish Crœsus or madman would do that. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

2 comments on “TRAVEL ADVICE

  1. Michael Rubin
    May 20, 2017

    Love your entries on vintage Baedekers. During my time in the region I was taught the phrase “rooh min hon” with a hard “h”, meaning ‘get away from me.’ The urchins were surprised to hear the phrase in Arabic and seemed taken aback. It worked.

  2. simanaitissays
    May 20, 2017

    Thanks for your kind words. Your phrase is a good one, and much preferred over just strewing coins…
    Visiting Morocco, I learned “Va t’en, mon petit/ma petite,” French, loosely “Scram, my little one.”

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This entry was posted on May 20, 2017 by in Just Trippin' and tagged .
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