A Travellerspoint blog

Home again, home again

At the Amman airport, waiting for our 2:55 AM flight to Frankfurt, we actually saw a final sight of cultural significance. At the gate from which our flight would depart in a couple of hours, we saw a large crowd of people waiting for a flight to Jeddah. All the men were in white. Fortunately, in his comments on Islam, Ala'a had explained that when men go on Hajj, they wear two white towels. And indeed, that is how these men were dressed--in two large white towels--not terry cloth though, rather richly woven towels. Some of them were elegantly draped. Others were clearly not very adept at draping them, and the towels kept slipping and gapping as they rather nervously adjusted them. All the men wore slippers. The group was predominantly male. (Maybe some of the women were waiting in a more sheltered place.) A few women were dressed entirely in white, but normal Muslim garb, while some other women just wore their regular clothes.

It was most interesting to see, and I was really grateful for Ala'a's useful explanations. I would have loved to take a picture, but I thought it might be inappropriate.

After that, the flights to Hamburg and to Dulles went well. Only hitch was that Lufthansa had given away the extra legroom seats we had paid for, so that will be something to take up on our return.

Plane landed around 1:40 PM; we got home around 4:00, after a ride through awful traffic. So we knew we were home!

A wonderful trip.

Posted by mlld3536 17:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

R & R by the Dead Sea

At last a day with nothing scheduled--time to relax.

This is truly a beautiful hotel that makes the most of the setting. After breakfast, I walked slowly down to the Dead Sea. To get there, one goes down through a successive series of terraces, past the large infinity pool, past a smaller pool near the sea, and down the stairs to the water.

It is really hard to walk into the water because the area is quite rocky, with smooth, slippery stones that are fairly large and round. It is easy to slip, and I was glad I was wearing water sandals. Even so, as soon as I was about 18 inches into the water, I got down and promptly floated and moved myself slightly deeper. It was indeed weird, though really no big deal. However, if you visit the Dead Sea, you have to go in, right? I was alone, so there was no one to take a picture. Soon, thinking, "Been there, done that," I got out and went up to the small swimming pool on the terrace above, which really was nice and refreshing. It really was quite lovely there after I got out, with shading from umbrellas and a pleasant breeze.

Then I had a call put through for the shuttle, so I wouldn't have to walk back up to the hotel. Marty and I went down to the bar, where he had, of all things, a burger, and I had a chicken and avocado sandwich. I guess we were starting to look toward home.

In the afternoon, we went down briefly to the infinity pool and then read our kindles in the shade for a while.

One last gathering in the bar with a still smaller group of friends, some people having left the night before, followed by dinner, and then a nap in our room. I actually slept for an hour and a half before it was time to go down for our cab to the airport, which arrived promptly at 11:30.

Seaside Pool

Seaside Pool


The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea


Infinity Pool

Infinity Pool

Posted by mlld3536 17:00 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

Last Day of Touring

Lost a lot of time here! Covered a lot in often enervating heat, so I gave myself a break on the blog front, though a lot happened that I want to relate at some length. I am writing this on the morning of the 17th during a long layover in the Frankfurt Airport. My plan is to move backward and then start filling in on the "outline" days.

So here goes:

After checking out of our hotel, we drove over three hours to Madaba. I first heard of the Madaba Mosaic Map on this trip on our last day in Jerusalem when we saw in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City an excavation of a section of Jerusalem in the Roman period. It showed the main street in the city, the Cardo Maximus, with some of the columns supporting buildings along it. A sign indicated that this area appeared on a sixth century mosaic map in a church in Madaba, Jordan. So it was quite thrilling to see this very site depicted on the map. It is part of quite a large map of the entire region, clearly indicating the rivers, including Jordan and Nile, and many towns that still exist, some of which we had visited.

After this we walked over to the Haret Jdoudna restaurant. It is an old house of a wealthy family in Madaba converted to its present purpose. It has several courtyards with lush plantings, including trees. We ate on the roof. We began with the usual vast assortment of mezze that we have come to expect, but everything was of vastly superior quality to the hotel buffet tables that have been our usual fare in recent days. This was followed by superb chicken baked with zatar.

Refreshed by the delicious food and beautiful setting, we boarded the bus for another long drive to Mount Nebo, from which Moses viewed the Promised Land he was not allowed to enter. During the ride, in answer to some questions, Ala'a explained some of the practices of Islam, including the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. It is presently the season for Haj. He said that the number of passes for the trip is limited, and older people are given priority, as younger people are presumed to have more opportunities for the trip. He said that he himself is not a haji and that he thinks that he needs to be more of a believer to consider the trip.

We were also interested in Mohammed, our police escort. We had been a bit suspicious of him at first or at least of the policy requiring a police presence in all tourist groups. After all, we are not used to having someone with a sidearm on our bus. But Frank had walked with Mohammed while exiting Petra and got to know him a bit. We tried to encourage Mohammed to tell us a bit about himself. But his English is not as good as Ala'a's, so he did not feel comfortable doing that. Ala'a relayed some info for him. Evidently, Mohammed is a graduate of a university archaeology program, but there are not a lot of jobs in that field--rather like elsewhere in the world. And serving in the tourist police fulfils his military obligation, or at least some of it.

So after interesting talk, we arrived at Mount Nebo. The views from there are indeed spectacular but stark and rugged. Our guide assured us that in spring time, however, everything is quite green.

At this point we were running quite a bit behind, and some of our group were planning to head for the airport that night. So we dropped them off at the hotel to get some r & r while the rest of us rode to see the supposed site where Jesus was baptized by John. This site, near where the Jordan River enters the Dead Sea, has actually received some recent archaeological support, primarily from evidence of very ancient churches on the site. The site is not so much on the river itself as on a side channel ending in a little pool. Which was interesting enough, but we chose to walk over to the river and put our feet in. It was surprisingly cool and refreshing. Which brings me to the point that

it was HOT! and HUMID! and BUGGY!

Walking back from the river was some of the most uncomfortable travel of the trip. It may actually not have been as hot as it has been at other times, but we were below sea level, and I think that accentuated the discomfort factor.

But our next stop was the Movenpick Hotel, and it was truly luxurious--possibly the nicest place Marty and I have stayed, and a wonderful capstone to the trip. We checked into our room and basically collapsed. Then while Marty napped, I walked down to their huge, beautifully landscaped infinity pool. By then it was getting dark. The walk to the pool led through gorgeous tropical greenery and an "Arab Village" section of the hotel, designed to look like an idealized traditional village.

Back at the hotel, we joined many in our group in the bar and then went to our buffet dinner, which was decidedly superior to those at previous hotels. And so to bed, looking forward to our last day.

Map of Jerusalem

Map of Jerusalem


A very pretty restaurant with excellent food

A very pretty restaurant with excellent food


View from Mount Nebo

View from Mount Nebo


Jordan River near the baptism site

Jordan River near the baptism site


View from hotel room

View from hotel room

Posted by mlld3536 17:00 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

Indiana Jones and Us

Today was our Super-Tourist day, focused on our trip to the ancient Nabataean city of Petra, known to most of us from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

A major difference we have found in the Jordanian part of our trip is the greatly increased amount of travel time. The trip from Amman to Petra took over three hours. Nothing in Israel or the West Bank took much over an hour, and most was half that. Jordan is not a large country, but it appears to be about twice the size of Israel and the West Bank combined. The scenery is quite distinctive and often spectacular. It is a desert country, sometimes more or less flat or rolling stretches of sand, other times spectacular hills and valleys and rugged cliffs of rock and sand. Some sections are merely arid, with patches of scraggly bushes and occasional trees. In a few areas, we saw small olive groves. We passed numerous herds of goats, along with the occasional donkey or camel.

Especially given the longer travel times, it is too bad that our bus was not as nice as the one we had in Israel and Palestine. Seats were not as large, and while the AC was okay, it was a bit less efficient. However, our guide, Ala'a, was personable and informative. It wasn't just that he offered fine background about the various sites and the culture and government. Spending so much time with him and his ideas and perspective gave us a sense of one specifically Jordanian perspective. One thing that was actually quite appealing was his attitude to the country's royal family. Unlike Britain, Jordan really does have a ruling monarch. Ala'a's presentation was filled with "King Hussein did this" and "His Majesty did that" and "King Abdullah plans to. . ." On the one hand, being cynical, I was wondering about the effect of the police minder on the bus. But no, I really did get the sense of a lot of affection in his account. I think this is probably a widespread attitude in a country only a few generations removed from its tribal and patriarchal roots. The royal family seems to be more or less an embodiment of the "family" of the country itself. There may be a bit of this attitude still among some very traditional elements of English society, but I'm sure it is much more widespread in a country like Jordan.

To save time, we all had box lunches of felafel wraps with a juice box and an apple and finally headed out for our afternoon adventure of exploring the site of Petra. Petra was the capital of the Nabataeans by the first century BCE to the 4th century CE. The Nabataeans were an Arab people had probably been in the area since the fourth century BCE. They were ruled eventually by the Romans but seemed to have negotiated a mode of living peacefully in that situation. They eventually abandoned their city and disappeared from the historical record. The city was rediscovered in the early nineteenth century. The long period in which it was hidden may have helped to preserve it.

The central site to see in Petra is the spectacular Treasury. This is reached through a trail of about a mile of narrow canyon, called the Siq. Ala'a explained the various options for viewing the site, involving different degrees of rigorous activity and corresponding wonders to view. These ranged from riding to the Treasury and back in a horse cart to covering about ten miles of trails including 800 steps. I have to confess that Marty and I wimped out, choosing to walk to the Treasury but taking a pass on the extra hiking and heading back in a cart. While I might have wanted to do a bit more, I was lured by the chance for a nap and a swim back at the hotel.

However, the walk through the Siq was gorgeous and fascinating. I have never been in such a place. The heat was not so intense, and because it was a narrow canyon, it was mostly shady and there really was a "lovely breeze." The path was smooth and on a slight incline--not often the case in this part of the world. And every step of the way our guide explained the various features, both natural and archaeological. And of course, at the end of the trail, there it was before us, the "rose-red city." We sat down and were treated to a careful explanation of the various features of the facade. Then as I said, Marty and I got a horse cart to ride back to the entrance to the site.

The walk to the hotel from there was only a couple of blocks. Our hotel was the Petra Palace. I would call the place "Okay." The room was reasonably large and overlooked the pool, which was pleasant. The carpet in the hall was a bit worn. The bar was dismal, and we later heard tales from those who went there of finding that whatever they ordered had to be sent out for. After a nap and a swim (on my part) we elected to walk a block or so to the Movenpick where we had heard they had a nice view from the bar, and indeed it was lovely. We went up there and were joined shortly by a half dozen fellow pilgrims who regaled us with tales of ten mile hikes and sore muscles. I did have a bit of regret over missing some of the sights they saw, but we had had a fine afternoon too. Eventually we went back to our hotel, where we had the only really below par dinner of the trip. It had been a great day though, so we didn't mind too much.

In the Siq on the way to Petra

In the Siq on the way to Petra


Treasury at Petra

Treasury at Petra


View from Roof Garden at Movenpick Hotel

View from Roof Garden at Movenpick Hotel


Marty at Roof Garden

Marty at Roof Garden

Posted by mlld3536 17:00 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

Another Country

This morning we bade farewell to Israel and to about one-third of our traveling companions and got on the road before 8:00.

It took about an hour and fifteen minutes to get to the border crossing, and then things really got complicated. Yuval was riding with us and explained all the steps we would have to go through. He said that we should not have much trouble but that if we were going into Israel instead of out of it, it could take hours due to extensive security. As it was it was complicated, requiring unloading all our luggage, multiple trips to multiple windows for payment of exit fees, multiple stamps on passports, iris scans, and so on. As Yuval explained, there is an agreement between Jordan and Israel forbidding anyone from walking across the border. You have to take a bus for the 100 yard "no man's land" between the countries. This is where there was a big delay, and by that time Yuval had left and we were on our own. The bus for crossing this small distance was delayed, so we waited in the heat for the next bus. Then all the luggage had to be loaded onto it. Then we waited for the driver. Finally, we were allowed to board the bus and ride across the border. Then the luggage was unloaded again. But now we were met by our Jordanian guide, Ala'a al Shaban, a charming young man who proved to be knowledgeable and resourceful--as we have come to expect of Mejdi personnel. He guided us through the process of getting Jordanian visas. Finally, we were able to load our luggage on another bus--for the third time in the morning--and head out for the next stage of our adventure.

It was exciting to drive into Jordan. The countryside is much more rugged than what we were used to in Israel and the West Bank. There were large stretches of sandy desert as well as areas of patchy greenery. Many herds of goats, at one time blocking the road. We had seen nothing like that in Israel and the West Bank, both of which are more agricultural and crowded with towns.

Eventually we came to our first stop, a school for Syrian refugee children, part of Project Amal ou Salam. This organization and this particular school is a particular area of involvement for Ala'a. And we really got a sense of this fine young man watching him interact with the children. He knew all their names, except for those who had just arrived. As he talked to them individually, he radiated warmth, interest, and affection, and they responded eagerly and energetically. He had assured us that the school and the children welcomed visitors, and in response to our questions, he said pictures were no problem. We saw a room of children from first and second grade and another with older children between ten and fourteen years of age. In the second room, having been assured that it would be appropriate, one of our number, Susanna Gomez, told the children that she herself had been a refugee at thirteen--she is from Cuba. Ala'a translated, and the children seemed startled and interested.

We stopped for a fine lunch at a roadside restaurant. It had the usual fabulous array of mezze and hot main courses. I had the fabulous mint lemonade I have come to expect in this part of the world. Here the mint was much thicker, making the drink bright green. The whole thing is blended with ice and is so refreshing!

After lunch it was on to the Graeco-Roman ruins at Jerash. Marty and I have seen lots of Roman ruins in our travels, and we found these to be really spectacular. We had never even heard of them before this trip. But Jerash is sometimes called the "Pompeii of the Middle East," and the term is not inappropriate. It flourished from about the fourth century BCE through the fourth century CE, with its heyday in the second century CE. Called Gerasa in Roman times, it was a favorite place for the Emperor Hadrian. We saw arches and columns and a hippodrome where chariot races were held. There was also an amphitheater. All hugely impressive.

Weather note: While still hot, there is some breeze, and in the shade--of which there was a bit--it really is not unpleasant.

After that, we drove to Amman and checked into our hotel. This hotel was quite nice, with large rooms and a good buffet. I am told, however, that the red wine was really lousy, so I ordered white. I would have liked a swim, and I am told the pool was lovely with views of the city, but I had laundry to do!

Amal ou Salam School for Syrian Children

Amal ou Salam School for Syrian Children


Hadrian's Arch

Hadrian's Arch


Ala'a explains the site

Ala'a explains the site


View from the Central Oval down the Cardo Maximus

View from the Central Oval down the Cardo Maximus

Posted by mlld3536 17:00 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

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