A Travellerspoint blog

Amman, the Dead Sea, and Jerash

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Amman is the capital of Jordan and while it’s is not particularly known for its tourist sites, it does have a few and the city makes a great base for exploring the Northeastern part of the country. While walking around the city, we visited a Roman fountain and amphitheatre. Amazingly, the Roman amphitheater is still in use today, most recently as the staging for the Amman marathon (any takers for next year?). The city is spread out over 19 hills (still interested?). We also took a policeman’s recommendation for lunch and stopped by a local fast food restaurant for some great shwarma and hummus. We were pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the locals and the lack of hassling. Most people we walked by would say “Welcome!” and keep going. When we stopped in a shop to buy a souvenir, the price was fixed and fair, and the shop keeper extremely nice. He even asked us to join him for tea. After lunch and shopping, we also explored the Citadel, a hill top fort that was occupied by the Romans, Crusaders, and many others over hundreds of years. Each occupier added its own temples and personal marks to the site, so it has some interesting history. The Citadel also contains a museum with artifacts from 6,500 BC. Really amazing!
IMG_9306.jpgA view of the Amphitheatre and city from the Citadel
IMG_9285.jpgSome young girls on a school trip to the Amphitheatre
IMG_9325.jpgA 6,500 year old statue- thought to be one of the oldest sculptures ever found
IMG_9328.jpgIn front of the Temple at the Citadel
6IMG_9332.jpgA view of the city of Amman- and coincidentally the world's tallest free-standing flagpole- apparently the North Koreans claim the tallest but it is supported by cables which is, of course, not really free-standing (just in case it comes up on Jeopardy)
On our second day we headed out via public transportation to the Dead Sea. We spent the day at Amman Beach which was a nice mix of locals and tourists. What’s amazing about the Dead Sea is that it’s the lowest point on Earth, something like 1,300 feet below sea level. Because of constant evaporation, it is also extremely salty- 10x the salinity of the ocean. Even the densest person becomes instantly buoyant and the moment your feet leave the bottom, you float right to the surface like a fishing bobber. The water also has an oily feel (like ocean water mixed with baby oil). Jeff, who can absolutely not float, laid on the surface of the water forever marveling at his newfound ability. Plus, like I said in the last posting, the brush burn he got from falling in the tunnel hurt him like the dickens (salt on a wound). It was a fun experience and we also enjoyed some great people watching. Muslim women swam fully clothed while the Western women wore bikinis - it was quite the coming together of cultures, but everyone was cool with the other. We took refuge afterwards in the pool for a few hours before heading back to Amman. Luckily, we got a ride back to Amman with a local. He gave us the lift for free and refused any payment even after dropping us off at our hostel. While driving back, Jeff commented on the radio station he was listening to because it was more Western and our new buddy said “Well, this music is ok, but really, this is my kind of music” and he turned on Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler”. He and Jeff were fast friends :)
IMG_9358.jpg The classic Dead Sea photo- feet up, reading a book
IMG_9372.jpgTotally amazed with his newfound buoyancy
5IMG_9382.jpgYou can even float on your stomach- just don't put your face in- the water BURNS your eyes
IMG_9389.jpgA Muslim woman in her swimming attire
The next day we traveled via public transport to Jerash, located about 30-miles north of Amman. It was at one time an important Roman city that today has the ruins to prove it. It was cute too, when you ride on public transportation, the locals really look out for you. When we asked the bus driver if this was our stop, he said “wait, I drop you closer”, and then the locals on the front of the bus had a healthy debate regarding where the best and most convenient place to drop us would be. I am really digging the Jordanians! Jerash is enormous and well preserved in parts. It consists of several amphitheatres, roads, temples, and other stone structures. There were even several excavations going on while we were there sponsored by France. We also watched a “Roman re-enactment” which included a Roman Legion, chariot race, and Gladiator battle. In the end, it was the kids in the audience who were the most impressed. There was, however, one “gladiator” who liked to flex his pec muscles and then point at the old ladies in the audience- it was pretty hilarious to watch them giggle like little girls.
IMG_9457.jpgA view of Jerash's ruins
IMG_9432.jpgThe Roman Legion re-enactment- they even used Latin commands
6IMG_9441.jpgThe Chariot Races
IMG_9477.jpgSome of the ruins
IMG_9479.jpgWhat was the entrance and road into the city- it must have really been impressive in its heyday
After 11-days in Jordan, it is time for us to move. We really enjoyed our time here and especially enjoyed the people. Jordan is relatively easy to get around and there is a lot to see in one small space. Interestingly, we met more American tourists here than in any other country on our trip so far. We would definitely recommend a visit! Next stop for us, Jerusalem, Israel.

Posted by geldere 12:52 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

Jordan and the Amazing Petra…

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We left behind the beaches of Egypt and travelled to Jordan via a small sliver of Israel. We headed directly to Wadi Musa, the town outside of Petra. Petra has been on our short list of places to see for some time- maybe it was Indiana Jones or maybe it was Petra’s designation as one of the seven wonders of the modern world, but, for whatever reason, we had high expectations.

Fortunately, unlike some things in life, Petra lived up to the hype. For starters, walking into the ancient city via what is called the Siq was one of the coolest walks I’ve ever done. For about a mile, you walk through a gorge split almost perfectly by a shift in tectonic plates. At the end of the Siq you reach the infamous and beautiful Treasury building. It just comes out of nowhere and you wonder how in the world anyone rediscovered it all. I had imagined that Petra consisted of the Treasury building and a few other tombs/ruins, but the ancient city is actually huge - ¼ the size of London. Dozens of tombs and ruins are spread out over several miles. What’s most impressive about the tombs is the detailed and well preserved carving on their outsides. In contrast, the insides are just simple rooms with empty, dugout graves. We walked all around the main sites on our first day and ended the day with a walk up the mountain (800 steps) to the Monastery building which was almost as dramatic as the Treasury. We bought a two day pass, so we spent our second day in Petra doing a few of the recommended hikes in the surrounding hillsides. We even climbed up one of the rock formations and along a ridge to get a look at the Treasury from above. We left completely soaked in sweat and exhausted, but Petra was spectacular - seriously, put it on your list.
If you have any interest in taking a "walk" through the final portion of the siq to the Treasury click here
IMG_8770.jpgWalking Through the Siq
IMG_8781.jpg The famous Treasury building
IMG_8823.jpg The exterior of multiple funerary buildings
IMG_8903.jpg The Monestary building- that's actually me standing in the doorway to give some scale (it was pretty hilarious watching me try and climb up there)
IMG_9021.jpgInside one of the buildilngs- just to show you what was in there
IMG_9047.jpg A view from our climb up to see the Treasury building from above
After Petra, we visited the impressive, desert landscapes of Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is famous because it is where TE Lawrence, a British officer, spent time living as a Bedouin while supporting the Arab Revolt during World War I. His story is the basis for the movie Lawrence of Arabia (one of Jeff’s favorite movies), which was shot in part in Wadi Rum. We took a jeep tour for several hours taking in the canyons, siqs, and sand dunes, and completed several short hikes. We spent the night at a Bedouin camp enjoying the sunset, eating a traditional meal, and doing some particularly great star gazing. The experience makes me wonder how Bedouin actually live in such a harsh environment, scorching and dry in the daytime and then freezing at night.
IMG_8705.jpg A view of Wadi Rum Desert
IMG_9058.jpgOur Bedouin host and his cute daughters
IMG_9077.jpgA view from Lawrence's spring
IMG_9096.jpg Our desert crew for the day
IMG_9115.jpg Jeff standing on the "bridge"
IMG_9138.jpg Sunset in the desert
After our desert experience, we had to camp out at our hostel outside of Petra for a few days because I had my first major illness of the trip. I had to burn off a fever and let my upset stomach work itself out while Jeff played Nurse Nancy. He even walked 40-minutes to buy me Gatorade, a luxury in this part of the world - he’s the best :)

After three days, finally healthy and fit, we returned to our travels and set off for Amman, Jordan’s capital, via the King’s Highway. The King’s Highway is very picturesque and has several worthwhile stops along the way to break up the drive. For starters, we stopped at two Crusader castles, Shobak and Karak. Shobak had an 800 step escape tunnel which you can walk in its entirety to the other side at the bottom of the mountain. Man, so again, I found myself walking down a pitch black tunnel under a mountain for enjoyment. Jeff took a slight tumble in the tunnel, like 12 steps, leaving him with a healthy rug burn on his leg – that’s going to sting in the Dead Sea. We also passed through Wadi Mujib (Jordan’s Grand Canyon) and visited Mt. Nebo. Mt. Nebo is the site where Moses led his people (after Mt. Sinai and the Ten Commandments in Egypt) and from which he pointed out the Promised Land. He then promptly died at the ripe old age of 120. There is so much history in the Middle East, it’s amazing. Our last stop before arriving in Amman was Madaba, a town known for its collection of Byzantine- era mosaics. The most famous mosaic, a map of Palestine from around 560 AD, was discovered during the rebuilding of St. George’s church in 1884. After an enjoyable but long day on the King’s Highway, we arrived at our hostel in Amman. We will write more again soon!
IMG_9175.jpg Midway down the escape tunnel
IMG_9185.jpg Shobak Castle
IMG_9232.jpg A scenic view of the King's Highway
IMG_9251.jpgThe mosiac map of Palestine in Madaba

Posted by geldere 21:58 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

Luxor and the Sinai Peninsula...

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Our overnight train from Cairo to Luxor was one of the fancier modes of transportation we’ve taken. We got a private sleeping cabin for two with dinner and breakfast included - not too shabby. We arrived in Luxor just before 7 am and walked to our hostel and crashed for a bit before heading out to the sights. We haven’t eaten American fast food in months, so our first stop was lunch at McDonald’s. The burgers, fries and supersized, fountain sodas were amazing! We even had a view from our table over the Luxor Temple.
IMG_8176.jpgThe best located McDonald's I've ever seen- amazing view!
Luxor is best known for its temples and monuments. Egypt, and Luxor in particular, really hit the jackpot with all of this stuff. After indulging at McDonalds, we visited the Luxor Temple which is situated on the east bank of the Nile. The temple was built over several hundred years by multiple pharaohs - even Alexander the Great left his Roman mark. It is especially known for its two enormous obelisks (one of which is now found in the Place de la Concorde in Paris). Afterwards, we headed out to Karnak, an enormous complex of temples, pylons, and sanctuaries. The site was completed over a period of 1500 years and has what is considered to be the largest religious building ever built. The Great Hypostyle Hall was really impressive- the hall is made up of 134 huge stone pillars that make you feel pretty small. Both the Luxor Temple and Karnak are UNESCO World Heritage sites and the fact they are still in decent shape after 2000+ years is amazing.
IMG_8195.jpg The entrance to Luxor Temple
IMG_8216.jpgSome heiroglyphics in Luxor
IMG_8250.jpg Scuplture in Karnak Temple
IMG_8289.jpgJeff taking in the Hypostyle Hall
On our second day in Luxor, we visited the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. These royal necropolises are buried in the mountains (literally) on the west bank of the Nile. Through excavations in the valleys, they have unearthed hundreds of tombs. Some tombs are better preserved than others, but many of them are still covered with painted and carved hieroglyphics. Sadly, they do not let you take pictures inside of the tombs. To see one of the best preserved tombs, the Tomb of Queen Nefratate, costs 20,000 Egyptian pounds (roughly 3,000 USD) - we skipped that one. We also explored the Funerary Temple of Hatshepsut, which is built into a mountainside. Funerary temples were used during the 70-day mummification period between death and burial. The sites were certainly impressive, but it was so so so hot that day (upwards of 95 degrees and blazing sun) that I was excited to get back to our hostel. The terrain here is unforgiving.
IMG_8314.jpg The Temple of Hatshepsut
IMG_8351.jpg Colored heiroglyphics from Hatshepsut Temple
Probably one of the cooler things we did while in Luxor was take a hot air balloon ride above the monuments and sites. It was by far the cheapest place we’ve found to do it (50 USD each), so we decided to take advantage. The 4:40 am pick-up time was rough, but it was awesome to watch the balloons get filled up in the pre-dawn light. How the flame doesn’t ignite the balloon is totally beyond me. Hot air ballooning was far more relaxing than I thought it would be and watching the sunrise from the air was really beautiful.
IMG_8392.jpg Pre-dawn
IMG_8402.jpgGetting ready to take off
IMG_8446.jpgOne of the ancient temples seen from the air
IMG_8471.jpgTaking in the sunrise
After Luxor, our next stop was the town of Dahab on the Sinai Peninsula, an overnight bus ride away. Egyptian buses are not horrible, but 16-hours in any bus is enough to make you go nuts. At 4:00am, we had to get off the bus with our bags and have a dog sniff them to ensure we weren’t carrying any bombs- we all passed and continued on our way. We arrived in Dahab early in the morning, took a taxi to our hostel and crashed (pattern forming here?).
Dahab is a little slice of heaven on the Red Sea. It’s a Bedouin village bordering on a resort town. Though it lacks a true beach, the water is crystal clear, literally. It is crazy that when you are eating or lounging by the sea, you can see Saudi Arabia across the water. Sometimes I forget where I am.
With its crystal clear water, Dahab is well known for diving, so we signed up for a single dive of a site called “The Islands”, a National Geographic worthy dive. The reef is fairly close to shore so we were able to walk most of the way out to it, a nice change from boat diving. It really was beautiful - an enormous amount of coral and colorful fish. We even saw a school of barracuda and three lion fish.
IMG_8550.jpgGetting our gear ready
IMG_8570.jpgView from the beach
IMG_8585.jpgThe small beach town of Dahab
Aside from diving and relaxing by the water, we also took a day trip (or should I say night trip) to climb Mt. Sinai and visit St. Katherine’s Monastery. Mt. Sinai is the supposed site where Moses received the Ten Commandments from the Big Man in the sky. As with most mountain excursions, the best time to climb is before sunrise- so again, I found myself climbing a mountain at 3 am (our hotel pickup was at 11 pm). Shockingly we were not alone as there were hundreds of other crazy people on the mountain. The climb wasn’t too bad, but we were surprisingly cold on the summit. After watching a lovely sunrise, we headed back down to the Monastery. St. Katherine’s is the oldest Monastery in the world and has the second largest collection of early religious texts, second only to the Vatican. It is also the supposed site of the burning bush, the location where Moses was appointed by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Egypt is chalk full of history. Given the 11 pm departure time, everyone was open-mouthed-head-bobbing on the ride back to Dahab.
IMG_8631.jpgSunrise on Mt. Sinai
IMG_8638.jpgThe parade coming back down the mountain
IMG_8650.jpgA view of St. Katherine's Monastery on the way back down the mountain
IMG_8660.jpgA view from inside the Monastery
After two great weeks in Egypt, we are now headed to Jordan. We’ll write more soon! Thanks for reading!

Posted by geldere 11:54 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Touched down in Egypt and the Middle East….

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Cairo was our first stop in the Middle East and was definitely a sensory overload. For starters, the traffic is insane and the drivers even more so. Crossing the street here is a sport as you have to dodge and weave in and around the traffic. After finally making it across a street feeding into Tahrir Square (the center of most of the 2010 revolution protests), we spent our first full day in Cairo enjoying the Egyptian Museum. The museum houses over 100,000 relics and antiquities from all periods of Egyptian history (some items are upwards of 4000 years old). Similar to the Louvre in Paris, if you spent one minute on every item, it would take you nine months to see the whole museum. It’s stuffy and poorly labeled, but it has some of the most amazing pieces of history I’ve ever seen (no photos were allowed inside). We spent time seeing the highlights, including the royal mummy rooms (it is amazing to see 3500 year old bodies) and the Tutankhamun collection (King Tut as most people know him). What’s amazing about King Tut is that he was a fairly young and insignificant ruler, but his tomb someone how escaped grave robbers for thousands of years. So, when it was rediscovered in 1922, it harbored some of the most amazing artifacts ever found in Egypt. King Tut and the rest of the 100+ pharaohs believed in the afterlife, so they had items placed in their tombs that they believed they would need: mummified animals for food and as pets, weapons, jewels, figurines of servants to take care of them, chariots, boats, etc. The King Tut collection is so impressive; one can only imagine the stuff that more prominent pharaohs would have been buried with.
IMG_7849.jpg Outside the Egyptian Museum
IMG_7854.jpg In front of the museum
IMG_8164.jpgA view of the street from our hotel

We set out on day two with a driver to view what Egypt is probably best known for, the Pyramids. We started with the Pyramids of Giza as they are the largest and most famous. They are the only surviving wonder of the ancient world and are approximately 4,000 years old. They were the tallest man-made structures in the world until the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889. That’s crazy - they were built thousands of years ago and no one else built anything bigger until 140 years ago? Blows my mind. Anyway, there are three main Pyramids (Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure), all built with the sole purpose of holding the sarcophagus of the abovementioned pharaohs. In short, they are extremely elaborate tombstones that were designed to take pharaohs into the afterlife. The site of Giza also houses the Sphinx which was carved almost entirely from one huge piece of limestone.
IMG_7883.jpg In front of the Sphinx
IMG_7893.jpg The Sphinx and one of the 3 Pyramids of Giza
Before arriving in Egypt, I thought Giza was it for pyramids, but it turns out there are more, dozens more. So we also visited the sites of Saqqara, which has the Step Pyramid of Zoser (the world’s oldest pyramid/stone monument), and Dahshur, which has the Red Pyramid. You can walk down into the Red Pyramid via a 120-foot long, narrow tunnel. I got halfway down and decided that it was far enough for me (I am not obsessively claustrophobic, but the tunnel was making me insane) and let Jeff continue the rest of the way. We rounded out the day with a stop at Felfela, a restaurant specializing in Egyptian food. After dinner, I tried a cup of the “local Egyptian coffee” which was reminiscent of chewing on a coffee bean and could really put some hair on your chest.
IMG_7968.jpgThe Step Pyramid of Zoser
IMG_8006.jpgInside the Red Pyramid- a bit freaky for me!

On day three, we decided to take a day trip to Alexandria, a city about two hours north of Cairo located on the Mediterranean. It was founded by Alexander the Great around 332 BC and boasts some amazing sights and history as well. We stopped at the Roman Amphitheatre (the only one in Egypt), Pompey’s Pillar (a Roman monument), the Catacombs of Kom Ash-Shuqqafa (which date back to the 2nd Century AD - no pictures allowed in the catacombs), and the Citadel (a fort protecting the harbor). We also visited the impressive and modern Alexandria Library. The city of Alexandria use to house the “Library of Alexandria”, another wonder of the ancient world, but it was supposedly dismantled and destroyed by the ravages of time and war. The ancient library now has a near mythical quality, but the modern library is a seemingly fitting replacement. We recently read the Alexandria Link, a fictional book about the ancient library and Israel if anyone is looking for something good to read - very appropriate for this phase of our trip.
IMG_8040.jpgThe Roman Amphitheatre
IMG_8056.jpgA Tea Street Vendor
IMG_8073.jpgPompey's Pillar
IMG_8100.jpgThe new library
IMG_8097.jpgJeff absorbing all that knowledge

We spent our last day in Cairo exploring the Citadel, a collection of three fortified mosques from the 12th century. It is also a popular spot for locals to spend the day. We turned out to be a huge attraction for the local children who wanted to practice their English and have their photos taken with the blonde haired people. The kids would say “Hello, what is your name” and then run away - it was cute. My favorite photo of the day was when a woman came over and asked if I would take a picture with her baby. I was happy to oblige, but no one asked the child if he wanted to have his photo taken. Jeff got a good photo of the child’s reaction.
IMG_8138.jpgInside of of the Mosques
IMG_8147.jpgOh, this picture makes me laugh- total despair on the kid's face :)
IMG_8157.jpgA view of one of the mosques in the Citadel
IMG_8160.jpgThese girls asked to take a photo with us- they were so sweet

It is definitely interesting to be in a country that is in the midst of a revolution. The government was thrown out in 2010 and the military is now in charge. This November, a new legislature is set to be elected, but there is no date for the presidential election yet. While we were in Cairo, there were small protests most nights and a large protest that shut down Tahrir Square on October 6th, a national holiday. For most people, it is business as usual, but everyone is looking forward to electing a new government.
The other thing that surprised me was that everyone smokes. Almost everyone chain smokes anywhere and everywhere – buses, taxis, restaurants, hostel lobbies, etc. My favorite was a guy who was smoking and using his inhaler - I wanted to let him know it was counterproductive, but the lesson seemed futile.
We are heading out of Cairo on an overnight train bound for Luxor. We’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 00:11 Archived in Egypt Comments (1)

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