Istanbul Filming Locations: Midnight Express (1978)

I’ve had some early morning and late night flights in my time but 3.15am flight from Amman (Jordan) to Istanbul was something new. It might have saved me on a nights accommodation but it meant I was tired most of the day. I found a hostel to stay, threw my bag in and hit the Turkish city for a day of sightseeing starting at 8am.


The two photos above are of hotels around the corner from my own hostel. On the left is the Four Seasons Hotel which used to be the infamous Sultanahmet jail depicted in the 1978 film ‘Midnight Express’. Opposite that hotel is the Park Hotel (above right) which features in Barry Eisler’s novel ‘Fault Line’ which by chance I was reading at the time. I slept very well that night in a dorm which even had curtains around the bunks for privacy which is something I’ve never ever seen. A good idea though.

Jordan Filming Locations (Wadi Rum)

Before the trip one of the things I was most excited about was not Petra; nor the Dead Sea but the desert at Wadi Rum where I wanted to live like the nomadic Bedouin tribes have for thousands of years. On arrival in Petra I saw a one day tour (including overnight stay) which would give me a good taste of the place and satisfy my desire to the most part. It was an early start (06:20) as the bus made its way to the centre where our tour group of six dumped our big backpacks and sat around drinking tea whilst waiting and waiting for something to happen.

Finally, at around 10am the 4WD hit the sand tracks and the building-site-town that is Wadi Rum was replaced by sandy desert and an awesome landscape. It wasn’t long till our first stop; a rock climb up to a fig tree next to some water known as Lawrence’s Spring which had a great view of the desert. As the only one climbing in sandals it wasn’t as easy as it could have been and I even had a slight slip on my descend whereby I grazed the back of my leg a bit.


Every time the the jeep stopped the six of us looked around wondering what we were stopping to see as it wasn’t always obvious. That wasn’t the case at the sand dunes where we walked up the soft red sand which took about 20 minutes to ascend and one minute to get down. Sandals wasn’t a good idea here either and it really did feel like my feet were on fire when coming down.


Anfaishiyya mountain (below) and its 2000 year old petroglyphs was next featuring some interesting inscriptions depicting camels, hunting warriors and various animals.


That was followed by Lawrence’s House (above right)or rather what was left of it. Lawrence of Arabia supposedly supposedly stayed here during the Desert Revolt and stored weapons there. Wadi Rum was used in the 1962 film adaptation as well as ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ (where it represents Egypt) and the 2000 movie ‘Red Planet’ where the surface was used to depict the planet Mars.

The natural arch bridge (below) called Um Fruth rock was a highlight and the photos below say far more than any words can.


When I saw the tour pamphlet said we would have a few hours to tour the surrounding area of the Bedouin camp where we were staying I wasn’t filled with too much enthusiasm. However, it was fascinating to just wander around, climb the rocks, mess about with the wild camels (I never knew that they ate their poo. A fine example of instant recycling!) which I did with Swan (from Korea) and take a load of photos.


Our accommodation was a camp-bed in a tent but I never used it as I decided to sleep outside after our traditional barbecue dinner. Its not everyday you get the chance to sleep ‘under the stars’ in a desert is it?! To be honest, it sounds way better than the reality as the desert is a very cold, windy place at night and after seeing a few shooting stars I soon lost interest and pulled the blanket over my face for protection. After a long day I must have drifted off to sleep fairly quickly but all-in-all I didn’t sleep too well that night. Having said that I must have slept a bit as I did miss sunrise! The picture below right is of my sleeping headquarters.


That wasn’t quite the end of the adventure. I have done a camel ride (in Broome in Western Australia in 2001) before so didn’t feel the need to do it too much as its slow and not-so-comfortable. However, when we stopped at a shop back in Wadi Rum we saw a local boy with a camel and thought we might as well just offer a small price (1JD or $1.4 if you prefer) for a chance to take our photo’s of each other on his camel. Of course he agreed and even took us on a one-minute tour.


Jordan Filming Locations(Petra): Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade

The thing with Petra is that you only ever see the one picture of it (Al-Khazneh a.k.a. the Treasury) so I just thought that that was the culmination of a short-ish walk through a siq. However it actually takes one about 30 minutes (not that it was a problem) to walk from the visitors centre and after that there is a vast area of tombs, stairways, theatres, sandstone mountains and high cliffs waiting to be explored which could take you days to explore.


Thanks to a huge online poll in 2007 Petra is now recognised as one of the new seven wonders of the world and the authorities have certainly taken advantage of this as the entry fee is now more than double that quoted in most guidebooks. I went to Petra from Amman with a Japanese girl called Midori who was in the same hostel. She was of low pre-intermediate level English but was travelling alone which is very brave and almost completely unknown for Japanese girls. After checking in to Valentines Hostel (only 3JD per night for a dorm bed) we set off to see the wonder early afternoon where we purchased a 2-day pass for 55JD (its 50JD for a day pass). On entry we were met by touts saying a horse ride to the siq was included in our ticket. Complete b*llocks of course as you have to pay the rider (or whatever he’s called) a tip or something. To be honest its probably not such a bad thing to do but we were in no rush. There’s no shade at all but the views are still great but not to the extent of what was to come.


The winding siq (above) is amazing in itself and when I finally caught a glimpse of the Treasury it was very exciting and not just because it featured in ‘Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade’ in 1989. It was really beautiful and in some ways I was less impressed when I actually emerged from the siq to see the Treasury in its full glory as I’ve seen it so many times in the media. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it and naturally I spent ages snapping away on my new camera.  We walked on to the theatre and a host of tombs before deciding to call it a day and head back leaving something in reserve for a much longer and more challenging trek the following day.


Day two began at the visitors centre around 8.30am and we briskly walked to where we finished the previous day. From there our goal was to reach Ad-Deir (Monastery) fairly quickly and then work our way back slowly taking many breaks. It took us about 90 minutes to get from the Treasury to the Monastery which was well ahead of the three hours that many people had said it would take. They both look quite similar but I was more impressed by the latter; perhaps because of the effort taken in getting there (lots of steps compared to the relatively flat ground in the 1st half of Petra) and the lack of anyone else around not that the former was too busy either. Of course theres always the temptation to continue hiking on for a bit more but one final climb to the ‘last view of Petra’ was our final port of call. This part also included the cave featured at the end of ‘An Idiot Abroad’ Petra episode where Karl Pilkington said that it was better to be living in the sh*thole looking at the beautiful building rather than the other way round.


After lunch (provided by the hostel and including some very melted chocolate!) we headed back slowly and had tea with some old Bedouin women. I climbed up on a rock to see what they were cooking and was very shocked to see that it was blo*dy spaghetti! Not what I was expecting! When we got back to the theatre we decided to head off course a bit and went round the back of the tombs and climbed up to the very top of some high rocks hoping to be able to find a view looking down on the Treasury which often features in films and TV programmes about Petra. We saw some breathtaking views but sadly failed to locate the view we were looking for. Still, it was a nice detour and we didn’t see a single person during that whole time.


Back at the Treasury (ground-level) we actually spent some time just taking it in rather than clicking away on the camera as we’d done for the majority of our previous visits.


Near the visitors centre we went to see ‘The Cave’ which is the oldest bar in the world set in a 2000 year old Nabateab rock as well the Indiana Jones Souvenir Shop which naturally sold nothing whatsoever to do with the movie franchise.


Jordan Filming Locations: Prelude

People often ask me how I choose my destinations and the boring answer is that there really is no methodology to it. I have been interested in visiting the Middle-East for a while now which has been heightened by the ‘BackStory’ programme on CNN which I regularly watch. It often has reports from that part of the world which I have found fascinating. So having decided that I would visit this part of the world for the first time I had to decide which parts to visit. I’d love to do Iraq actually but that might be a step too far. Likewise regarding Israel & the Palestinian Territories although I may still yet visit there.

It soon became apparent that Jordan was the easy and safest option. For starters it has one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in terms of the ancient city of Petra. On top of that it was also featured in a famous international film. That is of course ‘Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger’ from 1977! Only joking! Whilst that was filmed there, its the appearance of it at the end of ‘Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade’ which has added to its fame. On the subject of cinema, it is ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (yes, I know its based on a book) which first brought Jordan to the screen with its breathtaking Jordanian desertscapes amid the spectacular red cliffs of Wadi Rum in the very south of the country. I should add that I have rarely ever (besides Tunisia) gone to a country just for film locations.

Furthermore, the country also has the Dead Sea; the lowest point on earth. This featured recently in the ‘An Idiot Abroad’ Sky One TV series with  Ricky Gervais’ mate Karl Pilkington (as did Petra) and floating on a sea of salt is something I’d like to experience. With these things and more you can (maybe) see why I decided to make Jordan my next travel destination.