Flying from Dubai to Sana’a with a friend, we crossed the vast sands of the Ruba’ al Khali (the Empty Quarter) which fills most of the interior of the southern Arabian Peninsula with endless rows of parallel dunes. The sandy desert gives way to rocky wasteland and then barren mountainous terrain and finally a high plateau occasionally punctuated with small volcanic cones. The city of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, lies on this high plateau at an altitude of 2350m with nearby peaks rising above 3500m. The geography of the city blesses it with a mild climate year-round, free from the scorching heat plaguing the rest of Arabia in the summer months.
We passed through the airport quickly having acquired our visas before the trip. However, it is also possible for many nationalities to acquire a visa on arrival at Sana’a airport. The pre-arranged transportation to the hotel was waiting for us and after a short 15 minute drive we were at the Hotel Arabia Felix in the old town. Composed of several adjacent traditional tower houses, the Arabia Felix is not exactly luxurious, but it is atmospheric, well situated along the sa’ila midway between the Maydan at-Tahrir (Liberation Square) and the Bab al-Yemen (Gate of Yemen) and a great value at US$25 per night for a double with bath.
The most striking feature of Sana’a is the fantastic architecture. The entire Old Town, a World Heritage Site, is a harmonious arrangement of tall centuries-old stone and brick buildings trimmed with delicate plasterwork and white gypsum paint. Throughout the city, substantial round white-trimmed minarets, unlike any in the rest of the Islamic World, rise towards the sky from the numerous mosques sounding the call to prayer for the faithful five times daily. At night, light shining through the colourful panes of the qamariya glass windows gives the whole city a fairy tale appearance straight out of the 1001 Nights.