The Holy Land: Israel and Jordan May/June 2018
And we have another mother-daughter trip planned! This time it is to Israel and Jordan (yikes, the middle East). We decided that going with a group at least sounded safer so we settled on Gate 1 travel since we were happy with the prices and had traveled with the company in the past.
Exodus with Paul Newman - great story about recent history of Israel under British rule
Lawrence of Arabia
Both very long 3 hour movies!
In Israel they speak Hebrew and in the Arab communities Arabic. Fortunately English is a strong second language for all. Good luck figuring either Hebrew or Arabic out by looking at the written language. Google translate doesn’t even have an audio on Hebrew as apparently the sound differs for any given written word depending on the meaning? But...there are some basic video lessons online for essential phrases in Hebrew. Shalom! (Hello and Good-bye in Hebrew, meaning peace) and To DAH - thank you. Thank you in Arabic is chukran or “Shook Run” (spelled for pronunciation).
- Ramadan is going on!!
- Trump officially recognizing that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. OK this could create some friction….
- The US withdrawing from the Iran agreement and Iran taking pot shots at Israel from the north from Syria. Is Golan Heights off the itinerary now?
Map of our Itinerary:
Wed May 23 - Thurs May 24th: Flying to Tel Aviv
We were upgraded to first class on our first leg and were able to access the United lounges in San Diego and Houston. I remember mom asking for a “lemon drop” martini on the flight from San Diego to Houston. The flight attendant just laughed and asked how long I have known her (Oh….just all my life!).
We had a wonderful long flight in business class on Turkish air to Istanbul. We both slept on the long flight from Houston to Istanbul on our seats that made into flat beds. We also had a gourmet multi-course meal with a chef on board the flight. Thank you United frequent flier miles!!
Waiting for take off from Houston
In Istanbul we qualified for entry into the Turkish Air lounge. It was just huge with help yourself wine stations, multiple eating sites, a movie theatre and even a place to practice your golf swing. And of course showers and sleeping quarters if you needed. The most massive and best lounge I have ever seen!
Look who found one of the self service wine bars!
Then off for our last leg into Tel Aviv. There was an extra layer of security before we were ever allowed onto the plane to Israel with bag searches and using a wand around us. It’s ok - a little more security doesn’t hurt!
We arrived in Tel Aviv late Thursday evening and discovered long lines waiting for passport control. Fortunately we didn’t raise any red flags and were approved quickly. Of note our passports were not stamped but rather we were given a “B2Stay Permit” to keep with our passport. Apparently there can be issues in visiting certain Arab countries if you have an Israeli stamp on your passport. Gate 1 came through with someone holding a sign up with our names and eventually we were whisked off for a 45 minute drive to Jerusalem. Our driver was friendly and talkative and wondered what we thought of President Trump. Well…….
A funny little old man checked us into the hotel and teased us about bothering him so late at night. The hotel room is a little worn but the beds were welcomed! We are 10 hours ahead of our time back home so it may take a few days at least to adjust. We came a day early though so at least we don’t have to hit the ground running tomorrow.
Friday May 25th: First day in JerusalemOur hotel:
We had the first of many excellent breakfast buffets on this trip. The man who welcomed us to breakfast was particularly nice and showed us all around. What a wonderful spread! The bread was particularly great - warm and fresh from the oven. They have a device that squeezes fresh oranges for you and honey that comes directly off of the honeycomb. Of course all is kosher - you won’t find any bacon or ham around and the breakfasts were usually “dairy” meals (no mixing meat and dairy products!).
How about fresh squeezed orange juice?
LOVED the bread, still warm from the oven….
Something very large and black was discovered in the bottom of our toilet. That will teach me to perch clothes above the toilet as my poor black underwear had taken a dive into the water. Needless to say, they required a full sterilization procedure.
My mission for the day was to locate an ATM to draw out Iraeli shekels. Our friendly “breakfast man” directed us vaguely to the “old train station” where an ATM is located. We managed to find it but the ATM looked pretty old and the sign was sort of tilted. Nope - not going to use that one! However we did note that there were some cute outdoor cafes and a small grocery store to explore. Olives are grown in the country so not surprisingly an olive bar and a variety of olive oils were discovered. We purchased a bottle of wine and a chocolate bar - it just doesn’t get much better than that!
Stores in other countries are interesting and different
Then we tromped up a hill in the heat to find another ATM (again with those vague directions - “up there”). It was past the King David hotel (a very nice hotel where President Trump reportedly stayed). After an unsuccessful attempt with my Schwab debit card I successfully withdrew Israeli shekels with my backup card. Whew...mission accomplished. Speaking of Trump - I spotted this sign near our hotel:
Tonight we met our guide and the others in our group (about 40 in all) at dinner. It was buffet style with food on our laps as there were only chairs in the room. I, of course, managed to spill something on my pants so I had a laundry project later that evening.
Saturday May 26th: Old Jerusalem
It is “Shabbat” on Saturdays so many of the stores are closed as it is a day of rest for the Jewish. There are a variety of “rules” for this day and one of them is that we won’t be able to take any pictures of the Jewish people today. No toast or cooking/heating food (but keeping pre-cooked food warm is ok?). There is also not supposed to be any driving or turning on or off electrical appliances. So….there is a special elevator in the hotel which operates automatically so that touching the buttons is not required. It is a quiet day for them as TV or phones should not be used.
After breakfast we head to old Jerusalem - what an amazing place! It is less than a square mile in size and enclosed by massive stone walls. Within this small area three major religions - Christianity, Islam and Judaism - have incredibly important religious sites. As you see below the area is divided into 4 areas:
Just outside the walls we saw the room of the Last Supper and the tomb dedicated to King David (where no pictures were allowed).
Room of the last supper
The walls surrounding the city have been built and torn down over the years
Quite the wall!
Before entering the old city we were able to taste the HUGE bagels of Jerusalem - very good!
The very large bagels are in the pile on the right of this “mobile” table….
We entered through the Jaffa gate and began walking the uneven stones through old Jerusalem.
Next we went to the Tower of David museum which gave a nice history of Jerusalem through the ages and also had a nice viewpoint over the city and some of the ruins.
For lunch we shared a delicious falafel - a very common food in this part of the world.
We wandered a bit into some of the market areas:
The Butcher shop
Wait - I remember those elephant pants from Thailand!
In the Christian Quarter we went to a very crowded Church of the Holy Sepulchre marking the site where Jesus was crucified and arose from the dead. Christians consider this the holiest place on earth and many make pilgrimages to this site.
Our guide Rotum - “It’s that way” The church is somewhat unassuming from the front.
Crucifixion symbol inside the church
The anointing stone (at least a representation as this was placed in the 1800s)
The dome with the 12 rays representing the 12 apostles. This is above the stone monument enclosing the tomb of Christ where it is believed he lay for 3 days before he rose from the dead. You can see the top of it below the dome. Note there is some debate about the authenticity of the location of the crucifixion and burial but it seems that most are willing to agree it occurred at or at least near this location.
We also walked along the Via Delorosa and several of the stations of the cross. At station V the handprint of Jesus where he stumbled has been touched so many times that it has worn down into a trough.
We passed from the Muslim quarter to the Jewish quarter and had to go through an airport like security checkpoint with armed guards and all. More on the Jewish quarter tomorrow when we could take pictures.
We had dinner tonight at a restaurant down the street from the hotel and it was just great!
Sunday May 27th: Old Jerusalem and Bethlehem
We went back to the old city of Jerusalem and entered the Zion gate near the Western wall. Today we can take pictures! The Western Wall is sacred to the Jewish people as it is the only remains of the Second Temple of Jerusalem which was otherwise destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. We had inserted our wishes on paper into the Wall yesterday. It was hard to find a slot where it would stay as every crack is stuffed with written prayers but we managed. We were told that as prayer papers drop out they are saved and buried somewhere together. You are supposed to walk backwards from the wall when you are done with your prayers.
The Western Wall or “wailing” wall. Note the division of men and women sides (the men had much more room!). Also synagogues had (and may still have?) separate areas for men and women to worship.
A word about Ultra Orthodox Jews:
The ultra orthodox (Haredi is another name) of which the hasidic jews are a subset are quite strict about the jewish laws. The men wear black suits and white shirts (no matter how darn hot it is) and have “white tassels” on each side of their pants. They also often do not ever cut the hair on the side of their hair and essentially have long “pony tails” behing their ears. They live in their own neighborhoods and are very strict about all the food “laws” and shabbat observances. You better not be caught in one of their neighborhoods driving on Saturday or not dressed conservatively! Their unemployment is quite high as they choose a life of study over work and they have lots and lots of children. They also have worked around the requirement for military service. Not surprisingly there is some resentment from the Israeli population because of their economic drain on resources.
Typical black suit and white shirt of the ultra orthodox Jew
Note the long hair on the side of this ultra orthodox or Haredi Jew
Next we headed underground for a tour of the excavated remainder of the Western Wall. We were pleased as it was nice and cool underground! The portion of the open Western Wall is approximately 200 ft and the underground excavated portion is close to 1600 ft. Most of the excavation was done after the Six Day War in 1967 but some excavation had occurred before and there is still ongoing work.
Below ground portion of the Western Wall
This shows just a portion of a massive stone (45ft x 11ft x 15ft) that was used in a portion of the wall. The rectangular holes were later put in as part of the water system.
Next we went to the Jerusalem Archaeological Park just next to the Temple Mount where the southern and western walls meet. Here there are still the original stones of old Herodian Streets and market stalls from over 2000 years ago. This is where pilgrims would come and purchase their sacrificial animals for rituals at this holy site. There is also evidence of the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD with massive boulders of the retaining wall still in evidence.
The corner of the south and western walls. The circled area is Robinson’s Arch which supported a giant staircase to the temple mount 2000 years ago. See below for what this probably looked like 2000 years ago.
Artist’s rendition of the massive staircase and the arch attached to the wall. What an impressive undertaking!
“Rubble” from the Roman destruction in 70 AD
We had lunch in the Jewish quarter. There were groups of young Israeli military and also school groups (note that Sunday is a work and school day in this country). As part of their military experience they travel around the country to experience the sights. Since they technically were not on duty we were allowed to take pictures. They were very friendly!
Everyone is enjoying this!
Next we took a bus ride to Bethlehem with most of the members of our group. Bethlehem is not far from Jerusalem but is in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority. There is an impressive wall and security between Israel and the West Bank and a sign that specifically prohibited Israeli citizens from entering. We had a different guide for this portion of the trip and were pretty limited to staying with our group. This was probably just as well as there was definitely some anti-Trump (and therefore anti-American?) vibes here - note the graffiti. Of note - the Arabs in the West Bank are not under the influence of Hamas as they are in the troubled area of Gaza Strip and therefore it is much safer. The West Bank Arabs have adapted and get along with the Israelis much better. They are more educated and productive compared to the Arabs under Hamas rule.
The wall between the West Bank and Israel
Anti-Trump graffiti inside the West Bank, Bethlehem
We waited and waited in the church for our chance to see the place that Jesus was born. It was quite hot and humid inside the church and we unfortunately had a very pushy group behind us. We were all “funneled” down a small dark stairwell to the star marking the spot of his birth.
Inside the Nativity Church
Outside the nativity church
We headed to the old train station for dinner tonight and split a large chicken sandwich. Interestingly they served it with good old french fries. We stopped into the store and found a great deal on a bottle of wine only to find out that it was a bottle of olive oil. Pretty tough to read hebrew!
Monday May 28th: Jerusalem New City tour and Herodian Mansions and Burnt House in Old Jerusalem
Today we went to visit sites in the new city of Jerusalem. The Israel museum contains a gigantic replica of Jerusalem from almost 2000 years ago (66 AD) at a 1:50 scale. The well off lived in the upper section whereas the common folk lived below. This is prior to the Roman destruction in 70 AD.
Model of the Temple mount - note the Jewish castle upper right protecting it.
The full model of old Jerusalem 66 AD
We also went to check out the dead sea scrolls (no pictures allowed) - the oldest known written version of the Bible in Hebrew. This is the outside of the building containing the scrolls with purified water running over the top.
Then we headed to the largest military cemetery in Israel at Mount Herzl. It is a beautiful setting. Of interest the headstones do not mention rank - they are identical for all who served. Also of interest it just happens to be Memorial Day in the states!
A mass of pansies - lovely landscaping
It is no surprise that the Jewish have traditional burial “rules”. The body is buried in just a shroud or a wooden casket to allow it to biodegrade and return to the earth sooner and embalming is not allowed.
And speaking of rules - note the double handed cup for washing hands at the cemetery. Hands are not supposed to touch each other during the cleansing procedure.
Next we headed to the Holocaust Memorial - Yad Vashem, also known as the “Mount of Remembrance”. It contained very extensive and sad documentation of the Holocaust. The Garden of the Righteous was right outside the memorial commemorating the non-Jewish who helped the Jewish during the war. Note this particular one is in remembrance of the Schindlers ( of “Schindler’s list”).
This is the view that opens up for you as you step out of the Memorial. The inside of the Memorial has a central corridor with walls that lean in to represent oppression.
The entrance to the Children’s memorial with mirrors inside reflecting lights representing the million and a half children who died during the Holocaust.
For the afternoon we saw the ruins of one of the mansions in Old Jerusalem. This was the burnt house of Katros, a very wealthy Jewish family. You can still see the burnt wall in one area where the Romans invaded in 70 AD. The house was very large with many rooms and included a ritual bath area.
Note evidence of the fire on the wall.
Beautifully preserved mosaic.
Stairs leading down to the ritual bath. Note the scooped out stone for cleaning the feet first at the top of the stairs.
We had a wonderful evening out on Jaffa Street. This is a hopping pedestrian street with lots of shops and outdoor cafes. It might be hot during the day but the evening weather is just beautiful in Jerusalem. We had a delicious meal with fresh bread delivered on a breadboard.
Ran across this as we walked home………………….
Tuesday May 29th: Masada in route to the Dead Sea
We left Jerusalem today and headed to the Dead Sea. First we stopped for a last look over the city:
En route to Masada we stopped and were taken for a brief camel ride! The hardest part was keeping balanced as the camel went up and down. Lean back!!!
I love the camel’s head shot!
Next we visited the desert mesa of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea. The history of this area is fascinating and is one of the Jewish people’s greatest symbols as the last stronghold against the Roman invasion in the 1st century AD. This was where King Herod the Great built a luxurious palace overlooking the Judean desert. It was the last Jewish stronghold where the Zealots held back 10,000 Roman troops for 3 years. The Romans surrounded them and to this day the remains of their base camps and walls are still evident. The Romans eventually breached the compound after building a massive earthen ramp with the help of Jewish slaves and attacked the wall with a battering ram. Rather than surrender to the Romans and become their slaves or worse the Jewish killed one another to avoid calling it suicide (which was against their religion) except of course for the last man standing.
It was way too hot to even consider walking up but fortunately there was an aerial tram to ride up. Note the altitude at the base station is well below sea level.
Note the snake path up behind the tram and the ancient Roman wall running between the background of the wires on the upper left. Also note the old Roman base camp in the upper left.
The massive earthen ramp the Romans used almost 2000 years ago is still evident.
View from above of King Herod’s north castle with three tiers still evident and a spectacular view over the Judean desert. Note the square in the upper part down below is the remains of one of the Roman base camps.
Just standing around the ruins….
The water system with aqueducts and cisterns was quite elaborate.
And then to the lowest place on earth and floating in the Dead Sea. Fun facts: 1. The oxygen tension is higher the lower you go so we should sleep well. 2. UV rays cannot reach down to the depth of the Dead Sea so no worries as far as getting a sunburn. 3. The water is of course incredibly salty and filled with minerals so only rare bacteria can survive. It has a “slimy” feel to it!
Just floating along……………
View from our hotel balcony
May 30th, Wednesday: Traveling north to Galilee
Today we traveled to the northern part of Israel to the Sea of Galilee. In order to get there from the Dead Sea we needed to ride through the West Bank. This of course led to a checkpoint before re-entering Israel. A couple of armed guards walked through our bus and did a quick check of the luggage department. En route we drove by Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in a cave by a young goat herder. Our first stop was at the remains of an ancient synagogue at Beit Alpha built at the end of the 5th century AD. The wheel of the zodiac is in the mosaic on the floor of this synagogue. An earthquake destroyed the town in the 6th century and the synagogue was lost until discovered and excavated in 1929.
This is probably what it looked like when it was completed in the 5th century AD
The well preserved zodiac mosaic in the floor of the synagogue
During our drive we saw separated communities of Arabs and Jewish people. The Jewish homes usually had red tile peaked roofs whereas the Arabs had flat roofs. The Arab homes often had rebar sticking out of the roof in anticipation of a son and his wife moving into the home after marriage. Between the Arab and Jewish communities there were barbed wire fences - no mixing of the communities even though they often worked together in the fields.
Next we headed to the archeological site of Bet She’an. The most prominent features of the area were built by the Romans in the first century AD. The site has undergone excavation since the 1920s and has uncovered about 1/10 of the city’s area.
Overview of the area with Palladius Street displayed prominently
Nifty way of moving great big stones
Large columns border Palladius street
Remains of the bath house which was an important aspect of Roman society
And…...the inevitable Roman theatre. Originally it seated 7000 people but only the lower section remains.
Splits in Israel!!!!
The Roman Amphitheatre in the background
After a quick lunch (with our breakfast leftovers of course) we headed to a baptismal site along the Jordan river.
A group awaiting their baptism (no...we are not part of the group)
We arrived at our motel which was actually an active kibbutz and took a stroll down to the sea of Galilee.
May 31st Thursday: Galilee and the Golan Heights
Today we went on an optional excursion that was a very full day of activities. Mom was up and at ‘em at 2:30 in the morning making coffee and turning on the lights. She looked at her watch wrong! And in her defense we had dark curtains so she couldn’t tell that it wasn’t light out yet. Then something went down “the wrong pipe” at her breakfast. Somebody actually shouted “Heimlich maneuver” but fortunately it wasn’t a complete occlusion. So an exciting start to the day!
We first went on a visit to Mount of the Beatitudes. This is claimed to be the location of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The word beatitude is from the Latin beatus, meaning “blessed,” and each of the Beatitudes begins with the word blessed. They include “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” and so forth. Of course this was long before microphones were available but The Lake of Gennesaret (now known as the Galilee Sea) is shaped like a bowl and has strong winds that serve as a natural amplifier. A firm voice spoken downwind carries a fair distance so his sermon presumably reached his audience well. This view was great!
Inside the church
And outside the church……
Beautiful view over the sea of Galilee
Next we headed to the town of Safed. Its elevation is around 3000 feet altitude and as such is nice and comfortable in temperature. It is over 2000 years old with narrow cobblestone streets and is known for its various artists. Nicky Imber has done a number of important sculptures related to the holocaust. He was in Dachau and escaped after he made a mask out of bread and sand and stole a Nazi’s uniform. He just calmly walked out of the prison one day!
One of Nicky Imber’s sculptures
One of the narrow cobblestone streets in town
Our guide giving us some information about one of the old synagogues in town. One point of interest was that there was a separate area for the women to sit above in the balcony.
A nice view from a rooftop in town
Next we headed to a kibbutz near Golan Heights for a tour and lunch. It really is like a “commune” in that everything is shared and all work is for the common good of the kibbutz community. Before the 6 year war in 1967 the Golan Heights was part of Syria. Our tour guide discussed the fact that it was not uncommon for the Syrians to take “pot shots” at the Kibbutz. Here are some pictures from the kibbutz.
The residents are allowed to have some individuality in their home designs.
As in all of Israel bomb shelters are required
All kibbutzes have some type of product to support themselves. In this kibbutz they produce plastic products and ship them all over the world.
Community bikes - no locks required
Lunch in the community cafeteria
Interesting lawn art
After our lunch we headed to the Golan Heights. As we drove up the hill from the kibbutz there were some bunkers the Syrians used when it was their land. The Golan Heights is where the Iranians were taking some “pot shots” at the Iraelis from Syria. Israel fortunately has an excellent anti-missile technology so none of them caused any harm. And the tour guide obviously did not have any qualms about including this in our tour. There is a UN facility right on the border and we could see right across the valley to Syria. A substantial barrier is present between the two countries. There is an electric fence that sends a notification to the guards of a potential breach and leads to a prompt investigation.
Looking across the border to Syria. The clump of white buildings is the UN facility.
And what better way to end the day than at a winery!
Our wine steward!
June 1st Friday: Haifa en route to Tel Aviv
Off we go heading towards the Mediterranean sea via Nazareth. In Nazareth we stopped at the Church of Annunciation which is said to be standing over the site of Mary’s house. This is where the angel Gabriel appeared and announced to Mary that she was about to give birth to Jesus. There is evidence of four prior churches upon the site.
View from the inside of the cupula
This is the grotto which is believed to be the home of Mary with the altar dedicated to the Annunciation. The stairs in the back lead a small cave called Mary’s kitchen.
Inside the church which is Roman Catholic
Next we had a delicious stop at a local bakery!
Last couple of delicious bites of a sweet cheese pastry called Kanafeh
Then we continued on to Haifa, a very important port city for Israel and the 3rd largest in the nation. It is interesting as they have a powerful union system for the dock workers similar to our longshore men. We viewed the Bahai gardens from above the harbor complete with 19 terraces on Mount Carmel. The Bahai faith is relatively new (200 years or so) and this is quite the holy site for their followers. The gold domed building has the remains of their prophet and is known as the shrine of the Bab. The old German section of the city is below Mount Carmel and is now full of cafes and such. The Germans from this area were deported by the British during WW2 to various areas including Australia.
The shrine of the Bab and the old German quarter with red tile roofs below
Posing over the Bahai gardens - a beautiful day in Haifa
Looking over the harbor in Haifa
Next we stopped at the ancient harbor of Caesarea to see some more ruins. The Romans show their influence yet again! This was a port for commercial activities in Roman times and was developed 22-12 BC or so. Herod the Great was the ruler during the building of the complex which included a large theatre, hippodrome for gladiator games and a large pool area.
Only some of the seats remain of the original amphitheatre. The Romans sure liked their theatrical productions!
Caesarea - ruins in the background and the “Med”
Remains of the ancient pool
The Hippodrome where chariots and gladiators competed
Interesting view from the air of the complex
We ended up in the big city tonight - Tel Aviv!
View from our balcony
And then we had a farewell dinner at a restaurant with outdoor seating on beach. It was great with lots of interesting dishes (very quickly served) and wine included. Afterwards we all got together for a picture as many of us will separate after today (some on to Jordan, some going south to Eilat on the Red Sea and others heading home).
June 2nd Saturday: Free day in Tel Aviv
Just our luck - it is Shabbat so not much opened today! We were disappointed about not being able to shop much for souvenirs but managed to turn it into a great day anyway. First off we did some laundry by hand (how exciting) and strategically hung items near the balcony. Our showers were a bit of a disaster as part of the stream of water shot out over the shower curtain. So….our bathroom was quite wet until the housecleaning staff dried everything.
Our hotel was an easy walk to the beach and we joined up with a few others in our group to walk to the port of Jaffa. You better watch out for the many electric bikes on the walking path. They zoom by quickly and you really can’t hear them coming. As you can imagine on a warm weekend day the beaches were very crowded but we did manage to find room to wade into the Mediterranean.
The old port of Jaffa in the background to the left
Looking back at the city of Tel Aviv along the Med
The beach was busy today!
Dinner on the beach. And yes…..that is a floor of sand!
And a nice sunset
Just part of the menu……
Nice cones of lights come on as it darkens
Gay pride week is coming up in Tel Aviv. They are very open to such alternative lifestyles
June 3rd Sunday: Travel to Jordan and the Dead Sea
And we are on move again! About half of our group continued on to Jordan. We crossed at the Allenby bridge and went through passport control and on to our new bus. Our Jordanian guide is named Walleed. He is married to an American woman and is expecting his first child. He emphasized the safety of Jordan and pointed out that it is the safest country in the Middle East (the bar isn’t set too high though….). He then proceeded to introduce us to our armed guard who was to accompany us throughout the trip! We arrived at a great Marriott hotel on the Dead Sea with a welcome reception that included wine!
View over one of the pools from our hotel out to the Dead Sea
Well you have to get the Dead Sea mud on you first for the full experience!
Nice view later in the evening over the pool and out to the Dead Sea
June 4th Monday: Madaba, Mount Nebo and Kerak en route to Petra
Today we made several stops on our way to Petra. We went to Mount Nebo which is about 2300 ft above sea level and therefore was nice and cool! It is thought that Moses saw the holy land from this location before his death. There is some speculation about his burial there but this has not been proven. Nevertheless there was a church built in the second half of the 4th century and there is still evidence of Byzantine mosaics in the reconstructed church.
The Moses memorial is run by the Franciscan monks
Our armed guard who followed us everywhere
Well preserved mosaic on the floor of the church
Sculpture representing the bronze serpent created by Moses and the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.
View to the Dead Sea and beyond. It was very hazy due to mining operations but on a clear day you can see Jerusalem and Jericho.
And of course we must do the splits while in Jordan…..
Massive rolling door to the monastery
Next we headed to St George’s church in Madaba where an ancient map of the Holy Land is set into the floor of the church. It was made in 560 AD and originally contained over 2 million stones! It has notations on Biblical sites all over the Middle East in Greek.
Photo of the mosaic map
And the actual mosaic - quite impressive!
Then we went to a mosaic school and workshop.
Looks like very painstaking work!
Quite the showroom of mosaic products but expensive!
We went to lunch at a local restaurant and had the very best chicken I have ever experienced. They used local herbs such as thyme and rosemary and cooked it in such a way as to fully enhance the flavor and keep the meat moist (even the breast meat!).
Next we headed to Kerak castle. This is a large crusader castle strategically built on a plateau with 3 steep slopes. Construction of the castle began in 1140 AD. The bus had quite the challenge getting up to the castle with the narrow streets of the city. At one point our armed guard had to locate the driver of a parked vehicle at one of the turns so we could get through.
Coming up to the entry of the castle with the flag of Jordan on display
This is the street our poor bus driver had to maneuver!
Beautiful views from the castle
Walking inside the castle
Sitting at one of the areas of the Kerak castle
As we drove to Petra we took a quick side trip to view another Crusader castle as the sun set.
How nice that the sun cooperated and lit up the castle! Great timing!
We arrived at Petra - another very nice Marriott hotel. By the way, in Jordan you are not able to just stroll into a hotel such as this - you must go through a security check similar to the airport. Same goes for a mall we visited at the Dead Sea in Jordan. We didn’t mind - all the safer for us we hoped….
June 5th Tuesday: PETRA!!!
We had some fabulous meals including breakfast.
It was a great way to start the day as indeed we had quite a lot of hiking to do!
Petra was absolutely spectacular!! It was quite a day and we ended up walking almost 8 miles. You have to walk a bit just to get into Petra but oh, what a fabulous walk it is….. All the way in you are constantly marveling at the narrow canyon through which you must walk (it is called Al Siq canyon). A very narrow entrance into Petra was a strategic advantage for the Nabateans to protect their area.
Whaaaat?? A rock shaped like an elephant???
The Nabateans had a fairly extensive aquaduct system
Why not a little music on the way?
But I will never, ever forget the first glimpse of the “Treasury” through the narrow canyon. Our guide did such a good job as he purposely had us look backwards first. Then he had us suddenly turn around and WOW.
I know it is too bright in this picture so let’s zoom in and look below……
JUST SPECTACULAR. One of those instances that just takes your breath away…………….. And to think that this was done 2000 some odd years ago.
And this is the treasury building in full view. This is Petra’s most magnificent and famous facade and is actually an elaborate facade for a tomb. Its location has helped preserve it for over 2000 years as it is protected from the worst of the wind and forces of erosion. It is carved out of the mountainside (as are all of the many facades in Petra) and construction started at the top and worked its way down.
And here we are posing in front of the Treasury (a very busy place for photos obviously)
There are facades/tombs carved out of the cliffs all over the place
Interesting rock pattern inside one of the caves (some were used for residences and other purposes such as storage..)
The only theatre in the world carved into rock. It can seat 4000 people! This was actually done by the Nabateans before the Roman influence.
We took a hike up to the Royal Tombs and went inside the Urn tomb. This was thought to be the tomb of one of the Kings.
The Urn tomb from a distance with arches below and columns to the side
And closer up at the entry
The inside of the tomb was a very large chamber with interesting rock inside
Looking out of the entry
Qasr al-Bint - the remains of one of the most important temples of Petra built in the first half century AD
Leaving Petra and the view looking back at the Treasury building
What a spectacular place!
We had a long rather uphill and hot walk back to our bus. On the last part one of the horses went racing by without a rider. It turns out that one of our fellow passengers was thrown from the horse but fortunately the injuries were minor. We had a nice evening at our hotel near Petra.
Nice view from the back of our hotel over to the hills of Petra
And…...the view with splits in the foreground
What are all those black spots on the yellow towel? Lots and lots of flies!
Beautiful sunset, great day!!!!
June 6 Wednesday: Wadi Rum
Today we went to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Wadi Rum. What a beautiful vista! Because of its relatively desolate look it has been the site of many movie filmings including The Martian and Lawrence of Arabia.
Minor delay - goats crossing the road as we headed to Wadi Rum! There are many Bedouin tribes in the area with their goat herds. They are a nomadic people living in tents and generally moving 4 times a year or so. They live at higher elevations in the summer months and lower (such as the Dead Sea area) in the winter. The goats know to follow the biggest animal as the baby sheep is fed from a donkey and remembers this for life.
Our 4 X 4 vehicle in Wadi Rum led the group (which was nice as we weren’t in the dust of other vehicles).
Our leader, Walleed
Here we go!!!
Camel as an important mode of transportation in this part of the world
Interesting rock formation - looks like a side profile of a face!
Making soap from a plant
More gorgeous scenery
This time with important people in it
A stop at a Bedouin camp for tea. This is where Lawrence of Arabia set up his camp.
Next we had a great lunch that was cooked in an oven beneath the desert floor. It is called “Zarb” and really was a delicious collection of meat, vegies and potatoes.
First we start digging And then uncover
Carry to the dining tent And…...EAT! Delicious
We had a nice farewell dinner with wine and a delicious buffet at the hotel. Below is sunset as viewed from our hotel room. This is a very large city of around 4 million. They have strict “homeowner rules” such that only “earth tones” are allowed.
June 7th: Thursday - Roman Ruins in Jarash and the Citadel and Museum in Amman
Today we traveled north of Amman to Jarash with 4 others from our group. More Roman ruins! Jarash is considered one of the greatest classical ancient cities in the world and one of the best preserved (probably because it remained buried for a long time). The most fabulous ruins are from the Greco-Roman era from around 63 BC and onward for about 400 years. It was one of the group of 10 cities (decapolis) under Roman protection at the tim. Christianity arrived on the scene around 350 AD and several churches were built. The Muslim conquest occurred in 635 AD but a large earthquake in 749 AD destroyed much of the city. The city was ultimately abandoned and lay buried until rediscovered in 1925 by a German traveler. Excavations have been ongoing ever since.
Us with Hadrian’s Gate (Triumphal Arch) in the background. This was built in 130 AD in honor of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
The massive Oval Plaza with its first century AD columns
The Colonnaded Street (Cardo) ran north and south and was paved with huge stones that still show ruts from the chariots. There were shops on both sides and even a sewer system running underneath.
Temple of Artemis
And looking up at the columns of the Artemis temple from below. The Romans actually built in some flexibility of the columns ( I am not sure the exact mechanism) so they could withstand the shaking of earthquakes.
Nice viewpoint over the ruins
And of course there is always a Roman theater
Viewpoint over the Oval Plaza and the Colonnade
From Jerash we headed for our lunch. It was quite delicious and served family style so we were able to try everything out. Oh...the pita bread and hummus is just the best.
And french fries? Really?
Then we headed back to Amman and visited the Citadel. This was built on one of the hills in Amman and of course this was strategic for protection from enemies. It was inhabited by various peoples over thousands of years with artifacts from the area nicely presented in the museum on site. Of course the Romans were involved in the early centuries AD. At that time the city was known as Philadelphia and was one of the decapolis cities.
Notes on Islam and the Muslims: Of interest was that during our tour it was prayer time at one point. The call to prayer is heard all over the city. It happens 5 times per day and usually lasts 3-5 minutes or so. They have to face the direction of the city of Mecca during the prayer. Polygamy is fine up to 4 wives and sons often are expected to live in their father’s house with their new brides. (And thus the rebar on the cement flat roofs for building upward).
The Temple of Hercules built in the 2nd century AD by the Romans
Remains of a Byzantine church. Note that they “repurposed” the Corinthian columns from the Hercules Temple.
A great view from all sides over the city of Amman
And……..the inevitable Roman theatre right smack in the middle of town. This was built in the 2nd century AD and seated 6000 people!
June 8th, Friday: Full day in Amman
Well….just our luck as it is the religious day for the Muslims (every Friday). This means that most of the shops were closed and the roads were almost deserted.
Not much happening!!
So...we walked around the neighborhood later in the afternoon (and felt safe by the way). We had some relaxing down time by the pool also. We were “shooed” out of the outdoor seating area of the bar as alcohol is frowned upon during Ramadan. There are other rules also during this month such as no eating or smoking during daylight hours. Since the Muslim calendar is different than the Christian calendar (and both are different than the Jewish calendar by the way), the Ramadan period of about a month varies each year. In the summer they of course have to fast for a longer period since daylight is longer.
June 9th, Friday: Fly home!
We had to get up very, very early in the morning (like 3 am) so that we could make it to the airport for our early flight out. Gate 1 did a great job taking just the two of us and then helping us navigate through the airport. They had great shopping for souvenirs at the duty free shops. I ordered a pound of Arabian coffee. Whoops….he informed me that a pound didn’t mean anything to him and that dark coffee would essentially be “too potent”. OK so a half a kilo close enough and mostly mild with a few dark beans thrown in the mix. We had a long process getting home and suffered through economy!
But what a fabulous, fascinating and safe trip!!!!
Weather: Overall it was too darn hot this time of year - so go earlier in the spring or later in the fall. It was however just beautiful at times: Higher elevation, by the coast or in the earlier morning and late in the evening.
Safety: We felt absolutely safe in both countries. There was increased security in both places - you just don’t waltz into a nice hotel. Oh no...in Jordan you must pass through a security system similar to the airport and an armed guard is present. There is always security checks into Israeli controlled areas - for example within Jerusalem or from the West Bank and of course all borders. In Bethlehem we pretty much were escorted with our group. I would not have felt comfortable walking around alone in this area controlled by the Palestinian Authority (and with the anti-Trump graffiti…).
Passport stamping: By default Israel does not stamp your passport in and out but you can request it. Here is what you get otherwise -
Languages: We are very fortunate as English is almost a universal language. Every Israeli we ran into spoke excellent, fluent English and also most of the Jordanians. (Though in fairness we were largely in areas frequented by tourists.) There was no hope of figuring out the written language but fortunately most signs were in English also in both countries. Arabic is apparently one of the most difficult languages to read and write. Hebrew just looks funny and backwards as their sentences seem to start at the right margin instead of the left. Here is an example of one of their receipts.
The only way you can tell which side is up is by the thank you and the numbers.
Food: We had some wonderful food in both countries. We had kosher food all the way in Israel - no mixing of meat and dairy products and no pork or shellfish. A cheeseburger is not available and your coffee with a meat meal won’t have cream available and there will be no butter for your bread. Pita bread and hummus were wonderful and there was fresh, warm, baked bread every morning in both countries. Our guide in Jordan provided dates on the bus from his mother’s trees near the Dead Sea that were out of this world fabulous. So very, very sweet, plump and moist!
An example of one of the restaurant menus with separate meat and dairy menus
A mezuzah was on the outside entry of all of our hotel rooms. A hallmark of a Jewish home is the mezuzah, a small parchment scroll bearing the first two biblical verses of the Shema prayer. In Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21, God commands us, "...And you shall inscribe these words upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates. Since the Jewish people received the Torah on Mount Sinai, Jews have been placing a mezuzah parchment, surrounded by a case, on their door posts. And of course there are “rules” - it must be on the right side on the lower part of the upper third of the entry. Here is an example of one:
The mezuzah is inside the case and note that it should be tilted like this.
Israel economy and other issues:
Israel has about 4.5 million people and is actually quite small with maximum dimensions of 270 by 85 miles. No need for flying from place to place on this tour!
Israel is quite advanced with technology as their number one source of income. Tourism is also quite important. They have advanced agricultural techniques and have offered help to the Jordanians across the border.
Their public healthcare is free and education is low cost at the expense of fairly hefty income taxes. This is not an area of oil production and their gas is quite expensive at about 8 dollars a gallon. Water is a precious commodity and desalination is the most important source of drinking water. This process is expensive so needless to say water conservation is required of all and you sure won’t find many golf courses here.
Jordan Economy and Misc Issues
Jordan is not one of the Middle East countries producing oil and therefore is not one of the richest. In fact one of the main sources of income for the country comes from money earned in other more wealthy countries and sent home. Tourism and mining of phosphate and potash are other important sources of income. Unfortunately tourism is affected by political issues throughout the Middle East. Sales tax is high at 16% and they have just started income taxes generating significant protests. Schools and healthcare are free for Jordanians (with the option to pay for private schools and hospitals).
Our guide emphasized the tolerance and variety of peoples in Jordan. Though primarily a Muslim country, all religions are welcome. For example there are many Christians and in a show of cooperation the Christian church bells ring to end the fast each evening during Ramadan. There are many holy Christian sites in Jordan including the baptismal site for Jesus and the ancient city of Jericho and also many stories in the Bible that occur in Jordan. Interfaith marriages are not uncommon.
Marriages must be approved by the parents and a dowry is paid to the prospective bride. Weddings are very large and quite a celebration. Husbands may have up to 4 wives. Male offspring are prized and after the first son the parent’s names include their son’s name. Women are working more but in general stay home and care for the children. This is a patriarchal society and the husband is in charge. His wife must have his written permission for example to travel abroad. The family unit is under the father and there are large extended families or “tribes”. The tribes provide support for members. For example our guide is assigned to take care of his grandmother once a month.
Jordan has been very supportive of refugees. Currently the Syrian refugee population is large and large refugee camps (“like cities”) are in the north. Some of the other countries in the Middle East have closed borders to these refugees but do offer financial support to Jordan.
Albeit hot at times this time of year the tour was fabulous. We had the best guides - very informative, helpful and personable. The hotels in Jordan were a step up from Israel - all were very nice Marriotts. The hotels in Israel were safe and clean but some were showing their age. Our bus transportation was great in both countries. The presence of USB outlets for charging was nice and the dual exits really speeded up the loading and unloading process. This tour was not for those with difficulty walking. There was a lot of uneven ground and there were days where we would walk 7 or 8 miles. The food and meals were fabulous. All around we were well cared for!
Another wonderful and interesting trip completed!!!!